Bangkok Books

A Resource For Book Lovers in Bangkok

9 Books About Sex In Bangkok

When I started researching all the books that had been written about the City of Angels, one thing was certain: there are a hell of a lot of books about sex in Bangkok.

And that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

Bangkok is a sexy city.

Aside from the visible face of prostitution here, there’s no doubt that this is a city of beautiful people.

There are lots of young people making their way here, and the Thai standard of beauty is legendary the world over.

Scores of young tourists flock here too, as well as their willing and moneyed older counterparts.

People come to Bangkok to find love — and inevitably become entangled in the web of sex the city has to offer.

And then they write about it.

I can’t speak to the quality of these writings, but it’s likely that a few readers will find merit in some of these books. I’ve chosen those with at least a few positive reviews.

They’re a mix of sexual odyssey travel guides, memoirs and the occasional novel.


Books about Sex in Bangkok

Private Dancer

book about sex in bangkokStephen Leather

Private Dancer is one of the most legendary books about the perils of falling in love with a Thai bar girl, and is often cited as a must-read for the gullible, vulnerable men that find themselves in Thailand’s red light district looking for love.

It’s a novel that follows Pete, who one day finds himself falling head over heels for the beautiful Joy — a pole dancer in a Bangkok go-go bar.

It becomes clear that Joy is not all that she seems as Pete falls deeper and deeper in the web of sex, drugs and deceit she has spun for them both.

Undoubtedly an enjoyable and eye-opening read — especially for those with any intimate acquaintance of the Bangkok bar scene!

A Year in the ‘Kok

book about sex in bangkokcrazy horse

This is the first book from former blogger Crazy Horse, which documents his various exploits (and sexploits) over a year period in Bangkok city.

He followed this book up with Into the Night Life — a seemingly similar romp scattered across the wider Southeast Asia.

Lauded as the book that “every dissatisfied man in a western country should read”, it’s clear that A Year in the ‘Kok is literary escapism for the generation of ‘trapped’ men as the author truly sets himself free in the Bangkok night.

Reviews are mixed — some find it repetitive, opinionated and too liberal with the ‘c’ word, while others find it an empowering read and well written.

Bangkok Travel Guide for Men

book about sex in bangkokChristopher street

Emblazoned with a nude Thai girl across the cover, Street promises to help his readers “travel Thailand like you really want to.”

It covers where to stay in the city, staying safe with both working and non-working girls, getting the most — er — bang for your buck, and navigating the online dating scene here.


The universally positive reviews might give you pause for thought — particularly the two by Stacy and Ruth. Stacy is apparently travelling to Bangkok with her husband and gained plenty of useful information from this book. I assume we can conclude that Stacy and her husband are open to finding women for sex in Bangkok.

Ruth, meanwhile, used the book as a guide during her walking tour of the city. Good for you, Ruth!

Bangkok Babylon

book about sex in bangkokJerry hopkins

With a strapline proclaiming “the real-life exploits of Bangkok’s legendary expatriates are often stranger than fiction”, Bangkok Babylon isn’t so much a book about sex in Bangkok but rather a collection of profiles of 25 of the city’s most interesting expat characters.

These include a photographer of Thai bar girls for Playboy, the model for Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, and three Vietnam vets who opened a go-go bar.

Hopkins is a bestselling author and a brilliant observer on all things Thailand (and more).

I haven’t read this yet, but it’s definitely on my Bangkok books hit list.

Bangkok Buckaroo

book about sex in bangkokSteve Rosse

Bangkok Buckaroo is a detective thriller in the Bangkok noir genre. I’ve included it in this list as the main hotspot of the action is none other than Soi Cowboy — one of Bangkok’s most notorious (and neon) red light districts.

The protagonist is Texan Joe DiMaggio (the author isn’t too light on cliches, apparently…), in a reference to how Soi Cowboy got it’s name in the first place.

Expect a few murders between the pages on this little neon-lit street.

Reviews are positive; applauding the writer for avoiding the usual broken bar girl cliches and creating a world of interesting characters in this fascinating city.

Miss Bangkok: Memoirs of a Thai Prostitute

book about sex in bangkokBua Boonmee & Nicola Pierce

This memoir comes from the other side of the table: the Thai girls who accept money for sex.

We follow the true story of Bua and how she became a bar girl in Bangkok, after growing up in Isaan, before moving to Bangkok, being forced into an abusive marriage, moving into the hostess world and finally being recruited into a Patpong go-go bar.

It’s an eye-opening read and a humbling one. Many western men talk fondly of Bangkok’s prostitution scene, without paying too much consideration to the lives and back stories of the girls that are the face of it.

Thailand: The Vicious Truth About Thai Hookers

book about sex in bangkokthe blether

The author readily admits that the title is somewhat of an exaggeration, claiming that “the book is not the assassination job that the headline may suggest.”

Instead, this book contains interviews with people working in the Thai sex trade and is designed to be a guide to making Thailand your ‘man heaven’ versus failing to take the author’s advice and entering, er, ‘man hell’.

The main focus is seemingly how not to get ripped off while indulging in the Bangkok night scene and how not to fall for the apparent illusion presented by Thai sex workers.

The premise of the book and reading the Amazon reviews of it makes for relatively depressing reading — the idea that everyone is out to get you.

While I’m sure that’s true for some in the sex trade, it feels damaging to tar the whole of Thailand with that brush.

A Bangkok Vacation for a Jersey Boy

book about sex in bangkokCharles F Chicarelli

Turning to something a little lighter, A Bangkok Vacation… is a comedy novel that follows the hapless Danny as he arrives in Bangkok, bouncing from the mile high club to massage parlours to the politics of the mia noi and, of course, sprawling around Soi Cowboy and the Khao San Road.

