Bangkok becomes the 2013 World Book Capital
Asia Books, in Bangkok's Siam Paragon mall, is the largest English language bookstore chain in Thailand. (LPI/Getty)
Unlike some other parts of the world, Thailand’s media industry is thriving, with publishing doing especially well. Pass any newsstand or bookshop in the country and you will spot heaving shelves packed with hundreds of colourful local and international publications, sitting amid Manga comic books, novels and reference titles. Then there are all the usual travel and gossip magazines, as well as some wonderfully weird publications (Lovely Pet, anyone?).
But while Thailand’s northern city of Chiang Mai is well known for having more second-hand bookshops than bars, Bangkok has rarely been seen as a stop for literary visitors.
That may change as Bangkok takes on the title of World Book Capital for 2013. It will be the world’s 13th book capital, following in the footsteps of Yerevan, Armenia (2012) and Madrid, Spain -- the first Book Capital in 2001.
Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova said that the city was awarded the honour for being “community-focused” and for encouraging “the development of reading for all”. And Bangkok has more than its fair share of places to partake in this literary tradition.
The city’s retail mega malls serve English and Thai readers especially well with smart, well laid-out bookstores like Japanese bookstore chain Kinokuniya and Asia Books in the Siam Paragon mall, the largest English language bookstore chain in Thailand. With their comfy chairs, air-conditioning, hardwood floors and useful computer terminals, these large stores make browsing a pleasure and can easily compete with the US retail chain Barnes & Noble or the UK’s Waterstones.
Fans of second-hand bargains are well-served by friendly bookstores like Dasa Books on Sukhumvit Road – which offers more than 16,000 books in many different languages. The coffee corner serves a mean chocolate brownie and is a good place to curl up with a book. For less of a bookstore and more of a library experience, bookworms head to the sweet, petite Library Café (Sukumvit 24; 66-0-22-592-878) which teams a chic modernist layout with a soothing atmosphere and has fast become the place in Bangkok to hunker down for some quality reading time, coffee in hand. The owners proudly, and actively, encourage lounging, with free wi-fi and retro 1950s-style comfy furniture.
The more traditional setting of Neilson Hays Library, located in the heart of Silom, Bangkok’s business district, is especially notable on the city’s literary scene as it has become home to WordPlay, Bangkok’s first literary festival -- now an annual event after launching in March 2011. WordPlay features talks and workshops with prominent local and international writers and poets like Philip Cornwel-Smith, author of the book Thai Hybrid, and Dean Barrett, author of the book Writing on Asia.