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The Best Books To Read For Traveling In Asia


by Deane Gurley



Traveling to Asia is a vibrant and enriching experience that allows you to immerse yourself in fascinating cultures, explore breathtaking landscapes, and create unforgettable memories. While physically preparing for your trip is essential, it’s equally important to mentally prepare by expanding your knowledge and understanding of the region.


One of the best ways to gain insight into the diverse and captivating aspects of Asia is through literature. Books have the power to transport us to different destinations, allowing us to see the world through the eyes of the characters and authors. Whether you’re planning a trip to Japan, India, Thailand, or any other country in Asia, delving into the right set of books can deepen your appreciation and anticipation for your upcoming venture.


In this article, we have curated a list of the best books to read for traveling in Asia. These books offer a unique perspective on the region and provide valuable insights into its history, culture, and people. From gripping travel memoirs to thought-provoking novels, this literary collection is sure to enhance your travel experience and leave you with a deeper connection to the places you visit.


So, whether you’re seeking inspiration, seeking to understand a different way of life, or simply looking to lose yourself in a captivating story, these books are a must-read before embarking on your Asian adventure. Let’s dive into our handpicked selection, filled with tales that encompass the spirit, beauty, and complexity of Asia.


“Lost Horizon” by James Hilton

“Lost Horizon” takes readers on a mesmerizing journey to the hidden valley of Shangri-La, nestled deep in the Himalayas. The novel follows the protagonist, Hugh Conway, as he stumbles upon a mysterious and tranquil utopia, seemingly untouched by time. This classic tale explores the themes of paradise, spirituality, and the pursuit of happiness.


Set against the backdrop of political turmoil in 1930s China, the novel beautifully captures the allure of Asia and the mystique surrounding its remote landscapes. By diving into “Lost Horizon,” readers will be transported to a mythical world, where they can explore the meaning of true contentment and the desire to escape the chaos of the modern world.


James Hilton’s vivid descriptions and intricate storytelling make “Lost Horizon” a must-read for any traveler heading to Asia. The book not only provides a captivating storyline, but it also offers a thought-provoking reflection on the delicate balance between dreams and reality, as well as the pursuit of inner peace.


As you turn the pages of this timeless classic, you’ll find yourself contemplating the concept of an ideal society, questioning your own ambitions and desires, and reflecting on the true meaning of happiness. “Lost Horizon” is an extraordinary literary adventure that will undoubtedly deepen your appreciation for the wonders that await you in Asia.


“Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts

“Shantaram” is a remarkable semi-autobiographical novel that chronicles the life of its author, Gregory David Roberts. Set in the bustling city of Mumbai, India, this gripping tale takes readers on a tumultuous journey filled with love, loss, redemption, and self-discovery.


Roberts, an Australian convict who escaped from prison and fled to India, delves into the depths of the city’s underworld and becomes intertwined with its vibrant and diverse characters. Through vivid descriptions of the city’s slums, markets, and neighborhoods, “Shantaram” offers a powerful portrayal of the contrasts and complexities of Indian society.


What sets “Shantaram” apart from other travel books is its intimate exploration of the human spirit and the transformative power of travel. As the protagonist navigates through the streets of Mumbai, encountering both moments of great joy and heart-wrenching despair, he embarks on a personal journey of self-discovery and growth.


Roberts’ eloquent writing style and his ability to capture the essence of India’s rich cultural tapestry make “Shantaram” an immersive and captivating read. The book not only provides a thrilling narrative, but it also presents profound insights into the challenges, triumphs, and contradictions of life in India.


For those traveling to India, “Shantaram” offers a unique perspective on the country’s complexities and contradictions. It sheds light on the beauty and chaos that coexist in this vast land, and it serves as a reminder that the most transformative journeys are often the ones that take place within ourselves.


As you delve into the pages of “Shantaram,” you will be swept away by the raw emotions, vivid descriptions, and philosophical reflections presented by Roberts. Prepare to embark on an unforgettable literary adventure that will forever shape your understanding and appreciation of the enchanting country that is India.


“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert

“Eat, Pray, Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert is an international bestseller that has captured the hearts of readers around the world. In this memoir, Gilbert recounts her journey of self-discovery as she travels through Italy, India, and Indonesia, searching for pleasure, spirituality, and love.


The book begins with Gilbert’s decision to step out of her comfort zone and embark on a year-long solo adventure after a painful divorce. In Italy, she indulges in the pleasures of food and embraces the simple joys of life. In India, she immerses herself in spiritual practices and seeks inner peace and enlightenment. Finally, in Bali, she discovers the true meaning of love and connection.


