Malaysia and Singapore: travel books to read before you go

From following in the footsteps of Singapore’s founder to one man’s search for the elusive Sumatran rhino, this collection of travel reads offers both ample inspiration for your next trip to Malaysia or Singapore and great reading material for the road.

Nothing beats a good beach read. Image by Amber Dawn Pullin CC BY 2.0 Nothing beats a good beach read. Image by Amber Dawn PullinCC BY 2.0

Into the Heart of Borneo, by Redmond O'Hanlon (1987)

An hilarious account of author and poet James Fenton’s journey into the interior of Borneo in search of the fabled Sumatran rhinoceros.

Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, by Paul Theroux (2008)

During a train trip from London to Asia and back again by train, the opinionated, perceptive travel writer is laid low by a tummy bug in Penang (holed up at the E&O no less!) and sticks the knife into Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew.

Stranger in the Forest, by Eric Hansen (1988)

This non-fiction tome follows the intrepid author on his hike from Sarawak to Kalimantan and back with no proper papers, an unreliable map and a slender grasp of the local lingo.

Urban Odysseys, edited by Janet Tay and Eric Forbes (2009)

A mixed bag of short stories set in Kuala Lumpur that capture the city’s multifaceted, multicultural flavour.

Searching for the Other Malaysia, by Farish A Noor (2005)

A collection of the local journalist’s trenchant observations on the country – from Majapahit to Putrajay.

The Golden Chersonese and the Way Thither, by Isabella Bird (1883)

A stiff-upper-lip account of the doughty Victorian-era traveller wending her way through the Malaysian jungles of Selangor and Perak, and crossing the Bukit Genting pass on the back of an elephant.

In the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles, by Nigel Barley (1992)

Also titled The Duke of Puddle Dock, this part biography and travelogue sees the author shadow the journey east made by the founder of Singapore.

Singapore Swing, by John Malathronas (2007)

Exposes the quirkier side of the island state as the author hangs out with paranormal investigators and at brothels and opium dens in his search for Singapore’s true soul.

A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family, by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (2011)

American fashion journalist and amateur cook Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan heads back to her native Singapore to learn to make the all the classic Teochew dishes she'd eaten as a child.

This article was originally published in October 2010, and updated in December 2014. More travel literature reading lists for other Lonely Planet destinations can be found here.