Thailand, Laos and Cambodia

Coloured miniature painting of two rabbits, a bird and two squirrels, the latter climbing on two crooked trees, on gilded background. Detail from a 19th-century palm leaf manuscript from Thailand
Detail from a Thai palm leaf manuscript containing extracts from the Tipitaka, 19th century. Shelfmark: Or.16753

We hold printed books and periodicals, manuscripts, archival resources, and digitised material in Thai, Lao, Khmer and minority languages like Hmong, Tai Khuen, and Northern Thai.

About the collection

The British Library has approximately 450 manuscripts in Thai, Northern Thai, Lao, Khmer, and Pali languages.  They include Buddhist scriptures, literary works, and treatises on traditional medicine, law, cosmology, fortune-telling and animals. Most of the manuscripts are paper folding books and palm leaf manuscripts, but there are also textiles and wooden manuscript boxes. Important manuscripts in this collection are a Thai historical chronicle, copied by royal scribes ca. 1840 (Or. 11827), an outstanding Elephant Treatise (Or. 13652), several Phra Malai manuscripts as well as the Chakrabongse Collection of Thai Royal Letters (Or.15749). Other languages covered in this collection are Ahom, Khamti, Khasi, Tai Lue, Tai Khuen, Shan and Mon.

Highlights include

  • Or 14447 Yogavacara manual, fragment of an illustrated folding book with text in Pali language in Khmer script, Thailand or Cambodia, 18th century
  • Or 14068  Mahabuddhaguna and other Buddhist texts, illustrated folding book with text in Pali language in Khmer script, Thailand, 18th century
  • Or 13703 Extracts from the Tipitaka, illustrated folding book with text in Pali language in Khmer script, Thailand, 19th century
  • Or 14838 Phra Malai and Abhidhamma texts, illustrated folding book with text in Pali and Thai language in Khmer script, 1849
  • Foster 1056 Gilded Kammavaca manuscript chest from northern Thailand (Lanna), 19th century

Important material documenting the early relations between Great Britain and Thailand (historically Siam) includes the Treaty of Commerce with the King of Siam, concluded by Capt. Henry Burney in 1826 (IOR/H/639 pp. 557-569) and a printed copy of the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Great Britain and Siam (Siam.29) dated 1856.

The earliest period of Thai printing, from ca. 1840-1890, is well represented in the British Library due to a gift by Christian missionaries of about 100 books and pamphlets. Some of these are unique copies including the only known copy of the first Thai book printed in Thailand, a Christian text published in 1838 (ORB.30/894).

The collection includes more than 8000 printed books in Thai, dating from the mid-19th century onwards, and over 700 books in Lao, Khmer and Hmong languages.

There are also about 50 periodical titles from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

What is available online?

Digitised Southeast Asian manuscripts include items in Thai, Lao and Cambodian, and Thai and Lao material is found in the Endangered Archives Programme. Some early Thai, Lao and Cambodian printed books from the British Library are available on the Southeast Asian Digital Library.

The British Library’s online catalogues, Explore the British Library (for printed books and periodicals) and Explore Archives and Manuscripts, include all Lao items and many in Thai and Cambodian.

The Asian and African Studies blog contains short research articles on selected items from Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

All Southeast Asian manuscripts and printed books can be consulted in the Asian and African Studies Reading Room. Some printed books which are stored at Boston Spa in Yorkshire may take up to 48 hours to be made available.

Thai and Cambodian printed books and serials acquired before 2000 are accessible only through a card catalogue in the Asian & African Studies Reading Room.

What is available in other organisations?

Digital manuscript collections

Manuscripts of Western Thailand (Database of digitised manuscripts from Western Thailand by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, Bangkok)

Lanna Manuscripts (Digital collection of northern Thai manuscripts by École française d'Extrême-Orient and Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, Bangkok)

Digital Library of Northern Thai Manuscripts (Digital collection of over 6,000 manuscripts in Northern Thailand, collaboration of the University of Pennsylvania, Chiang Mai University, the National Library of Laos, and the Berlin State Library) 

Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts (Digital collection of over 12,000 texts from Laos, collaboration of the National Library of Laos, University of Passau, and the Berlin State Library)

DREAMSEA  (Digital Repository of Endangered and Affected Manuscripts in Southeast Asia, Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta State Islamic University (UIN) Jakarta and University of Hamburg)

Electronic resources

Thai Journals Online Free access to over 900 academic journals published in Thailand

Thai Digital Collection Database of dissertations and research outcomes from universities in Thailand 

Biodiversity Digital Library Bio-Based Economic Development Office (BEDO), Bangkok

Plant database Forest and Plant Conservation Research Office, Bangkok

Further information

 

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Featured collection items

Blog posts

Khmer manuscripts at the British Library (Part 2)

Monday, December 13, 2021

The previous blog post on Khmer manuscripts at the British Library focused on traditional Khmer manuscripts - palm leaves (sleuk rith) and folding books (kraing). In addition to these, the British Library holds documents containing text in Khmer script that...

Khmer manuscripts at the British Library (Part 1)

Monday, November 29, 2021

The history of Khmer manuscripts is closely connected with the influence of Indian civilisation in Southeast Asia and particularly with the introduction of Hinduism and Buddhism in the region. The earliest book format in the Khmer Empire – similar to...

Chulamani Chedi, a celestial stupa

Monday, October 11, 2021

A stupa (Sanskrit for “heap”) is an important form of Buddhist architecture as a place of burial or a receptacle for sacred religious objects, which has its origins in the pre-Buddhist burial mounds of ancient India. The earliest stupa contained...

Glorious chariots in Thai manuscript paintings

Monday, July 26, 2021

Chariots figure prominently in South and Southeast Asian art and architectural decoration. Borrowed from the Sanskrit word ratha, the chariot is called rot (รถ) in Thai and has a special importance in religious traditions in Thailand, especially those related to...

More blog posts

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Stunning publication on illustrated Buddhist manuscripts from Southeast Asia.

£50

Exhibition catalogue for the Buddhism exhibition at the British Library, 2019.

£25

Print from a Thai cat treatise manuscript (Or 16008).

£25