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Ten Great Books set in Thailand

17th May 2018

Ten Great Books set in Thailand

Thailand is the latest country for us to visit in our ‘Ten great books set in…’ series. ‘Ten great books set in Thailand’. For many Thailand is a destination for a beach holiday and tropical sunshine… but there is so much more. From the Chao Phraya River, The Grand Palace, and the famous Wat Phra Kaew Temple of Bangkok to beautiful Chiang Mai set in the mountains of the North, with its Old City and hundreds of Buddhist temples. And then there is authentic Thai food – some of the very best in the world. A country to savour.

Ten great books set in Thailand

Courtesy: Touropia

The books below are some of those most highly rated by members of the TripFiction community.

A 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.

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Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski 

A deep and rich novel set among the hill tribes of Northern Thailand. A suspense story blending anthropology and Christian missionaries, it almost feels autobiographical. The thread that keeps the book together is the main character’s, almost obsessive, attempt to unravel the mystery of Martiya van der Leun, an anthropologist, who had been working with the animist Dyalo hill tribe in Northern Thailand, she was imprisoned for murder and had apparently committed suicide in jail.

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The Beach by Alex Garland

In our ever-shrinking world, where popular Western culture seems to have infected every nation on the planet, it is hard to find even a small niche of unspoiled land–forget searching for pristine islands or continents. This is the situation in Alex Garland’s debut novel, The Beach. Human progress has reduced Eden to a secret little beach near Thailand. In the tradition of grand adventure novels, Richard, a rootless traveller rambling around Thailand on his way somewhere else, is given a hand-drawn map by a madman who calls himself Daffy Duck. He and two French travellers set out on a journey to find this paradise.

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Thai Girl by Andrew Hicks

When travellers Ben and Emma come to blows on the idyllic Thai island of Koh Samet, it’s not long before Ben falls for Fon, a flirtatious but enigmatic beach masseuse, and is forced to come to terms with the darker side of tourism in Thailand. As Ben parties on the beaches with travellers from around the world and experiences the raunchy nightlife of Bangkok, he is drawn deeper into the harsh reality of his island paradise. The closer he is to Fon, the sparkling Thai girl of his dreams, the more he realizes what it means to be truly poor and what drives farmers’ daughters away from their homes to sell their bodies in the bars of Bangkok. On the surface Thai Girl is an endearing romantic adventure novel: at another level it explores some of the disturbing issues affecting a fast-developing country and its people as well as the problems associated with cross-cultural relationships. Hicks weaves a gripping and thought-provoking narrative that reaches its climax in the sultry heat of Thailand’s exotic traveller beaches..

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Bangkok 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!

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Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne

An interesting reflection on the city, Osborne takes the reader to hidden corners of the city, introduces locals and foreigners, and generally writes a cohesive, well observed and well written travelogue – a must to gain another dimension to understand Bangkok

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Cross Currents by John Shors 

A Thai family, Lek, Sarai, and their three children are making a living on the island of Ko Phi Phi running tourist accommodation. They have taken in a young American, Patch, who is avoiding the law after getting bound up in some drug deals. Very strong on location.

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Private Dancer by Stephen Leather

Thailand 1996. The Year Of The Rat. Pete, a young travel writer, wanders into a Bangkok go-go bar and meets the love of his life. Joy is the girl of his dreams, young, stunningly pretty, and one of the Zombie Bar’s top earning pole dancers.

What follows is a roller-coaster ride of sex, drugs and deception, as Pete discovers that his very own private dancer is not all that she claims to be. And that far from being the girl of his dreams, Joy is his own personal nightmare.

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Selected Short Stories of Thailand by William Peskett

The stories in this selection, taken from William Peskett’s four collections, Mango and Sticky Rice, Mist on the Jungle, Sweet Song of the Siren and The Day of the Tiger, cover the different ways in which people look at how the world works, for example in the clash between a scientific approach and a traditionalist Buddhist mode of thought. And some deal with the impossible yearnings that can motivate or destroy a person. Sometimes these may be shallow—a lust for drink, for money or for sex—and the characters absurdly comic, self-destructive or psychopathic. Sometimes the yearning may be for a better life that is thwarted by others. Sometimes the outcome may be tragic. And sometimes the yearning can be lyrical and full of beauty, however unfulfilled.

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Pure by Timothy Mo

Timothy Mo’s first novel in a decade is set within the battle for secession in the Muslim regions of southern Thailand.It’s narrated for the most part by Snooky, a Thai Ladyboy. Pure covers epic expanses of time and is told through narrators who range from fanatical zealots to decorated Oxbridge dons. Everything that Mo’s readers expect abound in this long-awaited novel: versatile style, memorable characters, insight into those tormented by dual loyalties and the ability to handle the weightiest of themes with a light touch. By examining the cultural wars of the past and present, Pure’s themes are among the most important of the day.

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Which other titles would you add for Thailand? Leave your thoughts in the Comments below, there are 100 books in the TripFiction database that will transport you to this excellent location.

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For many more books set in THAILAND, search the TripFiction database

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  1. User: Iris J Lav

    Posted on: 04/01/2021 at 3:38 pm

    A Wife in Bangkok by Iris Mitlin Lav.
    Yes, it is book by and about an expat, but it brings alive Thailand of the 1970s in all of its beauty and quirks. It also is a story of a woman’s resilience in the face of adversity.


  2. User: Frank

    Posted on: 06/02/2019 at 11:21 am

    It is interesting that you managed to pick ten books set in Thailand and none of them are by Thai people. A better title for this list would be ‘Books on Thailand from outsiders’


    1 Comment

    • User: Leah

      Posted on: 04/06/2019 at 2:56 am

      I agree – I love reading books from places I travel, but I’d really like some by Thai writers.


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