Time Travel in a Thai Library: A Visit to Neilson Hays


Entering Bangkok’s Neilson Hays Library is like launching an adventure into time travel. Not a computer can be seen, card catalogs still hold sway, and books–no video cassettes or DVDs–wait behind glass doors in old-fashioned bookcases. Patrons remove their shoes before entering the building, and the smooth, highly polished wooden floor feels like satin beneath the soles of bare feet.

Make no mistake about it, this is a true library, not a museum, and nowhere is that more evident than in the children’s section. Shelves built over 140 years ago hold Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, and Montana prodigy Christopher Paolini’s Eragon series. They are joined by modern classics–Hatchet and The Outsiders, Edward Eager’s Knight’s Castle, Arthur Ransome, Enid Blyton, and all of Mary Poppins, as well as the more venerable Don Quixote, Lorna Doone, and The Pathfinder.  Among this august company is Mitali Perkins’ wonderful novel, Rickshaw Girl, the story of a Bangladeshi girl who transforms her talent for painting alpanas, the traditional patterns that adorn household walkways and thresholds, into a financial contribution for her family.

It’s a good thing that bean-bag chairs are near the picture books, because this is a corner that demands lingering, filled with gorgeous books from all over the English-speaking world. New Zealand’s wonderful Hairy MacLary lives here, as does Where the Giant Sleeps, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky–and a treasure from New York City’s Chinatown that deserves–and will soon receive–its own post.

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Set in a serene little garden, with an adjacent cafe and outdoor tables, this library is an oasis of tranquility in a restless city. It’s not only a respite for Bangkok residents, the library also offers a welcome vacation from shopping and sightseeing for travelers, with a small charge for those who are not library members.

9 Responses to “Time Travel in a Thai Library: A Visit to Neilson Hays”

  1. Marjorie Says:

    It sounds blissful and vibrant – thank you for bringing it to us over cyberspace!

  2. Sally Says:

    Wow, sounds like they’ve got a good collection of English books for children there. Are there Thai language books for children there? What do they look like, I wonder?

  3. Aline Says:

    “An oasis of tranquility in a restless city…” Sounds so great! Lovely to know “Rickshaw Girl” is one of the many treasures that graces its shelves.

  4. Marjorie Says:

    I love the script of Thai – when we were in Thailand a few years ago, Older Brother, then not quite 2, (and not a brother at all!) was given a bilingual edition of Beatrix Potter’s Tom Kitten on the plane. I have it on my bookshelf at school and my pupils find it really intriguing :-)

  5. Janet Says:

    Yes, I was particularly thrilled that they had Rickshaw Girl on the shelves because I’d been saving my reading of it for a special occasion and was afraid I’d waited too long and might not be able to find it in my new city–soo happy to be proved wrong.
    I too love the Thai script–do wish there were spaces between the words though–and punctuation! Makes it quelling for a farang to not have these things when attempting to read.
    Sally, Marjorie has a great blog post about Thai books at the Bologna Book Fair that shows covers of picture books. Neilson Hayes is an English-language library donated by a Brit in honor of his wife, Jennie–I din’t include that in my post because of space limitations but it should come up in the NH link.
    I wish you could all come and have tea with me there in the garden!

  6. Marjorie Says:

    Now there’s an invitation!

  7. Get A Trip Says:

    Thanks for taking us through time and space to this Thai library. All libraries have their own ambience and this one sounds really neat. I can just picture going in without shoes and the smell of the old wood and so..so..many books. I loved libraries ever since I was a little kid.

  8. Ben Says:

    old beautiful and magic things seems like are dieing with progress. but still are some places like this library that keep the story charm go on.Thanks for telling us about it!

  9. Scotty from Harvard Says:

    I just wanted to thank you very much for this indepth article. I have already bookmarked your site, when I have more free time I am going to have to do some further browsing. Well back to my dreaming of Panama or back to the books – I wonder which one is going to win out. :)