Literary Asia: trips for book-lovers

Asia’s evocative panorama has inspired countless authors to reimagine its cities, landscapes and rich spirituality. Experience literary Asia with our list of great novels set in countries from China to Indonesia exploring where much-loved writers’ imaginations took shape and blossomed.
Ulun Danu Beratan temple, Bali, Indonesia. Photo: Sudip Ray/Shutterstock
Ulun Danu Beratan temple, Bali, Indonesia. Photo: Sudip Ray/Shutterstock

Destinations around Asia have influenced the work of celebrated international writers to create indelible visions of the continent. Breathtaking nature, ancient sites, dynamic cities and vibrant culture come to life within the pages of their greatest novels. And while travel to Asia still looks unlikely at the moment due to the coronavirus pandemic, what better time to keep dreaming. 

Here is our list of books showcasing the experience of literary Asia.

If these great books inspire you to travel (when it is safe to do so, of course) we have paired each one with a fantastic Insight Guides trip. You can book these pre-planned itineraries exactly as they are or tailor them to your specific requirements. All our local experts are adapting to ensure total confidence and flexibility when booking a trip with us during these uncertain times. 


India: magical Kerala

Arundhati Roy set her Booker Prize-winning novel, The God of Small Things, in the backwaters of the southwest Indian state of Kerala where she was raised. Many of the places that appear in the hauntingly personal book were derived from real-life locations near the city of Kottayam. 

Experience the reflective pace of life beyond the mainstream that the novel evokes, amid the intense greens of tropical backwaters on Insight Guides’ Magical Kerala trip.

Alternatively, get started with Insight Guides India, packed with travel information and brought to life with extraordinary imagery. 

House boat moored in the backwaters of Kerala, India. Photo: Em Campos/Shutterstock

Vietnam: culinary discovery

Canadian writer Camilla Gibb set her fourth novel, The Beauty of Humanity Movement, in contemporary Hanoi. The book’s poignant portrait of modern Vietnam uses its central character, an itinerant soup seller, and Hanoi’s vibrant street food scene to reflect both progression and transformation in the country. 

Explore Hanoi’s streets and cuisine, and experience the culture of the nation for yourself on Insight Guides’ Vietnam Culinary Discovery trip.

If you'd rather get the guide book and do the research yourself, pick up Insight Guides Vietnam.

Bánh xèo, Vietnamese savory pancake. Photo: Alphonsine Sabine/Shutterstock

China: mountain soul

Follow in the footsteps of Chinese author Gao Xingjian as told in his thought-provoking, semi-autobiographical novel, Soul Mountain. The book tells the story of the writer’s own journey from Beijing into rural China, taking in Sichuan province and the Yangtze River as he searches for inner peace. 

Take your own journey of discovery into the heart of modern China on Insight Guides’ Complete China: Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai trip.

If you want more information on travel around the country, plump for Insight Guides China

Qutang Gorge on the Yangtze River, China. Photo: Lao Ma/Shutterstock

Sri Lanka: in the family

Around 25 years after leaving his native Sri Lanka, writer Michael Ondaatje returned to the island to write a partly fictionalized memoir of his time growing up in Ceylon. Running in the Family mixes anecdotes, facts and memories with magic realism to paint an evocative picture of the island. 

Experience the heat, landscapes and wildlife of Sri Lanka, as well as ancient monuments, beaches, and highlights of the capital Colombo, on Insight Guides’ Unforgettable Sri Lanka trip

Learn more about traveling to this beautiful nation by picking up Insight Guides Sri Lanka.

Elephants in the wild in Sri Lanka. Photo: Gregory Zamell/Shutterstock

Thailand: idyllic beaches

British writer Alex Garland's debut novel, The Beach, perfectly captured the late 1990s zeitgeist when international travelers strived to find beautiful places off the tourist trail. The dark tale of a backpacker's journey to an idyllic Thai island and his time spent with the small community of travelers living there proved to be hugely successful. The subsequent film starring Hollywood heart-throb Leonardo DiCaprio sent thousands of day-trippers to Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi to see this utopian image of the perfect beach for themselves. This overcrowding took its toll on the ecology and the Thai authorities closed the beach to prevent environmental damage. 

As Maya Bay's coral and marine life are restored to their full glory, visit other idyllic Thai beaches that inspired Alex Garland, on Insight Guides' Krabi Discovery trip

Alternatively, check out Insight Guides Thailand for a comprehensive overview of the entire country. 

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand. Photo: JaySi/Shutterstock

Indonesia: island home

Canadian composer Colin McPhee spent extended periods in Bali during the 1930s to study the traditional music of the island’s gamelan percussion ensembles. His beautifully written memoir, A House in Bali, tells the fascinating story of Balinese culture through a history of music on the island. 

Discover Bali’s culture and spirituality, explore temple complexes and learn the philosophies of Balinese Hinduism, all as part of an unforgettable journey on Insight Guides’ Indonesia Island Hop trip.   

Or shop for our comprehensive companion to any trip to the country: Insight Guides Indonesia

Pura Penataran Agung Ulun Danu Beratan Hindu temple, Bali, Indonesia. Photo: WitthayaP/Shutterstock

Ready to book your next trip?

Insight Guides can help you plan and book amazing trips to destinations around the world. Simply get in touch to share your ideas for the trip and let us know when you would like to travel. Our local experts will then create a personalized itinerary based on your specific requirements, which you can amend until it's exactly how you want it before booking. You can book with ease during and in the wake of coronavirus, with guarantees and flexibility to give you total peace of mind.