A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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In Praise of Gecko Books


To get around Chiang Mai you stand on the edge of a street and hail a red truck.

This is kind of like a group taxi, continually scooping up passengers and dropping them off.  When one pulls over, you need to have a destination name ready for the driver.

So far, we have always been waved in when we say, “Tha Phae Gate,” the name of a famous opening in the wall around the Old City.

Giddy from the success of our first red truck transaction (20 baht per person for the ride—35 baht currently equals one U.S. dollar), we clambered out of the back to look around at our first view of downtown.

The first sign that caught our eye (probably because it was one of the few in English) said Gecko Books.

We are all fond of a good book store and used books are even better: we can spend hours perusing titles and enjoying the smell of the musty pages.


When we were in South America we were disappointed by the quality of the used book stores.  The one or two shelves labelled “English” seemed stocked only with overpriced romance novels and science fiction titles.

We found this to be true every place we visited in South America – in Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Chile.

It’s a different experience all together in Chiang Mai, largely because of Gecko Books.

Their collection is huge, with every conceivable category represented and helpfully alphabetized.  The books are sold at very reasonable prices, and they also buy the books we’ve read for a fair price.

We have become regular customers, finishing books as fast as we can so we can go back for more.

So my question is this:  Are English-reading Asian travelers that different from South American travelers?  Why is there such a difference in the quality, quantity and price of used books?

I don’t know the answer, but I do know we are grateful to have found Gecko Books.  In our time here we’ve spent many enjoyable hours exploring their stacks, and we can recommend them to any traveler wandering through Chiang Mai.

You never know what you’ll find.


1 Simon (TheBowmansTravels.co.uk) { 02.23.09 at 6:03 am }

Hi Guys,

We haven’t been to South America (Yet!) so can’t comment on the comparison, but we can say that all across Asia we found many great, well stocked book shops/exchanges. They were invaluable and a great way to expand your scope of reading by sometimes making you try books that you may have otherwise dismissed.

Take care.

2 Doug Spiro { 02.23.09 at 9:04 am }

There is noting like a good used book store no matter what country you are in and the currency conversion should count towards your final math grade!

3 Rick James { 02.23.09 at 5:05 pm }

We found several good used stores with English books throughout India too. None quite as large as Gecko mind you, but still a pleasure to peruse…

4 ScubaKay { 02.25.09 at 4:26 pm }

Question: Are English-reading Asian travelers that different from South American travelers? Why is there such a difference in the quality, quantity and price of used books?

Answer: There are some great used book stores in Latin America. Like in Asia, you’ll find the better used book stores are located in the larger or more touristy places. San Cristobal (Mexico) and Antigua (Guatemala) have fantastic used English-language books stores and book exchanges. Hostels are a great source of book exchanges too and are common in Latin America, but not so common is Asia.

p.s. Sukhamvit, in Bangkok, also has some good used book exchanges/stores.

5 Laura { 02.27.09 at 7:06 pm }

I know exactly what you mean! There is something about strolling the aisles, inhaling the familiar scent of dusty old books (with English titles!) that just feels like home.

6 Heather on her travels { 02.28.09 at 3:32 pm }

I think the high number of quality books in Chiang Mai could be to do with the large expat population living there. We have a semi-retired friend who’s now spending several months of the year in Chaing Mai to escape the English winter and there’s a big expat community there.

7 Theresa { 03.03.09 at 9:08 pm }

We just recently had a post on our blog about the poor selection of books we’ve found in South America, so I’m glad to hear that things may improve as we go. I’ll definitely look up Gecko Books when we get to Chiang Mai!

8 Frank Wells { 05.01.09 at 7:13 am }

I LOVE Gecko Books. The place is huge, with every kind of book you can think of, but they’ve also opened a large annex directly across the street with different books and different categories from the main store. Lots of fun books and lots of serious ones. I’ve never even seen a used bookshop this good back home and the Buddhism section is wonderful.
The guy who runs the place is often quite busy, but if you get him talking about books, you start to understand why the place is so good. He knows books, and he loves them.

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