The book was inspired by Chicarelli’s own experiences as an expat who’s spent 40 years in Asia.

It’s well reviewed on Amazon with readers commending the light tone, realism and lack of explicit sex and violence that so often characterizes novels set in Bangkok. One reviewer memorably nicknamed it “Ferris Bueller’s Month Off”.

Bangkok Baby: Loving the Loveless Ladyboys of Bangkok

book about sex in bangkokdavid bonnie

Dressed up as a romance novel between a western tourist and a Thai ladyboy, it’s probably accurate to say that Bonnie drew on his own experiences to write Bangkok Baby, given that he was the star of Sky Living’s Ladyboys series back in 2012.

Through its story-telling, the book asks ‘how far would you go?’ if you were in the shoes of the protagonist, and appears to have chimed with a lot of readers who have experience of going far into the world of Thailand’s ladyboys.


What’s your favourite book about sex in Bangkok?

Featured image is by Paul Sullivan  (CC BY-ND 2.0 licence)


7 Of The Best Books To Read At The Beach

This is a bit of a diversion from the blog this week, in honor of my vacation to Koh Samui that I’m currently enjoying.

So instead of books about Bangkok, I’m going to reveal my favorite books to get stuck into when you find yourself stretching out on a tropical island. Or, scratch that, any beach, any where.

Now, this comes with a caveat: I am a huge nerd.

You’re unlikely to find me outstretched, sunburnt lobster, with a pina colada and the latest chick lit that I picked up for $5 at the aiport.

But you see that girl outstretched, sunburnt lobster, with a pina colada and a 900-page biography of Chairman Mao in her hand? Yep, that’s me.

For me, the beach represents time to get totally embroiled in a new tome. I love the escapism of fiction, but nowadays you’re more likely to catch me getting stuck into a book on history, psychology or politics, with a little notebook at my side to catch anything I find particularly interesting or inspiring.

I told you: total nerd.

Anyway, here are a few of the best books I’ve been reading at the beach.

Jerusalem: The Biography

Simon sebag Montefiore

best books for the beachThis is genuinely one of the most incredible history books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Just as the title denotes, this is a chronological history of the city of Jerusalem, from its earliest history founded under King David to the iconic religious epicentre it is today.

Montefiore draws on ancient texts, modern scholarship and even his own family history to piece together the jigsaw of Jerusalem. Reading it helped greatly in my understanding of how the ancient past has influenced the present and will go on to shape the future in the Middle East, and really lit a fire in me to find out more about the incredibly complex relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

It’s worth saying that while I identify as an atheist — despite a brief and inevitably doomed flirtation with Christianity in my early 20s — I’ve always held an appreciation for religious history and culture, whatever side of the cloth that happens to be cut from.

I knew little about Jerusalem going in when I started this book but came out with a much richer understanding of the city, its history, main characters and its global positioning.

HIGHLY recommended — for the beach or frankly anywhere. Just don’t get it wet.

The Phantom Lover

jim algie

best books for the beachI’ve just finished The Phantom Lover — a collection of short stories centred around Thailand — and I was blown away by the rich story-telling and intricate linking between what looks like, at first sight, seemingly unrelated stories.

Not only is this a good book to read on a beach; it’s a good book to read on a Thai beach, being as it’s set in our fine Kingdom.

This comes with a warning though — it’s dark, creepy, and occasionally quite gruesome. Never gratuitously, but certainly enough to give you pause for thought. And the final story — more of a novella — which pulls in various strands of the previous stories, is centred around the epic Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.

It might be a little close to home if you’re reading it on the beach. Particularly if you’re in Khao Lak…

But irregardless, it’s a brilliant work of fiction and a highly enjoyable read that manages to open a window into the mysterious and supernatural world of Thai culture while it entertains.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

greg mckeown

best books for the beachI read this next to a pool in Hua Hin on Thailand’s Gulf, feeling overwhelmed about 6 months into self-employment. I had a metric ton of clients all across the world on different time zones and enough deadlines that my Google Calendar looked as though it was on crack.

I was doing too much but not being particularly productive or successful in what I was doing.

I was in a constant state of flapping.

This book — remarkable in its simplicity — brought me back down to earth.

It essentially forces you to confront the bare necessities in your life and cull all that is not serving those necessities. It’s trying to empower you to start saying ‘no’ and to take back control of your own life.

I found it a liberating read, made even more powerful by the fact that I was in the midst of sun, sand and sea and wasn’t sure how to take advantage of it.

Predatory Thinking

dave trott

best books for the beachYou may not know this about me, but I can be really fucking verbose.

Seriously, reading back some of my writing makes me cringe. Long sentences, half-page paragraphs and just a general brain dump of polysyllables.

But Dave Trott’s writing is not like that.

He is concise, sharp, witty. He is an ad-man. Trained in the art of effective copy.

His books are a masterclass in how to write. Intensely simple, perfectly crafted — these are the advertizing industry’s haikus.

His chapters are almost parable-like, revealing a truth about business, psychology or writing, wrapped in a memorable story or anecdote.

Must-read for any writer.

Wolf Hall

Hilary Mantel

best books for the beachWolf Hall won the Booker in 2010 — quite a feat for a work of historical fiction — and it’s been one of my favorite novels in my roster ever since.

Centered on the life of Thomas Cromwell, Mantel brings to life a character who the history books have left quite bland, paling against the accounts of his contemporaries, Henry VIII, Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More.

This hefty tome covers the rise of Cromwell from blacksmith’s son to England’s most important courtier as he enables Henry’s divorce, excommunication from the Catholic Church, marriage — and inevitable fallout — to the legendary Anne Boleyn.

This is a totally gripping read and absolute catnip for history lovers who like a little fictional coloring with their facts and sources.

