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Whether you’re a voracious reader who resides in Thailand or a traveller seeking a light read, Bangkok has a number of quality bookstores to choose from. At these 10 shops, you’ll find everything from Buddhist meditation manuals to Charles Dickens, and modern Thai politics to the Berenstain Bears.
Dasa Book Cafe
Easy to find on Sukhumvit Road, Dasa is Bangkok’s best secondhand book shop. With creaky hardwood floors, narrow stairways, soft lighting and an intimate coffee shop, those who prefer a cosy browsing experience could lose themselves here for hours. The shop spans three levels and offers some 20,000 used titles in English as well as French and German. Many softcover books go for under 100 baht, and Dasa is usually quick to purchase books that you’re finished with. The shop is stacked on fiction, though a decent selection of history, bio, art, Thai/Asian culture, travel, children’s and a handful of new titles can also be found.
714/4 Sukhumvit Road (between Soi 26 & 28)
BTS: Phrom Phong, Exit 4
T: (02) 661 2993
Open daily 10:00-20:00
A short walk from Dasa and a stone’s throw from Phrom Phong BTS station, this cluttered little shop has the feel of a book-addict’s attic. Piles of books are stuffed onto shelves and stacked on the floor; scavenge a bit and you’re sure to find something interesting. Like nearby Elite Books, Book is Japanese-owned and most of the titles are in Japanese, though a fair amount of English books are also available. The generally low prices are negotiable and trades are welcome.
Soi Sukhumvit 24 (look for the sign down the first alley on the left after you enter the soi)
BTS: Phrom Phong, Exit 2 or 4
Open daily 09:00-19:00
The best of a few hole-in-the-wall used book shops in the Khao San Road vicinity, Shaman’s selection is a direct reflection of what travellers on the Southeast Asia backpacking trail are reading. Along with an entire wall of fiction, you’ll find no shortage of books on travel, spirituality, philosophy and art — all regularly debated subjects in Khao San cafes. If nothing strikes your fancy at Shaman, a couple of smaller, nameless bookshops off nearby Soi Rambutri are also worth a peek. Prices are low, trades are welcome and some books in French, German, Dutch, Spanish and other languages are also available.
71 Khao San Road
Chao Phraya Express Boat: Phra Arthit
T: (02) 629 0419
Open daily 08:00-23:00
With over 150,000 titles across a wide range of subjects, Kinokuniya is comparable to Western chain bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. It’s easy to lose a few hours browsing the neatly partitioned sections and sub-sections that include Asian studies, religion, art, philosophy, self-help, travel and children’s books among many others. You’ll also find all of the latest bestsellers to go with coffee table books, stationery, calendars and maps. It’s not cheap, but this is the widest selection of new books in Bangkok. While the flagship store is located in Siam Paragon (adjacent to Siam Square), Kinokuniya also has locations in Central World and Emporium.
Siam Paragon, 3rd floor, 991 Rama I Road
BTS: Siam, Exit 3 or 5
T: (02) 610 9500
Open daily 10:00-22:00
Thailand’s largest chain book store, Asia Books offers a solid selection of new titles at practically every mall in Bangkok. The flagship outlet is in Central World, but similarly sized stores are found in Siam Discovery and Siam Paragon. Though you won’t find quite the depth of Kinokuniya, this is a fine place to pick up bestsellers and browse a healthy range of topics, including quality Thai history, culture and travel sections. Asia Books runs countless smaller stores in addition to the newsstand-style Bookazine outlets found throughout the city.
Central World, 6th floor, Rama I Road
BTS: Chidlom; take the skywalk past exits 2 and 3 and look for the sign for Central World
T: (02) 251 8527-75
Open daily 10:00-22:00
Chulalongkorn University Book Centre
If you want to explore deeply into Thai history, literature and religion, or you consider a 1,200 page molecular biology manual to be a good beach read, then this large bookstore at Thailand’s most prestigious university is for you. Eye-catching titles include Fruits and Vegetables in Southeast Asian Markets, Journey to Java by a Siamese King and a journal written by a 1685 French emissary to Ayutthaya called Voyage to Siam. You’ll also find a hefty number of general Asian studies selections along with Shakespeare, Hemingway and text books on most academic subjects. Expect to pay a minimum of 200 baht for a paperback.
