210 Best Travel Books To Read For Your Travels In Asia: Part 1

Teacake Travels

210 Best Travel Books To Read For Your Travels In Asia! There’s no denying that the magical power of words on paper can transport you to mysterious lands and adventurous cultures that you’re feeling curious and inquisitive about. To successfully soak everything up from a country, discovering more about its culture and history allows you to become a worldly, lovely, understanding and kickass human being.

210 Best Travel Books To Read For Your Travels In Asia Part 1: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia and China

Maybe some of these countries are way off your travelling goals but discovering more about them is an adventure within itself. Whether you’re heading to Asia or soaking it all up from your coffee table, here are 210 Best Travel Books You Have To Read Before You Go To Asia in alphabetical order of country…and yes, every country in Asia is covered. Here’s Part 1 of the series covering Afghanistan to China. Get your travel geek on and check this literature out!

Best Travel Books About Afghanistan

The last 30 years have made Afghanistan pretty damn hard to access. It’s battered but incredibly beautiful and if you make it there before me, you will reach whole new levels of awesome in my book.

Dancing With Darkness – Magsi Hamilton

A compelling and moving memoir of Afghanistan, told from the unique perspective of a woman who witnessed the 7/7 bombing on a London bus. Shaken up by her experience, Little decided to travel to Afghanistan to try and get an understanding of what motivates suicide bombers. There she encountered the warmth and humanity of the Afghan people.

The Bookseller Of Kabul – Asne Seierstad

The story of a seriously fearless man who braved getting into serious trouble by bringing books to the people of Kabul. Intimate, detailed and an honest peek into the life of Afghan women and their daily life in Afghanistan.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

A powerful and beloved classic told against the tragic backdrop of Afghanistan over the last thirty years. Expect family, love, friendship and lots of tears. Once you’re finished with this one, check out the follow-up, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Both books are recommended by Anekdotique

The Places In Between – Rory Stewart

This is seriously epic! A travel narrative by this Scottish adventurer who decides to walk solo across north-central Afghanistan in 2002. He travels through amazing yet rugged, isolated and poor parts of the country in the midst of Winter and experiences invaluable moments. Must read!

Three Cups Of Tea – Greg Mortenson

How can we combat through terrorism? Through education! A homeless mountaineer embarks on a mission to build schools for girls who are living in one of the most dangerous places on earth. Find out how one person can make a whole lot of change. A New York Times Bestseller for all the right reasons!

Best Travel Books About Armenia

It’s all a bit miserable unfortunately but Armenia has been through a hell of a lot. The books listed below bring the Armenian genocide to the forefront and open up about the terrible tragedy that happened here.

Passage To Ararat – Michael J Arlen

What does it mean to be Armenian? Arlen travels there to discover his roots after his father’s death and shows us a very personal  journey into understanding the genocide with historical facts included. A story about connecting with your ethnic heritage and ultimately yourself, it comes highly recommended.

The Forty Days Of Musa Dagh – Franz Werfel

Having the guts to speak about the unspeakable and break the silence, Werfel opens up about the Armenian genocide and how these Armenian villages chose to stand up against the deportation order of the Turkish government. It shows the darkness of evil and the power of courage. Must read.

The Road From Home: A True Story Of Courage, Survival And Hope – David Kherdian

Wow. What a story. A first hand account of the genocide from a young girl originally written for children and young adults. If you’re a big kid now, you can and should still read it. She’s a survivor, a heroine and her personal story is a courageous one.

Best Travel Books About Azerbaijan

Ali And Nino – Kurban Said

Get your heart strings at the ready. You’re about to enter the world of war-torn lovers Ali (an Azerbaijani Muslim boy) and Nino (a Georgian Christian girl) who are separated by religion, culture and conflict. It’s tender, disturbing and a real rollercoaster ride.  Oh love!

Azerbaijan Diary: A Rogue Reporter’s Adventures In An Oil-Rich, War-Torn, Post-Soviet Republic – Thomas Goltz

If you’re looking to understand more about Azerbaijan’s history and the Azerbaijan Armenian War, this is it. Goltz talks about his experiences as a reporter here for six years. The book has been criticised for being one-sided and not taking Armenia’s views into account: I’ll let you decide.

