Any book that has me engaged and laughing in the first few pages is a book I know I’m going to enjoy, and Borderlines fulfilled its purpose to educate, enlighten and entertain me on every page.

In 1986, author Charles Nicholl ventured to Thailand seeking a ‘spiritual rest-cure’ at a Buddhist forest temple, meeting a myriad of characters along the way who are seeking their own pleasures, enlightenment and fortunes in the country.  Meeting up with a trader, Harry and his wonderful partner Katai, who is central to the whole narrative of the book, entices Nicholl with a trip to the Golden Triangle where the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos meet and an area rich in agriculture and the Opium trade.  Through the red-light districts of Bangkok, to forest temples, opium and jewel traders, Borderlines is more an adventure than a travel book, yet what an adventure it is!

Yet, mid the adventure there is also the realisation that Thailand is a country very much in the grips of the vices of those who choose to exploit it.  The opium trade helps fund many regions and the illicit sex trade sees girls openly exploited for the gratification of any willing tourist, and Nicholl certainly highlights this through the characters he meets.  Even though a seasoned traveller the narrative is not necessarily one of someone who claims to be an ‘expert’ in any travel writing sense, but someone who, sometimes reluctantly, goes along for the ride and takes in new experiences.  There’s a sense of innocence, and innocence lost in Borderlines, from someone only looking to seek some form of spiritual rest in a forest temple ends up meeting up with revolutionaries, drug dealers and haphazard tourists.  I’m not sure if there was any enlightenment of the kind sought, but the narrative is enlightening and opens up a world many of us will never experience or even have prior knowledge of.

The countries of Burma and Thailand are countries I haven’t had the opportunity to experience, so reading Borderlines gave me some insight into the culture and history of these far-off places, and in a world where only the dates change and the narrative doesn’t, Borderlines remains as relevant as when it was first published.

  • Borderlines by Charles Nicholl is published by Eland Books (£12.99). To order a copy go to
Tom Stanger
Editor at Pilgrim House | Website | + posts

Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently undertaking a research degree at Bangor University and working on a book on Folklore and early Welsh Christianity. Tom’s other work on music, poetry, health along other writings and images can be found at


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