Corner of Chulalongkorn 64 & Chulalongkorn 62 alley; just south of Siam Square at the far north of campus
BTS: Siam, Exit 2 or 4
T: (02) 255 4433
www.chulabook.com (Thai language only)
Open daily 09:00-20:00
Mahamakut Buddhist University Bookstore
Want to be enlightened by Thai Buddhist teachings without doing a 10-day monastic retreat? Look no further than Mahamakut University’s bookstore located across from Wat Bovorniwet near Khao San Road. Along with a wall of Buddhist scriptures in English, Thai and Pali, you’ll find historical works on the Buddha’s life, academic studies on the finer points of Theravada philosophy, meditation manuals and biographies of famous Thai monks like Buddhadasa Bhikkhu and Ajahn Maha-Boowa. Prices are very reasonable.
248 Phra Sumen Road (look for the sign just off the main road, directly across from Wat Bovorniwet)
Chao Phraya Express Boat: Phra Arthit
Open Mon-Fri 08:30-17:00, Sat-Sun 09:00-15:00
Hardcover Art Book Shop
Many of the funky gift shops in Bangkok Art & Culture Centre sell books on Thai art and culture, but Hardcover is this creative bastion’s only fully dedicated bookstore. With a thoughtful selection of visually stunning books laid out on tables rather than stacked on shelves, a quick browse at Hardcover is a feast for the eyes. You’ll find titles on fashion, architecture and visual arts, including many excellent photographic works. Several cutting edge Thai artists are represented, though Hardcover offers glossy (read: expensive) titles from around the world. If you’re in the Silom area, Kathmandhu Gallery also has some interesting books on Thai art and culture.
Bangkok Art & Culture Centre, 3rd Floor, Rama I Road
BTS: National Stadium, Exit 3
T: (02) 214 3144
Open Tues-Sun 10:00-21:00
World Cafe & Books
Part organic cafe, part natural products shop and part bookstore that focuses on environmentally sustainable living and social responsibility, World Cafe is a peaceful and inspiring place to sit back with a book, coffee or lunch in Bangkok’s historic district. While the majority of titles are in Thai, a fair number of English language books on globalisation, politics, poverty, the environment and social movements are sure to spark a fire in conscious, activist-minded travellers. The food and drinks are excellent, and the Tibetan art shop in the back corner is also worth a peek.
77 – 79 Feung Nakhon Road (directly across from Wat Ratchabophit)
Chao Phraya Express Boat: Tha Tien
T: (02) 622 2495-6
www.suan-spirit.com (Thai language only)
Open daily 09:00-18:00
This atmospheric shop moved from its old location near the river and now occupies the ground floor of an old shophouse just east of Wat Bovorn and west of Ratchadamnoen Avenue. A wall of new and used English-language titles are geared towards Thai and Asian studies, making this a good spot to snag a thought-provoking title on Red Shirts / Yellow Shirts or Aung San Suu Kyi. There's also a fair amount of used fiction to go with several of the better available English-Thai phrasebooks, language study guides and travel guidebooks. The soft-spoken owner also serves coffee and tea to a few wooden tables, encouraging shoppers to linger at their own pace.
523 Phra Sumen Road (just west of Old Bangkok Inn) T: (02) 629 0694 Open: Daily except Sunday 10:00 - 20:00<,p>
Bangkok Rare Books
This vintage and rare book collection is unfortunately no longer found in an Amarin Plaza shop, but it continues to evolve and is still available for online purchases. Along with countless one-of-a-kind vintage books on travel and history, the site offers decades-old first-edition fiction titles by prominent authors, original Thai illustrations and centuries-old maps of Southeast Asia. If you’re a rare book collector or history buff seeking something special from antiquity, check out the Bangkok Rare Books website.
If you’re in Bangkok long-term, or are just seeking a great place to browse and read on a rainy day, also check out the comprehensive and historic Neilson Hays Library.
By David Luekens
Last updated on 23rd January, 2015.