The best Bangkok books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about Bangkok and why they recommend each book.

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By Leela Punyaratabandhu,

Book cover of Bangkok: Recipes and Stories from the Heart of Thailand

Leela Punyaratabandhu doesn’t dumb things down in her cookbook, which is an ode to the city of her birth. Hers are Bangkok-style Thai dishes as they are cooked in Thailand. Through it we learn not only how to caramelize beef using jaggery (an unprocessed sugar), but also how to pair it with deeply savory and spicy dishes for a meal that harmonizes contrasting flavors and textures. The suggested meals in her book require cooking sets of dishes, often four or more. While not the makings of an easy weeknight dinner, if you follow her instructions, the results are truly transportive.

Who am I?

Felicia Campbell is a food writer, editor, and author of The Food of Oman: Stories and Recipes from the Gateway to Arabia, the first English-language cookbook on Omani cuisine. She earned her masters degree in culinary anthropology from New York University with a specialization in Middle Eastern foodways. She has lectured on Omani food and food in zones of conflict at the Smithsonian Institute, Leiden University, New York University, and Arizona State University. She is currently developing a documentary series about endangered cuisines around the world. 

I wrote...

The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia

By Felicia Campbell,

Book cover of The Food of Oman: Recipes and Stories from the Gateway to Arabia

What is my book about?

Featuring rustic Middle Eastern dishes infused with the flavors of East Africa, India, and Persia, The Food of Oman presents the delicious diversity of the Arabian Sultanate through 100 recipes, lush photography, and stories from the people behind the food in an immersive introduction to a fascinating, little-known corner of the world. It is the first and only book to offer a modern and historical perspective on the food and culture of Oman and the Arabian Gulf.

Traveling Below the Speed Limit

By Janet Brown,

Book cover of Traveling Below the Speed Limit

Always eloquent, insightful and at times, funny...such as how a mispronounced word in the tonal languages of the region might end in shared hilarity or bloodshed, Janet Brown describes her travels in Thailand and other SE Asian countries with warmth and joy. Her slow pace exudes sympathy, understanding, and enjoyment of the people and their lifestyles.

She said she learned from great travel writers that 'curiosity and observation can make a walk around the block become a journey', and I felt I was right by her side, enjoying the mood, the people, and especially, the food.

Who am I?

I am a painter and a writer from Myanmar. The former profession is what I chose when I was 15 and began at 21, featured in a group exhibition of modern art and the only woman among several men. Since then I have exhibited in several group shows and have had seven solos. In the early 2000s by chance - and financial need - I became the Contributing Editor for the Myanmar Times weekly and a travel magazine until they closed down. Since then I have written around 20 books on food, culture, and travels and it kept me so busy that my art was put on hoId, but I hope to resume one day soon.

I wrote...

Nor Iron Bars a Cage

By Ma Thanegi,

Book cover of Nor Iron Bars a Cage

What is my book about?

I was a happily divorced painter until the 1988 uprising happened and along with some colleagues we got involved and were sent to Insein Prison. There I met other political prisoners and without any discussion, we had fun by not obliging those who wanted us to be miserable. During interrogations, we ran rings around the Intelligence guys with expressions of innocence we could slap our faces in an instant. Our group became like family, and we still are.

I so enjoyed the rare chance to make friends from the criminal element, learn of their lives and careers, and of hilariously failed endeavors. One gang leader I talked to at the gate vowed to break open anyone's head of my choice when we're out, for a favor I had done for him This book is perhaps a journey of sorts, although I would sincerely not recommend it to anyone.

The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi,

Book cover of The Windup Girl

Paolo Bacigalupi is a creator of worlds. I love a good world. While I really would like to avoid the world he’s predicting, I can’t help but be amazed by his craftsmanship.

But what I enjoy most is that he manages to write about a genetically engineered sex worker with his “male gaze” checked firmly at the door. His story focuses instead on the hopelessness of being controlled right down the patent on your engineered chromosomes, and the hope of escape. In doing that he gives the reader a real opportunity to empathize with a good many marginalized people in the real world.

Who am I?

