Books about Thailand are essential reading before and after visits to the Kingdom. Have you read any of these?
Thailand is a country to experience, rather than one to read about, with its present just as colourful as its past. From sights to smells, spice to the sun, Thailand likes to excite all the senses. That said, you can learn a lot about Thai culture and the country, as well as make sense of your experiences through books about Thailand. Foreigners have spent years learning the language, adapting to the culture, eating the foods and living in paradise. Thai’s have also put in their say, with books about their views of life, culture and cuisine. So forget the Lonely Planet (and avoid the pathetic sexpat books about Thai women) and instead try out these titles to make your experience in Thailand even more rewarding.
For Bangkok get lost in the craziness or get the Lonely Planet Bangkok. Normally I wouldn’t recommend a lonely planet to explore Thailand, but Bangkok is a big city and if you end up in the wrong area, it can be an unpleasant experience. Forget Silom, Nana and Khao San Road, and head to Ekkamai or Thonglor to experience the better side of the city. 22 Walks in Bangkok: Exploring the City’s Historic Back Lanes and Byways is a great Bangkok guide for those of basic terms with the city already. If you like walking then exploring Bangkok by foot, is a sweaty but incredibly rewarding way to see the city. 22 Walks in Bangkok takes readers around some great local areas away from touts and fellow tourists. Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok is another great tool to explore the city. A map with an incredible amount of detail for such a dense city, you’ll find some amazing little, hidden spots with this Nancy Chandler map.
For those looking to read about life in the big mango, Bangkok Days by Laurence Osbourne, Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Bangkok Noir or the Bangkok 8 detective series by John Burdett offer fictional but realistic stories of Bangkok’s hot days and steamy nights. A more futuristic view of the city and a good introduction to the industries and culture around work hierarchies is The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi.
Chiang Mai books
Being a small and easy to navigate city, Chiang Mai offers residents the chance to pen their own novel, or relax in a cafe (or rooftop pool) and read all the books about Thailand. Chiang Mai hasn’t had as much fan fiction as Bangkok has over the years (this isn’t the place to put a detective story, although David Casarett and his Ethical Chiang Mai Detective Agency has tried. I know of quite a few novels penned in Chiang Mai and even wrote my own travel guide about Chiang Mai in Chiang Mai, but books written here are usually ‘how to digital nomad’ style guides and not about the city itself. For Chiang Mai, I would recommend Luxurious Chiang Mai (of course, since this whole website came from this Chiang Mai guide), but also Nomad Guide Chiang Mai for online workers looking to live in Chiang Mai for a longer period of time. At 396 pages of Chiang Mai, Michael John Hughes covers every visa option, food delivery, where to pay utilities and how to find an internet provider. Nancy Chandler’s map of Chiang Mai is also indispensable for any trip to Chiang Mai and perhaps even more useful than the Bangkok one since Chiang Mai is walkable. Finally for families and British expats (sorry Americans, you might not get the humour) I recommend A year in Chiang Mai and the follow up Living in Chiang Mai. It offers some great insights into moving from rainy Britain to tropical Thailand with children.
Support local and grab all the Chiang Mai recommendations – they are all useful and worthwhile books!
As for the rest of Thailand, I don’t know of any books to recommend for the rest of the country (please do contact me and tell me of anything great from the South of Thailand and I shall update this list). For planning the beaches, I again have to recommend Lonely Planet Thailand’s Islands & Beaches for lack of alternatives (and because I can’t be bothered to write up all the beaches and islands in Thailand myself). Perhaps I should mention The Beach, although technically Alex Garland wrote it about a beach in the Philippines (but it was cheaper to film the movie in Thailand).
If you are visiting Chiang Mai for Muay Thai then check out Muay: Submissions, Breaks & Locks of Muay Thai & Muay Boran, Muay Thai Unleashed: Learn Technique and Strategy from Thailand’s Warrior Elite or get in the zone with Win or Learn: MMA, Conor McGregor and Me: A Trainer’s Journey. For digital nomads, The 4 hour work week is a bad but useful read, or try Natalie Sisson’s The Suitcase Entrepreneur: Create Freedom in Business and Adventure in Life. The Digital Nomad Survival Guide is a good book for new digital nomads looking to survive before they thrive, or my personal recommendation, Deep Work, to get off of Facebook and start really thinking deeply.
For language lovers, I can’t recommend Benjawan Poomsan Becker’s Thai for Beginners and Thai for Intermediate Learners. Excellent resources and much better than the pocket-sized phrasebooks (they are useless when it comes to pronouncing Thai or translating anything from English). If you are in a relationship with a Thai (or if you are thinking of dating a Thai girl or boy), then check out Thailand Fever – written in two languages with two different cultural points of view, it’s an interesting look into Thai-Farang relationships and what each side expects. Cooking with Poo is a fun book and a great gift for friends, while A History of Thailand by professors Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit offers an in-depth education about Thailand’s past. Finally, I haven’t read it, but this book is banned in Thailand, probably for a reason – no comment.