Bangkok Books

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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.

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