Whilst nothing truly compares to visiting a country, talking to people, and experiencing the way of life first hand, for those who want some insight into the Land of Smiles before embarking on a Thai adventure there are some great books to read. These are also perfect for armchair travellers, who love to learn about a country from the comfort of their own home. There are numerous books that seek to provide information about the history, culture, and people of Thailand. There are books by and about Thai people and expats. All make for fascinating reading.
These five books about Thailand are a great starting point for anyone interested in the country:
Sightseeing – Rattawut Lapcharoensap
This interesting collection of short stories deals with multiple facets of Thai society. The author was born to Thai parents and spent a large period of time both living in Thailand and oversees. They are therefore able to compare and contrast the way of life in Thailand objectively to that in other countries. Being able to speak and understand the Thai language means that there is a greater depth of understanding than works penned by non-native speakers, who often miss subtleties in society. The stories try to offer a peek into the lives of real Thai People. The stories deal with the status and importance of the family in Thai society, economic problems, the daily struggles encountered in Thailand, wide-scale and rife corruption, relationships between Thais and foreigners, and common views about sex tourism. The author tries to tell it like it is, without holding back. These well thought out and evocative tales really will leave you thirsty for more.
Buddhadasa: Theravada Buddhism and Modernist Reform in Thailand – Peter A. Jackson
Religion plays a vital part in the everyday lives, practices, and customs of Thai people. It is a firmly entrenched part of the Thai culture. The majority of people in Thailand are Buddhists, although many traditional animist beliefs have been interwoven into the rituals and practices of Thai Buddhism. This book gives lots of information about Buddhism in Thailand, and explores the role of religion within society. It helps the reader to understand how religion is seen by Thais within different generations; compare and contrast the perceptions of old and young, as well as modern and older views. It explains why temples are so revered and sacred in Thailand, the reasons for fabric clad tree trunks, why there is an abundance of small shrines, and more.
The Beach – Alex Garland
This iconic read, which was also turned into a hit film, gives a somewhat accurate portrayal of the party loving and hedonistic nature of many foreign visitors on Thailand’s beaches and islands. Whilst being a work of fiction, there are many aspects of the book that ring true to life. Parts of Thailand, especially in the south, are well known to be party hot spots. This book examines this pleasure seeking type of travel.
Touch the Dragon – Karen Connelly
This is quite an emotional and heart-warming read, written about a foreigner’s experiences of undertaking a year of voluntary work in a rural community in northern Thailand. It deals with culture shock, language barriers, feelings of isolation, confusion, and homesickness, as well as the myriad challenges and delights of living in Thailand. It offers an individual’s views into Thai society and culture.
Bangkok Babylon – Jerry Hopkins
The full title of this book, Bangkok Babylon: The Real Life Exploits of Bangkok’s Legendary Expatriates are Often Stranger than Fiction, gives a hint at what the book is about. Written by and about foreigners, the book details some bizarre, strange, immoral, and illegal activities of some of the Bangkok expat community.