The Orphan Sky – Ella Leya

Should you betray your country or your heart? Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Leila sets out on a mission, supported by the Communist Party, to crack down on Tahir who is suspected of traitorous Western influences in his music shop. It gets complicated! This novel shows how powerful music can be for breaking down barriers and bringing about change.

Best Travel Books About Bahrain

Looking For Dilmun – Bibby Geoffrey

Up for an adventurous archaeological adventure? Bibby was one of the first explorers of Bahrain and the first modern archaeologist to dig there. Not into archaeology? No problem. Stuff doesn’t get crazy technical. It’s a lively, personal and colourful book that gives a great insight into Gulf Arab culture and their way of life.

The Bahrain Incident – Mobi D’Ark

The front cover of this book admittedly looks terrible and it’s the cheapest book on the list but it’s a good work of fiction based on the author’s experiences whilst he lived and worked in Bahrain. Expect lots of drama, murder, seedy places and crazy desert scenes.

Best Travel Books About Bangladesh

Personally one of the most magical, adventurous and tough places I have visited. A country incredibly close to my heart for how kind locals were to me, how delicious the food is and how generous people can be when they have very little for themselves. Watch this space for Bangladeshi posts coming your way!

A Golden Age – Tahmima Anam

Passion. Revolution. Hope. Faith…and Teacake’s favourite, Unexpected Heroism. Jumping into the personal and political aspects of the 1971 Bangladesh War, this novel explores the tough experiences of a widow trying to look after her family and the effects conflict can have on ordinary people.

Brick Lane – Monica Ali

A Bangladeshi immigrant in London is torn between the kind yet tedious older husband with whom she has an arranged marriage (and children) and the fiery political activist she lusts after. A wonderful piece of writing about a woman’s exotic awakening whilst caught between two worlds. There’s a reason why it’s so popular.

The Good Muslim – Tahmima Anam

An excellent follow-up to A Golden Age. A deeply moving novel about the rise of Islamic radicalism in Bangladesh, seen through the eyes of a family. It’s especially current with what has been happening in Bangladesh lately. Beautiful, tragic and an insight into what it means to be Muslim.

The Newlyweds – Nell Freudenberger

When a Bangladeshi woman heads to America to marry her foreign husband who she met online, it’s not all plain sailing. Full of cross-cultural tensions, conflicting expectations and hidden secrets, it’s an excellent piece on determination, love and respect.

Best Travel Books About Bhutan

Holy moly Bhutan. Some of us can only dream of getting there as it remains one of the most difficult places to get into. Visa requirements are tough and when the government insists that tourists must spend at least $200 there a day…well, good luck to you. Thank goodness for books!

Beyond The Sky And The Earth: A journey Into Bhutan – Jamie Zepper

Travel can change you. Jamie Zepper sure does show it with her autobiographical work of her personal awakenings and realisations whilst spending three years in this beautifully remote area of this planet. Her experiences are certainly unique and quite a rocky ride but you will come out the other end with a much deeper understanding and respect for Bhutan. If you’re gonna skip any of these books, make sure it isn’t this one!

Radio Shangri-la: What I Learnt In Bhutan, The Happiest Kingdom On Earth – Lisa Napoli

Lisa Napoli kicks ass. Leaving her job in LA and moving to Bhutan to start Bhutan’s first youth-orientated radio station, she discovers her sense of purpose and how the world is a beautiful yet complicated place. It’s a lovely bit of writing and well worth the read.

Married To Bhutan – Linda leaming

The story of how one woman got lost, said ‘I do’ and found bliss. This funny, magical memoir is Linda sharing her experiences as she travels through Asia and ends up in Bhutan. She experiences a romance with a Buddhist artist and accidental enlightenment. It’s a good’un!

So Close To Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms Of The Himalayas – Barbara Crossette

A realistic book about the daily life and land of the last remaining Buddhist monarchical society. They’re trying to retain all that rocks about their society whilst adopting developments from our modern technological world. It’s a perfect resource for when you’re planning your trip here and highlights the fate of Tantric Buddhism, threatened by more widely followed religions.

Best Travel Books About Brunei

It’s so teeny-weeny! Situated on the island of Borneo, this strict and socially controlled religious state has the largest oil fields in Southeast Asia(!) but thankfully some of the most beautiful rainforests too.