Reading this would feel completely at odds to sunbathing on a tropical island, but sometimes it feels so good to indulge in such comedy.

Dialogues and Essays


best books for the beachThe beach is the perfect location for quiet contemplation and there’s no tool to encourage that better than the works of Seneca.

Seneca was a tutor to the emperor Nero in ancient Rome and is an important figure in the stoicism movement. His dialogues and essays, collected here, are absolutely bursting with sage advice and insight on how to live well and right.

I studied Seneca in the original Latin while at university, but I’ve actually gained more philosophical insight from this Oxford World Classics translation alone, at the beach. Probably like Seneca himself would have done (although in the Italian countryside).

A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design

frank Wilczek

best books for the beachI’ll be totally honest: I haven’t read this yet. But I thought it worth including as it’s one of the books I’m bringing to Koh Samui.

And it looks promising.

It explores “the deeper order of beauty in nature” and how aesthetics fit into the wider logic of our universe.

The Wall Street Journal reviewed it thus: “An expertly curated tour across 2,500 years of philosophy and physics . . . [Frank Wilczek] has accomplished a rare feat: Writing a book of profound humanity based on questions aimed directly at the eternal.”

I can’t wait to find out more.


What do you like to read at the beach?


inspiration in bangkok

5 Places Where I Find Inspiration In Bangkok

Just recently I spoke about the best spots for writing in Bangkok.

Now I want to talk about where I find that initial inspiration that makes me want to write and create in the first place.

This city is such a sensory overload that you might think it simple to find inspiration here.

While that’s true occasionally, at other times it can be nothing more than overwhelming. Anyone who’s ever visited the incredibly grandiose Grand Palace will know what I’m talking about:

  • Ostentatiously beautiful architecture? Check.
  • A tangible taste of Thai culture, history and religiosity? Check.
  • So many Chinese and Korean tour groups armed with umbrellas and megaphones that you’ll want to retreat to the quiet sanctity of neighboring Wat Pho? Double check.

Not to mention the sweltering heat…

But there are spots in Bangkok that combine the 3 elements that, for me, make for an inspiring locale:

  1. The opportunity to people watch — it shouldn’t be so busy that you’re jostling for space, but there should be some people around that you can observe subtly enough to get a glimpse into their world
  2. A degree of unfamiliarity — I have my particular Bangkok haunts, but they’re almost at a point of familiarity for me now where I stop noticing the small details. Somewhere new — or at least somewhere I visit only rarely — allows me to see it like a visitor and take in all its aspects
  3. Buzzing quiet — When somewhere’s really noisy — think plenty of shouting or traffic (two of Bangkok’s specialties!) — I find it pretty hard to find inspiration. At that point, my only focus is really what’s immediately in front of me, whether I’m having a conversation or attempting to cross the road. Conversely, I’m too acutely aware and uncomfortable of near silent places too. The happy medium that I find most conducive to creativity has to be a quiet hubbub — a steady rumble of noise that’s quiet enough that I can’t easily lock into someone’s conversation but buzzing enough not to be distractingly silent.

Here are some of the places that I find that bliss in Bangkok…

1. Suan Luang Rama IX

#suanluang #suanluangrama9 #garden #bangkok #thailand

A photo posted by Bud Grote (@budgrote) on

Bangkok is notoriously short on green space, but there are a few parks dotted throughout the city.

Suan Luang Rama IX is my favorite one of these, sitting just outside the centre of the city near the Rod Fai Night Market. It’s low on tourists, but attracts many locals throughout the day and so is a great spot for people watching.

The park itself is beautiful, divided into a number of country-focused gardens, including Japanese, Chinese, English, French and Italian. There’s also a quasi-museum to explore in honour of King Bhumibol.

At around 200 acres, there’s plenty to explore and lots of opportunity to find something you haven’t seen before.

2. The Green Lung of Bangkok

A photo posted by Thai Trails (@thaitrails) on

In keeping with the green theme, my next inspiration spot is Bang Krachao — a small island just outside central Bangkok that’s shaped a bit like a lung. It’s just a short boat ride away from Klong Toei and Bang Na piers.

You can hire a bike here and explore the island and all that it offers, including the floating market and the beautiful park. The traditional architecture and classic Thai village life on display is enough to propel you far away from the skyscrapers and pollution of Bangkok.

It’s quiet here but certainly not deserted, with a mix of locals and tourists attempting to find somewhere off the usual tourist trail.

3. Victory Monument

I know, I know — Victory Monument is probably the epicentre of overwhelming chaos in Bangkok and not usually conducive to any sort of creative inspiration.

But I love standing on the skywalk, looking over the chaos and soaking it all in from my perch above the action.

You see the minibuses overflowing with bodies to take to the provinces, the hundreds of motorbikes whisking local workers to their companies, the street vendors boiling up their vats of boat noodles and, in the middle of it all, Victory Monument itself looming over all both physically and symbolically.

4. The Old European Quarter

A photo posted by Maninthorn J. (Nan) (@nisney) on

While Thailand is proud of having never been colonised, there’s no doubt that the 19th century saw the start of the European expat movement to the city, and they tended to gather together in an area of the lengthy Charoen Krung Road, near the Chao Phraya River and where the magnificent Oriental hotel is located.

Walking these sois, spotting the beautiful Old Customs House and East Asiatic Company buildings and Assumption Cathedral, it’s humbling and inspiring both to imagine the literary greats who once stalked these haunts — Somerset Maugham, Joseph Conrad, Noel Coward and Graham Greene, to name but a few.

5. Soi Cowboy

Hear me out — yes, Soi Cowboy is certainly not a space for quiet reflection, but it’s a cracking spot for people watching, creating strangers’ back stories and getting a peek into the infamous Bangkok night scene.

