Our guest writer and lifelong traveller Natalie Likness runs bookshops by trade, and loves to help readers find their next perfect paperback. Here she recommends six books to read when you're in or en route to Thailand, with suggestions that range from silly to serious, each conjuring a different side of Thai culture.
Perhaps the most famous book set in Thailand, The Beach has become an iconic novel, especially amongst backpackers. Even if you’ve seen Danny Boyle’s adaptation, I would highly recommend taking the book along with you on your travels, as the text creates a magical atmosphere that the film could only ever dream of recreating. This is the story of a British backpacker who goes off in search of an iconic, idyllic Thai beach. Setting out from the Koh San Road and journeying down to the Gulf of Thailand, it is one of those novels that you pick up, start to read and then look up to find the whole day has escaped, so consider yourself warned!
Bridget’s escapades are always a joy, so this is the perfect beach read. The sequel to Bridget Jones’ Diary, The Edge of Reason sees Bridget soon once again (spoilers, sorry!) unlucky in love, and so she takes off on a girly holiday to Thailand with her best friend Shazza to get away from it all. Filled with the sights and sounds of both city life and relaxing on the idyllic beaches, Bridget is definitely glad of the holiday. Sounds like the perfect remedy - but this is Bridget, remember? Things don’t exactly go to plan!
Journalist John Keay has written several books delving into Asian history - all are utterly fascinating. Starting with France’s exploration along the river in the 19th Century, Mad about the Mekong meanders its way from Vietnam through Thailand and into China, showing the history and the impact of this fundamental waterway. If you’re planning on taking a river cruise along the Mekong, this is certainly the read to take with you - if not, it’s the book that will make you book a cruise when you arrive!
Time for something a little different. Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl is a science fiction novel, set in a very different Thailand to the one we recognise now. That said, the streets of Bangkok have a distinctly familiar air about them and the book certainly feels authentically Thai, especially the setting of Thai culture. Set in the 23rd century, this multi award-winning book is a compelling read that looks at the issues surrounding global warming and humanity’s obsession with playing God. Whilst set in the future and rooted in sci-fi tradition, the story feels eerily realistic, and makes for an interesting take on our destiny.
This is certainly a cautionary tale, showing the darker side to tourism in Thailand. Australian tourist Warren Fellows was arrested in 1978 for drug trafficking, and subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment in the notorious Bangkwang Prison, located a few miles north of Bangkok. This is the prison more famously known as the ‘Bangkok Hilton’ and home to many international prisoners. In the end, Fellows served 12 years of his sentence but as this book testifies, they were 12 exceedingly difficult years living in appalling conditions. Damage Done is a haunting yet gripping account that is likely to keep you on the straight and narrow during your travels!
In a country where 93% of the population are practising Buddhists, it would be amiss not to explore the Buddhist culture that is so much a part of the Thai experience. This fascinating book is a great way to put yourself in that frame of mind, equally perfect for anyone completely new to Buddhism and those who have studied the culture before. Steve Hagan's book is one that will slip into your day bag, ready to pull out and accompany you on your travels, and may well become a text you find yourself returning to for years to come.