5 Books to Read Whilst Travelling in South East Asia

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Though a significant variety of literature exists about journeying in South East Asia- from guides, to travelogues to historical studies – there are a few works on offer that can really enhance the travelers experience of the vibrant and diverse countries in the region.

Here are 5 essential books that will allow adventurers, culture-seekers and simple holiday makers to absorb the very best that South East Asia has to offer.

1) The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia On A Budget

Authors: Emma Boyle, Anette Dal Jensen, Kiki Deere, Emma Gibbs, etc.

It is mistakenly believed that in order to enjoy all the stunning natural, architectural and cultural marvels that South East Asia has to offer, one has to have a considerably deep pocket. Fortunately, this just isn’t so, and The Rough Guide to South East Asia on a Budget is the ideal guide to having the holiday of a lifetime on a shoestring budget. This modern, fully updated guide breaks down the essential itineraries of the best places to visit in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and many more. The guide then lists the best and most affordable methods of transportation in different regions, what kinds of accommodation are on offer, and where the best medical facilities are located. Would be budget travelers will also be pleased to note that the guide contains an invaluable culture and etiquette guide, a list of flight services to and from the desired location, and even a chart listing the average daily temperature and rainfall.
The sheer volume of useful information contained in The Rough Guide to South East Asia on a Budget makes it an essential item to invest in for travelers and casual readers alike. 

2) Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind an American Housewife’s Honest Love Affair with the Irrepressible People of Thailand

Author: Carol Hollinger

This quirky yet highly informative and entertaining little book is the ideal choice for anyone who is looking to be inspired by the many astounding sites and customs of Thailand, but who wants something a little different from the all too often stale, bromide-laden travel guides on offer. Although it is a distinctively old work (first published in 1965), its continuing popularity is testament to the books lasting ability to inform and entertain. The author, Carol Hollinger, weaves her story with humor and perceptive sagacity, particularly when describing her various interactions with the Thai people. Though the title may sound upbeat (and, indeed, much of the book is, particularly when it explains how Carol strove to adjust to Thai culture whilst her husband was working at the American Embassy in Bangkok) there are also sections that deal with the darker side of Thailand. However, Carol Hollinger recounts these incidences in such a way as to keep the reader wary without the writing degenerating into waffling comparisons between life in the east compared to the west. The result is an excellent read with a continuous sense of honesty emanating from the author’s prose.


3) Trailblazer South East Asia: The Graphic Guide

Author: Mark Elliott


Lauded by many as “the only book you’ll need for travelling in South East Asia” this book, though slim, contains enough tantalizing imagery and information to have any reader packing their bags and booking the next flight. The most popular aspect of the Trailblazer South East Asia: The Graphic Guide is the way its maps are illustrated in a schematic “treasure map” fashion: cramming as much insight and recommendations as possible around the peripheries of the listed destinations (readers who want detailed maps of South East Asian tourism hot-spots, however, should look elsewhere). The Trailblazer South East Asia: The Graphic Guide is also highly readable, due to its informal language, and the reader cannot help but feel that he/she is being given information by a knowledgeable friend rather than a lofty author.
The book also contains an exceedingly handy transliteration guide which, and many readers have attested to this, can be a virtual god send when it comes to conversing with the native populations of Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Loas. 

4) Early Mapping of Southeast Asia

Author: Thomas Suarez

An excellent, highly visual work for anyone who is looking to complement their journey around South East Asia with a dash of history. Early Mapping of Southeast Asia by Thomas Suarez contains a fascinating collection of European maps from the 16th to the 19th century charting the many peninsular and islands found in the region. The meticulously drawn cartographical masterpieces are accompanied by a useful text which gives an account of the explorers, and background history at the times the maps were created. The fact that the reader can chart the evolution of South East Asia’s prominence on the world stage both visually and historically in this book will make it an excellent companion for the traveler looking to compare contemporary South East Asian nations with their often obscure pasts.


5) Everyday Life in Southeast Asia

Author: Kathleen M. Adams, Kathleen A. Gillogly (eds.)

This book provides a thorough overview of the dominant social, cultural, linguistic and religious elements that permeate the South East Asian landscape. Though comprised largely of essays written by notable academics, this book is anything but bland and speculative. The pages are packed with useful insight that can infuse the travelers journey (particularly if they explore areas off the beaten track) with an enlightening understanding of deeply rooted traditions still practiced throughout South East Asia. The anthropological subjects dealt with in the book will also inspire travelers of the adventurous persuasion to go out and meet the Lisu of Thailand, learn about the Mangyan of the Phillipines, and observe the unusual fashion traditions of the native Javanese women.
Though the book is not broken down into easy to navigate sub-sections (like the Rough Guides are) it is highly readable in both a casual and on-the-go context, and contains facts that will challenge the reader to re-assess their own cultural practices and observe those of others in a new light.

Homepage Highlight Photo Credit:Wonderlane, Flickr


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