Our best books to read whilst visiting Thailand
Thailand is an assault on the senses. The countryside is beautiful, the food is sensual and the people welcoming. Siam lives up to its reputation for stunningly beautiful beaches and islands, rich cuisines, and low cost travel and living. It’s a country that we all love. Thailand is also the inspiration for excellent books that have become essential reads for thousands of travellers and backpackers. Here are our top five recommended books for those of you about to visit Thailand and its neighbouring countries. We’ve also added some links to provide information on Thai bookshops.
Welcome to Hell by Colin Martin
Written from his cell and smuggled out page by page, Martin’s autobiography chronicles an innocent man’s struggle to survive inside Bangkok’s Bangkwang Prison, known locally as the Big Tiger. After being swindled out of a fortune, Martin was let down by the hopelessly corrupt Thai police. Forced to rely upon his own resources, he tracked down the man who conned him and, drawn into a fight, he accidentally killed that man’s bodyguard. Martin was arrested, tortured, denied a fair trial, convicted of murder and thrown into prison, where he remained for 8 years. Honest and often disturbing, but told with a surprising humour, Welcome to Hell is the remarkable story of how Colin was denied justice again and again. Welcome to Hell is considered a must-read for those travelling in Thailand. It’s available from Asia Books, Thailand’s biggest chain of bookshops.
Conflict: Journeys Through War and Terror in South East Asia by Nelson Rand
If you think you like to stray off the beaten path, then think again. Nelson Rand is an intrepid adventurer. Despite the warnings and threats against his life, he journeyed into the most dangerous parts of Southeast Asia to witness the plight of the oppressed. He hiked through the jungles of Laos to interview Hmong guerillas, the remnants of the rebel army that refused to surrender to the communist government.
In Vietnam, he ventured into the central highlands to document the civil rights abuses suffered by the Montagard people, persecuted by the communist government because they fought alongside American forces in the Vietnam War. He saw action in Burma where he joined forces with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and accompanied the insurgents as they mounted full scale attacks on Junta forces. Rand describes the Karen’s plight as one of the worst humanitarian disasters of our time. He documented cases of rape, killings, torture and the forced relocation of Karen villages.
His audacious journey also took him to southern Thailand in search of Islamic extremists, who have turned the region into a war zone. While travelling in Cambodia, he accompanied government soldiers on their final offensive against the Khmer Rouge. Conflict is a must read for anyone planning a trip to Southeast Asia.
A Prayer Before Dawn: A Nightmare in Thailand by Billy Moore
This is the true story of one man’s unbelievable journey, from recovering heroin addict in the UK to professional competitor in the devastating martial art of Muay Thai boxing in Thailand. In the poverty-stricken back streets of Chiang Mai, he was introduced to methamphetamine – known as ya ba – the crack cocaine of SE Asia and a drug which has destroyed countless lives. He was imprisoned inside the notorious ‘Bangkok Hilton’, a place of filth and horror that very few will ever experience and none would want to see again.
Fighting Muay Thai, teaching, and taking part in the filming of a major Hollywood picture in northern Thailand provided a stable and comfortable life. However, the demons from his past proved still potent, and in a moment of madness he relapsed, his addiction resurfacing to rob him of the new life he had built. The dangers he encountered in Laos and Burma, and his arrest and incarceration in one of Thailand’s most barbaric prisons, eventually opened his eyes. Drugs, death and corruption were common behind the satanic walls of Klong Prem prison, where life had no value. The overcrowded cells were a breeding ground for HIV, TB, dengue fever and hepatitis. The conditions were putrid and inhumane; inmates struggled to stay alive on the slop they were fed. His fight to survive in a place where the heart must either break or turn to ice took more stamina and grit than any of his boxing matches. If you thought nightmares weren’t real, then you haven’t been banged up in Klong Prem prison, a place no one should visit alive. A Prayer Before Dawn is available from all good bookshops and as a download.
The Last Executioner: Memoirs of Thailand’s Last Executioner by Chavoret Jaruboon
Chavoret Jaruboon was personally responsible for executing 55 prison inmates in Thailand’s infamous prisons. As a boy, he wanted to be a teacher like his father, but his life changed when he chose one of the hardest jobs in the world. Honest and often disturbing – but told with surprising humour and emotion – ‘The Last Executioner’ is the remarkable story of a man who chose death as his vocation. ‘The Last Executioner’ is not for the faint hearted. It takes you right behind the bars of the infamous ‘Bangkok Hilton’ and into the shadows of its grim death chambers. This book is available to download from Kindke, iTunes, Google Play, Kobo, Nook and Overdrive. It’s also available from all good bookshops.
The Angel of Bangkwang Prison by Susan Aldous
This is a little known gem of a book. The inmates of Bangkwang prison in Bangkok have nothing to look forward to. Except a visit from their own personal angel. This is the story of Susan Aldous, a single mother, who has devoted the past 20 years of her life to helping others, visiting prisoners who have nobody else to turn to. Whether teaching young Thai men to accept the world they live in or helping foreign inmates adjust to life in Thai jail, Susan is a one-woman charity phenomenon. If you’re lucky, you can pick up the odd copy of this book in various markets. If not, it’s available to download.
Where to buy books when travelling in Thailand
You can also purchase these books from any branch of Asia Books which has numerous branches throughout Thailand. For more information visit www.asiabooks.com