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Books to read by the beach: Phuket edition

There are few things more bountiful than reading a book on the beach. The pearly white sands illuminate the pages. The sea breeze carries your imagination. And the kiss of the sun makes for the perfect backdrop for a riveting story. But the art of picking the right page-turner? Not always so breezy.

After all, you want a book that will somewhat fit with your surroundings. Heavy literature and existential questioning is a no-go on the beach. Paperbacks are your friend, as hard covers are a painful smack in the face if you drop them. Love stories are always popular, but the thrill of a good crime novel also makes for an exciting choice. No matter what your personal taste may be, we’ve put together a bucket list of the ultimate beach-side books for your next vacation by the shore. For this edition, we’ve themed the list around a holiday in Phuket specifically, with each of the novels relating to the Thai island in some way, but also making for a great lazy lounging companion wherever else you may head. All that is left now is sunscreen, and perhaps an accompanying cocktail.

Hero and Featured image credit: Gray Malin

books beach Phuket Catching the Sun

Inspired by a local
Catching the Sun by Tony Parsons

If you’re the kind of beachside reader who likes to read a novel about the exact location they’re in, Catching the Sun makes for a sweet and suitable choice. Where it’s easy for a novel about Thailand to fall into certain stereotypes, Parsons manages to balance a cute cultural realness (including state of affairs, local festivals, and the Thai ‘sniff kiss’) alongside a story that may have been told before, but still manages to remain interesting. In the book, taxi driver Tom Finn leaves his home in Britain and moves to Phuket with his family, uncovering adventures in the foreign land — both manmade and natural. The book has been dubbed a ‘love story to Thailand’, and it’s apt, especially as a light read by the beach. It’s about a group of people who search for paradise in Phuket, and end up learning about themselves in the process. Relatable. (Available at Kinokuniya, THB 320)


books beach Phuket A History of Phuket

A douse of island history
A History of Phuket and the Surrounding Region by Colin Robert MacKay

Given Phuket’s popularity as a holiday destination, it is quite surprising that there are very few books that outline its origins. For all history buffs on the beach, A History of Phuket and the Surrounding Region makes for an educational read, divided into 38 chapters with over 100 maps, pictures, and previously unpublished photographs. It begins with the arrival of the first humans on the island, and the influences of early Malay, Indian, Chinese, Arab, and Greek settlers, before continuing into a tale of trade routes, Islamic dominance, social history, wars, and colonial pressures. Entertainingly written, insightful, and an incredible recount of a much unexplored topic. (Available at Asia Books, THB 1,500)


The Silent Patient

A chill down the spine (even by the beach)
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

There are some people who like to read a feel-good novel on vacation, and there are some people who like to read a gripping psychological thriller on vacation. This one is for the latter. The latest psychological thriller by Alex Michaelides follows the story of psychotherapist Theo Faber’s obsession with his mute patient Alicia Berenson, who was admitted to a psychiatric clinic after being charged for killing her husband. The telling of the story is curious, considering Alicia does not speak at all, and told through Theo’s observations, creates interesting twists. The kind of book that will keep you on edge until the very last page, the same way a holiday in Phuket will make you want to stay on the beach until the very last minute. Also recommended by Oprah Winfrey’s book club, so you shouldn’t need any more convincing, really. (Available at Kinokuniya, THB 577)


The Bonesetter's Daughter

For when you crave a good cry (even on the beach)
The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

We could have listed pretty much any one of Amy Tan’s novels for this category, but something about The Bonesetter’s Daughter will tug at your heart strings unlike most others. Drawing on the author’s affinity for exploring mother-daughter relationships, the novel tells the story of Chinese-American Ruth and the bond with her mother, Lu Ling, who has been diagnosed with dementia. As her condition worsens, Ruth uncovers many secrets about her family and her past, largely from her mother’s own comments, but also through a series of letters Lu Ling had written for Ruth many years before. Chilling and heartwarming, this novel was made into an opera, too. You won’t be able to put it down, and you will want to call your mother afterwards. (Available at Kinokuniya, THB 247)


One More Thing

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J.Novak

Keeping vibes light-hearted and smiles upturned, there’s nothing like a witty book you can pick up and put down as you please when you’re on vacation. One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is one of those books. Written by funny guy and The Office writer B.J. Novak, the book is made up of a series of short stories themed around love, modern technology, and the road to success. Entertaining and often times very moving, each of the stories are very playful, and written with a lot of curiosity and soul. Think, a school principal wants to abolish arithmetic. An ambulance driver follows his dream of becoming a singer. The hare wants a re-match after his infamous race with the tortoise. Why February is called February. The list goes on… (Available at Asia Books, THB 560)