Stranger In The Forest: On Foot Across Borneo – Eric Hansen

Eric Hansen. What a courageous and ambitious dude. He was the first westerner to ever walk across the island of Borneo. He provides an intimate look at the last surviving groups of rain forest dwellers and how he adjusts to the world he has put himself into. Fascinating stuff.

Best Travel Books About Cambodia

Oh boy. These guys have had it tough eh? All of my posts about Cambodia on Teacake Travels are pretty hairy to say the least. The tragic history Cambodia possesses is hard to swallow but if you’re visiting here, it’s essential to understand their dark past in order to gain an understanding of where they are now. Read on and top up your knowledge!

Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History Of A Troubled Land – Joel Brinkley

Cambodia is doing well but this country is still haunted from its years of terror. The Khmer Rouge regime killed 1/4 of its population. 1/3 to a 1/2 of Cambodians are now suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and this is being passed on to the next generation. Joel takes a close-up look at Cambodia today and how its history is affecting its population now.

First They Killed My Father – Loung Ong

Part 1 of Daughter Of Cambodia, this tragic story has stayed with me ever since I first read it. It’s an essential read, showing the full brutal force of the Khmer Rouge. Starting with the author evacuated from Phnom Penh in 1975, every page is unfortunately full of traumatic events till the very end. Take a deep breath and buy it. Recommended by Moxie & Epoxy.

Holiday In Cambodia – Laura Jean McKay

A collection of short stories all linked by their location: Cambodia. Some stories are going to stick with you for a long time and they all give a unique insight into what Cambodia is. It’s an exhilarating yet exhausting place and these stories provide a perfect snapshot of that.

Home Is Where The Heart Is – Geraldine Cox

Geraldine is a serious saint. She decided to set up an orphanage in Cambodia and this is her story. What a kickass lady! Recommended by Backpacking For Beginners.

In The Shadow Of The Banyan – Vaddey Ratner

An incredibly moving story of one girl caught up in the war and trying to maintain some sense of happiness  by remembering her father’s poems and stories of mythical legends. A powerful tale of human resilience and trying to survive in a violent world.

Pol Pot: Anatomy Of A Nightmare – Philip Short

Well…this is him, the man whose actions killed 1/4 of the Cambodian population. How did a dream of justice and prosperity turn into one of history’s worst nightmares? Short took it upon himself to travel through Cambodia to interview former Khmer Rouge leaders and inspect previously closed archives. Find out what he has to say.

The King’s Last Song – Geoff Ryman

In the shadow of Angkor Wat archaeologists make an astonishing discovery: the memoir of Cambodia’s greatest king, preserved on leaves of gold for centuries. When the treasure is stolen, two ordinary Cambodians, a young moto-boy and a middle-aged ex-Khmer Rouge, join forces to recover it. But the spectre of Cambodia’s violent past threatens both their fragile relationship and the success of their quest.

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Best Travel Books About China

Brace yourselves! There are so many amazing books out there on this massive country that Teacake had a hard time narrowing it down!

Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress – Dai Sijie

In this enchanting tale about the magic of reading and the wonder of romantic awakening, two hapless city boys are exiled to a remote mountain village for re-education during China’s infamous Cultural Revolution. There they meet the daughter of the local tailor and discover a hidden stash of Western classics in Chinese translation. As they flirt with the seamstress and secretly devour these banned works, they find transit from their grim surroundings to worlds they never imagined. Recommended by Anekdotique

China Road: A Journey Into The Future Of A Rising Power – Rob Gifford

Rob Gifford, a fluent Mandarin speaker, takes the dramatic journey along Route 312 from its start in the boomtown of Shanghai to its end on the border with Kazakhstan. Gifford reveals the rich mosaic of modern Chinese life in all its contradictions, as he poses the crucial questions that all of us are asking about China: Will it really be the next global superpower? Is it as solid and as powerful as it looks from the outside? And who are the ordinary Chinese people, to whom the twenty-first century is supposed to belong? Recommended by There She Goes Again.

