The best books about Thailand

4 authors have picked their favorite books about Thailand and why they recommend each book.

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Sightseeing

By Rattawut Lapcharoensap,

Book cover of Sightseeing

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. 


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.

Thongchai

By Thongchai Winichakul,

Book cover of Thongchai: Siam Mapped Paper

Tracing the emergence of the modern nation of Thailand from the Kingdom of Siam, Thongchai Winichakul demonstrates that the rulers of the emergent nation gradually adopted the same logic of national sovereignty and geopolitics as its colonial neighbors in the region, France and Britain. The implication is that in modernizing and reconfiguring what constitutes sovereignty Asian nations are not necessarily more benign than their western counterparts in extending their rule’ victims of western colonial aggression are not exempt from exercising similar forms of coercion against their own inner others. 


Who am I?

As Professor of History and Global Asian Studies and Director of the Engaged Humanities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I'm interested in intersections at the margins between cultural systems. I first became drawn to Chinese history after visiting the country in 1982 and returned to teach English there before undertaking graduate studies. My work on eighteenth-century China focuses on ethnography and cartography as tools of empire building during its period of growth and expansion. My current project, Bridging Worlds: Reflections on a Journey, chronicles a quest for personal integration when obtaining an education has too often become predicated on the ability to cut oneself off from aspects of one’s own inner knowing and lived experience.


I wrote...

Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China

By Laura Hostetler,

Book cover of Qing Colonial Enterprise: Ethnography and Cartography in Early Modern China

What is my book about?

In Qing Colonial Enterprise, Laura Hostetler shows how Qing China (1636-1911) used cartography and ethnography to pursue its imperial ambitions. She argues that far from being on the periphery of developments in the early modern period, Qing China both participated in and helped shape the new emphasis on empirical scientific knowledge that was simultaneously transforming Europe—and its colonial empires—at the time.

Although mapping in China is almost as old as Chinese civilization itself, the Qing insistence on accurate, to-scale maps of their territory was a new response to the difficulties of administering a vast and growing empire. Likewise, direct observation became increasingly important to Qing ethnographic writings, such as the illustrated manuscripts known as "Miao albums" (from which twenty color paintings are reproduced in this book).

Finding Venerable Mother

By Cindy Rasicot,

Book cover of Finding Venerable Mother: A Daughter's Spiritual Quest to Thailand

Writing a memoir is a brave act, especially one that shares a personal and spiritual exploration, and Cindy Rasicot’s engaging Finding Venerable Mother does just that. I applaud her honesty. Within these pages, I experienced, first, her encounter and then budding relationship with Dhammananda Bhikkhuni, Thailand’s first female Buddhist monk. Along the way, Ms. Rasicot frankly shares personal health challenges, obstacles she encountered living in a foreign country, and, ultimately, triumphs. It is a story of love and acceptance, healing and hope. 


Who am I?

I have always been a seeker, fascinated by all cultures, philosophies, and spiritual perspectives. Although the concept is often different—for some, it’s a place of refuge, feeling safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble; for others, it’s a state of being, an inner peace, I’ve found that the search for sanctuary—safe-haven—elsewhere—has ancient roots and contemporary reverberations. My novel, Guesthouse for Ganesha, further heightened my interest in this subject, for my protagonist, Esther Grünspan, both deeply wounded and unsafe, was compelled to seek sanctuary. As a first-time novelist with an 18-year journey to publication, I fully immersed myself in this topic’s study and comprehension.


I wrote...

Guesthouse for Ganesha

By Judith Teitelman,

Book cover of Guesthouse for Ganesha

What is my book about?

Weaving Eastern beliefs and perspectives with Western realities and pragmatism, Guesthouse for Ganesha is a tale of love, loss, and spirit reclaimed.

In 1923, 17-year-old Esther Grünspan arrives in Köln “with a hardened heart as her sole luggage,” Thus begins a 22-year journey, woven against the backdrops of the European Holocaust and Hindu Kali Yuga (“Age of Darkness”), in search of sanctuary. Throughout her travails, Esther relies on her masterful tailoring skills to help mask her Jewish heritage, navigate war-torn Europe, and emigrate to India. Her traveling companion and the novel’s narrator is Ganesha, the beloved elephant-headed Hindu God. Impressed by Esther’s fortitude and relentless determination, born of her deep―though unconscious―understanding of the meaning of love, Ganesha conveys her journey with compassion, insight, and poetry.

The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi,

Book cover of The Windup Girl

What makes great worldbuilding, as opposed to just good worldbuilding? It’s hard to define, but the world should feel complex but not confusing, different but still relatable, and drive the story the author wants to tell. The Windup Girl remains my ultimate blueprint for how to get it right in my own novels. This novel follows several characters in 23rd Century Thailand that includes a refugee, an economic hitman, a well-meaning law enforcement officer, and a genetically-modified, synthetic human named Emiko. Climate change is a big theme and forms the basis for how the characters operate and survive in this complex, morally murky, and magnetic world. 


Who am I?

