Movies, books, and songs to capture the essence of Bangkok and get you in the mood for travel

Movies

The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)
Roger Moore’s James Bond takes to the canals of Thonburi in a fast-moving longtail boat during his pursuit of hitman Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and the “solex agitator,” which can harness the power of the sun.

The Beach (2000)
Richard, a young American backpacker slumming it on Bangkok’s Khao San Road, meets a man with a map and a tale of a community of travelers living on a secret island paradise. He follows the map but sharks, drug-lords, and rivalries shatter the island’s idyll.

Krung Thep Antara (Bangkok Dangerous, 2000)
Award-winning and stylish story of a deaf hitman who finds love and, in turn, a crisis of conscience. Directed by the Pang brothers, one of Thailand’s foremost directorial partnerships; in Thai with English subtitles.

Satree Lex (The Iron Ladies, 2000)
This dramatic comedy follows a women’s volleyball team made up almost entirely of khatoey (transvestites and transsexuals). Thai with English subtitles.

Monrak Transistor (Transistor Love Story, 2001)
The amusing story of a young rural man who moves to Bangkok to try to make it in the big-city music scene. Thai with English subtitles.

Ploy (2007)
Acclaimed psychological drama about a Thai couple who return to Bangkok after living in America, but find their relationship tested and reassessed when a young woman they meet at the hotel moves into their room. Thai with English subtitles.

Books

Jasmine Nights, by SP Somtow (1995)
This novel by Thai-born, Eton-educated SP Somtow illuminates Thai culture through the eyes of a 12-year-old Thai boy, who becomes friends with an African-American boy in 1960s Thailand. Delightful read.

The Damage Done, by Warren Fellows (1997)
Often harrowing account of life inside Bangkok’s notorious Bang Kwang prison, aka the “Bangkok Hilton,” by this long-time resident.

Bangkok 8, by John Burdett (2003)
Probably the best of a bunch of ex-pat-written pulp fiction set amid the seedy Bangkok underworld. Follows a half-Thai, half-farang detective chasing the killer of a U.S. marine.

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture, by Philip Cornwel-Smith (2005)
A must-have for anyone interested in scratching beneath the surface of modern Thai culture and its origins. For almost every question about modern Bangkok, the answer is here.

Sightseeing, by Rattawut Lapcharoensap (2005)
A collection of short stories by this award-winning Thai-American author, dealing with modern Thai culture and its interaction with Western people and ideas.

Music

Compilations:

Made in Thailand by Carabao
Classic Thai album blends folk, rock, and traditional Thai ballads, all by Carabao and their hugely popular counter-culture lead singer, Ad Carabao, a Thai mix of Dylan, Nelson, and Springsteen.

Through the Years by Pumpuang
Luuk thung (literally “child of the rice field”) is hugely popular Thai folk music, and Pumpuang Duangjan was the queen of the genre.

Tamnan Rak Sao Isan (“Isan Girls’ Love Stories”) by Jintara Poonlarp
Modern star Jintara Poonlarp’s album combining mor lam, a type of folksy ballad based on the khaen (a woodwind mouth organ made of bamboo), and luuk thung.

Bakery Music: Lust For Live by Various Artists
A compilation of Thai indie acts from the label that put Thai alternative music on the map during the 1990s. Artists include P.O.P. and Modern Dog.

Never Mind the Botox by Futon
Electronica Bangkok style by the internationally acclaimed Futon.

Classic Songs:

  1. “One Night in Bangkok” by Murray Head
  2. “Made in Thailand” by Carabao
  3. “Sao Isan plat tin” (“Poor Isan Girl Far From Home”) by Jintara Poonlarp
  4. “Siphok Pi Haeng Khuam Lang” (“16 Years of Our Past”) by Suraphol Sombatcharoen
  5. “Kon Gap Kwai” (“Man and Buffalo”) by Caravan
  6. “Ta Leung” by Thaitanium
  7. “That Song” by Modern Dog
  8. “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by Futon
  9. “I Believe” by Tata Young
  10. “Khwam Chuea” by Bodyslam

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