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Ten Great Books set in BANGKOK

11th November 2021

Bangkok is the latest destination for our Great Book series – Ten Great Books set in BANGKOK. Thailand’s capital is a large city known for ornate shrines and vibrant street life. The boat-filled Chao Phraya River feeds its network of canals, flowing past the Rattanakosin royal district, home to opulent Grand Palace and its sacred Wat Phra Kaew Temple. Nearby is Wat Pho Temple with an enormous reclining Buddha and, on the opposite shore, Wat Arun Temple with its steep steps and Khmer-style spire

‘Bangkok is infamously mired in lurid contradiction, but it’s also a city of subtle and distorted moods that journalism and film have hitherto mostly failed to capture’ – Lawrence Osborne

Ten Great Books set in BANGKOKA Woman of Bangkok by Jack Reynolds

Set against a beautifully observed Thailand of the 1950s, this is the story of a young Englishman s infatuation with a dance-hall hostess named Vilai, who all Bangkok knows as The White Leopard. No ordinary prostitute, Vilai is one of the most memorable in literature s long line of brazen working girls. An unmitigated liar and brutally transparent about her desire for money, she unscrupulously milks young Reggie Joyce, the son of an Anglican vicar, with complete frankness. Reggie knows her for what she is yet there seems no folly he will not commit for her, no road to ruin he dares not take. Vilai becomes an obsession for him an obsession that brings Reggie moments of ecstasy, months of anguish and the threat of utter disaster. Acknowledged today as one of the most memorable novels about Thailand, A Woman of Bangkok was first published to critical acclaim in London and New York in the 1950s and is a classic of Bangkok fiction. While the Fifties was a very different world, what is remarkable about this book is that the more the bar scene in Bangkok changes, the more it stays the same. Just as Moll Flanders and Fanny Hill stand eternal, Vilai takes a very special, dare one say seminal, place as the first and best of the many anti-heroines of the now burgeoning Bangkok novel.

Bangkok Wakes To Rain by Pitchaya Sudbanthad

In the restless city of Bangkok, there is a house.

Over the last two centuries, it has played host to longings and losses past, present, and future, and has witnessed lives shaped by upheaval, memory and the lure of home.

A nineteenth-century missionary pines for the comforts of New England, even as he finds the vibrant foreign chaos of Siam increasingly difficult to resist. A jazz pianist is summoned in the 1970s to conjure music that will pacify resident spirits, even as he’s haunted by ghosts of his former life. A young woman in a time much like our own gives swimming lessons in the luxury condos that have eclipsed the old house, trying to outpace the long shadow of her political past. And in the submerged Bangkok of the future, a band of savvy teenagers guides tourists and former residents past waterlogged landmarks, selling them tissues to wipe their tears for places they themselves do not remember.

Time collapses as their stories collide and converge, linked by blood, memory, yearning, chance, and the forces voraciously making and remaking the amphibian, ever-morphing city itself.

Ten Great Books set in BANGKOKBangkok Babylon by Jerry Hopkins

Among these 25 profiles of amazing members of Bangkoks expatriate community who transformed themselves after leaving home are an advertising executive who photographs Bangkoks most beautiful bargirls, an insurance agent who became a modern bounty hunter, a Catholic priest who has lived and worked in the slums for 35 years, a lawyer who became a novelist, a retired Oscar-winning screenwriter, and a piano teacher who ended up on the FBIs 10 Most Wanted list!

Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne

Tourists come to Bangkok for many reasons: a night of love, a stay in a luxury hotel, or simply to disappear for a while. Lawrence Osborne comes for the cheap dentistry, and then stays when he finds he can live off just a few dollars a day.

Osborne’s Bangkok is a vibrant, instinctual city full of contradictions. He wanders the streets, dining on insects, trawling through forgotten neighbourhoods, decayed temples and sleazy bars.

Far more than a travel book, Bangkok Days explores both the little-known, extraordinary city and the lives of a handful of doomed ex-patriates living there, ‘as vivid a set of liars and losers as was ever invented by Graham Greene’ (New York Times).

The Big Weird by Christopher G Moore

A beautiful American blond is found dead with a large bullet hole in her head in the house of her ex-boyfriend. A famous Hollywood screen-writer hires Calvino to investigate her death. Everyone except Calvino’s client believes Samantha McNeal has committed suicide. In the early days of the Internet, Sam ran with a young and wild expat crowd in Bangkok. As Calvino slides into a world where people are dead serious about sex, money and fame, he unearths a hedonistic community where the ritual of death is the ultimate high.

