Thailand, Laos and Cambodia

Detail from a Thai palm leaf manuscript containing extracts from the Tipitaka, 19th century, Or.16753
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, Cambodian and minority languages like Shan, 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. Highlights include an important Thai historical chronicle, copied by royal scribes ca. 1840 (Or. 11827) and an Elephant Treatise (Or. 13652), as well as Phra Malai manuscripts. Other languages covered in this collection are Ahom, Khamti, Khasi, Tai Lue, Tai Khuen, Shan and Mon.

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 4000 printed books in Thai, dating from the mid-19th century onwards, and over 500 books in Lao or Khmer 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, Shan 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.

Further information

  • Farrington, Anthony and Dhiravat Na Pompejra, eds., The English factory in Siam, 1612 – 1685 (London: British Library, 2007)
  • Ginsburg, Henry, Thai manuscript painting (London: British Library, 1989)
  • Ginsburg, Henry, Thai art and culture. Historic manuscripts from Western Collections (London: British Library, 2000)
  • Igunma, Jana, ed., A guardian of Thai treasures: Henry Ginsburg (1940-2007) (London: British Library, 2010)