The best books about Thailand
The following books include ‘best book of your life’ literature, memoirs and non-fiction books about Thailand – even some guilty-secret beach junk.
The best books about Thailand: novels, memoirs and more
Want a Thailand reading list? Treat yourself to these wonderful books about Thailand. Use them to set the scene before your trip, or enjoy them while travelling. The following books include ‘best book of your life’ literature, memoirs and non-fiction books about Thailand – even some guilty-secret beach-book junk. Fire up your Kindle and let’s go…
Travel guidebooks about Thailand
Is this still the bible? While I prefer the cultural and background detail you’ll find in DK Eyewitness, Lonely Planet is the book you want in your backpack if you’re doing Thailand from top to bottom – especially when on a budget. Eager to check out this new-for-2022 edition, an update from the immensely popular 2018 guidebook.
Besides The Koh Samui Guide, DK Eyewitness is my favourite ‘species’ of travel guide – their 3D maps and diagrams are helpful to anyone “navigationally challenged” and they’re so utterly packed with fascinating trivia that you’ll live the rest of your days peppering your family with facts gleaned from this book. If you’re curious and want to know “what’s that and that and that” – THIS is the book for you.
I’ve long recommended this book after being a famously bad tourist on my first visit to Thailand. (Spoiler alert: don’t wear cut-off jean shorts to a temple… I cringe to think of it). A fresh cover and some helpful updates mean Thailand – Culture Smart! stays right at the top of your must-read.
Favourite Thai cookbooks
Dragon fruit frappe, anyone? Featuring 500 recipes from every region in Thailand, this is a beautiful book and an ideal birthday present for your favourite home cook.
I cooked my way through this book during lockdown and recommend it to anyone who's a novice cook in a greedy person's body.
"I have generally found "Quick," "Easy," and "Simple" to be disingenuous labels when it comes to Thai cookbooks [...] But Punyaratabandhu seems to pull it off, coming up with recipes that are weeknight-doable" – NPR
Novels about Thailand
Also available in German. Stories of today's Thailand: While all of the books on this list are set in Thailand, this is one of few novels from a Thai author. From tourists riding elephants in bikinis to tougher societal problems – addiction, refugees, family dynamics – you'll devour this collection of short stories in a single sitting and emerge the wiser for it. "The Thailand of Westerners' dreams shares space with a Thailand plagued by social and economic inequality in this auspicious debut collection of seven plaintive and luminous stories." (Publishers Weekly)
Must-read. No pretence of high-brow literature here, but Private Dancer should be required reading for anyone, of any gender, intending to set foot in a Bangkok bar. It's a fairly tongue-in-cheek thriller novel and I highly recommend it. (Incidentally, Bangkok Bob and the Missing Mormon is by the same author and – I think – deserves your time for its title alone). Seriously boys, (and girls!), you need to read this book before going to Thailand. Superb for a day at the beach or pool.
9. The Beach
Free with an Audible trial. You've seen the movie: "On the surface it's a fast-paced adventure novel; at another level it explores why we search for these utopias, be they mysterious lost continents or small island communes". (Amazon) If you like a book to come to life before your very eyes, The Beach will be a well-timed read (particularly if you plan to visit the parts of Thailand where the movie was filmed).
Free with an Audible trial. A literary thriller set in Bangkok. "Exceptional descriptive skills fuel an overwhelming sense of menace: It is no mean feat to make the ending of a novel truly shocking. . . . The next day you will still be thinking of Sarah’s fate with horror.” —The New York Times Book Review
Free with an Audible trial. A New York Times Notable Book of the Year.
Tip! You get a free book when you sign up for an Audible trial with Amazon. This book is 11 and a half hours in audiobook format so it will last you ages – it's a great use for your freebie.
A newly released book about Thailand, published in May 2021. The author grew up in Bangkok and previously wrote Finding George Orwell in Burma.
2014 Man Booker Prize winner. “Captivating . . . This is a classic work of war fiction from a world-class writer . . . Nothing since Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has shaken me like this.” (Washington Post)
14. Bangkok 8
Free with an Audible trial. A Bangkok crime/thriller series: "This thriller abounds with sensational elements-from homicidal vipers on speed to jade smuggling and the Thai sex trade-but listeners would be wise to follow the lead of Buddhist narrator Sonchai, who is more interested in the graceful acceptance of life's puzzles than in their resolution." (Publishers Weekly)
Tip! Love a series? Bangkok 8 is the first book in a six-part series: The Royal Thai Detective Novels. If you love addictive books or read quickly, start here and race through the rest.
15. Four Reigns
A work of historical fiction spanning the late 19th Century through to WWII.
Free with an Audible trial. This deeply funny beach book winds up – exactly where it should – on a beach in Thailand. Early press reviews compare it to Bridget Jones (with a little more “FML”), so schedule a few guilty hours by the pool.
Non-fiction about Thailand
My favourite. 1960s ex-pat Bangkok comes to life – and it's insane. First published in 1965, this is a fascinating, biographical account of “[a]n American housewife's honest love affair with the irrepressible people of Thailand.”
Tip: Don't judge this one by its cover. Amazon tends to have only secondhand copies of Mai Pen Rai (and the cover is pretty dated), but don't let this dissuade you. It's a wonderful book without equal. Really – you'll thank me!
18. Noodle Trails
Thailand travel memoir: "Fair Trade, Dung Trade and Travels in Thailand and beyond". The author's self-described memoir of "life in a jungle hut".
Free with an Audible trial. "Diver Rick Stanton relives the rescue of the century.” ― The Sunday Times (London)
Thai Language books
Kids’ books about Thailand
Ideal for kids ages 8-12.
Ideal for kids aged 4+ and, at 28 pages, the perfect length for a bedtime story. "[A] terrific primer for children traveling to Thailand." – The Children's Book Review
Books about Thailand
Love nothing more than book-shopping? Don’t miss these superb books, from travel guides to Thai cookbooks.
- Travel guides: The Best Thailand Travel Guides
- Cookbooks: The 33 Best Thai Cookbooks
- Audiobooks: The Best Audiobooks about Thailand
- Kids: Favourite Children’s Books about Thailand