Thailand Travel Guide

What to Watch and Read Before Your Trip to Thailand

PHOTO: Patiwat Sariya/Shutterstock

Because watching The Hangover Part II on the plane won’t cut it, here are some great reads and flicks to get you excited about your trip to Thailand.

Whether you are looking for pure travel inspiration, insights on Thailand’s fascinating culture, a gift idea for a friend about to travel, or you just want to immerse yourself in Thai culture before your visit, grab some popcorn and/or your reading glasses and check out our essential reads and films.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Transformation Films
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This gloriously absurd Thai horror-comedy romp by Thai director Siwakorn Jarupongpa boldly asks the question: What if being bad at karaoke had consequences? Deadly consequences. When a group of would-be crooners converge at a remote resort, they encounter a karaoke machine haunted by a vengeful ghost who forces them to sing for their lives. One wrong note or fumbled word means that you’re as good as dead. Scares and crude jokes equally abound.

PHOTO: C Apichatpong Weerasethakul
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Tropical Malady

This Cannes Jury Prize winner by one of Thailand’s leading experimental filmmakers, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, tells two stories. The first is that of a soldier who is assigned duty as a forest ranger in rural Thailand and begins a shy love affair with a villager. The film then shifts to a weirdly fantastical point of view as it follows a soldier sent into the woods to find a lost villager only to encounter a mysterious shaman. This blissfully unconventional work is a beguiling meditation on love and the animal nature of mankind…and it will mess with your head in the best way.

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The Overture

Based on the life of legendary court musician and master of the ranad-ek (Thai xylophone) Luang Pradit Pairo, this 2004 period drama takes place in the golden age of Thai classical music, the late 19th-century through the 1930s, when the playing of such music was banned by the government. The film flashes back and forward in time, from the musician’s ascent as a revered ranad-ek player at the turn of the century to his later years when he advocates for the preservation of traditional Thai culture.

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After fleeing from the scene of a hit-and-run, a photographer, Tun, and his girlfriend, Jane, are haunted by a ghostly figure that starts to appear in the background of his pictures. But as Jane unravels the mystery of the strange woman in the photos, a dark truth from Tun’s past comes to light. A series of plot twists unfold and unrelenting dread permeates every frame of this 2004 horror film from directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom.

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Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior

No CGI. No wires. Just inventive stunts and world class fight choreography. The plot of this Thai martial arts action film follows Ting (Tony Jaa) as he leaves his rural northeastern Thailand  home for the big city of Bangkok in order to retrieve the stolen head of a sacred Buddha statue. But the real focus of the movie is Jaa’s onscreen martial arts prowess, which has been compared to the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.

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The Lioness in Bloom: Modern Thai Fiction about Women

The stories in this collection of fiction touch on many themes, illuminating the lives of modern Thai women of all ages and geographic and economic backgrounds. The short stories and excerpted novels explore topics as diverse as the authors. Some are humorous and witty, some are bleak and heartbreaking. The carefully chosen selections are like drawing back a curtain for a look at womanhood and what it means to the women of Thailand.

PHOTO: Silkworm Books Four Reigns
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Four Reigns by Kukrit Pramoj

The story of this historical novel follows the life of Phloi, a woman who arrives at the royal palace as a young girl and minor courtier, and follows her as she experiences the reigns of four Chakri Kings. As Phloi observes the massive upheaval that culminated in the 1932 coup that forced the dissolution of the monarchy, she must decide how she too must adapt for a new, shifting age.

PHOTO: Scholastic
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Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho

In this atmospheric Caldecott Honor winning children’s book, written in verse and charmingly-illustrated, a mother entreats the animals that surround her home to be quiet and still as her baby sleeps. By book’s end, the mother and all the animals are sleeping but Baby, of course, is wide-awake.

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Jasmine Nights by S. P. Somtow

This semi-autobiographical novel, set in the early 1960s, follows a young boy named Justin (but nicknamed Little Frog by his family) as he navigates between two lives. One is on his family’s estate where he lives in the care of his eccentric aunts. The other takes him into a ruined house where he makes a game weaving science fiction, Homer, and spirits out of Thai mythology.

PHOTO: Grove Atlantic
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Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

This collection of short stories marks the debut of Rattawut Lapcharoensap, a Thai-American writer who was only 26 at the time of its publication. Set in contemporary Thailand, Lapcharoensap’s characters are sharply drawn and his stories illuminate the beauty in even the bleakest of places.