Five classic books from Thailand (เมืองไทย)

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read from anywhere in the world.


I currently live in Thailand and I’m always learning new things about the country and the people.

I’ve been trying to learn the Thai language and it’s incredibly difficult. But the more I learn, the more I understand that there’s so much culture embedded in the language and it’s a reflection of the nation’s history.

For instance, a lot of the Thai language has been influenced by Indian languages, both Sanskrit and Pali. Sanskrit is more associated with Hinduism and social hierarchies, whereas Pali is associated with Buddhism and the language used by commoners.

So, Thai words used in connection with the monarchy tend to come from Sanskrit, whereas words used for going to the Buddhist temple are more likely to come from Pali. These two languages tend to have distinct spelling patterns or use certain Thai letters, so the difference is still visible to this day.

Photo by Mos on Unsplash

I know the Thai language often poses a barrier to translating works to English, as it can be difficult to translate all the nuances embedded in the language.

But I think a the greater barrier is that most publishing houses don’t see Thailand as a priority, actually I think most of Southeast Asia is not seen as a priority.

One of the best ways to improve that is to show an interest in Southeast Asian/Thai literature. The more people buy and seek out books from this area, the more the corporations will see it as an opportunity for monetary growth.

So in order to promote Thai literature, and also to share a bit more about Thailand, I’ve put together a list of some classic Thai literature.

This list is obviously not extensive, but serves as an introduction to a few areas of Thai literature that have been translated into English.

Five classic books from Thailand

Here’s a list of five classic books with authors from Thailand.

  1. Ramakien / รามเกียรติ์ (13th century)
  2. Phra Aphai Mani / พระอภัยมณี (1822-1844)
  3. Four Reigns / สี่แผ่นดิน (1953)
  4. A Child of the Northeast / ลูกอีสาน (1976)
  5. The Happiness of Kati / ความสุขของกะทิ (2006)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Ramakien / รามเกียรติ์ (13th century)

(Thai: รามเกียรติ์ meaning ‘Glory of Rama’; sometimes also spelled Ramakian)

  • Year Published: 13th century
  • Language: Thai
  • One of Thailand’s epic poems and
  • It is considered Thailand’s version of the Ramayana as it shares most of same the tales, but has been adjusted to the culture of Ayutthaya

Ramakien tells the story of the battle between Tosakanth (king of the demons) and a human, King Rama. Tosakanth kidnaps Queen Sida, wife of King Rama, with the hope that she will fall in love with him. The battle over Queen Sida has Tosakanth and his relatives and friends on one side, against King Rama, his loyal brother Phra Lak and an army of monkey warriors, including Hanuman the demi-god white monkey.

Links:

Phra Aphai Mani / พระอภัยมณี (1822-1844)

by Sunthorn Phu / สุนทรภู่ (who is known as “the Bard of Rattanakosin” / ”กวีเอกแห่งกรุงรัตนโกสินทร์”)

  • Year Published: 1822-1844
  • Storygraph Categories: poetry, adventurous, challenging, reflective, medium-paced
  • As a 48,700-line epic poem, it is considered to be one of Thailand’s national epics, and the world’s second longest epic poem written by a single poet

At the very beginning, Phra Abhai Mani and his younger brother Sri Suvarna set out to acquire knowledge. The kind of knowledge that was thought fit for princes in Thai stories then was the silpasat, which is equivalent to general knowledge or liberal education. The two Princes took up special studies instead. Phra Abhai Mani mastered the art of music, especially flute-playing, while Sri Suvarna was trained in the art of self-defence, in particular cudgel-fighting. Such specialisations were not known or appreciated then and, as a result, the two Princes were turned out of the kingdom by their own father.

Afterwards, the two Princes met three Brahmins who also professed special sciences. One of them could shoot seven arrows at the same time and make them all hit the mark. They exhibited their special excellences of which Phra Abhai Mani’s outshone the rest. At this point, Phra Abhai Mani and Sri Suvarna were separated from each other and had different adventures. But they kept themselves from harm by virtue of their special knowledge. Their lives were also shaped by what they had learnt.

