Saturday, March 12, 2016

Shopping for English-language books and Thai movies with English subtitles in Thailand

As those who follow me on Facebook or Twitter may know, Tintin and I just got back from a lovely 2-week trip in Thailand. We visited Bangkok and parts of Northern Thailand, stopping in Sukhothai, one of Thailand's big World Heritage Sites, and some of the smaller cities.

One of the main things I like to do when I travel is to find books written by people from that country, especially translated works. My other major goal when shopping in a foreign country is to find movies from that country on DVD with English subtitles. In Thailand, I succeeded in one of these goals and failed in the other.

English-language books, whether used or new, are incredibly expensive in Thailand. I was a bit shocked by the sticker prices. For a used paperback (of a widely available novel, say one by Stephen King), you can easily expect to pay 200 THB (approx. $6 USD) or more, and new books can be in the 600-900 THB (approx. $17-26 USD) range. I was lucky enough to get some review copies from Silkworm Books (more about this in a moment), so my travel budget wasn't completely shot.

Surprisingly, it's really difficult to find Thai literature in English in Thailand. In most stores, the Thai literature is placed in the "Thailand and Southeast Asia" section, so you have to wade through the stacks of travel literature, scholarly texts, and coffee table books to find any works of literature. Even then, most of the books shelved here are written by expats living in Thailand (most published by Bangkok Books). Judging by the titles, these books range from detective stories to romance novels - and anyway none of them were what I was looking for. I was lucky if I could find a single good piece of Thai literature in each store.

From my research, it seems that there are three good English-language publishers working in Thailand (see my post here). Of these, Silkworm Books has published the most translations of Thai literature. I got to meet Trasvin Jittidecharak, the director of Silkworm Books, at their headquarters in Chiang Mai. Silkworm is a small academic press, and the editorial quality and selection of their books is excellent. If you are looking for a book on Thailand or Southeast Asia, I highly recommend you look at their titles, which are available at every bookstore I visited in the country.

Silkworm Books was good enough to give me a whole stack of review copies after my visit. I can't wait to review all of these for you. (Not Out of Hate by Ma Ma Lay is already up; I read it on the flight back to India!)

Book Shopping: Chiang Mai

I arrived in Chiang Mai prepared to find the used bookstores, thanks to this handy list from One Stop Chiang Mai. We visited almost all of the ones mentioned here, but there were two that stood out: Shaman Books and Backstreet Books. 

Shaman Books looks small, but don't let the size fool you - it has a great selection of travel literature and novels (in multiple languages!), including one of the best "Thai literature" sections I saw in the country. (It's unfortunate that the "wide selection" took up a single shelf, but it's hard to find Thai literature in Thailand.) Shaman is run by an elderly Greek hippie, so be prepared for some interesting conversations when you visit! 

Found this on Shaman's shelves! 

Backstreet Books is one of the biggest used bookstores in Chiang Mai. It was also very close to our hotel, so we stopped in several times. Backstreet Books has a very large section on Southeast Asia, in which I found a few Thai novels, and an even bigger section on travel literature. It also has a lot of scholarly texts if you want to learn about the pottery of Northern Thailand or something. 

Book Shopping: Bangkok

Travelfish has a list of English-language bookstores in Bangkok, but we were only able to visit a couple in Siam Paragon. The best store that we found was Kinokuniya, an English-language chain bookstore with a giant outlet in Siam Paragon (3rd floor; it takes up one whole end of the mall). This one had an entire wall of books on Thailand, as well as tons from other genres - including comics and manga. The one problem was that the books were incredibly expensive, but that wasn't too surprising for this country. 

The one book I could afford from Kinokuniya 

Also in Siam Paragon, we stopped into Asia Books. Another chain store, this outlet was not as big as Kinokuniya, but it had a similarly large collection of books on Thailand and Southeast Asia. 

DVD Shopping 

I was looking for something specific: Thai language movies with English subtitles. I brought a big list of films to look for, and especially wanted to find a few animated movies. And I had also printed out Travelfish's advice on DVD shopping in Bangkok. Since I prefer to buy originals, we did not look for pirated versions of the films; we were left with the two legal options. 

We first found the Mangpong outlet in Siam Paragon, where I asked about Thai movies with English subtitles. The salesperson told me they don't exist! Finally he found one, a DVD of Suriyothai that had English subs, but that was the only Thai movie with English subs in the store. 

Next we tried the B2S store in Central World, which is down the street from Siam Paragon. No luck there either; the salesperson again told me that they don't exist. 

Now, I know that they do exist. But where can you buy them in Thailand? Can you buy Thai movies with English subs in Thailand? I found it incredible that we couldn't find any, but maybe there is a specific place where you have to go - or maybe the only way is to buy the pirated version? If you know where you can find Thai movies with English subs in Thailand, please leave a comment below. 

So that was my adventure in book and movie shopping in Thailand. I was relatively successful with the books, and very not successful with the movies. Better luck next time! 

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