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Bangkok Days

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  784 ratings  ·  95 reviews

Tourists come to Bangkok for many reasons—a sex change operation, a night with two prostitutes dressed as nuns, a stay in a luxury hotel. Lawrence Osborne comes for the cheap dentistry. Broke (but no longer in pain), he finds that he can live in Bangkok on a few dollars a da
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 26th 2009 by North Point Press
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Average rating 3.38  · 
Rating details
 ·  784 ratings  ·  95 reviews

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Jeff Chappell
Sep 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in travel, specifically Thai culture
Shelves: nonfiction
God, how to describe this book ... imagine if O'Rourke were British and little less concerned with sociology and politics and a little more philosophical, and you can begin to imagine Lawrence Osborne.

First off, a caveat: this book, which was just published this year, is marketed almost as some sort of expose on the steamy, sordid underworld of Bangkok. As the subtitle says, "A Sojourn in the Capital of Pleasure," which resides on the book jacket next to an ostensible working girl, her face par
This is the second book I've read recently where one's impression may be swayed by gender. Having never been a woman, I'm not sure, but I think that Osborne's descriptions of the largely male characters in his Bangkok expat life might not seem so . . . balanced? They do lead a rather Peter Pan existence, which he does a great job at depicting. Before reading the book, I was aware that Thailand is known for where western men go for mid-life crises.

He excels at making Bangkok a "character" in its
Sep 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Borrowed this book from a friend while living in Bangkok. This was my daily BTS read for a bit more than a month. It's hard for me to put into words what I liked and did not like about this book. But lets try. It's an interesting introduction to the fucked-up lives of dirty farang ('foreigner' in Thai) expats living in Bangkok that seek to escape their past. There are many of them here and I bet this is one of the the best books written about them. I liked it enough to recommend it to anyone wit ...more
Sep 20, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Readers of this book should take note of these words in chapter 4: "...memoirs are rarely empirical in nature. They are statements of purpose, descriptions of life as the writer WOULD LIKE IT TO BE." (His emphasis) "...but the faultless memoir doesn't exist---indeed, it's a lame, moralistic fantasy."

James Frey couldn't have put it better.

That Osborne isn't concerned with facts or accuracy shows in his writing. The book is loaded with mistranslations, transliteration errors, inaccuracies, and b
I read this book concurrently with Farang by Iain Corness, as a sort of antidote to that books vanilla content.

The author travelled to Thailand to get some cut price dentistry, and discovered he could live in Bangkok for practically no money, so he stayed. Throughout the book he comes and goes from Thailand, but it is never really explained. At various points he has no money, and resorts to stealing, other times he is just poor, and is supported by his fellow farang, other times he seems well of
FE Beyer
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book to read during a time when it's hard to travel. Bangkok Days investigates various nooks and crannies of the Big Mango that, while fascinating, I don't particularly want to go to personally. Osborne is “on the lam” in Bangkok a place he can live cheap, he makes this discovery while visiting to have dental work done.