I think of dystopian fiction as simulations writers conduct to see how things will go if we don’t wise up. Given that the nonsense of everyday life today leads to these future scenarios, we are inherently part of their stories. That makes them personal. Optimistic tales of future utopias don’t manage the same trick. There’s no part of life today that appears to be the seed for Star Fleet to form and dedicate itself to exploration and knowledge. We can hope for that, but any turning point towards it hasn’t happened. When I look at futures of ecological ruin or commodified genetic code, I feel connected because those seeds are being cultivated as we speak.

I wrote...

Piggyback to the End of the World

By David Thurlow,

Book cover of Piggyback to the End of the World

What is my book about?

Nil Steivenson and Lucy Wu are not exactly mad scientists. They are a pair of furious, misanthropic bio-engineers. Nil has lost his family to horrifying legislation, coupled with the perverse misuse of technology he pioneered. Lucy, a genius by any standard, has had the future she was promised all her life abruptly crushed by a glass ceiling set so low she’s stuck in her parent’s basement.

Having lost everything but their friendship, the pair enlist the help of a stolen corporate artificial intelligence to beat the world at its own game and set humanity on a better course. That’s plan A, anyway. Unfortunately, Plan B is much more likely. Plan B keeps them up at night. Plan B might be the end of the world.


By Ramez Naam, Argh! Oxford (illustrator),

Book cover of Nexus: Nexus ARC Book 1

Nexus explores the idea of collective consciousness via technology in a way that has similarities to my own writing and ideas. For one, people use drugs to modify their brains, which I find is the most likely way to get people to accept biotech. Surgery is fraught with perils, but pills are easy to swallow. The plot features plenty of action, geeks, and technology, all of which I love, and the story incorporates elements of eastern philosophy that crop up in my own work, as well.

Who am I?

Back in college, I switched from being an astrophysics major to computational neuroscience. The reasons are complicated, but suffice it to say that I found the human brain to be as big of a mystery as black holes. I’ve worked as an engineer for two decades on applications ranging from medical devices, to digital music recognition, to high speed chip design. Writing science fiction is the second act of my life, and I love drawing on my science background to inform my stories. I especially love taking cutting-edge technology and thinking about how it could impact future society, from the global to the individual.

I wrote...


By S.B. Divya,

Book cover of Machinehood

What is my book about?

It’s 2095, and humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in a ubiquitous gig economy. Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed by the Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group. Their operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week. 

Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood, and what do they really want? A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?

Every Man a Menace

By Patrick Hoffman,

Book cover of Every Man a Menace

This is only Patrick Hoffman’s second book, but it is a wonderful model of how to write a complex and controlled work without leaving loose ends, lingering too long in one phase, or letting the reader lose interest. The novel presents us with a drug cartel that stretches around the world like a giant organism. A single disturbance in one location causes violent and self-protective reactions in each of the other locations, like reflexes of the giant organism’s body. The novel is a brilliant study of cause and effect. Hoffman portrays a world that is dangerous and dark, but every bit of it makes sense.

Who am I?

Thomas Perry is a 74 year old writer who is working on his 30th novel. His books have won a number of honors and awards, including the Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America for The Butcher's Boy, the Gumshoe for Pursuit, the Barry for The Informant, and again for Eddie's Boy. Metzger's Dog was voted by NPR's listeners one of "100 Killer Thrillers--Best Thrillers Ever." He has always believed that a writer's most important job is learning to be a better writer.

I wrote...

The Left-Handed Twin: A Jane Whitefield Novel

By Thomas Perry,

Book cover of The Left-Handed Twin: A Jane Whitefield Novel

What is my book about?

Jane Whitefield helps people disappear. Fearing for their lives, fleeing dangerous situations, her clients come to her when they need to vanish completely—to assume a new identity and establish a new life somewhere they won’t be found. And when people are desperate enough to need her services, they come to the old house in rural western New York where Jane was raised to begin their escape.

Bangkok Wakes to Rain

By Pitchaya Sudbanthad,

Book cover of Bangkok Wakes to Rain

I lived in Bangkok for six years. This is the rare novel that captures the sounds, the smells, the spirit, and spirituality of the place. Bangkok in fact is the main character, with supporting roles by humans who make their lives there, from the nineteenth century to the present and into the not-so-distant future, when water lays permanent claim to a city built more or less at sea level. You can expect lyrical writing and engaging characters, whether human or urban. 

Who am I?