“Eat, Pray, Love” is not just a travelogue; it is a deeply personal exploration of the human experience. Gilbert’s writing is raw, honest, and introspective, allowing readers to connect with her on a profound level. Through her captivating storytelling, she invites us to reflect on our own desires, fears, and search for fulfillment.


What makes “Eat, Pray, Love” resonate with readers is its relatability. Gilbert’s struggles with self-doubt, heartbreak, and the quest for happiness are universal themes that many can identify with. Her journey inspires us to be courageous, follow our passions, and embrace the uncertainties that come with stepping out of our comfort zones.


For travelers, “Eat, Pray, Love” offers a unique perspective on the transformative power of travel. It reminds us that sometimes the best adventures are the ones where we lose ourselves in new cultures, forge deep connections with strangers, and find ourselves in unexpected places.


Whether you’re planning a trip to Europe, Asia, or anywhere else in the world, “Eat, Pray, Love” is a must-read. Gilbert’s captivating storytelling and her quest for self-discovery will inspire you to embark on your own journey of exploration, growth, and finding your own definition of love and happiness.


“The Beach” by Alex Garland

“The Beach” by Alex Garland is a thrilling and thought-provoking novel that takes readers on an adventure to a hidden paradise in Thailand. The story follows the journey of Richard, a young backpacker who becomes enamored with rumors of a secluded beach that promises untouched beauty and a utopian community.


Driven by curiosity and a desire for escape, Richard sets off on a quest to find the elusive beach. As he arrives at his destination, he discovers that this paradise is not as idyllic as he imagined. The discovery of a dark secret challenges his perception of paradise and forces him to confront the consequences of seeking a life disconnected from society.


Garland’s vivid descriptions of the Thai landscape and his ability to capture the backpacker spirit make “The Beach” an exhilarating read. Through Richard’s eyes, readers are transported to the vibrant streets of Bangkok, the stunning beaches of the Thai islands, and the hidden enclaves where travelers seek solace.


“The Beach” explores themes of adventure, longing for escape, and the consequences of our desires. It delves into the complexities of human nature, the allure of paradise, and the consequences of seeking utopia. It challenges readers to question their own motivations and the moral implications of their actions.


For travelers heading to Thailand or any other tropical destination in Asia, “The Beach” offers an insightful perspective on the allure and drawbacks of seeking hidden paradises. It serves as a cautionary tale, reminding us of the importance of balance and responsibility in our pursuit of wanderlust.


As you immerse yourself in the pages of “The Beach,” you’ll be captivated by the thrilling plot, the exploration of human nature, and the exploration of the complexities of the human spirit. Brace yourself for a thought-provoking journey that will make you question the ideals of paradise and the impact of our actions on the places we choose to explore.


“Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami is a mesmerizing and surreal novel that takes readers on a journey through the enigmatic realms of Japan. Blending elements of fantasy, magical realism, and coming-of-age fiction, Murakami weaves together two intertwining narratives that explore themes of fate, identity, and self-discovery.


The story unfolds with Kafka Tamura, a fifteen-year-old boy who runs away from home in search of a mysterious entrance to an alternate dimension. As his adventure unfolds, Kafka finds himself crossing paths with colorful and enigmatic characters, all while unraveling the mysteries of his own past.


Murakami’s signature writing style, characterized by rich symbolism and dreamlike sequences, creates a unique reading experience. Through his storytelling, he transports readers into a world where the lines between reality and imagination blur. From hidden libraries to talking cats, “Kafka on the Shore” is a literary masterpiece that challenges our understanding of reality and the boundaries of our own minds.


For travelers venturing to Japan, “Kafka on the Shore” offers a fascinating glimpse into the country’s culture, mythology, and psyche. Murakami’s vivid descriptions of Japanese landscapes and his exploration of traditional beliefs and rituals add depth and texture to the narrative, providing a nuanced portrayal of the country’s unique sensibilities.


By immersing yourself in the pages of “Kafka on the Shore,” you’ll embark on a journey that transcends conventional storytelling. It is a surreal and thought-provoking exploration of the human condition, whose intricacies are captivatingly brought to life by Murakami’s masterful prose.


Be prepared to lose yourself in the mystical world of “Kafka on the Shore,” where the boundaries between reality and dreams are blurred, and where every page invites you to question your perception of existence. This novel is a must-read for those who seek an extraordinary literary adventure and a deeper understanding of the complexities of Japanese culture.


