Bangkok is a little tough on bookworms.
If you like your books straight off the printing press from chain stores like Kinokuniya and Asia Books, you’ll have to swallow their prohibitively high prices, or else face the disorganisation and ‘hit-and-miss’ selection from some of the second-hand stores.
All is not lost, however.
There is one book shop on Sukhumvit considered by many to be the holy grail for Bangkok’s bookworms:
Although its selection can’t rival the likes of Kinokuniya’s, it still boasts an impressive and varied stock from fiction to academia, to foreign language titles, to historical biographies, to Ancient Greek philosophy. And a whole lot more.
Books are second hand but are in generally excellent condition, and are priced fairly. If, like us, you balk at the ฿1,000 price tag for one measly paperback often seen at the big chains, you’re going to love Dasa. Hell, for ฿1,000 you’ll be taking home four new reads at Dasa.
It’s well organised, with clearly marked sections and alphabetical cataloguing. They even have a online database of their stock which is updated daily.
One of the nicest things about it – a quality certainly lacking in the chain stores – is the fact that it feels just like a cosy bookshop that you’d stumble upon in Hay-on-Wye (a.k.a Book Heaven).
It’s three storeys high with some rickety stairs running up the back. Ceilings are low and floorspace is dominated by full to the brim bookshelves – although it cleverly never looks cluttered. Stock comes in in its droves and there’s a certain thrill in knowing that you might come across something you’ve been looking for for a while, despite the fact you came in last weekend.
There’s also a little cafe space on the ground floor with a table and cups of coffee on sale for you to sit and ponder a tome or two – an innovation we wish more bookstores would take on board!
Talking with Don Gilliland, owner of Dasa Books
WOS: When did you open Dasa and why?
Don: I’ve been a retail “slave” for over 35 years. Originally, that was back when I lived in Florida (USA) in the days of record stores, which led to CDs and videos, and I eventually added books to the mix.
I’ve now been living in Thailand for 20 years, and Dasa was opened 12 years ago, in early 2004. I also had a secondhand bookshop in Cambodia for almost 3 years. I love books and wanted to open a bookshop but chose Cambodia as the first location simply because it was so much easier to do business over there, especially as a foreigner.
But I missed Bangkok and moved back here to open Dasa. I couldn’t do it alone, both for work permit reasons and just for all the work needed, so I talked a Thai friend, Kaweewut “Kiwi” Wuttiwipoo, into becoming my business partner.
How do you source all your titles?
Initially, when we first opened the shop we had to scramble to find inventory. I used books from my personal collection, books from the shop I was running in Cambodia (in Siem Reap), and bought more titles from friends. We also visited the secondhand dealers at Chatuchak Market to find a few thousand more.
Since that time, the books pretty much come to us and we don’t have to leave the shop to buy or source anything. We don’t buy from any foreign dealers, only our regular customers and few local Thai dealers/sellers who obtain books from estate sales, homes, apartments and hotels.
How long does it take to catalogue all your stock?
When books arrive, we clean them and then price them. All necessary information (book title, author name, price, category) is entered into our computer database so that we have a record of each title. After that it’s time to put the books on the shelves, hopefully in the correct place!
Have there been any particularly interesting books that have been passed through Dasa? Any first editions, for instance?
Most of our stock consists of normal paperback and hardcover titles. We don’t get that many rare books, but once in a while something old or unusual will pass through. I’m always amazed at the variety of books that end up in Bangkok, things that were published in dozens of countries from around the world. I can’t think of anything in particular right now.
Is there any particular genre or niche that is particularly well developed at Dasa?
In addition to general fiction, we have a particularly good selection of mystery and crime fiction, what some people today might call “thrillers”. We have also built a sizeable collection of books for children and teens/young adults.
We also focus on books about Thailand and Southeast Asia, not only titles dealing with travel but books about the history and culture of those countries.