I know they are all over the place, and it does not make a big destination spot for people going on vacation, but I have always loved bookstores and I look for them when I go on vacation. It must be the English teacher in me. They are the place where I can lose myself and I can spend hours in one of these places combing the various cases, looking for that one book that will hold the next adventure I get to read.
I usually try to avoid the big chains because they are all the same. When you have visited one of them, you have visited all of them. Barnes and Nobles comes to mind when I think of this. Granted there are some of them that are more open and airy, but the only thing I am going to find in one of these stores are your typical bestsellers and reproduced classics.
There are some megastores out there such as the Tattered Cover in Denver and Powell’s in Portland, Oregon that have some deeper cuts. Powell’s adds a new flavor to the mix by selling used books as well as new and it is easy to really get lost in either of these places. They usually have a coffee shop in them as well that adds to the enjoyment factor and will keep me in the place a little longer. The Tattered Cover partnered up with Twist and Shout, one of the last music stores in America, that forces me to split my time between the two places, but I always enjoy the day.
Things get a little more difficult when I visit bookstores in a foreign country. It becomes increasingly difficult to find books in English. Of course, I could use this as an opportunity to learn the language of the country I am by reading a book written in that language, but it was hard with Korean and even more difficult with Thai. Of course the bookstores I find usually come with books on how to learn the language, but I have enough difficulty with the apps that I am using to try to pick up some of the language that I am pretty sure the books would be just as useless to me. There are a couple of used places that are nice, the best one being Dasa on Sukhimvit in downtown Bangkok. It is a skinny little store with five floors to explore filled with well loved books and a variety that can’t be found anywhere else. I also found a nice one in Hua Hin that a nice selection of books but most of them were the pulp fiction mysteries that most people bring with them on vacation and then leave behind as orphans after they are done with them.
The best bookstore that really highlights the culture of Thailand while giving a wide selection of books happens to be a chain brand. It is an Asia Books in Chiang Mai. You never know what you are going to get when you walk into one of these bookstores. Sometimes they are huge with a wide selection, and sometimes they are so tiny that they only focus on a couple of titles and a bunch of games for kids. The one in Chiang Mai is the only one that has a section dedicated to Thai history, culture and literature. Of course, you can always find some of this in the other stores, but nothing like you can at this one. I like it because every book I read about Thailand as well as living out here give me a little more perspective of the place. I have read a lot about the last century but I know that there is more to this country than that. Yesterday I found the depth I was looking for at the bookstore. I was able to add a book of folk tales to my collection that will give me insight about the history and culture here that came before the 1932 revolution, and I look forward to learning more about it.
It is not the exciting thing to write about with your vacation, but I do recommend stopping at these places when you come across them. You will find that you will learn more about your travels by going to a bookstore rather than just absorbing the culture around you.