The short alleyway between Sukhumvit Sois 21 and 23 is a neon blur come nightfall, with lingerie-clad women galore, juice-laden cocktails and an enthralling atmosphere of lust, commerce, sadness and survival.

It’s no surprise to me that Soi Cowboy pops up so regularly in the works of the Bangkok noir fiction genre, as it’s just a pretty emotive place.


Where do you find inspiration in Bangkok?

Image is by m-louis .® (CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

best bangkok history books

The 5 Best Bangkok History Books

Bangkok is a youthful city, by all accounts.

Not only is it a hive for young Thais and international expats, it’s also, literally, quite young — it was only founded as the Thai capital in 1782.

Compare that to London in 43 AD, Paris between 250-200 BC and even New York in 1624.

But that’s not to say that there’s not some compelling history about the Big Mango.

In a city with such a unique blend of religiosity, consumerism, community and, of course, that indefinable ‘Thainess’, a rich history is present regardless of its comparatively youthful years.

Let’s take a look at some of the best history books written on Bangkok.

1. Tales of Old Bangkok: Rich Stories from the Land of the White Elephant

chris burslem
tales of old bangkok

My favourite Bangkok history book

This is one of my favourite books about Bangkok — easy to read, beautifully illustrated and a rich array of source material.

More akin to a historical scrapbook than a straight history book, Tales of Old Bangkok is a collection of excerpts and literature that have been written and spoken about Bangkok since its inception in the 18th Century.

All in the English language, the source material is necessarily from the colonial viewpoint — and is largely from the view of white men. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the minds of early expats and the complex western relationship with Thailand.

2. A Walking Tour: Bangkok

Greg Bracken

best bangkok history booksAgain, this isn’t your generic history book, but rather a historical guide to Thailand in the form of a walking tour.

This is a great book for architecture nerds or simply those who like a small dose of history entwined with their urban exploration. The book weaves around the entire city, highlighting the incredible design on display, including Khmer, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and even Edwardian.

3. The English Governess at the Siamese Court

anna leonowens

best bangkok history booksWhile hardly a masterclass in literature and doubted in parts by many, this memoir from Leonowens is one of the most controversial books to come out of Thailand and therefore worth a read.

Leonowens was the English governess at the Thai royal court in Bangkok under Rama IV, where she taught the young Rama V. This book and some of her other works were adapted into the popular Anna and the King of Siam, which would later become The King and I.

The controversy stems from Leonowens’ various embellishments about herself, which have lead many to believe extend to her account of the court. Of course, speaking ill — or truly, anything less than adoringly — of the monarchy is heavily frowned upon (understatement of the year) and the author’s remarks about her employers’ temper and human habits shook the Thai establishment.

4. A History of the Thai-Chinese

pimpraphai bisalputra and jeffery sng

best bangkok history booksWhile not technically a book about Bangkok, this fascinating insight into the history and development of the ethnic Thai-Chinese is every bit a history of Bangkok’s Chinatown as it is an anthropological study.

Thailand’s relationship with China is lengthy and complex but always irresistibly intertwined — almost half of Thais claim some Chinese ancestry while 14% of the population are ethnically Thai-Chinese.

Not only are the Thai-Chinese large in number but they are incredibly influential; especially in Bangkok, where they head companies, governments and other high profile positions.

5. The Ideal Man: The Tragedy of Jim Thompson and the American Way of War

joshua kurlantzick

best bangkok history booksAgain, this isn’t a history on the city of Bangkok as such, but rather on one of the city’s most mysterious figures: Jim Thompson.

Founder of the still successful silk empire and the owner of the exquisite house — now museum — in central Bangkok, the legend of Jim Thompson has captured the hearts and minds of both Thais and foreigners since his disappearance into Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands in 1967.

This book delves further than simply the man himself and looks at Thompson’s wider role in the Cold War in Asia and Thailand’s role in the US’ biggest covert war operation to date. Fascinating stuff.

writing in bangkok coffee shops

5 Of The Best Bangkok Coffee Shops For Writing

The writing process is delicate, imperfect and profoundly impacted by your environment. For some writers, where you write is just as important as how you write.

Perhaps you need the quiet solitude of an office to best plumb those creative depths. Or the relaxing vibes of a vacation to inspire you to start tapping away. Or — my personal favourite — the low buzz of a city cafe.

Coffee shops and cafes have long been the location of choice for writers wanting to get outside of themselves, take in the world around them, while still being keyed in enough to make good art.

Malcolm Gladwell has said that he writes in cafes for a living (“That jerk at the cafe? C’est moi”), Hemingway was a legendary cafe frequenter, while some cafes themselves are internationally famous thanks to their lofty literary history.

writing in bangkok coffee shops

The legendary Les Deux Magots in Paris — once a haunt for famous writers

New York, Paris, London — all of the world’s major cities are hubs for cafe writing.

But what about Bangkok?

God knows that this city has enough creative expats to start a cafe writing movement. But there’s not yet that literary pedigree here to immortalise any of the coffee shops around town.


There are, however, some cracking coffee shops; perfect for sipping and supping while observing and writing. Here are some of my favourites.

Casa Lapin X26

sukhumvit soi 26

Around halfway down Soi 26 is the quirky Casa Lapin — a coffee shop cum cafe cum co-working space cum hostel cum… flower shop? Who knows. There’s a lot of stuff going on here.

The best thing about Casa Lapin is the homely interior decoration – low chairs, plenty of wood and plants, a feel of creative community and a cracking selection of drinks on offer. The perfect spot to while away a couple of hours on Scrivener.

I did once pay 180 baht ($5) for a pot of tea here though so remember to gather your satang.