Kosher Chinese: Living Teaching And Eating With China’s Other Billion – Michael Levy

Michael’s account of overcoming vast cultural differences to befriend his students and fellow teachers is awesome and laugh-out-loud funny. Good for him! There’s more to this book though. It looks at the complex relationship China is having with their own traditions and the pressure of modernisation. Definitely worth a look if you’re planning on going to Teach English In China.

Lost On Planet China – J Maarten Troost

One man’s attempt to understand the world’s most mystifying nation. I know how he feels! Troost escorts readers on a rollicking journey through the new beating heart of the modern world, from the megalopolis of Beijing and Shanghai to the Gobi Desert and the hinterlands of Tibet. Recommended by Adventures Around Asia.

Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao To Now – Jan Wong

Oooh this book is an interesting one! Wong’s startling and ironic memoir shows you her rocky six-year romance with Maoism (which crumbled as she became aware of the harsh realities of Chinese communism); her dramatic first-hand account of the devastating Tiananmen Square uprising; and her engaging portrait of the individuals and events she covered as a correspondent in China during the tumultuous era of capitalist reform under Deng Xiaoping.

River Town: Two Years On The Yangtze – Peter Hessler

In the heart of China’s Sichuan province lies the small city of Fuling: a place of continuity, far from the bustling political centers of Beijing and Shanghai. But now Fuling is heading down a new path, and gradually, along with scores of other towns in this vast and ever-evolving country, it is becoming a place of change and vitality, tension and reform, disruption and growth. As the people of Fuling hold on to the China they know, they are also opening up and struggling to adapt to a world in which their fate is uncertain. Recommended by Hana Larock

Snow Flower And The Secret Fan – Lisa See

A story of two friends who use ‘nu shu’, the written language Chinese women developed to communicate exclusively with each other, this novel provides an excellent lesson in Chinese history and culture and addresses the excruciating process of foot binding. It seems to be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ book. Readers either love or  hate the writing style but I think it’s definitely worth taking a look at.

Shark’s Fin And Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memory Of Eating In China – Fuchsia Dunlop

One for all you foodies out there! Be prepared to read about dog, cat, rabbit tongue, deer tail, chicken feet, goat testicles and rat brains. Dig in.

The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck

A book one of my friends from Shanghai gave to me when I was at my wit’s end, trying to dip deep into a culture that showed very little of itself. It’s part 1 of a trilogy and a goddamn classic (originally published in 1931 folks!). The Good Earth is packed with cautionary tales of wealth and idleness, tradition and progression and lust. Get stuck in!

Undress Me In The Temple Of Heaven – Susan Jane Gilman

Yes, the cover and title look bloody awful but the reviews on Amazon are singing its praises! Susan has written a memoir which admittedly at the beginning doesn’t look like any good piece of writing but persevere and you’re in for an amazing story of travelling around China in the 80s when it had just opened up. It turns from an adventurous, witty commentary into something quite sinister. Reeeeeead it. Recommended by A Traveling Life.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters Of China – Jung Chang

An engrossing record of Mao’s impact on China, an unusual window on the female experience in the modern world and an inspiring tale of courage and love, Jung Chang describes the extraordinary lives and experiences of her family members. It’s sold more than 13 million copies. Need I say more? Recommended by SJK Travel.

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210 Best Travel Books To Read For Your Travels In Asia Part 1: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia and China

Don’t forget to check out Part 2: Cyprus to Kazakhstan

About Alice Teacake

I'm a kickass girl who believes in women facing their fears and pushing their boundaries, to reach their full potential through solo adventure travel! Follow me for travel advice and inspiration, so you can go forth and challenge yourself to reach your own personal goals!

41 replies
  1. Indrajit Gahlot
    Indrajit Gahlot says:

    Thanks for the extensive and awesome list of 210 best travel books to read for a travel experience in Asia. The recommended list of books provided to read while exploring different destination of the continent will be really helpful to travellers who have their bucket list of places to visit.

  2. Francesca @onegrloneworld
    Francesca @onegrloneworld says:

    Wow, all of these books sound so good!! I’m really used to reading books centered around Europe and the places I’ve already been, but it would be great to get a glimpse of other people’s stories from around the world. I’ll have to try to find some of these at my local bookstore! Thanks for all the links!