Ten Great Books set in BANGKOKA Nail Through The Heart by Timothy Hallinan

Travel writer Poke Rafferty was good at looking for trouble – so good that he made a little money writing a few offbeat travel guides for the young and terminally bored. But that was before Bangkok stole his heart. Now the expat American is happily playing family with Rose, the former go-go dancer he wants to marry, and with Miaow, the wary street child he wants to adopt. Yet just when everything is beginning to work out, trouble comes looking for Poke in the guise of good intentions. First he takes in Miaow’s friend, a troubled and terrifying street urchin named Superman. Then he agrees to find a distraught Aussie woman’s missing uncle – and accept an old woman’s generous payment to find a blackmailing thief. Suddenly he finds himself pulled into a dark side of Bangkok that he doesn’t know or understand, but everything he has is suddenly under threat.

Bamboo Grove by Romy Wood

A pseudo-Buddhist monk, an illegal immigrant, a bipolar teenager and a quixotic pair of young businessmen are all bound by Eastern Vision, an empire selling everything from faux-Eastern objets to real estate, from client-centred sperm-donation to gypsy magic. A black comedy set in Bangkok about financial collapse, corruption and altruism.

Bangkok Bob and The Missing Mormon by Stephen Leather

Long-term Bangkok resident and former New Orleans cop Bob Turtledove has a knack for getting people out of difficult situations. So when a young man from Utah goes missing in Bangkok, his parents are soon knocking on Bob’s door asking for help. But what starts out as a simple missing person case takes a deadly turn as Bangkok Bob’s search for the missing Mormon brings him up against Russian gangsters, hired killers, corrupt cops and kickboxing thugs. And he learns that even in the Land of Smiles, people can have murder on their minds. This is the first book in a new series by bestselling author Stephen Leather.

Forget You Had a Daughter: Doing Time in the Bangkok Hilton by Sandra Gregory

Sandra Gregory was living a life in Bangkok that many only dream of – until illness, unemployment and political unrest turned it into a nightmare. Desperate to get home, she agreed to smuggle an addict’s personal supply of heroin. She didn’t even make it onto the plane. In this remarkably candid memoir, Sandra Gregory tells of the events leading up to her arrest, the horrific conditions in Lard Yao prison, her trial in a language she didn’t understand and how it feels to be sentenced to death. Her journey to the UK resumed some four and a half years later when she was transferred to the British prison system, where she had to adapt to a new yet equally harsh regime. Following relentless campaigning by her parents, who refused to forget they had a daughter, she was pardoned by the King of Thailand and released in 2000. “Forget You Had A Daughter” is the extraordinary story of a good woman who made a mistake that changed the rest of her life.

The Big Mango by Jake Needham

From the Big Apple, to the Big Orange, to the Big Mango. It does have a kind of nutty logic to it. Bangkok is about as far as you can go without falling off the edge of the world, although at times Eddie wondered if that wasn t exactly what he had done. Four hundred million dollars is in the wind, the result of a bungled CIA operation to grab the Bank of Vietnam s currency reserves when the Americans fled Saigon in 1975. Two decades later, the word on the street is that all that money somehow ended up in Bangkok and a downwardly mobile lawyer from San Francisco names Eddie Dare is the only guy who has a real shot at finding it. But first Eddie has to survive the jagged netherworld of modern-day Thailand a corkscrewed realm where big-time drug dealers tango with small-time hustlers, criminals on the 1 am mingle with bureaucrats on the take, and the merely raffish jostle with the downright scary for centre stage in the big leagues of weird. If Eddie can weather all that, maybe he really can find out what happened back in Saigon so long ago, and where those ten tons of money are.

Are there any other Bangkok books you would add? If so, just let us know in the Comments below…

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  1. User: Jake Needham

    Posted on: 01/12/2021 at 11:32 am

    I’m naturally pleased that you included THE BIG MANGO in your Bangkok list, but a little disappointed that the cover you used is from an edition that’s been out of print for over ten years. Just as an aside, THE BIG MANGO is a bit of a time capsule these days since it was set in Bangkok of the 90s, a time and place now lamentably lost forever. I’ve published a long list of other titles since then that draw on contemporary Bangkok, and my own view is that most of them would have been a better choice for a current list. For example, LAUNDRY MAN, KILLING PLATO, A WORLD OF TROUBLE, and DON’T GET CAUGHT.


    1 Comment

    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 01/12/2021 at 3:06 pm

      Jake, thanks for this… And apologies, we have updated the cover for The Big Mango. It is, as you might imagine, quite a problem for us keeping up with edition changes on the site. We try, but… The other four titles you mention are included on the site (as are a total of 12 of your books set across the Far East). We would recommend all the ones that we have read.


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