Gallery Drip Coffee

BACC, Rama I

Whereas Casa Lapin is all about the cosy atmosphere, Gallery is all about the coffee. Drip coffee, to be exact. With single origin beans and excellent cold brews, this is the writing spot for the coffee purist.

But it’s a great space to hang out, people watch and imbibe in the vibe as well. Located in the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre, it’s a hub for the city’s creative and artistic elite. Plus some students.

Wonderwall The Kaffebar

Sukhumvit soi 31/33


A photo posted by Wonderwall l The Kaffebar (@wonderwallthekaffebar) on

This is my local coffee shop and it’s fabulous — if a little on the small side. The coffee is creamy and delicate, with lots of options to try new batches from international and local artisan roasters.

There’s usually some acoustic covers on the stereo and a choice of tasty sweet treats too. An outdoor terrace with fan and rain shield means you can take in the sights (and traffic) of the road below too.

Great spot for dog watching too.

Hands & Heart

sukhumvit soi 38

Happy Friyay, everyone! Swing by and spend your weekend right. 📸by @chingkaichingkai

A photo posted by Hands and Heart Coffee (@handsandheartcoffee) on

Located halfway down the former street food Mecca of Soi 38, Hands & Heart is a serene coffee shop perfect for scribbling. It’s decked out in all black and white decor, and is quiet enough to allow for contemplation.

The coffee’s amazing too: hand brewed and selected from seasonal, AA grade, single origin beans. You can catch them baking cakes and daily and take away some of their cold brew products for any morning-after-the-night-before sessions.

Rocket Coffeebar

sathorn soi 12, sukhumvit soi 49, central embassy and 72 courtyard (soi thonglor)

Rocket is probably one of the fastest growing coffee/cafe chains in Bangkok right now, with branches popping up all over the city. Their Nordic-inspired design is calming and tranquil; their food delicious; their coffee creamy; and their clientele full of characters.

Sounds like the perfect recipe for an opening scene.


books about bangkok prison

9 Books About Life In A Bangkok Prison

During my research for an article about literature set in Bangkok, I came across a surprisingly high number of books about Bangkok’s prisons.

It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise — there have been plenty of farang (white foreigners) imprisoned over here after all. And one of the best ways to raise money and educate others on your experience after you get out? Write a book about it, of course!

Thailand has lured many a foreigner to her shores in the past few decades, entrancing them with the prospect of a cheap party lifestyle, living like a king in a tropical paradise.

But a handful of Siam’s visitors get in over their heads. The money runs out but they aren’t prepared to give up their lifestyle. Some of them turn to drugs — whether dealing or smuggling across borders.

Thailand’s attitude to drugs is famously severe: even possession of a small amount of cannabis can find you slapped with a long prison sentence. The death penalty is not unusual in cases of smuggling.

Not every foreigner imprisoned in Thailand is there for drug-related crimes, but a sizeable number certainly are. Most of the ex-prisoners who have written books about their ‘time’ in Bangkok were there thanks to drugs.

books about bangkok prison

By drburtoni (Creative Commons)

1. The Damage Done

By Warren Fellows (2000)

The Damage Done is one of the most famous memoirs of life in a Bangkok prison — the notorious Bang Kwang — documenting the human rights abuses and atrocities Fellows endured for 12 years after receiving a life sentence for trafficking heroin in 1978.

The events written about in the book are so horrific that some have doubted their veracity and accused Fellows of hyperbole. Beatings, drug abuse, having to eat cockroaches for protein and suicide attempts are all discussed.

Fellows goes into extreme detail but many readers describe it as ‘unputdownable’.

2. Bangkok Hard Time

Jon Cole (2012)

Cole, the son of a US Green Beret colonel who was serving in Vietnam, found himself studying at the International School of Bangkok in the late 1960s. Inevitably lead astray by the allure of the City of Angels, Cole finds himself burdened with a heroin habit and a career as a drug smuggler, before being imprisoned in the notorious Klong Prem.

It’s a well written book that examines Cole’s time in prison and his eventual acceptance of both his fate and his decisions.

Rather than follow Fellows’ path of documenting the various abuses he saw, Cole focuses on the story of his addiction and his relationships inside the prison.

3. Escape

David McMillan (2007)

McMillan was arrested in Bangkok’s Chinatown and imprisoned in Klong Prem after found to be masterminding a global heroin-smuggling syndicate. His memoir documents how he became the only Westerner to date to escape from the ‘Bangkok Hilton’.

Readers have praised Escape for pulling no punches: there’s no smugness at escaping, no pitiful excuses for his drug offences — rather a tale of grit and friendship. It also documents McMillan’s prison life before he manages to get away.

books about bangkok prison

By drburtoni (Creative Commons)

4. Rotting in the Bangkok Hilton

tm hoy (2012)

This book is more a compendium of short stories from Hoy’s time in Klong Prem, describing the horrors of daily life there, such as wearing chains, no food, murders, drug abuse, torture and tuberculosis.

Hoy doesn’t reveal the nature of his crime, but rather accepts his punishment and sets about detailing the stories of the various characters he meets while imprisoned.

5. Drug Muled: Sixteen Years in a Thai Prison

joanne joseph (2013)

This is the story of South African model Vanessa Goosen, who was sentenced to death in 1994 after unknowingly trafficking heroin out of Thailand, planted by her partner.

Goosen was 3 months pregnant at the time and delivered her baby while imprisoned in Lard Yao prison. Felicia lived with Goosen until she was 3, when the baby was sent home to South Africa to live with a friend.

This story tells of Goosen’s trial and time in prison, including the harrowing story of having her baby taken away, and also how she adjusted to ‘normal’ life after she was pardoned by the King in 2010.