“The days were empty by design. I didn’t have a job; I was on the lam, as old American gangsters had it. A perfect phrase. The lam. It means “headlong flight,” according t
Patrick McCoy
Oct 12, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, travel
I suppose Lawrence Osborne's memoir, Bangkok Days (2009) isn't for everyone since the Bangkok it describes is that of single middle aged men running away, hiding, searching, or just living out their last days in a vital and potentially decadent city: "Bangkok is where some go when they feel they no longer can be loved, when they give up." It is also a city that I have returned to many times over the years as I have used it as a base to travel to other countries (Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam) ...more
Lisa Findley
Jun 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
Lonely, middle-aged white man writes about lonely, middle-aged white men in Bangkok. That's a real perspective, and there's some good phrasing and a few fun stories, but in the end it's too limited to be very interesting. ...more
Donald Quist
Sep 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
No one is a victim in Osborne's Bangkok, or perhaps everyone is. This is especially true in his interpretation of the sex industry, which dominates the majority of the book's focus. There are no villains either, and on at least 3 occasions the book aims to dispute Bangkok prostitution statistics gathered from the United Nations and other NGO's. No opposing numbers are provided, rather, the reader is to take the word of Osborne and a group of desperate losers in self-imposed exile. He tries so ha ...more
Jul 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
I visited Bangkok for the first time only weeks before reading this book, and really enjoyed following the adventures of Lawrence Osbourne in a small underworld community of foreign transplants to Bangkok. It's a travelogue, and nothing too momentous happens, but the sights, sounds, impressions, are beautifully narrated. I particularly enjoyed the naked honesty and self-irony Osbourne employs in describing some truly awkward and embarrassing moments. I laughed out loud many times, but also felt ...more
Mar 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, travel
from 3/21/16 Interview about sense of place:
"For me, place is everything. The atmosphere and spirit of place. I think I spend more time thinking about that than anything. The subtle intuition of nature is something that all people possess and are alive to, but it's lost in urban environments and, therefore, in urban novels. One of the reasons I like living in Bangkok is that, although it's a megacity, it's very saturated with nature—the vast and brooding skies, the sudden storms and rains, the
Alien B
Jan 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: asia
By no means a holistic capture of life at an expat in Bangkok, not even close. Though the book doesn't set out to do this. It doesn't get far into describing the other groups of expats you will find in Thailand (missionaries, charities, ESL teachers, digital nomads - all with their own subcultures), instead this book focuses in on a specific and prominent type of expat - the western exiled man. What exactly it aimed to uncover I am not sure.

The cast of characters are all escaping something, sea
Aug 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
great book about bangkok and the(western)men who who inhabit it. also very sad and melancholy. reminds me of jan morris' book "trieste and the meaning of nowhere", sad and profound, and irreverent and informational, if you like the dark streets, the side streets. ...more
Mar 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
ugh. classic cynicism that is incredibly boring. it was more about people than place, and not worth the time.
William Koon
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Lawrence Osborne’s The Forgiven was one of the finest novels I have read in this century. Here he writes a travelogue about Bangkok. (Can one write a travelogue about one city?) Now I have been to Bankkok twice, but I have little knowledge of the city that Osborne writes about. He is intimate. He writes about the town with the same intimacy that Henry Miller writes about women.

Oh, he knows Bangkok. And he shares the streets, the bars, the temples, the bar girls, the transsexuals, the food. And j
May 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
I just finished this one, although I've got the UK edition, with a very different cover. Osborne is a gifted author. There's a meandering quality to this book, a sense of a man adrift, which was what life in Bangkok was like for many (I spent summer 2008 there and have made several shorter visits; it's one of my favorite cities) until the recent spate of violence broke out. In fact, it was the violence that motivated me to read this book. I was there when the protesters barricaded the Pathumwan ...more
Uwe Hook
Sep 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Bangkok Days by self-confessed 'lazy ****' Lawrence Osborne is an alternative, and slighty seedy account of the lives of ex-pats in modern Thailand. He originally visits the city for some cheap dentistry (cost of flights, hotel and dentist's bills cheaper than having the work done at home) but soon realizes that he can get by on just a few dollars a day - the perfect scenario for someone who appears to be an ageing slacker - so decides to stay for a while and soon hooks up with a ragtag bunch of ...more
Mar 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
New York Times writer Lawrence Osborne planned a trip to Bangkok and when he found he could live there on only a few dollars a day, he decides to stay indefinitely. In Bangkok Days, Osborne acts as a tour guide without inhibitions, bringing to light the draw of this Far East city.
Also, he is a prolific writer; my favorite passage is in response to his visit to a brothel when he realizes his two prostitutes are very, (too) young girls, sadly named "Bum" and "Cartoon". The young girls approach hi
Nov 18, 2018 rated it did not like it
After sifting through many glowing reviews, finally found one accurate assessment of this book by Tim. The book showed early signs of promise, but any tales of interest were soon spoiled by Osborne's obsession with excessive "Purple prose" Most stories were incomplete, eg; so what happened after the low act of pinching the Japanese lady's money? Scant details, then the subject skews off into another philosophical rant. Couldn't gel with any of the characters. Many nonsensical events, why would t ...more
Oct 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
The author has a gift for writing. He really depicts scenes/happenings in the city well. And I can relate as I visited there last year. I also learned about the Hindu learned in Bangkok (Which I either don't remember or never learned)