I’m addicted to reading and writing science fiction that pulls readers into a universe they never want to leave. I love big, futuristic cities and complex societies where good people must make difficult choices. My first novel, The Sentient, was published in 2020 and the third book in my trilogy will be released in March 2023—a story about clones, cults, and consciousness. I love a lot about science fiction—the technology, the depictions of space travel and distant planets—but I care most about worldbuilding. I taught a class at a writer’s conference about getting from good to great worldbuilding in science fiction and fantasy.


I wrote...

The Sentient

By Nadia Afifi,

Book cover of The Sentient

What is my book about?

Amira Valdez dreams of working in the space stations that orbit the Earth and putting her past behind her. She escaped a religious compound in the American southwest to eventually become a talented neuroscientist in the city of Westport. But when she’s assigned to the controversial Pandora project, an effort to create the first human clone, her past and present collide. Using her talents as an interpreter of human memories, Amira uncovers a conspiracy to stop the Pandora project from succeeding—at all costs.

As she digs deeper, Amira navigates a dangerous world populated by anti-cloning militants, scientists with hidden agendas, and a mysterious New Age movement. But her adventures also uncover an even darker secret within the project, one that will change the world.

Plants and People of the Golden Triangle

By Edward Anderson,

Book cover of Plants and People of the Golden Triangle: Ethnobotany of the Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand

A superb, illustrated coffee-table book describing the Hill Tribes and their relations to plants from cultivation and marketing, to nutrition and spiritual use. Though not specifically about Laos, many of the tribes are in Laos too and they cross borders. An important book for the conservation of tribal knowledge and food culture.


Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by Lao Food for more than two decades. When I first went to Laos, the communist regime had closed the country for years but the isolation had kept the food culture in stasis, uncontaminated by outside influences. It was virtually unknown outside the regional area and deserved to be better known and celebrated. Lao cuisine is a remarkable synthesis of a thousand years of history, culture, and, as the French would say ‘terroir’, that unique context of land and farming practice that results in regional flavour. I love that authentic food, and I admire the beautiful country, and the friends I have made in my exploration of both. 


I wrote...

Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures Of A Food Tourist In Laos

By Natacha Du Pont de Bie,

Book cover of Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures Of A Food Tourist In Laos

What is my book about?

Natacha Du Pont De Bie is no ordinary tourist. She'll trek for hours or even days in search of a good lunch. Her obsession with food is such that, while others are lying comatose on the beach or cycling up mountains, she'll be down at the local market, elbow deep in produce, grilling people on where to find the best indigenous restaurants and cafés and jotting down recipes.

Ant Egg Soup chronicles a gastronomic pilgrimage to Laos by an intrepid author who went the extra mile to find authentic and exciting local cuisine and learn about its little-known food culture.

Influencer

By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler

Book cover of Influencer: The Power to Change Anything

In this book, the authors travel the world to interview people who are doing things that border on the impossible. In the book, they share and integrate the examples. They provide inspiring insights on how to make a positive difference in the world.


Who am I?

Robert Quinn is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Business. His research and writing focus on purpose, leadership, culture, and change. He has published 18 books on these subjects. He is passionate about speaking and teaching and his recent talk to Google on finding your purpose was viewed by over 18 million people.


I wrote...

Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within

By Robert Quinn,

Book cover of Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within

What is my book about?

Open this book at your own risk. It contains ideas that may lead to a profound self-awakening. An introspective journey for those in the trenches of today's modern organizations, Deep Change is a survival manual for finding our own internal leadership power. By helping us learn new ways of thinking and behaving, it shows how we can transform ourselves from victims to powerful agents of change. And for anyone who yearns to be an internally driven leader, to motivate the people around them, and return to a satisfying work life, Deep Change holds the key.

Bangkok

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 World on Either Side

By Diana Terrana,

Book cover of The World on Either Side

This story takes place on an exotic trek in Thailand. The setting is amazing. But what is even more amazing is the stuff going on inside the sixteen-year-old narrator Valentine’s head! She is trying to cope after the tragic, senseless death of her boyfriend. There is a lot that is sad and serious in this story, but it’s also life-affirming and beautifully written.

Who am I?

As far as I can remember, I have been obsessed with death! Maybe it’s because my mom, who died four years ago at the age of 86, was a Holocaust survivor. Anyway, what I’ve noticed is that all kids' stories deal with death. Think, for instance, of how Harry Potter is an orphan. Or how so many characters in fairy tales have a parent who is dead. I think dealing with death – talking about it openly --- helps us live our lives in a more meaningful way. For my own novel, Planet Grief, I did a ton of researcher and befriended an amazing grief counselor named Dawn Cruchet. You can look her up on the web and learn about her too. Dawn taught me that there is no one, correct way to grieve, that grief is a life-changing journey.


I wrote...

Planet Grief

By Monique Polak,

Book cover of Planet Grief

What is my book about?

Planet Grief takes place at a grief camp – a place for kids who are mourning the death of someone they loved. Compared to other kids, the kids at grief camp really are living on another planet. Always-sarcastic Abby would rather be playing soccer, and cagily-quiet Christopher thinks grief camp is a waste of time. But together with the other kids on Planet Grief, they’re about to learn a thing or two – not so much about death, but about life. The novel’s author, Monique Polak, is also a journalist. The novel is based on research about a real-life grief camp in Montreal.

Nexus

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...

Machinehood

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?

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