6. Forget You Had a Daughter

sandra gregory (2013)

Another account of female imprisonment in Bangkok, this book documents Gregory’s struggles as she attempts to smuggle an addict’s personal supply of heroin out of Thailand, after running out of money.

She was imprisoned again in Lard Yao and endured her trial in Thai before being sentenced to death. Four and a half years into her sentence, she was transferred to the UK prison system, before finally being pardoned by the King of Thailand in 2010.

books about bangkok prison

By drburtoni (Creative Commons)

7. Nightmare in Bangkok

andy botts (2007)

This tells the story of professional criminal Botts, who started life as a thief in Hawaii before finally being arrested for drug trafficking in Bangkok. Sentenced to death, Botts continued to abuse drugs during his time in prison and here tells of the horrors of daily life.

It also seeks to document the spiritual journey that Bangkok imprisonment gifted Botts and his realisation that everything happens for a reason.

8. You’ll Never Walk Alone

Debbie singh (2015 — 2nd edition)

One of the few Bangkok prison books about someone not convicted of a drug crime, this book is actually written by the sister of an inmate in Klong Prem. Debbie Singh’s brother was sentenced to 10 years in Klong Prem after being found guilty of cashing false traveller’s cheques.

She campaigned to have her brother transferred away from the daily degradation to an Australian prison, and also set out to locate his Thai-born son. This story also looks at Singh’s renewed love for Thailand and her tireless charity work.

9. Welcome to Hell

colin martin (2005)

Welcome to Hell is a memoir of Martin, imprisoned in Klong Prem after attempting to apprehend the man who defrauded him of a huge sum of money in a business deal after the corrupt Thai police refused to intervene. Martin was convicted of murder.

The book was actually written in Martin’s cell and smuggled out page by page — rather than being penned many years later like most prison memoirs. He’s very upfront about the putrid conditions of Klong Prem and pulls no punches in their descriptions.

books about bangkok prison

By drburtoni (Creative Commons)

most beautiful libraries

16 Of The World’s Most Beautiful Libraries

Many book lovers appreciate the sanctity of libraries, and when it comes to the world’s most beautiful libraries, you can be sure that the appreciation borders on infatuation.

While the rise of electronic devices like Kindles have made reading more accessible and brought books into the digital age — which should rightfully be celebrated — there’s little that can dim the majesty of a brilliant library.

Not all were were created equal, however, and sometimes the architecture and aesthetics manage to rival the beauty of the books within.

Looks aren’t everything, we know; but the prospect of seeking solace in a book while in some of the world’s most beautiful buildings is thrilling indeed.

Here are the 16 most beautiful libraries in the world.

1. Mortlock Wing of the State Library of South Australia


most beautiful libraries

By jonwestra (CC BY 2.0)

This wing was built in 1884 in a French renaissance style, complete with mansard roof, in the centre of Adelaide.

After a couple of redevelopments, the centrepiece of the wing is now an exhibition space dedicated to the culture and heritage of South Australia.

2. Baroque Library Hall, Clementinum

Czech Republic

most beautiful libraries

By Bruno Delzant (CC BY 2.0)

The Clementinum is a complex of historic buildings in Prague, and was once the third largest Jesuit college in the world.

The Baroque Library Hall was built in 1722 and was painted in 1727 by Josef Hiebel — the ceiling is decked with frescoes on the subjects of science and art.

3. New York Public Library


most beautiful libraries


This is the Rose Main Reading Room in the NYC Public Library on Fifth Avenue. It’s currently closed until 2017 sadly as it undergoes a rejuvenation, although it’s hoped that they will finish ahead of schedule.

The plaster ceiling here is a masterpiece.

4. State Library, Sydney


most beautiful libraries

By Christopher Chan (CC BY -ND-ND 2.0)

The oldest library in Australia and the Mitchell Wing, above, is the most beautiful — completed in 1910.

State Library as a whole is home to over 2 million books and 1.1 million photographs.

5. Stadtbibliothek Stuttgart


most beautiful libraries

By Jan Stöcklin (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Probably one of the most German buildings we’ve ever seen — clean, sharp lines and an almost clinically white palette. Here, the books and visitors provide the colour.

It was designed by Yi Architects studio back in 2011.

8. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library


most beautiful libraries

Lauren Manning (Creative Commons)

A library of Yale University, Beinecke was designed in 1963 with the intention of the rare books being the centre point. Hence, why they populate the core of the building.

The low light and marble panels protect the books while also lending quite a luxe vibe to the library.

9. Richelieu Building, Bibliothèque Nationale de France


most beautiful libraries

By Zubro (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The National Library of France holds all French publications and has origins dating back to the 14th Century and Charles V.

The Richelieu building dates back to the 19th century. There are three other Parisian sites belonging to the library, with around 14 million books in total.

10. Old Library, Trinity College


most beautiful libraries


This is the Long Room of Dublin’s beautiful Trinity College library. It’s 65 metres long and home to 200,000 of the building’s oldest books and manuscripts. It was built in the early 18th century.

As well as some beaut wood panelling, the room is lined with marble busts of various patrons of the college — mostly philosophers and writers.

11. Jay Walker’s Private Library


most beautiful libraries

By Aaron “tango” Tang (CC BY 2.0)

Described by Wired as “the most amazing library in the worl,” founder Walker’s private library is pretty beautiful.

Rare books, pop culture memorabilia and historic items can all be found here — including a list of plague deaths from 1665 and a sputnik.

12. Abbey Library of Saint Gall


most beautiful libraries

By Stiftsbibliothek St. Gallen (Creative Commons)

Now a World Heritage Site, the library was the only part of the Abbey to survive a fire in 937, and now houses the oldest collection in Switzerland,

It was originally founded by Abbey founder Saint Othmar, and was designed in its current Rococo style by Peter Thumb. In situ manuscripts date back to the 8th century.

