Required Reading: Lawrence Osborne's Bangkok Reading List

The English journalist and novelist offers a handful of texts on the quixotic, deeply un-Western Bangkok, the city he’s lived in for the past five years. 

Getty Images
OF 8

It’s never easy to crack a foreign land's code. In Required Reading, cultured residents provide a peek into their city’s deepest secrets with an expertly curated syllabus.

Deep among Bangkok's winding alleys and tangled banyan groves, English journalist and novelist Lawrence Osborne resides in a rambling apartment, where he writes while listening to the whoop of koel birds from his balcony. Quite the inverse of his former cramped quarters in Brooklyn, a place Osborne called home for 18 years, the writer takes great pleasure in the Thai city's easy pace and gracious lifestyle. Unlike in other cities—he's lived in many—Osborne has discovered a deep, unmatched comfort within Bangkok’s romantic Asian antiquity, and often, unexpected privacy.

"My anxieties are around my own culture in America and the U.K. In Bangkok, I can screen out much more. I can spend whole days not involved, concentrating on my own stuff," says Osborne. A roamer by nature, he's lived a nomadic life many writers only fantasize about—grazing from Morocco to Turkey, London to Cambodia, his wanderlust leading to wherever his next novel will unfurl (his latest, Hunters in the Dark, about a wayward traveler in Cambodia, was just released in the United States). He attributes his comfort in travel to his English-ness. "I feel very rooted. England is a root-y place. I know where my family comes from. I think that's why the English make good travelers. They don't feel insecure about leaving," he says.

When Osborne isn't writing or traveling, he relishes in Bangkok's balminess, swimming in his courtyard pool or reading on his terrace. He goes for a massage from the "ferocious" Thai masseuses along his street several times a week, a ritual in which nearly every Bangkok resident takes part. Like the Thai, Osborne savors socializing well into the evening, a custom he craved living in other countries. Now, after dark, he walks Bangkok's sleepy back streets stopping for a cocktail or a plate of grilled fish from a roving cart, eaten with sticky rice while sitting along the curb. "It's like being a fish in coral," he says of the city's bewildering geography. "You just have to surrender to it. You're not going from A to B. You have to concentrate on taking a little piece in time."

This is Lawrence Osborne's required reading list for Bangkok, Thailand.