Orchid Books For Asian Bibliophiles

Features Issue 73 Jul, 2010

Are you in the market for quality books on Asia? Check out Bangkok’s Orchid Books.

Sure, many Asian titles are available in Nepal—at Vajra Books (Jyatha),Mandala Bookpoint (Kantipath), sa
raswoti Books (Pulchowk), and other stores. You can find hundreds of titles here on Nepal and Tibet. Nonfiction/academic. Coffee table/picture books. Art. Anthropology. Religion. Politics. The works..., but nowhere near as large a selection of pan-Asian books in one store as at Orchid Books, Bangkok.

Orchid Books is a spin-off from Orchid Press, one of Asia’s longest established small independent book publishers. Orchid Press was started by Hallvard (‘Hal’) Kuloy (originally as White Orchid Press). Longtime residents of Nepal will remember Hal as the first UNICEF resident representative in the early 1970s.

Hal was a classic bibliophile with an obsessive fondness for books. He read, admired, collected and ultimately published a large and specialized collection of books on Asia. When I visited his home in Oslo some years ago, I was impressed. He had a mammoth collection. In his spacious home books filled every available space, floor to ceiling (15 feet high). Both Nepal and Burma (Myanmar) were well represented. For years he was involved in the movement seeking freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s democratically elected leader (and Nobel Peace Prize winner) who has been under house arrest by the current government of Burma on-and-off since 1990.

While in Asia, Hal started several publishing enterprises. One is the series ‘Bibliotheca Himalayica’, dedicated to reprinting important rare and out-of-print books. Another is the journal ‘Kailash’ for Himalayan studies, still published (occasionally) in Kathmandu. His biggest investment, however, was White Orchid Press. Hal chose Bangkok for this endeavor for its central location and access to high quality printing services. He later dropped ‘White’ from the company name to avoid confusion with a rival Bangkok publisher with a similar name. It is now just Orchid Press, and Orchid Books.

After Hal’s untimely death in 2001, Chris Frape, a friend and avid collector of Asian books, bought the company. Chris was puzzled, however, by the lack of good bookstores featuring non-fiction and scholarly books on Asia. There were none Bangkok, none in Thailand, none in the entire region. To remedy that, in 2005 he opened Orchid Books in Bangkok’s upscale Silom Shopping Complex. The new bookstore was an overnight success, receiving high praise in press reviews. It is now considered one of the region’s best Asian-dedicated bookstores; probably the very best.

There are lots of bookstores in Bangkok, but for book lovers searching for serious Asian titles, Orchid Books is the store of choice. There is none other with the same intense dedication to Asian books. The bookstore manager,Vic Titze, and staff, Ms Oh and Ms Fon, are at your service. Unlike other Bangkok bookstores I’ve visited, the Orchid Books staff know the Asian book trade and are interested in your needs. The sales culture is superb, and if they don’t have what you are looking for, they’ll help you find it. There are close to 5,000 titles in this bibliophile’s heaven, on everything Asian imaginable—art, religion, culture, language, history, politics, botany, travel, and so forth, from virtually every South, Southeast and East Asian country. The store’s Himalayan stocklist is very large and, while they sell their own Orchid Press titles, the majority of books in stock are from other publishers. These include such notable small Asian presses as Silkworm Books and Serindia

An important aspect of Orchid Books is an eclectic selection of rare, antiquarian books, and some large-format greats. Among the Himalayan titles are a beautiful limited reprint edition of Giuseppe Tucci’s three volume Tibetan Painted Scrolls’, a detailed survey covering 500 years of Tibetan cultural and religious history. There is also the grand two volume Chhavi set, with over 1,000 pages of Indian and Himalayan art that will test your strength just to lift it. There is also N.P. Manandhar’s marvelous Plants and People of Nepal’, and many other exquisite titles.

Recently, Orchid Books has begun stocking a few fiction titles, very selectively. One is the engrossingly hilarious Feng Shui Detective series by Nury Vittachi, formerly a writer with the Hong Kong’s former weekly, the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Recently, Orchid Books doubled its capacity in the Silom Complex by expanding into store space next door to the original store. In their new, enlarged premises they all the better able to cater to the whims and wishes of serious Asian book hounds.

On the Internet, go to www.  orchidbooks.com. If you ask, they’ll send you a beautifully illustrated catalogue. The next time you are in Bangkok visit the store itself. You’ll be glad you did. Take the Skytrain to Silom Road, exit at Sala Daeng station, enter Silom Complex and go to the fourth floor. You can’t miss it. The door opens up to thousands of Asian books.