13. Bodleian Library


most beautiful libraries


Probably the most famous library in the world, Oxford University’s beloved ‘Bod’ is home to 12 million items.

Above is the Duke Humphrey’s Library — the oldest reading room that dates back to 1487. It’s primarily for maps, music and rare books pre-1641. It’s named after Humphrey of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Gloucester, a son of Henry IV.

14. San Francisco Monastery Library


most beautiful libraries

By dgphilli (Creative Commons)

Home to 25,000 works of incredible rarity and value from the 15th to the 18th centuries. The building was completed in 1672.

15. Wiblingen Abbey Library


most beautiful libraries

By Christopher (Creative Commons)

The former Benedictine abbey was completed in 1744 in the baroque style, although was functioning long before that as a centre of learning and excellence, in strict adherence to St Benedict.

The library was designed by Christian Wiedemann and is now open to the public.

16. William Randolph Hearst’s Private Library


most beautiful libraries

By Trey Ratcliff (Creative Commons)

Hearst Castle in California is home to a beautiful library and this, the gothic study, where media magnate Hearst carried out much of his business.

The library is home to over 4,000 books, as well as countless antiques and works of art. 150 Ancient Greek vases are also in evidence.


What have we missed?

bangkok book clubs

Bangkok Book Clubs

Love reading but fancy making it more sociable? Easy — just sign up to one of the many Bangkok book clubs.

As you’d expect in such a big city, there are a large handful of book clubs for English speakers, reading all manner of tomes from Austen to the latest in ASEAN political discourse.

Here we’ve listed the best of them – take a look and see which one piques your interest. Each club’s Meetup page is linked to in the headings.

Bangkok Book Club

This is the largest book club in Bangkok, with over 900 Meetup members at the last count. We can only assume that a much smaller proportion actually attend the monthly meetings.

The club meets at Hemingway’s on Sukhumvit Soi 14 and is known for being a relaxed and friendly environment.

Novels are the order of the day here, with recent discussion focusing on The UnAmericans by Molly Antopol, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Better Read Than Dead

This brilliantly named book club again meets every month, this time at The Admiral’s pub on Sukhumvit Soi 24.

Books to be discussed are voted for in advance by members who are given a choice of three, with the main criterion being that it must have “stood the test of time”.

Previous books include Atonement by Ian McEwan, Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene, and The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.

bangkok book clubs

By Alper Çuğun (CC BY 2.0)

The Lit Society

This is a quasi-intellectual gathering with the intention to discuss themes like writing style, genre, socioeconomic trends and what’s in the zeitgeist, with the focus on a particular book.

The Lit Society meets on the first Tuesday of every month and each month a book is chosen by a different member, who then serves as that month’s host. That person will prepare questions and some introductory material, as well as leading the discussion.

Book choices range widely anywhere between fiction, poetry, cognitive science, archaeology and more. Past choices have included How to Pass as Human and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. 

ASEAN Critical Reading and Discussion

This group meets regularly to read and discuss 100 Ideas that Changed the World by Time Magazine at a location in Laksi.

Native English and intermediate ESL speakers are welcome to attend in these sessions lead by Steven Sills, a teacher of advanced critical reading, writing, American literature and conversation for ASEAN classes at Ramkhamhaeng University.

Previous sessions have examined the journey from animism to polytheism to monotheism in Egypt, then replicated by Judaism; the creation of a rudimentary geometry in Ancient Egypt; and the Buddhist heaven or Nirvana.

bangkok book clubs

A rather French looking book club (By Bart Everson CC BY 2.0)

Silent Reading Party

Not quite your traditional book club in any sense, these bi-weekly meetings invite readers to drink together and read to themselves — no book discussions or mandated book!

Previous locations have included Mikkeller in Phra Khanong, the SkyTrain Jazz Bar at Victory Monument and Dexter Cafe.

They haven’t been active for a while according to their Meetup profile so feel free to give them a nudge.

Dr Wayne Dyer’s Mastermind Study Group

Definitely something of a specialist study group, members study and share the teachings of Dr Wayne Dyer – described as an influential leader in spiritual consciousness and self-motivation – through books, audio and video.

Previous topics have included mind mastery and how to propagate positive mental thoughts.

Again, this looks as though it may need a nudge or for someone new to step in and take over the helm.


There are also plenty of writing workshops and meet-up groups in Bangkok, which I’ll document soon too.

Featured image is by Louis de Mont (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

quotes on bangkok

11 Of The Most Brilliant Quotes About Bangkok

Bangkok’s exotic allure has inspired writers for generations.

The city is often described as an ‘attack on the senses’.

Smells, colours, noise.

Visiting foreign writers have captured these primal reactions we have to the city since they first started visiting – back in the late 19th Century.

Of course, not all of them loved Bangkok — far from it — and complaints about smells, soi dogs and laziness are commonplace. Colonial attitudes at this point viewed the native Thais as ‘other’ and some of their comments by today’s standards would probably be considered racist.

Nevertheless, much positive has also been said about Bangkok over the years too.

Here are 13 of the most on-the-nose, witty and evocative quotes about brilliant Bangkok.

1. Ernest Young on Chinatown

The Kingdom of the Yellow Robe, 1898

The one truly native quarter is a long narrow bazaar known as Sampeng…

At night, the shops are closed, but the gambling houses, opium-dens, and brothers are thronged by the lowest of the low.

2. Todd Phillips

When discussing filming The Hangover II

Bangkok, like Las Vegas, sounds like a place where you make bad decisions.

quotes on bangkok

By Conrad (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

3. Bernard Kalb

From The New York Times in 1961

Bangkok, though, is a rejuvenating tonic; the people seem to have found the magic elixir. Life, a visitor feels, has not been wasted on the Thais.

