Yesterday I took the bus back to downtown Chiang Mai to further explore this tranquil little city. Last week I went to Wat Phra Singh and wandered a few other places, but I wanted to see more. After all, next weekend I’ll be leaving and I doubt I’ll be back here for a long time.
What I found were a number of fantastic little bookstores tucked away on Chiang Mai’s winding streets. I’m a literature graduate and an obsessive reader, and so having spent years in Asia, where English-language bookstores are naturally few and far between, I was very excited to find that Chiang Mai has several great shops to browse.
The first shop I discovered was The Lost Book Shop, which drew me in because right outside there was a special Hunter S. Thompson display! Thompson has been one of my favourite writers (perhaps my absolute favourite) since I was 18 yrs old, and this was the first time in Asia that I’d seen so many of his books collected together. I restrained myself from buying dozens of books and only purchased George Orwell’s Bumese Days and Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt.
Next I found a bookstore with a great Beat name – On the Road Books – which is run by a nice English man, and sits across the road from the U.N. Irish Pub (which I also highly recommend).
Here there was no dedicated Beat or Gonzo section, but there was a number of Beat books scattered throughout, including The Beat Book by Anne Waldman. I bought a copy of Jack Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveler.
Finally, I found the mother of all Asian bookstores – and indeed one of the best bookstores I’ve visited in my life – Backstreet Books.
I’d heard from a few friends that this was the bookstore to visit, but I didn’t actively look for it. I just sort of stumbled upon it, and I’m glad I did. Inside there are posters and photos from City Lights (the only other bookstore I can think of off the top of my head that is better than Backstreet). At the back of the store there is a Beat section, where they’ve collected dozens of books by or about Hunter S. Thompson (not actually a Beat writer, of course, but still…), Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.
At this stage I was aware that although I wanted to buy dozens of books, I realistically could only buy one more, and it was a tough choice. I picked Allen Ginsberg’s Indian Journals because I actually bought it last year and had it shipped to China, but it never arrived. I believe the Chinese government, in all their censorious wisdom, objected to a book that is so sympathetic to the Tibetan cause.
After that, I retired to the U.N. Irish Pub with my purchases to have a Guinness before making the long trek back to International House, out in the countryside to the south of the city.
If you’d like to find these great bookstores for yourself, you can find them on Google Maps. I don’t know how to embed the map, so I’ll just screenshot it below: