Housed within an elegant building beside the British Club is the Neilson-Hays Library. Its 20,000 volumes form one of Southeast Asia’s finest English language collections.
The library was built in 1921 in honor of Jennie Neilson Hays, who was the mainstay of the Bangkok Library Association between 1895 and 1920. The internal domed rotunda is used as a modern art gallery.
Western Writers in Bangkok
Western impressions of Thailand were for a long time heavily influenced by just one author – Anna Leonowens. An English teacher at the court of King Mongkut (Rama IV), Leonowens wrote the book that inspired the musical The King and I. However, the portrayal of the king as a comic figure stirred up anger in the country, and the book is now regarded as an unreliable historical source. Less controversially, Joseph Conrad wrote about his journey up the Chao Phraya in The Shadow Line, and Somerset Maugham described his impressions of Thailand in The Gentleman in the Parlour. These are just two of the Western authors commemorated by suites at the Oriental Hotel. Others include Noël Coward, Gore Vidal, Graham Greene, and Barbara Cartland. The Oriental has also ventured into other literary projects: it is the site for the annual prize-giving ceremony of the SEAWrite Award, established in 1969 to promote contact between writers in Southeast Asian countries.