The Far East from afar: Our favourite books, films and TV

Travel Advice

As lockdown restrictions continue to ease and expedition cruise lines prepare to resume operations, we can start to look ahead to fresh adventures in destinations far from home.

Today we're gazing longingly at Asia, dreaming of the day - soon, we hope! - when we can once more feel the sand between our toes on a Thai beach, snorkel with whale sharks amongst the islands of Indonesia, and wander through gilded, incense-shrouded temples in Laos or Myanmar.

In this article we've picked out a selection of books, TV shows and films to transport you to the Far East, exploring the history, culture and wildlife of this fascinating region...

Books about the Far East

Spies, samurais and the Second World War feature in our Asia-inspired book selection...

Paul Theroux - The Great Railway Bazaar

Paul Theroux - 'The Great Railway Bazaar'

The book that launched Paul Theroux's career is one of his best, as our famously curmudgeonly narrator travels from London to the Far East and back again by train. First published in 1975, this is one of the all-time classic travel books. And if you enjoyed it, don't miss the 2008 follow-up Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, in which Theroux retraces his journey 30 years on.

James Clavell - Shogun

James Clavell - 'Shogun'

James Clavell's most famous novel, Shogun is the story of an English sailor who finds himself thrust into the world of 17th-century feudal Japan. While some of the historical detail may be questionable, this is an evocative and compelling read, and was born in part out of Clavell's experiences as a Japanese prisoner of war, and his desire to better understand his captors.

Viet Thanh Nguyen - 'The Sympathizer'

This smart spy story begins amongst the chaos of the fall of Saigon in 1975, and deals with the aftermath of the Vietnam War in both the US and Vietnam itself. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006, and is the perfect counterpart to Graham Greene's classic The Quiet American.

Alex Garland - 'The Beach'

Alex Garland - 'The Beach'

The Hollywood adaptation starring Leonardo di Caprio doesn't do Alex Garland's cult novel justice; this is a clever, deeply unsettling story of a young backpacker searching for paradise in South East Asia, reminiscent of William Golding's Lord of the Flies.

Tan Twan Eng - The Gift of Rain

Tan Twan Eng - 'The Gift of Rain'

Set on the Malaysian island of Penang, Tan Twan Eng's debut novel tells the story of two men - Philip Hutton, of mixed English-Chinese heritage, and Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat - and the way in which their friendship is tested by the onset of World War II

Far East films & TV shows

Cosy up on the sofa with some of the best films, box sets and TV shows about the Far East..

First They Killed My Father (Netflix)

Based on Loung Ung's memoir of the same name, this sobering film, directed by Angelina Jolie, tells the story of the sudden and brutal rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

First They Killed My Father

The Mekong River with Sue Perkins

This 2014 BBC series sees Sue Perkins take a life-changing journey along the Mekong, travelling from the mouth of the river in Vietnam to its source in China.

Seven Worlds, One Planet (BBC)

We've recommended this series several times over the last couple of months, and the truth is that every episode is sublime. Episode 2 focuses on the wildlife of Asia, including China, Borneo and the Russian Far East.

Seven Worlds, One Planet - Asia

The Bridge on the River Kwai

Allied commandos embark on a mission to destroy a railway bridge built by POWs in Japanese-occupied Burma in this 1957 classic, which won seven Academy Awards and was voted the 11th greatest British movie of the 20th century by the British Film Institute.

Burma with Simon Reeve (BBC)

This two-part series from 2018 sees TV traveller Simon Reeve taking a rare glimpse inside Myanmar, showcasing the country's beauty and its wonderful people, but also taking an unflinching look at its ongoing political troubles and simmering ethnic conflicts.

Get your free Myanmar guide

Our expedition cruising guide to Myanmar and the Ayeyarwady River will tell you everything you need to know, including when to visit, what to see and why some people still refer to the country as Burma.

Meet the author

Tom is a Communications Manager at the Galapagos Conservation Trust and former Marketing Manager at Mundy Adventures

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