Sex Tourism in Thailand: Inside Asia’s Premier Erotic Playground, Ronald Weitzer (NYU Press, November 2023)
Sex Tourism in Thailand: Inside Asia’s Premier Erotic Playground, Ronald Weitzer (NYU Press, November 2023)

Thailand is known internationally as a popular sex tourism destination. Yet, despite its size and reputation, remarkably little research has focused on the country’s sex industry over the past two decades. Based on original ethnographic data and other sources, Sex Tourism in Thailand is an expansive yet nuanced study of diverse sex markets and their moral economies.

Mai Nardone’s Welcome Me to the Kingdom  opens with two migrants from Thailand’s northeast who travel to Bangkok to make a new life for themselves in the bustling city. As they enter, they pass under a sign, asking visitors to “Take Home a Thousand Smiles”. It’s an ironic start to their lives in Bangkok, as the two live an unstable, hardscrabble life on Bangkok’s fringes.

Thailand remains under-represented in English-language fiction, contemporary or otherwise; little has been translated and only a little more has been published by authors who can claim roots in the country. Mai Nardone is a Thai-American writer who, while represented in such mainstream publications as Granta, McSweeney’s and Ploughshares, was raised and lives in Bangkok: any debut would be welcomed; it helps that his is very good.

Songs of Memory: Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle, Victoria Vorreiter (Resonance Press, July 2022)
Songs of Memory: Traditional Music of the Golden Triangle, Victoria Vorreiter (Resonance Press, July 2022)

High in the mountains of the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar once knew no boundaries, lives a rich multiplicity of traditional peoples. Prominent among them are the Karen, Hmong, Iu Mien, Lahu, Akha, and Lisu, six distinct groups who have maintained their independence, identity, and worldview to a high degree.

Before becoming king on the death of his half-brother King Nangklao (Rama III), Prince Mongkut (later Rama IV) of Siam had written a confidential letter in English on the subject of establishing a British embassy in Bangkok to intermediaries of the diplomatic envoy Sir James Brooke (later Rajah of Sarawak). Mongkut explained that such an embassy would not likely happen under Nangklao, because “Siam is now of most absolute monarchy in the world, in which monarchy one’s oppinion [sic] is no use.” He went on to say further that regular people were “equal of animals and vegitables [sic] in the kingdom,” which wasn’t exactly encouraging either. However, Mongkut, unlike the far more intransigent Nangklao, was known to be a man of great perception and intelligence, and while Brooke’s mission ultimately failed, “without King Mongkut’s benign influence and open attitude, the fate of Siam at the hands of the British and other western powers could have been very different.”

Chariot of the Sun, disingenuously subtitled “An Informal History of a Siamese Family”, stands out from the recent plethora of  run-of-the-mill or self-serving memoirs and biographies by very much being neither.  Here we can meet an utterly fascinating variety of people, a number of whom occupied positions of power, but also some who didn’t, and they’re all revealed through what Nic Dunlop tells us on the back cover, “storytelling that revels in the fragmentary and the anecdotal.” This is a different kind of memoir; the main “character” isn’t so much the writer himself, but a selection of family members evocatively presented through stories and photographs that are linked by a narrative about an ancient prophecy (no spoiling here!). Bunnag begins with the 2011 earthquake and ends with a tree (the name Bunnag means “tree”) and a placenta, hopping backwards and forwards in time as he goes, employing full use of his skills as a documentary film-maker.