I often get asked by visitors about bookstores in Chiang Mai, perhaps because a) it’s hard to choose from among the bewildering number of secondhand bookshops, b) it’s hard to find the decent new book shops or c) they’re looking for books in obscure, minority languages like French.
Thailand is not like Vietnam or Cambodia, where you can get half-decent photocopied editions of popular novels for a few bucks. A secondhand novel in Thailand in reasonable condition is going to set you back around 250 or 350 baht and new, say 300 to 400 baht, so it’s not such a big difference. However the secondhand book shops will have a much wider choice than the regular Chiang Mai shops stocking foreign language books. If you’re looking for novels in European languages other than English you can skip this bit and go straight to the recommended secondhand stores because you ain’t going to find many new ones!
You can trade and exchange in the secondhand stores, but most of these stores are overstocked and unless you have a mint copy of the latest LP Laos, they’re going to be very fussy about what they take and very tight about what they give you for it. Swap your two tatty old paperbacks for a nicely plastic-wrapped Bill Bryson? You’ve got to be joking!
Now since the secondhand outlets are still getting most of their stock from trade, you’re less likely to find backpacker swaps of reference books or larger ‘coffee table’ type publications in those stores, so if that’s what you’re after then, unless you’re lucky, you’d be better trying new book stores.
In that category our recommendation is Suriwong Book Centre. Bit of walk but the best option in town. Good range of reference books and maps including German and French editions. (Also has a small but cheap novels selection.) They’re on Sri Donchai Rd — check their website above.
Among the myriad secondhand stores concentrated around Tha Pae, our personal faves are Backstreet Books, (first soi on the left going down Tha Pae Rd) and The Lost Book Shop at Ratchamanka 34/4. Both are run by the friendly Irish George, who knows his books and doesn’t slaughter you price-wise. There’s a very wide selection, including some in most European languages.
By Mark Ord.