Links:

Four Reigns / สี่แผ่นดิน (1953)

by Kukrit Pramoj / คึกฤทธิ์ ปราโมช, translated from the Thai by Tulachandra

  • Year Published: 1953
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, historical, challenging, informative, slow-paced
  • One of the most influential Thai novels, widely regarded as a classic and the Encyclopaedia Britannica described it as “probably the best-selling Thai novel of all time”

This English version of the Thai novel Si Phaendin tells the rich and entertaining story of one woman’s life both inside and outside the royal palace in Bangkok. Spanning a period of four reigns, from King Chulalongkorn to the reign of his grandson King Ananda, this popular modern classic gives insight into the social and political issues facing Thailand from the 1890s through the turbulent years of World War II.

Links:

A Child of the Northeast / ลูกอีสาน (1976)

by Kampoon Boonthavee / คำพูน บุญทวี, translated from the Thai by Susan Fulop Kepner

  • Year Published: 1976
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Won the SEA Write Award

A novel about a year in the life of a village in Northeast Thailand during the 1930’s. It is also a tale about a world scarcely known in the West: the world of “Isan”, which is what the natives call their corner of Thailand.

Kampoon Boontawee based this award-winning novel on memories of his own childhood in Isan during the depths of the Depression. The loving, courageous family at the center of the novel include a boy named Koon, who is about eight years old; his sisters Yee-soon, five, and Boonlai, two; and their parents, whose names we never learn. They are simply “Koon’s mother” and “Koon’s father”, even by their friends and family.

Kampoon also introduces his readers to a wider, equally unforgettable family: the relatives and neighbors who live in Koon’s village. It is their bravery, their goodness of heart, and above all, their indestructible, earthy sense of humor, that shape the boy Koon’s perception of the world, and his purpose in it.

Links:

The Happiness of Kati / ความสุขของกะทิ (2006)

by Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva / งามพรรณ เวชชาชีวะ, translated from the Thai by Prudence Borthwick

  • Year Published: 2006
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, contemporary, middle grade, emotional, medium-paced
  • Won the SEA Write Award

When the mother she hasn’t seen in five years is stricken with Lou Gehrig’s disease, nine-year-old Kati travels to the house by the sea to spend the last weeks of her mother’s life with her, in this touching story of love, hope, and renewal set in Thailand.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five epic poems from around the world

April is Poetry Month! So I will be sharing lots of poetry suggestions to help you find more poetry that you enjoy.

Like most forms of art, poetry is subjective and very personal. It can take time to find what you like. I want to remind you that you don’t have to like the poetry that people say you should, but I would encourage you to keep exploring poetry until you find what you enjoy.


For this week, I wanted to focus on epic poems. Epic poems are very long narrative poems, so basically a story told in verse. They often follow the typical hero or journey arc, but can be on any theme.

I think one of the most well-known epic poems in the western world would be The Odyssey or The Iliad by Homer. But there are so many more than that, and from many different parts of the world.

My last post talked about some of the most influential epic poems and for this post I want to focus on some lesser known, but fascinating, epic poems. I’ve included examples from around the world to show how diverse the options are, and also because it seems like most areas of the world have a history of epic poems.

Personally, I wonder if epic poems were common in the past because they were an easier way to share and remember the stories orally due to the rhythm, structure, and rhyming. I imagine it could be similar to how we memorize song lyrics.

I know for most of human history storytelling was primarily oral and any kind of written content was limited to “elites”, those either with lots of money, power or part of a religious order.

It’s amazing to think of how much more accessible the written word is today. Anyone can put their thoughts down on paper (or a digital document) and share it with anyone else. I think that’s beautiful.

I know nowadays epic poems are rarely the form of choice, but epic poems can be found in the literature of most cultures throughout history. And today I want to share with you a few that you might not know or realize were a poem.

Photo by areej fateyma on Unsplash

Five epic poems from around the world

Here’s a list of five epic poems from around the world.

  1. Beowulf by Anonymous / Unknown (975-1025 CE)
  2. Shahnameh by Ferdowsi (977-1010 CE)
  3. The Five Great Epics by Tamil Jains and Tamil Buddhists (no specific individuals) (5th-10th century CE)
  4. Ramakien (13th century)
  5. The Song of Kiều by Du Nguyên (1820)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in the general order of when they were “published”.

Beowulf (975-1025 CE)

by Anonymous / Unknown

  • Year Published:975-1025 AD
  • Language: Old English
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, fantasy, poetry, adventurous, medium-paced
  • One of the most often translated and important works of Old English

Composed toward the end of the first millennium, Beowulf is the elegiac narrative of the adventures of Beowulf, a Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel’s mother. He then returns to his own country and dies in old age in a vivid fight against a dragon. The poem is about encountering the monstrous, defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath.

