Bangkok is never short on anything ‘new’. If there’s a trend, this city surely feels that pulse beat sooner than most other places. ‘New’ however, does not always last. So when you find yourself living in a city as long as I have, an increasing attachment to the things that do endure grows steadily over the years. One such place that has quietly become a much loved fixture of this city is a second-hand bookshop I walked past quite by accident one day.
Walking in Bangkok involves many distractions —from construction sites to street vendors, from uneven paving to hanging wires and oddly leaning power poles, not to mention the cars, motorcycles and carts of all variety that populate the footpaths. Being aware of them and necessarily having to avoid them can result in you inadvertently crossing a soi you were supposed to turn into, as I did over a decade ago. It was not long before I realised my mistake, but as I turned to head back towards the soi I was meant to turn into, I noticed a trolley neatly stacked with piles of books in front of a narrow shopfront with a name that intrigued me. Dāsa, is a second-hand book shop located between on Sukhumvit, between Soi 26 and Soi 28. For the past 18 years it has played a role in meeting the niche demand for quality pre-owned English language books.
The power of attraction being what it is, booksellers know that certain people feel a strong pull towards any visual display of books, so for as long as they have been in existence, they have utilised shopfront trolleys or tables or even baskets, laden with printed works to serve as a lure— like flowers to bees in search of pollen.
And so on that day, I thought I might as well pop in for a quick look because, as was the case back then and still is the case now, there are few independent English language bookshops of any kind in Bangkok, let alone ones that specialise in second-hand, or as I like to call them — pre-loved books. Like the bee, I couldn’t resist, and I’ve been coming back ever since.
It is a given that bookshops are always filled with books. However, the presentation of them and the environment in which the books are displayed can either add or detract from your experience. The thing with most second-hand bookshops is their immediate ability to play to your sense of curiosity — the mere sight of shelf after shelf of well loved and well read books strikes one the way a cave of treasures might. You cannot help but go hunting.
Dāsa is evidently a passion project for their owners, who clearly must be book lovers. Concealed within their three storey shophouse is a well curated selection of titles, carefully organised with attentive touches given to categories they know their customers (who I have observed, largely seems to be residents as opposed to tourists) are likely to be in search of — all of which adds to that feeling of being encouraged towards some sort of literary find. There is a small table and seating area in which you can sit comfortably and browse and the shop serves a small selection of beverages from behind their counter on the ground floor — the back wall of which is decorously covered with banknotes from all around the world, like a veritable money tree growing over the small kitchenette sink. As you wander around the three levels, ascending up aging stairs that creak the way you always expect stairs in second-hand bookshops to creak — you sense possibilities. This is a feeling that is often lacking in newer bookshops and it is the reason why many people are drawn to second hand booksellers.
In a city where we are often doused in the afterglow of digital ads and new retail technology and environments, time spent in Dāsa has the refuge-like quality akin to visiting a temple to tactile objects, where things are wonderfully analog — sometimes, even I crave a break from my touchscreens.
I have a tradition that before a long flight, I usually make time to buy one book to take along with me on a trip. Books have always served as a sort of mental power bank for me — they have been my constant companion on journeys and act as insurance against the unexpected. I know this is still the case for many travellers as the excess piles of best seller paperbacks in closets and on shelves in countless homes attest to.
Because of the recent pandemic and the travel restrictions associated with it, I had not gone on an overseas trip in several years, which made me realise I hadn’t visited Dāsa in at least as many years. But like a muscle memory, the minute I had my plans booked I made my way back. That is usually the reason that compels me to make my pre-flight pilgrimage in search of a book, but I also find myself returning to Dāsa because I am drawn to a place that has stayed independent and survived the many social-economic storms this city has had to weather — it is a comforting familiarity, every time I walk through their doors. For aren’t we all slaves to somethings? For me, books are one of those things — which is appropriate because the name Dāsa is derived from the Pali-Sankrit word for slave or servant. The owners of this bookshop understand full well the name that they thoughtfully chose and they have been faithfully serving this community’s love of books for many years.
714/4 Sukhumvit Road, Khlong Tan, Khlong Toei, Bangkok 10110
The bookshop is located between Sukhumvit Soi 26 and Soi 28, a very short walk from the Skytrain (BTS Prom Phong Station).
Dāsa has an online database of their inventory you can check out prior to visiting and of course you can contact them through various channels to see if they have what you’re looking for.
They currently have upwards of 18,000 titles.
The Footpath Files
Stories from the Streets of Bangkok
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