I first saw Angkor, capital of the Khmer Empire, in 1969 as a teenager and was bowled over by the place. I kept coming back as a journalist and author. They say you should write about things that truly crank your engine, and I found mine—imperial conquest, Hindu and Buddhist spirituality, astounding architecture, and the lives of the millions of people who inhabited and built the place. I’ve now written three non-fiction books and two historical novels set in the civilization’s twelfth-century peak. The novels are an effort to recreate life in the old days. They draw heavily on my years in Southeast Asia, experiencing what life is like in the present day.

I wrote...

A Woman of Angkor

By John Burgess,

Book cover of A Woman of Angkor

What is my book about?

The time is the twelfth century, the place Cambodia, birthplace of the lost Angkor civilization. In a village behind a towering stone temple lives a young woman named Sray, whom neighbors liken to the heroine of a Hindu epic. Hiding a dangerous secret, she is content with quiet obscurity, but one rainy season afternoon is called to a life of prominence in the royal court. There her faith and loyalties are tested by attention from the king. Struggling to keep her devotion is her husband Nol, palace confidante and master of the silk parasols that were symbols of the monarch's rank. The novel evokes the rites and rhythms of the ancient culture that built the temples of Angkor, then abandoned them to nature.

Tales of Two Planets

By John Freeman,

Book cover of Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World

Any discussion of how people and nature relate to each other in the twenty-first century will come up against the issue of climate change. And there are so many good books to read on the topic – Elizabeth Rush’s Rising comes right to mind, or the collection All We Can Save, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson. What Tale of Two Planets offers is a global perspective on rising seas, changing seasons, and damaging weather through genres from poetry to prose to fiction. Each author brings clarity to the science and politics of climate change, but the sections here are also portraits of love for place and community. If you’ve never read a book on climate change before, it’s a great start; if you’ve read them all, there’s something new and beautiful here.

Who am I?

Bathsheba Demuth is a historian and prize-winning writer, interested in how people, ideas, places, and other-than-human species intersect in the far north. Her interest in these subjects began when she was 18 and spent several years in the Yukon, mushing huskies, hunting caribou, fishing for salmon, and otherwise learning to survive in the taiga and tundra. Now, when not in the Arctic, she lives in Rhode Island, where she is a professor at Brown University.

I wrote...

Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait

By Bathsheba Demuth,

Book cover of Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait

What is my book about?

Whales and walruses, caribou and fox, gold and oil: through the stories of these animals and resources, Bathsheba Demuth reveals how people have turned ecological wealth in a remote region into economic growth and state power for more than 150 years.

The first-ever comprehensive history of Beringia, the Arctic land and waters stretching from Russia to Canada, Floating Coast breaks away from familiar narratives to provide a fresh and fascinating perspective on an overlooked landscape. The unforgiving territory along the Bering Strait had long been home to humans--the Inupiat and Yupik in Alaska, and the Yupik and Chukchi in Russia--before Americans and Europeans arrived with revolutionary ideas for progress. Rapidly, these frigid lands and waters became the site of an ongoing experiment: How, under conditions of extreme scarcity, would the great modern ideologies of capitalism and communism control and manage the resources they craved?

Very Thai

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

Book cover of Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

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. 

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.

Merit Badge Murder

By Leslie Langtry,

Book cover of Merit Badge Murder

The murder and the laughs in this mystery begin on page one—which is no mean feat. Retired CIA agent Merry Wrath is now leading an Iowa girl scout troop. A murdered Al Qaeda operative tangled in the ropes course puts her back on the case again… and with her old and very attractive handler. Add in a handsome detective, and the sparks and laughs are flying in this good-natured and well-plotted romp.

Who am I?

I’ve been addicted to reading and writing mystery novels since I picked up my first Nancy Drew. But in addition to a good puzzle, I also love a good laugh and grew up watching classic screwball comedies. I’ve written a dozen funny cozy mysteries now with more in the works. I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!

I wrote...

Big Shot: A Small Town Cozy Mystery

By Kirsten Weiss,

Book cover of Big Shot: A Small Town Cozy Mystery

What is my book about?

Hi. I’m Alice. The number one secret to my success as a bodyguard? Staying under the radar. But when a public disaster blew up my career and my reputation, my perfect, solo life took a hard left turn to small-town Nowhere, Nevada. And to bodies. Lots of dead bodies…

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