There are several ways to discover the narratives of a country. Majority of travelers flock to tourist traps, some sift through aisles of grocery stores, while others head to the obscure and independently owned bookshop tucked in a crevice that most voyagers most probably overlook. Travel, after all, isn’t only confined to crossing borders to witness the most photogenic attractions—sometimes, if not always, it can also mean unearthing the rich worlds found between the pages of a book.
A time capsule of sorts, literature is a means to understanding not just ourselves, but the complexities of the zeitgeist, society, and culture it portrays. For the literati and bookworms, Asia is brimming with captivating and thought-provoking written works that allow you to uncover its destinations inside and out. Research on local authors, jot down the titles of your next page-turners, and head to these independent bookstores in Asia for a taste of adventure.
Founded in 2005, BooksActually in Singapore is an independent bookstore tucked in a laid-back residential neighborhood. It boasts a cornucopia of fiction and non-fiction works that range from mainstream to obscure, with a range of novels, poetry, essays, literary journals, critical works, and antique book finds. The bookstore publishes and distributes books under Math Paper Press, so you’re sure to find written works from fledgling Singaporean authors. Apart from the bookstore being a literary gold mine, it also offers trinkets like stationery, notebooks, and tote bags, plus bric-a-brac items like antiques and vintage items.
9 Yong Siak Street
Tiong Bahru, Singapore
Utrecht/NOW IDeA, Tokyo
A treasure trove of items that spark creativity and inspiration, Utrecht/NOW IDeA in Tokyo is a cozy and unassuming sanctuary tucked in a quiet backstreet of Jingumae. Perfect for those searching for a fresh take on printed works, the independent bookshop and publishing house offers small press and indie publications, and is known for being one of the largest collectors of independently published zines in Japan. Browse its selection of one-of-a-kind books and items and you’ll surely find something that will pique your interest—may it be an avant-garde zine from one of Tokyo’s budding photographers, an enigmatic sculpture that serves as a paperweight, or DIY stationery you can write heartfelt letters on. Keep your eyes peeled for its events and exhibitions to immerse in Tokyo’s creative scene.
A meticulously curated shop nestled on the top floor of a building, YOUR-MIND in Seoul is a charming book haven that cultivates works from independent artists. Since its building doesn’t have an elevator, take note that you must brave a flight of stairs to reach your destination, but don’t be dismayed—you’ll realize that the bookstore is worth the climb, as you’ll be rewarded with printed gems that are hard to come by. Among the bookstore’s wooden shelves, find independent novels, zines, design books, and even music albums that will soothe your soul and spark your creativity. Feel free to linger as the store possesses a warm, serene atmosphere conducive to contemplation.
2F, 10-6, Yeonhui-ro 11-Gil
Seodaemun-Gu, Seoul, South Korea
Pon Ding, Taiwan
A residential apartment turned art space, Pon Ding is a one-stop-shop for the artistic soul. The three-story building is nestled in the quieter side of Taiwan’s Zhongshan district, and is home to a café, a bookstore, and multi-purposes spaces used for lectures, talks, exhibitions, and other events. Sift through the bookstore’s impressive range of local and international publications and grab a cuppa while immersing in its relaxed and airy ambiance. A physical space made for people to connect through art, it’s one of the most unmissable burgeoning hubs in Taiwan’s creative scene.
No. 6, Lane 53, Section 1
Zhongshan North Road, Zhongshan District
Taipei City, Taiwan
Kubrick, Hong Kong
Named after one of the most influential filmmakers in history, it only seems fit that Kubrick is housed under the Broadway Cinematheque in Hong Kong. A charming bookstore frequented by art students and bohemian crowds, it offers a medley of art, literature, and coffee all under one roof. Drop by for a coffee, let your creative juices flow, and browse the shop’s varied collection of art, film, and cultural studies titles. When you’ve bought your next page-turner or finished your coffee-and-book session, catch an indie film at any of the cinemas a stone’s throw away.
3 Public Square Street
Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
The first bookshop in Manila centered on Philippine art, artbooks.ph is both an online and brick-and-mortar shop catering to art aficionados. Snuggled in an unassuming neighborhood and managed by a group of artists, the alluring bookshop peppered with rare finds is a creative sanctuary with a whole lot of heart and soul. Fostering appreciation for Filipino art, it focuses on providing books on visual arts, film, and design, plus photography-based zines. Browse its shelves and feel free to thumb through your picks while lounging on the cozy seats provided.
123 Pioneer Street
Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila
BOA Bookstore, Vietnam
Avid readers will love paying a visit to BOA Bookstore, as it offers a space to get some reading done in peace and quiet. If you’re looking for unique reads, this quirky independent bookstore should be a priority in your agenda as it specializes in elusive and less popular titles. Pop up to grab a coffee or any refreshment from their impressive beverage assortment, and peruse through their books that range from local, international, to English-translated. Though the place is a bit tricky to find, paying a visit is a must for its homey ambiance, welcoming staff, and serene environment—all while housing the finest literary picks.
Room C26, 2nd Floor
6 Cong Truong Quoc Te (Turtle Lake), District 3
TP Hồ Chí Minh, Việt Nam
Silverfish Books, Malaysia
Established in 1999 with humble beginnings, Silverfish Books is one of the most reputable literature sources in Malaysia today, as it stays steadfast in promoting local authors and honing their talents. A great place to get a headstart on the written works of Malaysian authors, it offers a diverse range of novels in both the vernacular and in translated English. Triple hatting as a bookstore, a publishing house, and an education center, the venue is a must-visit for everyone who has an affinity for literature. What’s more is that it caters to all kinds of readers, may you be the type to enjoy mainstream works or the more obscure and avant-garde book finds. Keep your eyes peeled for its events that range from talks, workshops, and meet-and-greet sessions with authors.
Bangsar Village, 20-2F Jalan Telawi 1
Bangsar Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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