The best books about Thailand from some unique perspectives

Who am I?

I’m a writer and journalist with an eye on South and Southeast Asia. I first worked in Thailand in 1999, researching the Thailand chapter for the first edition of the Rough Guides Southeast Asia Guide. Since 2001, I’ve been a Thailand correspondent for German publisher Reise Know How. For the past decade, I have worked as Thailand Destination Expert for The Daily Telegraph. I co-wrote the bestselling Sacred Skin – Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos with photographer Aroon Thaewchatturat, and have written countless articles about Thai culture, politics and tourism. It took 20 years to write a novel set in Thailand – The Monsoon Ghost Image – a testament to the complexities of Thai society. 


I wrote...

The Monsoon Ghost Image

By Tom Vater,

Book cover of The Monsoon Ghost Image

What is my book about?

When conflict photographer Martin Ritter disappears in Thailand post 9/11, Germany mourns the loss of a cultural icon. A few weeks later, Detective Maier’s agency gets a call from Ritter’s wife. Her husband has been seen alive on the streets of Bangkok. Traveling to Thailand, all Maier finds is a photograph. As soon as the detective puts his hands on the Monsoon Ghost Image, the CIA, a mad doctor and a woman known as the Wicked Witch of the East all want a piece of Ritter's most important piece of work – visual proof that the US is in the torture business.

Maier and his sidekick Mikhail race against formidable foes to discover some of the darkest truths of our time - and save their lives.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Windup Girl

Tom Vater Why did I love this book?

Bacigalupi’s dystopian thriller draws a fascinating picture of a future Bangkok threatened by climate change and rising sea levels at the heart of a thrilling mystery. Anderson Lake, an American agro-business rep, teams up with the Windup Girl, Emiko, an engineered sex slave designed for wealthy Japanese who’s been abandoned on the streets of Bangkok, as he searches for the world’s last food bank amidst beautifully observed Southeast Asian cultural oddities and local politics, while bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe. 

By Paolo Bacigalupi,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Windup Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE HUGO, NEBULA, LOCUS, JOHN W. CAMPBELL AND COMPTON CROOK AWARDS

The Windup Girl is the ground-breaking and visionary modern classic that swept the board for every major science fiction award it its year of publication.

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's calorie representative in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, he combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs long thought to be extinct. There he meets the windup girl - the beautiful and enigmatic Emiko - now abandoned to the slums. She is one of the New People, bred to suit the whims of…


Book cover of Sightseeing

Tom Vater Why did I love this book?

This quirky collection of short stories, first published in 2005, was the first book I read by a Thai author that really captured essential cultural aspects of the country and conveyed them in brilliant prose. A fantastic cast of characters explores generational conflict, East-West relations, social injustice, and the way things are rarely glimpsed by visiting tourists. Poignant and perhaps occasionally a little too light-hearted, these well-rendered tales offer a portrait of contemporary Thailand, far from the usual clichés of monks, elephants, prostitutes, and pad thai. 

By Rattawut Lapcharoensap,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Sightseeing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of stories set in modern-day Thailand depicts this Asian country on the crossroads between the ancient and the modern, focusing on issues of family relations, romance, generational conflicts, and cultural changes.


Book cover of The Beach

Tom Vater Why did I love this book?

The Beach encapsulates the Zeitgeist of the late 90s Lonely Planet heydays, and the subsequent movie adaptation with Leonardo DiCaprio made Garland’s text a backpacker accessory for at least a decade. Lord of the Flies meets The Heart of Darkness amongst free-wheeling hippie travelers in search of utopia in eastern lands and remote, forbidden islands. Paradise, once found by its traveler protagonists, is soon lost again amidst internal confusion and shifting morality coming up against the harsh realities of life in Southeast Asia. A classic thriller, very much of its time, though it’s likely to outlive the 100s of other pulp thrillers based in The Land of Smiles

By Alex Garland,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Beach as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On Richard's first night in Bangkok, a fellow traveller slits his wrists, leaving Richard a map to "the Beach", where white sands circle a lagoon hidden from the sea, coral gardens and freshwater falls are surrounded by jungle. Richard was looking for adventure, and now he has found it.


Book cover of Platform

Tom Vater Why did I love this book?

