Best Books to Read Before Traveling to Thailand


Thailand. The unofficial gateway to South East Asia, backpacker’s right of passage, and a digital nomad’s dream. It’s no surprise that Thailand has inspired many travel writers. It wasn’t difficult for me to curate a great list of the best Thailand books to read before you travel there.

Whether you’re still dreaming of Chiang Mai or already eating street food in Bangkok, these books are sure to get you in a Thai state of mind.

Best Thailand Books to Read Before You Go

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

A story collection that contrasts the well-worn tourist trail and the problems plaguing rural Thailand. While a little outdated, this read will give you much needed perspective.

Bangkok People by James Eckardt

The collection of short stories covers the wide range of people the author meets in Bangkok, from the filthy rich to just filthy, from street vendors to business tycoons. It’s like you’re sitting at the barstool right next to him.

The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley

It’s rare to find a read-a-like to Downton Abbey on a reading list for Thailand. I live to shock and awe, folks! This gem of historical fiction spans from 1930’s England to Thailand in WWII.

Mad about the Mekong by John Keay

If you’re planning on taking a river cruise along the Mekong, this sweeping book of Asian history will richen your experience. Don’t let my use of the word “history” scare you off either, it’s captivating.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

It’s rare when a science fiction novel makes it on to a book list of mine. I have nothing against them, but they rarely evict a sense of place that would improve a traveler’s reading list. This book is different. It’s got a distinctly Thai feel, even though our namesake character is an engineered being.

The Beach by Alex Garland

If you’re a part of the backpacking constituent traversing SE Asia, this book is practically required reading. A dark view of the Eden that is Thailand. P.s. the movie was shot on Koh Phi Phi in case you want to follow in Richard’s footsteps.

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  1. Tannn
    May 25, 2020 at 3:16 am

    SIGHTSEEING by Rattawut Lapcharoensap is a fantastic and accurate depiction of Thailand and Thai culture! I get annoyed every time other influential travelers only resort to recommending THE BEACH, so I’m glad you lead the list with Lapcharoensap’s short story collection. BRIGHT by Duanwad Pimwana is another good depiction of Thai life and culture, unfortunately, it’s a bit “too well translated” so while the voice is implausible, the storyline is spot on.

    • adobberteen
      May 26, 2020 at 3:08 pm

      Yes! EVERY recommendation is “The Beach” and Thailand is so much more than that. I’ll have to look into “Sightseeing!”

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