4. Noël Coward

From the song Mad Dogs & Englishmen in 1929

In Bangkok at twelve o’clock they foam at the mouth and run,

But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

quotes on bangkok

By Roberto Saltori (CC BY-NC 2.0)

5. Ludovic Marquis de Beauvoir

On the Chao Phraya River from A Week in Siam in 1867

Behind a bend of the Maenam, the entire town of Bangkok appeared in sight. I do not believe that there is a sight in the world more magnificent or more striking. This Asiatic Venice…

6. Jean-Georges Vongerichten

From Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges in 2007

I landed in 1980 in Bangkok, and I stopped to eat ten times between the airport and the hotel. It was all lemongrass and ginger and chilies.

quotes on bangkok

By Tore Bustad (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

7. Captain GJ Younghusband

Speaking in 1888

There is no medium in Siam; it is either gorgeously gilded palaces and fantastically adorned temples, or filthy looking huts.

8. Joseph Conrad

From The Shadow Line in 1915

There it was, spread largely on both banks, the Oriental capital which had yet suffered no white conqueror…

quotes on bangkok

By Juan Antonio F. Segal (CC BY 2.0)

9. The Otago Witness

A New Zealand newspaper which ran from 1851 to the early 20th Century. In 1894

It is pre-eminently a place for mosquitoes, smells, Chinese pawnshops, wild dogs…

10. William Burton

From The New York Times in 1937

Siam conforms to occidental notions of what the East should be. There is an attitude of lotus-eating languor, and any show of zeal in work that may be observed is by Chinese immigrants.

quotes on bangkok

By Ahron de Leeuw (CC BY 2.0)

11. Eric Read

From Chequered Leaves in 1913

‘When you ain’t being slowly grilled at a thousand in the shade, you are sousing in floods, or the house is falling about your devoted ears in a thunderstorm …

‘There is a filthy old river, the colour of milk chocolate, flavoured with the juices of countless defunct and deeply lamented household pets, and one’s servants consider this liquid such sacred nectar that they will wash your socks in it, and then make your tea with the same…

‘Otherwise, of course, the place is all right.’


Featured image: Mike Behnken (CC BY-ND 2.0)

oriental hotel bangkok

The Authors And The History That Made The Legend Of The Oriental Bangkok

The Oriental Hotel — forever known as the Grand Dame of the Chao Phraya — was Thailand’s first hotel.

Now part of the Mandarin Oriental chain and widely regarded as one of the best hotels in Asia, if not the world, the Oriental is a true Bangkok treasure.


It was originally built in the late 18th Century, before being developed into a luxury hotel by Danish businessman Hans Niels Anderson in 1881.

It opened in 1887 with such elegance — unrivalled in Bangkok at the time — that it was compared to a royal palace. It first entertained royalty in 1891 with the future Tsar Nicholas, Crown Prince Nicholas of Russia.

oriental hotel bangkok

After the construction of the River Wing in the 1970s (Mandarin Oriental)

It was used as a officers’ club by the Japanese army during World War II and then to house liberated Allied POWs at the conclusion of the war.

Following the war, the Oriental had a few changes of hands and sought to regain her former glory. The famed Bamboo Bar opened in the 1940s and the Garden Wing was built in 1958, complete with celebrated French restaurant, Le Normandie, and Bangkok’s first lift.

oriental hotel bangkok

The Authors’ Wing now (Mandarin Oriental)

It was bought by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group in 1974 and is now widely regarded as the best hotel in the city, and is a favourite amongst visiting celebrities.

Literary heritage

Not only is it notable for its age and pedigree, but the many authors who have based themselves out of the Oriental during their time in Siam is legendary.

The Authors’ Wing is the only part of the original building still standing and it holds the richest literary heritage.

oriental hotel bangkok

The Graham Greene Suite (Mandarin Oriental)

Over the years, it has been graced by the following:

  • Somerset Maugham, who suffered with malaria during his stay
  • John Le Carré, who finished The Honourable Schoolboy here
  • Joseph Conrad
  • Noel Coward
  • Graham Greene
  • Victor Hugo
  • Henrik Ibsen
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Henry James
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • Evelyn Waugh
  • James Michener
  • Barbara Cartland
  • George Orwell
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Maxim Gorky

It’s continually immortalised in literature — from Maugham writing about his bout of malaria to the plethora of travel blogs written on it today — and will always be an important part of Bangkok’s history.

Coward said in 1929 of the hotel,

It is a lovely place and I am fonder of it than ever.

Maugham wrote in A Gentleman in the Parlour in 1930 about his hotel-bound malaria:

I lay there panting and sleepless, and shapes of monstrous pagodas and great gilded Buddhas bore down on me. Those wooden rooms with their verandahs made every sound frightfully audible to my tortured ears …

Modern Updates

The Authors’ Wing was revamped recently for the hotel’s 140th birthday celebrations; one of the updates was to create a huge, six-bedroom Grand Royal Suite.

At 6,500 square feet, this suite also contains a dining room to sit 12, private spa and gym and a sunroom.

oriental hotel bangkok

The Authors’ Wing then (Mandarin Oriental)

In the hotel at large, there are a total of eight bars and restaurants, including Le Normandie and the Bamboo Bar, and the beautiful Authors’ Lounge, which offers a scrumptious afternoon tea.

oriental hotel bangkok

The Authors’ Lounge now (Mandarin Oriental)

But while the building has been updated and the decor revamped, the spirit of the Oriental, looking out over the twists of the Chao Phraya, has stayed the same — luxury and history steeped in rich literary tradition.

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