I felt I needed to include one title about Thailand’s endlessly discussed, sordid sex industry. Houellebecq’s acidic 2004 novel takes the country’s massive sleaze trade head-on, crammed with self-loathing observations of its male protagonist, his world eventually smashed to pieces by a terrorist attack and a heart-breaking ending in the country’s Gomorra-by-the-sea beach resort Pattaya. Audacious, cynical, yet nonetheless filled with humanity, and there’s plenty of sex, Viagra, fun, and despair as well. Platform puts all other fiction covering the country’s exploitative underbelly to shame. 

By Michel Houellebecq,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Platform as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Houellebecq's new novel tells the story of an attempt to create a package-holiday company for sex-tourists. Less philosophical and grandly ambitious than Atomised, it is, if anything, even more outrageously funny and bitingly satirical of the ways we live now than the earlier novel. Added to which, there is a genuinely moving love affair, real characters and a real plot!


Book cover of Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

Tom Vater Why did I love this book?

A brilliant reference book on all aspects (and yes, this book is very thorough) of Thai popular culture. Concise chapters on anything from spirit tattoos to meat on a stick illuminate the far corners of contemporary Thai society, illustrated by hundreds of great photographs. This is a standard work for anyone interested in how Thai society ticks. Cornwel-Smith has served up a second title recently – Very Bangkok – which offers a similarly thorough picture of the Thai capital. 

By Philip Cornwel-Smith, John Goss (photographer),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Very Thai as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This pioneering insight into contemporary Thai folk culture delves beyond the traditional Thai icons to reveal the casual, everyday expressions of Thainess that so delight and puzzle. From floral truck bolts and taxi altars to buffalo cart furniture and drinks in a bag, the same exquisite care, craft and improvisation resounds through home and street, bar and wardrobe. Never colonised, Thai culture retains nuanced ancient meaning in the most mundane things. The days are colour coded, lucky numbers dictate prices, window grilles become guardian angels, tattoos entrance the wearer. Philip Cornwel-Smith scoured each region to show how indigenous wisdom both…


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Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

By Manni Coe, Reuben Coe (illustrator),

Book cover of Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

Manni Coe Author Of Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

New book alert!

Who am I?

As a gay man born into an evangelical Christian family, my coming out story was wrought with pain, trauma, and separation from family and loved ones. In the same year I lost my best friend in an accident. My world tumbled and I had to crawl back to a place of reckoning. Walking became my path to healing. So when my brother Reuben, who has Down's syndrome sent me a message from the isolation of a care home in the pandemic, I knew he was in trouble. Those five words - ´brother. do. you. love. me.´changed our lives. I thought I might know a way to save him.

Manni's book list on memoirs that capture the struggle of everyday life

What is my book about?

Brother. Do. You. Love. Me. is a true story of brotherly love overcoming all. Reuben, who has Down's syndrome, was trapped in a care home during the pandemic, spiralling deeper into a non-verbal depression. From isolation and in desperation, he sent his older brother Manni a text, "brother. do. you. love. me."

This cry for help, this SOS in the sand unleashed a brotherly love that had Manni travelling back to the UK mid-pandemic to rescue his brother from the care home, and together they sheltered from the world in a cottage in deepest, darkest Dorset. There began a journey of recovery and rediscovery. Little by little, the brothers had to piece back together Reuben's world, help him to find his voice and find ways for him to trust the world again. This is a book about care, about Down's syndrome, about love. It is a story of resilience and patience in a world that Reuben thought had abandoned him.

Brother. Do. You. Love. Me.

By Manni Coe, Reuben Coe (illustrator),

What is this book about?


The story of two brothers, one with Down syndrome, and their extraordinary journey of resilience and repair.

"Profoundly moving and hugely uplifting."—Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Reuben, aged 38, was living in a home for adults with learning disabilities. He hadn’t established an independent life in the care system and was still struggling to accept that he had Down syndrome. Depressed and in a fog of antidepressants, he hadn’t spoken for over a year. The only way he expressed himself was by writing poems or drawing felt-tip scenes from his favorite musicals…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Thailand, Southeast Asia, and pop culture?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Thailand, Southeast Asia, and pop culture.

Thailand Explore 36 books about Thailand
Southeast Asia Explore 34 books about Southeast Asia
Pop Culture Explore 142 books about pop culture