The East End Book

Reading about the beach on the beach
The East End by Jason Allen

For a light kind of inception, read about the beach while on the beach with Jason Allen’s The East End. Where Phuket’s Phang Nga is easily considered the Hamptons of Thailand, this novel plays in the American Hamptons, wherein Corey Halpern is a witness to the tragic death of a billionaire’s secret lover. As the billionaire tries to cover up the whole thing, the novel explores themes of family secrecy, obsession, social divides, and a human craving for connection, against a backdrop of wealth and class. Between dying for love and killing for truth, the novel is lightly gripping, with a great atmosphere to suit. (Available at Kinokuniya, THB 903)


Love & Gelato Book

For when you seek a summer love story
Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

This one’s a revamped shoutout to the standard kind of book to read by the beach: a summer love story. Romantic with just the right amount of cheesy feels, Love and Gelato tells the tale of a girl called Lina and her summer in Tuscany, as she follows in the footsteps outlined in the Italian journal of her late mother. Whilst she rolls her eyes at Italy’s sunshine and movie-like setting at first, the young girl soon discovers romance, art, and food, in the company of a charming man called Ren. Perfect for all those readers who don’t enjoy a typical love story (there’s a kind of big secret to be unearthed) but do enjoy a bit of European romance. (Available at Asia Books, THB 410)


The Narrow Road to the Deep North Book

For when you seek an adventure
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize, and for those looking to really submerge themselves into an adventure from Tasmanian caves to a Thai jungle prison, it is a brilliant shore-side companion. The novel touches on themes of war, life, and love, following the story of an Australian doctor who returns from the war a hero yet finds himself at odds with his personal failings and guilt. Incredibly raw, at times horrific, and deeply human. (Available at Kinokuniya, THB 338)


Cook's Tour Book

For when you seek a snack
A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines by Anthony Bourdain

If there is one thing you need not worry about when you’re by the beach in Phuket, it is this: street food. Famously packed with coconuts and crabs, the great thing about lazing on a Thai beach is the abundance of food to enjoy all around. Written by the late Anthony Bourdain, A Cook’s Tour follows the infamous chef’s world travels in search of the perfect meal. From Portugal to Vietnam and Morocco, the book is a charming chronicle of one of America’s most beloved foodies, serving as both a great culinary and travel memoir. A New York Times bestselling book, A Cook’s Tour was later also made into a television series. (Available at Kinokuniya, THB 450)


And A Bottle of Rum Book

To read alongside a sundowner cocktail
And a Bottle of Rum by Wayne Curtis

One of the most impressive spirits to come out of Phuket is unquestionably Chalong Bay Rum, and where a list of cocktail recipe books is long and lengthy, it is always interesting to find novels that talk about these concoctions in literary ways. And a Bottle of Rum is one of these novels. Though not strictly Thai, the book follows the story of rum through American history, addressing different periods and drinking cultures throughout — from taverns in the American colonies to mojitos in modern-day clubs. Each chapter is also paired with a particular rum cocktail, offering a new way to explore the story of America through the drinking glass. A toast to a beloved liquor, with an intoxicating dose of history and humour. (Available at Kinokuniya, THB 481)


books beach Phuket Beaches, Gray Malin

When you just want to look at pictures
Beaches by Gray Malin

You can’t fight us on this. No one captures a beach the way artist Gray Malin can capture a beach. The artist to the Hollywood stars, Malin shot to fame with his incredible aerial photographs of beaches from around the world, often featuring aesthetically stylish beachside accessories. Capturing a true sense of summer and luxury bliss, his work manages to combine wanderlust and travel artistry all in one, playing with light and perspective in interesting ways. Beaches features over 20 cities across the world, and whilst Phuket is yet to be included, it’s definitely a sweet visual companion. (Available at Kinokuniya, THB 1,324)


books beach Phuket Lost Ocean

And when you want to colour your mind
Lost Ocean: An Inky Adventure and Colouring Book for Adults by Johanna Basford

Some people like to read books. Some like to write their own. For those who are neither here nor there, take up the trend of colouring books for adults, for a peaceful bit of mind. Themed under the enchanting underwater world, Basford invites dreamers to colour the world of exotic fish and coral reefs as a way to release stress, recharge imagination, and practice mindfulness. Whimsical and relaxing, it doesn’t get any more tranquil on the beach than with this. (Available at Kinokuniya, THB 567)

Books to read by the beach: Phuket edition

Lisa Gries

Creative Content Director, Bangkok

Lisa is the Creative Content Director at Lifestyle Asia Thailand. When she’s not knees-deep in web algorithms, editorial calendars, or traffic-driving strategies, you’ll likely find her in downward-facing dog at the yoga studio, or immersed in conversation at a secret bar in China town. Lisa writes mostly on dining, travel, and pop-culture, and is a huge fan of soup dumplings, Riesling, and power napping — in exactly that order.

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