  3. Dan
    Dan says:

    Awesome list! In total need of some new reads so this is perfect, thank you. I have one to add to the Afghan part I just finished – Dancing with Darkness by Magsi Hamilton. Really great book about after witnessing the London bombings she went to understand the country from her eyes, not the medias.

  4. Laura
    Laura says:

    Wow. Fantastic list! I’ll definitely check some of these out. It’s great how you categorized them all. I could definitely stand to learn more about those countries.

  5. Wandering Carol
    Wandering Carol says:

    Truly a fabulous list. I must be a sucker for romance because the two top on my list to get are the Newlyweds and Married to Bhutan. But then there is Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. Who is God’s name could resist a book called that?
    PS Your blog looks really fun. Glad I’ve been introduced to it.

  6. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    A good book list is always nice to have on hand. I read a book about Afghanistan a while ago and I thought that it was fascinating. I’ve heard of some of these books and they seem like they would be great reads :)

  7. Brianne Miers
    Brianne Miers says:

    LOVE this list… I’ve read most of them, and the ones I didn’t get to yet, I’ve added to my Goodreads list. And thanks for including my recommendation, Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven (You’re right about the title & cover!) That book almost made me late for a wedding because I couldn’t put it down (One note about Three Cups of Tea… The author, Greg Mortenson, was largely discredited after he was accused of fabricating portions of the book. He also had to return $1 million in improperly misused funds to his organization, Central Asia Institute. You might want to add a disclaimer :-))

  8. Bell | Wanderlust Marriage
    Bell | Wanderlust Marriage says:

    Fantastic post and a little serendipitous as you were just chatting with Alex on Twitter about China and I seriously was just googling good reads on China! I’m going to order one of these books this weekend, but eek which one to choose! Too many choices! Thanks for putting this great list together!

    • Alice teacake
      Alice teacake says:

      Haha I think each book has a different angle. It depends what you want to focus on :) The traditional culture / the way China is struggling with the modern world today / the Mao years. There’s a lot to delve deeper into!

  9. Harvey (H-Bomb's Worldwide Karaoke)
    Harvey (H-Bomb's Worldwide Karaoke) says:

    Wow, this is a really thorough list. So many books already and were’ only in the C’s! I’m definitely going to check some of these books out! I like learning more, and in depth, about different places, whether or not I have immediate plans to go there (for example, right now I’m reading a terrific book about the history of Amsterdam).

  10. Lillie
    Lillie says:

    As an English teacher and travel blogger who loves Asia, I’m in love with this list! I’ve only read some of them (ex: The Kite Runner), but now am fascinated to check out the rest, especially the one on Azerbaijan!

  11. Carol Colborn
    Carol Colborn says:

    What a great compilation. Thanks for doing this! Please add next, books for other countries in Southeast Asia, Japan and Korea!

  12. Mat
    Mat says:

    Hey you! :) great list! One of my favs is “The Odyssey” by Homer. It follows the character Odessius and has quest home after the fall of Troy. Excellent read :) Cheers!

  13. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Wow, this is quite the compilation and I haven’t heard of any of them. Thanks for the inspiration. I think The Newlyweds would be first on my list. Combining travel and romance…..I’m in!

  14. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    This is awesome. I’m a total book nerd and come summer and travel times I always need to stock up. Will keep tabs on this post for sure so I can load up before my next trip. Especially since I’m planning on visiting some of these places! Thanks :)

  15. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    I loved the Kite Runner, as well as his other book A Thousand Splendid Suns. Afghanistan is such an intriguing place. One bookI’d add to the list is In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree (Cambodia). Be ready to sob your face off and then book your flight to Cambodia!

  16. Paul
    Paul says:

    I’ve not read any of these but would probably find most of them very interesting. I need to download a few more books before our travels so I will take a few from this list!

    • Alice teacake
      Alice teacake says:

      I wish I could say I’ve read all of them but no I haven’t >< I asked lots of travel blogging friends for their recommendations as well as travellers along the way. Excited to bring out the next parts - the India list is gonna be awesome!

  17. Laura
    Laura says:

    I really loved First They Killed My Father. It is heartbreaking and I find it impossible to wrap my head around the atrocities those people witnessed and still grieve over to this day. I’m headed to Cambodia for the first time this spring and I’m glad I read the book so I can have a deeper understanding of what took place. Thanks for this great list!


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