“The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton

“The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton is a captivating exploration of the transformative power of travel and the art of truly experiencing the places we visit. In this thought-provoking book, de Botton examines our expectations and experiences of travel, urging readers to approach their journeys with mindfulness and a sense of curiosity.


Through a blend of personal anecdotes, philosophical reflections, and insights from great writers and artists, de Botton delves into the reasons why we travel and what we hope to gain from our experiences. He challenges our preconceived notions of exotic destinations and encourages us to find beauty and meaning in the ordinary and familiar.


“The Art of Travel” invites readers to reflect on the inner journey that accompanies our physical travels. It explores themes of anticipation, disappointment, and the search for authenticity, reminding us that the way we perceive and interpret our surroundings is just as important as the actual destinations we visit.


What sets “The Art of Travel” apart is de Botton’s ability to blend philosophy with practical advice. He shares valuable insights on how to cultivate a mindset of attentiveness while traveling, how to truly connect with locals and appreciate different cultures, and how to find solace and inspiration in the places we encounter.


Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or someone planning your first adventure, “The Art of Travel” offers a fresh and intelligent perspective on the joys and challenges of exploring the world. It encourages us to be more present, observant, and open-minded during our journeys, ultimately enriching our travel experiences and transforming the way we perceive the world around us.


Immerse yourself in the pages of “The Art of Travel,” and allow de Botton’s insightful observations and engaging storytelling to inspire you to approach your next trip with a renewed sense of curiosity, contemplation, and appreciation for the beauty that can be found in every moment of travel.


“A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry

“A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry is a powerful and emotionally charged novel that delves into the lives of four individuals whose paths intersect during a tumultuous period in India’s history. Set in the 1970s, against the backdrop of political unrest and societal upheaval, this book offers a deeply moving portrayal of the resilience of the human spirit.


The story follows Dina, a widowed seamstress, along with her two tenant roommates, Maneck, a student from a small village, and the tailors, Ishvar and Omprakash, who have fled their rural village due to caste discrimination. As their lives become intricately intertwined, they form an unlikely bond and navigate the challenges and hardships that life throws at them.


Mistry’s writing shines a compassionate light on the struggles faced by his characters, masterfully capturing the beauty and tragedy of their lives. Through their stories, he provides a poignant reflection on the class divisions, corruption, and social injustice prevalent in Indian society.


“A Fine Balance” offers readers a deeper understanding of the complexities and nuances of India’s rich cultural tapestry. The book provides a window into the lives of ordinary individuals, leading us through the crowded streets of cities, the vast landscapes of rural India, and the intimate spaces they inhabit, while shedding light on the resilience and spirit of its people.


As you immerse yourself in the pages of “A Fine Balance,” prepare to experience a rollercoaster of emotions. Mistry’s storytelling will make you laugh, cry, and ultimately, appreciate the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity.


For travelers planning a trip to India, “A Fine Balance” offers an insightful portrayal of the country’s rich tapestry of culture, its challenges, and the indomitable spirit of its people. It acts as a reminder that behind the often-romanticized image of India lies a complex and diverse society, filled with stories waiting to be discovered.


“A Fine Balance” is a literary masterpiece that will leave an indelible mark on your heart and mind. It opens a window into the lives of its characters, transporting you to a place where joy and sorrow coexist. Brace yourself for an emotional journey that will deepen your understanding and appreciation for the resilience and strength of the human spirit.


“The Great Railway Bazaar” by Paul Theroux

“The Great Railway Bazaar” by Paul Theroux is a captivating travelogue that takes readers on an extraordinary train journey across Asia. In this classic travel memoir, Theroux embarks on a four-month adventure, traversing the vast landscapes and diverse cultures of countries such as India, Pakistan, Iran, and Japan.


As Theroux immerses himself in the world of train travel, he paints a vivid picture of the people and places he encounters along the way. His keen observations and insightful reflections illuminate the nuances of each destination, capturing the essence of the local customs, landscapes, and societal issues.


“The Great Railway Bazaar” not only provides a glimpse into the physical aspects of travel but delves into the psychology of the traveler as well. Theroux reflects on the solitude of the journey, the yearning for connection, and the transformative power of travel itself.


Theroux’s writing is rich with descriptive detail, allowing readers to visualize the bustling train stations, experience the sights and sounds of the changing landscapes, and engage with the diverse characters he encounters. As he navigates through cultural differences and unexpected challenges, he presents a sobering and honest portrayal of the joys and hardships of long-distance train travel.