Links:

Shahnameh (977-1010 CE)

(Persian: شاهنامه, ‘The Book of Kings’, also transliterated Shahnama)
by Ferdowsi

  • Year Published: 977-1010 CE
  • Language: Persian
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, classics, history, poetry, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • One of the longest epic poems in the world, and the longest written by a single individual
  • Considered a literary masterpiece and important to Persian literature

Among the great works of world literature, perhaps one of the least familiar to English readers is the “Shahnameh: ThePersian Book of Kings,” the national epic of Persia. This prodigious narrative, composed by the poet Ferdowsi between the years 980 and 1010, tells the story of pre- Islamic Iran, beginning in the mythic time of Creation and continuing forward to the Arab invasion in the seventh century. As a window on the world, “Shahnameh” belongs in the company of such literary masterpieces as Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” the plays of Shakespeare, the epics of Homer- classics whose reach and range bring whole cultures into view. In its pages are unforgettable moments of national triumph and failure, human courage and cruelty, blissful love and bitter grief.

Links:

The Five Great Epics (5th-10th century CE)

(Tamil: ஐம்பெரும்காப்பியங்கள் Aimperumkāppiyaṅkaḷ)
by Tamil Jains and Tamil Buddhists (no specific individuals)

  • written over the 5th-10th century CE
  • Language: Tamil
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, literary, poetry, adventurous, slow-paced
  • Are a source of historical information on the Tamil people, including their society, religion, culture and academic life

Names of all five epics:
1. Cilappatikāram 
2. Manimekalai
3. Cīvaka Cintāmaṇi
4. Valayapathi 
5. Kundalakesi

Cilappatikāram Summary

One of the world’s masterpieces, The Cilappatikaram (5th century ce) by Ilanko Atikal is India’s finest epic in a language other than Sanskrit. It spells out in unforgettable verse the problems that humanity has been wrestling with for a long time: love, war, evil, fate and death.

The Tale of an Anklet is the love story of Kovalan and Kannaki. Originating in Tamil mythology, the compelling tale of Kannaki—her love, her feats and triumphs, and her ultimate transformation to goddess—follows the conventions of Tamil poetry and is told in three phases: the erotic, the heroic and the mythic. This epic ranks with the Ramayana and the Mahabharata as one of the great classics of Indian literature and is presented for the first time in a landmark English verse translation by the eminent poet R. Parthasarathy, making it accessible to a wider audience.

Links:

Ramakien (13th century)

(Thai: รามเกียรติ์, ’Glory of Rama’; sometimes also spelled Ramakian)

  • Year Published: 13th century
  • Language: Thai
  • One of Thailand’s epic poems and
  • It is considered Thailand’s version of the Ramayana as it shares most of same the tales, but has been adjusted to the culture of Ayutthaya

Ramakien tells the story of the battle between Tosakanth (king of the demons) and a human, King Rama. Tosakanth kidnaps Queen Sida, wife of King Rama, with the hope that she will fall in love with him. The battle over Queen Sida has Tosakanth and his relatives and friends on one side, against King Rama, his loyal brother Phra Lak and an army of monkey warriors, including Hanuman the demi-god white monkey.

Links:

The Song of Kiều (1820)

The original title in Vietnamese is Đoạn Trường Tân Thanh (斷腸新聲, “A New Cry From a Broken Heart”), but it is more commonly known as Truyện Kiều (傳翹, “Tale of Kiều”)
by Du Nguyên

  • Year Published: 1820
  • Language: Vietnamese (written in Chữ Nôm – Chinese characters)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, poetry, emotional, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Most famous Vietnamese poem and a Vietnamese literature classic

A stunning new translation of the legendary Vietnamese epic poem, now for the first time in Penguin Classics

Considered the greatest literary achievement in Vietnamese, The Song of Kieu tells the story of the beautiful Vuong Thuy Kieu, who agrees to a financially profitable marriage in order to save her family from ruinous debts, but is tricked into working in a brothel. Her tragic life involves jealous wives, slavery, war, poverty, and time as a nun. Adapted from a seventeenth-century Chinese novel, Jin Yun Qiao, written by an unknown writer under the pseudonym Qingxin Cairen, author Nguyen Du upended the plot’s traditional love story by conveying the social and political upheavals at the end of the 18th century in Vietnam.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of epic poems.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of what to read. I’d love to know which poems you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these epic poems, or a part of one? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.