Bookworming In Thailand, Myanmar And Vietnam!

I said in my previous blog entry that I was on holiday for three weeks. I spent the second week of October up to the first few days of November backpacking through Bangkok, Thailand; Yangon, Ngapali Beach, and Mandalay, Myanmar; and Saigon, Vietnam. I’ve been planning this trip since 2009 (after I returned from my first solo trip through Hong Kong, Siem Reap and Kuala Lumpur), and there were a lot of changes in plans, budgets and itineraries for the next three years − and even until a few hours before my departure!

Some things haven’t changed, though. As with every trip (like this one), I just had to hit up a few bookstores during my 21-day journey. A few places in my itinerary are also related to books, literature and history; and one of the places I stayed in had a lot of reading material available for its guests.

So. Let’s get on with it, yes? 😉

Baan Cedarberg

(For those planning a trip to Bangkok, I highly recommend this guesthouse. The friendly staff quickly responds to online inquiries, provides a lot of service discounts, and give great tips on where to go and what to do in the city and nearby destinations. It was fun hanging out with them and fellow guests, too.)

I arrived at the guesthouse a bit past midnight, so I was able to get a good look at the place only after some rest and a hearty breakfast. Besides offering short- and long-term accommodations, Baan Cedarberg (formerly known as Sukhumvit On Nut Guesthouse) also has a restaurant, and a language center where tourists can learn basic Thai and Burmese. It’s located a bit far from the tourist action (which takes place at the city center, and Khao San Road − a.k.a. “backpacker central”), but it’s a good 15- to 20-minute walk from the BTS On Nut and Bang Chak stations (I’m a slow walker, so it’s just 10 to 15 minutes for other folks), and you can hail taxis, tuk-tuks and motos from the main road.

Book shelf’s on the left side.

Baan Cedarberg has another thing that bookworms will really like: its book exchange service. The library’s composed of a single book shelf beside the cashier/counter, but it holds a wide selection for guests and visitors, with titles spilling out the front and back of the shelves. The top shelf had mostly Thai titles; the second shelf was groaning with the weight of manga; and the rest had travel guidebooks, biographies, fiction/non-fiction work, and other genres in English, French, Japanese and German.

I only had one book with me at that time, and I didn’t want to trade it in for another title since I haven’t read it yet, so I didn’t avail of the book exchange service. But I could browse and borrow any of the books they have at any time. Some of the titles I remember seeing are Lonely Planet guidebooks for Thailand, Cambodia and Laos (for guests who are still in the planning stage for their next destination), and the French paperback version of Keith Richards’ 2010 biography. I also read parts of Massacre at the Palace by Jonathan Gregson while waiting for a fellow female solo traveler to finish handling her mobile phone emergency.

I’ve stayed in guesthouses that have their own libraries for tourists and staff, but it’s my first time to see and stay in one that has an openly promoted book exchange service. Will make sure to bring a few books I could trade if/when I come back to Bangkok. 🙂

Baan Cedarberg Guesthouse
125/2 Sukhumvit 89, Sukhumvit Road, Bangchak Prakhanong, Bangkok, 10260 Thailand
(+66) 2742-4525
Aaron Manji, booking@bangkok-guesthouse.com, http://www.bangkok-guesthouse.com

[Edited on May 31, 2014: Guess I’ll have to look for a new hostel if/when I return to Bangkok! The On Nut hostel is no more; the owners left the city in June 2013, and set up shop in Kanchanaburi, near the Three Pagodas Pass and the Thailand-Myanmar border. Go to Baan Cedarberg’s Facebook page for more information.]

Books Kinokuniya

It’s sad and humiliating in many ways: a bookworm like me found out about “Kino” just recently. (What the fuck, right.) I missed out on visiting its branches in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Taipei when I was on holiday in those places. I’d like to think that I made amends with dear Kino in Bangkok. 😉

The Entrance to Book Paradise.

On my second day in the city, I headed to the Books Kinokuniya branch in Siam Paragon. The mall’s accessible via BTS Skytrain, but also right in the middle of the huge and hectic shopping district, so it’s easy to switch to other wallet-drainers like MBK (that one’s just across the street!) if you don’t find what you need.

I wanted Kino to be my first stop for the day, but I was distracted by the World Camera Day 2012 event happening at the tent outside the mall. 😉 I had to remind myself that no, I’m only browsing, and I’m not covering that event, nor am I assigned by any publication to do so. Hahaha! When I finally got myself out of the tent, I headed straight for the third floor. The Siam Paragon branch of the book store chain has been given significant floor space (and is found near an H&M outlet, which happened to be on sale that day − uh-oh!), and has an excellent selection of Thai and English titles on any topic/genre you can think of. And of course, JK Rowling‘s The Casual Vacancy got a hardbound book tower at the front of the store.

Lots of locals and foreigners were in the store that Sunday morning/noon, and I saw several books I would’ve loved to take back with me to Manila if I didn’t have that dreaded “not enough room in my small backpack” problem. Also managed to take a good number of shots with my smartphone until a male staff member informed me (with an understanding smile on his cute face) that customers aren’t allowed to take photos while inside the store. Oops. 😉

The book store may be smaller compared to the other ones I’ve been in, particularly National Book Store‘s different branches, Eslite in Taipei and Fully Booked; the last two megachains have their own buildings in Xinyi and Bonifacio High Street. But Books Kinokuniya in Siam Paragon still gets a lot of pogi points from me:

  • As I said a while ago, it has an awesome selection of books and paper products (e.g., notebooks, cards, stationery)
  • English and Thai sections are clearly labeled − although the Thai section’s smaller than the Engligh-language section
  • The friendly and helpful salespeople don’t follow you around like puppies, or as if you’re gonna steal something
  • Compilations, limited-edition titles and multiple editions of the same title are available − saw two versions of Damned by Chuck Palahniuk, compilations of Archie and Little Lulu, Austen/Dickens/Bronte compilations and hardcovers, and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman series. Already completed my personal The Sandman collection, though − way back in my college/early work days.

Despite my luggage space problem, I seriously considered buying a hardbound copy of Craig Thompson’s Habibi while I was there (my nerdy friends in tech media told me it’s an awesome read). A quick check of current exchange rates and a comparison with PH bookstore prices put the Kino copy at around PhP 400-500 higher, so I put it back on the shelf. Sayang! I did get a short story collection set in Thailand, plus a notebook for work, so I didn’t leave empty-handed.

Books Kinokuniya
3rd floor Siam Paragon
991 Rama I Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok
10330 Thailand
(+66) 2610-9500, Fax (+66) 2610-9510, 10AM-10PM
siamparagon@kinokuniya.com, http://www.kinokuniya.com/th