Reading these popular books written by outsiders about Thailand should give you an impression of the country and its citizens through the foreign eye.


Sacred Skin, by Tom Vater

(Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos) An interesting read is this book about the sak yant, Thailand's religious tattoo tradition. Besides its history and religious meanings, there are lots of interviews with people with these tattoos that are believed to ward off evil if the owners follow the lifestyle rules of the tattoo master. The accompanying photos are beautiful. A good place to see this kind of tattoos being applied is at the annual Tattoo Festival at Wat Bang Phra in Nakhon Chaisri. [coffee table book]

Very Thai, by Philip Cornwell-Smith

(Everyday popular culture) An interesting book for Thailand-lovers that shows and explains the small day-to-day things that make Thailand unique. The four sections Street, Personal, Ritual and Sanuk ('fun') each describe in colourful detail why for example those little pink tissues are pink, the Thai love for uniforms, the little altars in taxi's and the popularity of yaa dong. Illustrated with a lot of photo's. A good browse. [coffee table book]

Friendly Siam, by Ebbe Kornerup

This book is one of whole series of reprinted old travelogues. Travelling around Thailand in the 1920s the author didn't experience much hardship. He travelled by rail, plane and ship for free and usually managed to stay as a guest in the house of princes and other dignitaries. Despite that his stories are very interesting to read and illustrated with original pictures. Ebbe travelled all over Thailand, with special attention for the South, and was very impressed by Thailand and the Thai people. [travelogue]

Patpong Sisters, by Cleo Odzer

(An American woman's view of the Bangkok sex world) Fieldwork for her dissertation anthropology made the author spend 3 years in and around Patpong. She describes the life in Bangkok's biggest red light district and makes it even more real by adding pictures of the people involved. Somewhere in the book she looses her objective viewpoint as observer and gets involved. [autobiography]

Touch the Dragon, by Karen Conelly

As a 17-year old exchange student, Karen spent a year in a village in the Thai countryside. Lack of all modern comforts did not stop her from enjoying Thailand and the Thai way of life. Although I think the writing is too mature for someone her age (she rewrote and edited afterwards), this book offers a good insight in the daily life in the countryside. [autobiography]

The Damage Done, by Warren Fellows

Caught for drugs trafficking, the Australian author got locked up in Thailand's infamous "Ban Kwang" jail. Even though he deserved his punishment, life in Thai prison is so bad that you wouldn't want to send your dog over there. After he was released he went back to Australia and wrote this book. He vowed never to return to Thailand. [autobiography]

The Beach, by Alex Garland

The decline of a secret utopia set on one of Thailand's smaller islands. Starting in backpackers "paradise" Khao San, the story continues with the search for THE beach, where foreign youths built up their own community, undisturbed by family, friends and Thai people. Until... [fiction]

Anna and the King of Siam, by Anna Leonowens

(From the English governess at the Siamese court) An arrogant, narrow-minded English governess describes her view on Thailand in the 1860s. All the best seems to come from the West. However, her book also provides an interesting insight in the royal court and Thai habits of that time. Movies based on this book have not been allowed on show in Thailand. The story is regarded as untrue and an insult for Thai people and HM the King. [autobiography/fiction]

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind, by Carol Hollinger

(An American housewife's honest love affair with the irrepressible people of Thailand) An amusing description of how an American expatriate woman tries adjust herself to Thai culture. Contrary expectations she fits in and enjoys every bit of it. [autobiography]

A Killing Smile, by Christopher G. Moore

(Love you, hate you, kill you.....) I only read this one book, but it is part of a series located in Thailand. I found it quite enjoyable. The book describes Bangkok's night life. Hard-core expats buy girls, get drunk and use drugs like there's nothing to it. One of the good guys is a hard-core guy who has seen it all and changed his mind about it. The other one is a guy freshly arrived who still sees things differently. The story about a woman once shared between both guys is just an excuse to get them all together in Bangkok. [fiction]