Thailand might not be at the top of every bookish traveler’s must-visit list, thanks in no small part to its reputation as the destination of choice for backpackers looking for beaches and booze buckets.
But while Thailand certainly has a wild side, it’s also a heck of a cool destination for those who love nothing better to curl up with a good book – it’s not hard to ditch the Full Moon Party crowds, find a quiet corner of a stunning beach, and work your way through a stack of books as you work on your tan.
Thailand is, in fact, a nation of readers – and as such it was UNESCO’s World Book Capital 2013 – a title given in honor of the country’s dedication to promoting reading across all ages and sectors of society. In Thailand’s towns and cities, you’re never more than a few feet away from a bookstore or a newsstand selling paperbacks and graphic novels, and popular ex-pat destinations such as Chiang Mai are famous for their abundance of second hand bookstores, well stocked with English-language titles. Not only that, but the country is home to a surprising number of spectacular libraries, book-themed bars, cafes, and even a super-chic library themed boutique hotel.
Whether you’re coming for time alone on a beach with a good book or looking to keep the kids quiet, Thailand won’t let you down on the book front. Read on for our pick of the best Thailand experiences for bookworms
Stay in a library-themed boutique hotel on Koh Samui
With a subtle literary theme to its design and over 1400 books for guests to flip through in its large library complex, The Library is a beach-facing boutique hotel famous for its blood-red pool and its Instagram appeal. While its certainly not one for the budget traveler (rooms from around $280 per night), bookish types with cash to splash will lap up a night or two at this spot overlooking Chaweng Beach, which has a casual-chic bar and restaurant on site, meaning those lost in a good book might not want to leave the premises for the entire stay.
Visit Bangkok’s loveliest library
There’s a sweet Thai short film called The Library, and most of it is filmed on location in the very photogenic Nielsen Hays Library, off Surawongse Road. Opened in 1869 by a group of resourceful British and North American Women as the Bangkok Ladies Library Association, the library was the first non-profit organization in the country, and its backstory that could easily be made into a novel in itself, and today is an excellent place to bring kids, thanks to a cute childrens’ corner and a regular program of Saturday morning reading activities as well as book festivals and craft events developed with young readers in mind – check out the programme here.
Get Lost in Book Browsing in Chiang Mai
Rumour has it that Chiang Mai has more bookstores than bars, and whether that’s true or not, there’s certainly enough second hand book shops here to keep even the most ardent of readers happy. A large number of English-speakers settling in this scenic, chilled part of northern Thailand. A lot of fun can be had planning a bookstore-hopping tour of the city, but if you visit just one, you might want to make it Suriwiong Book Centre – the oldest and largest bookstore in town, with a good selection of kids’ books and plenty of English titles.
Get a Boozy Book Fix
Booze and books under one roof, seriously, what’s not to love about that? There are several places to browse for books then curl up with a cocktail and read your latest purchase, and not surprisingly most of them are in the capital. Although the famous Wonderland-esque Bookshop Bar is now sadly closed, there are several other good spots in town, with cool kids making a beeline for the so-hip-it-hurts Jam Factory, a converted warehouse complex with bars, restaurants, shops and Candide Books & Cafe – you can get a caffeine fix in the bookstore itself, then sip a cocktail nearby with your new read. Dasa Book Cafe is another popular cool kid hangout, and no bookish trip to Bangkok is complete without a visit to Zombie Books, an uber-hip spot where a sharply-dressed indie crowd comes to leaf through books by day (again, there’s a good children’s section) and dance to live music and DJs by night.
Find Interesting Indie Bookstores Across the Country
It’s not just the Thai capital that’s dramatically upped its game in the kooky-chic bookstore stakes. Interesting independent bookshops are cropping up the length and breadth of Thailand – ranging from colorful, kid-focused spots to contemporary nocturnal hangouts. Back in Bangkok, BookMoby Readers’ Cafe, located on the fourth floor of Bangkok Arts and Culture Center, has ambitions as big as the city’s skyscrapers – it has its own in-house publishing company, hosts international literary festivals, and also holds regular heavyweight literary events. Elsewhere, there’s books, ceramics and jugs oftra at Tai Talad in Chonmuri, Eastern Thailand, and perfectly-roasted coffee beans, cinema screenings and artists’ markets alongside the books at Bookhemian, in the famous beach destination of Phuket, to name just a couple.