That said, I cannot say I like to author as a person (which to me is imperative in a autobiography). He seems to treat the people he meets with condescension. Eg. he describes older men he has befriended as dirty old men who came to Bangkok because of easy women and
Apr 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Having spent several years living in Bangkok myself, I found this book to be one of the better "foreign expat in Bangkok" books out there. Its an honest travelogue which manages to feature a lot of the tropes that often appear in this genre but also digs deeper. Osborne is a good writer and the sense I got reading this is that his observations and experiences were true ones. Missing from the book were deep insights into how Bangkok changed Osborne (if at all), which would have made for even bett ...more
Sally Flint
Jan 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016-reads
I was drawn to this book for no other reason than I live in Bangkok so thought it might be interesting to see how the city is portrayed. I can't say that I found the narrator, presumably the author, appealing, but I did respect his honesty. I also loved the way he evoked the sounds, smells and tastes of Bangkok. His knowledge of Bangkok is certainly very different to my own, his consisting of an analysis of seemingly every bar and brothel in town, but it is a well written and interesting book th ...more
Pooja Ramchandani
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I want to follow every word the next time I visit Bangkok. I like the astute observations and the wry humor. I love the fact that it tells it how it is. There's no putting a glossy sheen on things. Added to my list of books to love for life. ...more
Kali Samutratanakul
Sep 13, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm Thai. Read this book when I was seventeen, hid it away and intentionally lost it so that wouldn't have to chance rereading or even *looking* at it ever again. To this day, I don't know where my copy is. Orientalist piece of crap. ...more
Aug 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
Fairly enjoyable, bit of a ex pat old boys club
Mar 09, 2021 rated it liked it
This was an interesting travelogue - not that the author travels anywhere outside on Bangkok. It’s more of an “insider’s guide” where the insider is much more interested in the seedier side of the city as opposed to the Buddhist shrines and such that the city is also known for. He also enjoys the company of the more Jeffrey Barnard type of characters to show him around some of the less salubrious haunts that Bangkok has to offer, although I have to admit that while I always expected the author t ...more
John Geary
Jul 12, 2020 rated it liked it
One of those books I would actually give a lower score to if I could – 2.5 rather than 3 stars – but it’s better than a 2.
Best way to describe this book is “travel noir.“ It’s a gritty, not-quite-sleazy collection of stories experienced by the author and a number of seedy ex-pats he hangs around with,who are not so much travelling to or in Thailand as living there temporarily... farangs but not tourists. Nothing eventful really stands out in the book, although he does do a good job with some de
Ryan Davis
Jul 19, 2019 rated it liked it
A friend of mine who had just come back from Thailand lent me this. I'm not a big travel book reader, but parts of this were pretty entertaining. I liked the part about eating bugs (dragon flies = "sky prawns") and the prostitute name Porntit (a misprununciation of "Porntip"). Also some interesting insight on the expat life and getting older and less attractive that I could relate to. I think I would enjoy this better if I were traveling to Thailand myself. ...more
Ron Fortuna
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
To give the author some credit, he is honest. He isn't someone that I warmed to very much, however. If you want to learn more about Thai culture, and have insight into this amazing city - you are very likely to be disappointed. But if you are keen on reading about shallow, two-dimensional, past their prime ex-pats - then this is the book for you. ...more
Ivan Kinsman
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good take on life in the Far East and the culture but sometimes rather over heavy on descriptions of the city - I think Jonathan Raban is the master of describing locales that may be unfamiliar to the reader. However an interesting bunch of dissolutes populate the book and Bangkok offers a perfect backdrop.
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Lawrence Osborne is a British novelist currently residing in New York City.

Osborne was educated at Cambridge and Harvard, and has since led a nomadic life, residing for years in France, Italy, Morocco, the United States, Mexico, Thailand and Istanbul.

He is the author of the novel Ania Malina, a book about Paris, Paris Dreambook, the essay collection The Poisoned Embrace, a controversial book about

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