For those planning their own train journeys through Asia, “The Great Railway Bazaar” offers invaluable insights and inspiration. It captures the essence of train travel as a means to explore the heart of a country, to connect with its people and landscapes in a unique and intimate way.


Immerse yourself in the pages of “The Great Railway Bazaar” and join Theroux on a captivating adventure across Asia. Allow his evocative storytelling to transport you to the iconic train routes and destinations, igniting your own wanderlust and appreciation for the transformative power of travel.


“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo is a groundbreaking work of narrative non-fiction that provides a gripping and intimate account of life in a Mumbai slum. Through meticulous reporting and immersive storytelling, Boo sheds light on the harsh realities faced by the residents of Annawadi, a slum located near Mumbai’s international airport.


Boo spent several years in Annawadi, getting to know its inhabitants, documenting their struggles, hopes, and dreams. She captures the complex dynamics of poverty, corruption, and inequality, offering an unflinching portrayal of the human spirit and resilience in the face of adversity.


“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” exposes the stark contrast between the glittering facade of Mumbai’s development and the harsh realities experienced by those living in the slums. Through the lives of characters like Abdul, a young trash picker, and Asha, a resourceful and ambitious woman, Boo provides a nuanced perspective on poverty and the intricate web of social and economic systems that perpetuate it.


This book is a powerful reminder that behind the glossy images of progress and prosperity, there are millions of people struggling to survive. Boo’s writing exposes the complexities of the human condition and challenges readers to reflect on the systemic issues that perpetuate inequality and injustice.


For travelers, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” offers a unique opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the realities faced by marginalized communities in India. It prompts us to question our own assumptions and privileges while providing a more nuanced perspective that goes beyond the surface-level experiences often associated with travel.


Prepare to be deeply moved by the stories shared in “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.” Boo’s compassionate and empathetic storytelling allows readers to connect with the characters on a profound level, fostering a greater understanding of their struggles and triumphs.


As you delve into “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” be prepared to have your perspective challenged and your heart touched. This gripping work of non-fiction serves as a testament to the power of storytelling and the immense strength of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable challenges.


“Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Jung Chang

“Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Jung Chang is a powerful and deeply personal memoir that spans three generations of women in China. Through the eyes of the author, her mother, and her grandmother, readers are taken on a compelling journey through the tumultuous history of 20th-century China.


Chang’s mesmerizing storytelling reveals the harsh realities of life under imperial rule, the political upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, and the economic transformation of modern China. The book provides an intimate portrayal of the impact these historical events had on individuals, families, and the fabric of Chinese society.


“Wild Swans” is not just a memoir; it is also a chronicle of China’s complex and evolving cultural, social, and political landscape. Chang’s vivid descriptions and incredible attention to detail bring to life the sights, sounds, and emotions of each era, immersing readers in a world that is at once foreign and deeply familiar.


What sets “Wild Swans” apart is its ability to blend personal narratives with historical context. It offers a unique perspective on China’s tumultuous history, shedding light on the experiences of everyday individuals and the profound impact of political ideologies on their lives.


For those planning to visit China or interested in its history and culture, “Wild Swans” provides invaluable insights. It offers a deeper understanding of the country’s complex past, helping readers to appreciate the resilience and strength of its people.


As you journey through the pages of “Wild Swans,” be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions. Chang’s words will transport you from moments of frustration and heartbreak to instances of hope and resilience. The book offers an intimate exploration of family, love, loss, and the enduring spirit of the Chinese people.


By reading “Wild Swans,” you will gain a renewed perspective on the triumphs and tragedies that have shaped China into the nation it is today. This memoir serves as a testament to the indomitable human spirit and the power of storytelling to bridge gaps in understanding and foster empathy.


“The Quiet American” by Graham Greene

“The Quiet American” by Graham Greene is a thought-provoking novel that explores the complex themes of foreign intervention and cultural clashes in Vietnam during the period of French colonization. Through the eyes of the central protagonist, Thomas Fowler, an aging British journalist, the book delves into the intricacies of love, morality, and political intrigue.


The story unfolds in 1950s Saigon, where Fowler finds himself entangled in a love triangle with his young American rival, Alden Pyle, and his Vietnamese mistress, Phuong. As the backdrop for their personal dramas, Greene provides a nuanced portrayal of the larger political conflicts and moral ambiguities that defined the era.


