Reading a book, be it novel or non-fiction, can be a great way to immerse yourself in a destination prior to your visit. It can build your excitement for an upcoming trip - if you have one booked - or inspire you to start planning your next adventure. Here's my reading recommendations for Thailand:
A History of Thailand by Chris Baker and Pasuk Phonpaichit
This is an engaging and accessible history for those interested in the economic, social and political forces that have shaped contemporary Thailand. The authors, who are well respected experts in Asian history, explore the roles of the different cultural groups who contributed to transforming a culturally and linguistically divvied region into a unified nation-state under a strong monarchy.
Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj
This epic novel by a former prime minister of Thailand follows the life of one woman, Phloi, spanning the reigns of four kings, from the 1890’s to the Second World War. The events of Ploi’s life reflect the magnitude of the changes taking place as historic Siam is buffeted by the events of the 20th century, both at home and abroad, that shaped it’s evolution into modern Thailand. This is an intriguing and entertaining novel and offers a view of Thailand’s emergence on to the world stage through the eyes of one woman who lives through it all.
Kukrit Pramoj was himself a fascinating man, prime-minister of Thailand, journalist, and Hollywood actor, he died in 1995.
Anna and the King of Sian by Margaret Landon
In the early 1860’s, Anna Leonowens was invited to Siam by King Mongkut to teach his wives and children English and to introduce them to British customs. She collected her experiences from the five years she spent as his court in tow memoirs The English Governess at the Siamese Court and Romance of thee Harem. Margaret Landon took her first-person narratives and enhanced them with details of Siamese culture and people to produce a best-selling novel that has captured the imaginations of generations. Although a somewhat romanticised account, the novel paints a colourful and exotic picture of life in the opulent court of the 19th-century Kings of Siam, of a time now resigned to the annals of history.
The Beach by Alex Garland
This well-known novel and film is a sort of dystopia of the backpackers dream of an idyllic unconventional life in an unspoilt unknown island paradise. Through a chain of events Richard, a young English backpacker, finds himself in possession of a map leading to a beautiful island with a hidden beach unknown to the tourists who are ‘over running’ the rest of Thailand. Richard makes it to the beach where he finds a community of back packers who have made their lives there, however the idyllic setting starts to unwind as personalities emerge and events outside their control put pressure on the fragile harmony of the community.
This is an insightful critique of the backpackers ideal and the flawed dream of Thailand as a place to “find” oneself that has pervaded a generation of travellers to Southeast Asia.
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap
This collection of short stories set in contemporary Thailand paints a picture of the countries contrasting forces of beauty and bleakness. The stories deal with themes of the East-West clash in the growing tourism industry, the hostility towards migrants, and the daily trials of life in the more rural regions.
Rattawut is a keen observer and a witty and frank guide to the “darker side of the land of smiles”. A great read that gives an insight into the other side of the wave of tourism that has swept Thailand, and the continuing struggles of a young country.
Bangko 8 by John Burdett
The first in a series of novels featuring devout Buddhist detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep on the streets of Bangkok as he seeks to avenge the death of his partner and uncover a criminal mastermind in the corrupt underworld. To do so he must rely on both modern forensics and his own understanding of the mystic workings of the spirit world. Burdett paints a picture of a world where Buddhist monks in saffron robes walk the same streets as gangsters and crime lords, where Buddhist mysticism plays as much of a role in motive as financial gain. Apart from anything else this a great holiday read.