“The Quiet American” offers a profound critique of Western interference in Vietnam’s affairs and the often-disastrous consequences that result. Greene skillfully examines the clash of cultures and ideologies, raising questions about the moral implications of foreign intervention and the devastating impact it can have on local communities.


Greene’s writing is marked by his unique ability to depict complex characters and atmospheric settings. His vivid descriptions of Saigon draw readers into the bustling streets, smoky bars, and shadowy alleyways, creating a vivid and immersive reading experience.


For travelers with an interest in Vietnam’s history and the enduring legacy of colonialism, “The Quiet American” offers a thought-provoking perspective. It provides a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics and historical context that shaped the country’s path toward independence.


As you engage with “The Quiet American,” prepare to grapple with profound questions about morality, love, and the consequences of action. Greene’s nuanced exploration of the human condition will challenge your beliefs, ignite your empathy, and prompt you to contemplate the impact of foreign powers on the countries they occupy.


Ultimately, “The Quiet American” serves as a reminder of the enduring relevance of understanding history and the complex nature of international relations. Greene’s masterful storytelling invites readers to reflect on the consequences of our actions and the importance of respecting and understanding the cultures and societies we encounter.


“The Motorcycle Diaries” by Ernesto Che Guevara

“The Motorcycle Diaries” by Ernesto Che Guevara is a captivating memoir that documents the transformative journey of the iconic Latin American revolutionary. In 1952, Guevara and his friend Alberto Granado embarked on a motorcycle trip, traversing South America and immersing themselves in the diverse cultures and landscapes they encountered.


Through vibrant storytelling, Guevara takes readers on a vivid journey, offering insights into the social and political realities of the countries they visited. The book captures the essence of Guevara’s youthful idealism and his growing awareness of the injustices faced by the impoverished and marginalized communities they encountered along the way.


“The Motorcycle Diaries” paints a vivid picture of the beauty and inequalities of South America, from the vast landscapes of the Andes to the poverty-stricken slums of Chile and Peru. Guevara’s writing invites readers to reflect on the social and economic disparities that exist in the region and the urgent need for social change.


What makes “The Motorcycle Diaries” resonate with readers is the introspective journey of self-discovery undertaken by Guevara. A voyage that starts with youthful wanderlust ultimately leads to a transformative awakening, shaping Guevara’s later commitment to social justice and revolution.


For travelers, “The Motorcycle Diaries” serves as an inspiration to explore the world and engage with different cultures and communities. It encapsulates the spirit of adventure and the importance of empathy and solidarity with those who are marginalized or oppressed.


By immersing yourself in the pages of “The Motorcycle Diaries,” you will embark on a profound journey of self-discovery, empathy, and social consciousness. Guevara’s elegantly written memoir offers a window into the formative experiences that fueled his revolutionary spirit and invites readers to reflect on their own values and commitment to creating a more just world.


Prepare to be captivated by Guevara’s passion, poetic descriptions, and profound reflections on social inequality. “The Motorcycle Diaries” is not just a travelogue, but a testament to the power of travel to shape our understanding of the world and our place in it.



When it comes to traveling, books can be powerful tools that transport us to new destinations, deepen our understanding of different cultures, and ignite our sense of adventure. The selection of books mentioned in this article offers a diverse range of perspectives, from classic novels to gripping memoirs, each providing a unique lens through which to view the vibrant and complex world of travel in Asia.


From the mythical valleys of Shangri-La in James Hilton’s “Lost Horizon” to the trials and triumphs of life in an Indian slum in Katherine Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” these books offer captivating narratives and profound insights into the human condition. They challenge our perceptions, expose us to the nuances of diverse cultures and histories, and encourage us to approach our own travels with a sense of openness and understanding.


Through these books, we gain a deeper appreciation for the beauty, the challenges, and the complexities of the places we visit. We understand that travel is not just about sightseeing; it is about immersing ourselves in the lives of others, embracing new perspectives, and forging connections that transcend borders and languages.


Whether you’re planning a trip to Asia or simply seeking to broaden your horizons from the comfort of your home, these books provide a gateway into the rich tapestry of the continent. They spark our curiosity, evoke our emotions, and leave a lasting impression that stays with us long after we turn the final page.


So, before embarking on your next journey, take the time to delve into one of these remarkable literary works. They will not only enhance your travel experience, but they will also deepen your understanding of the world and the diverse cultures that make it so wonderfully dynamic.


Remember, as you embark on your own adventures, carry the spirit fostered by these books – a spirit of curiosity, empathy, and an appreciation for the beauty and complexities of our shared human experience. Happy travels!