Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Eclectic crime fiction and informed, irreverent non-fiction from Asia and beyond

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The Indo European Artist Residency Kolkata 2019 in The Telegraph (India)

Interviewed on Travel Safety in Cambodia in The Daily Telegraph

My thoughts on travel safety in Cambodia in his Telegraph piece. Behind the paywall, unfortunately.

Tom Vater, one of Telegraph’s south-east Asian experts who travels frequently in Cambodia, says the recent boom in investment in Sihanoukville from China has led to the arrival of violent gangs and a rising crime rate.

“Since 2018, the Cambodian government has welcomed indiscriminate investment from mainland China,” he said. “As a consequence, Chinese mafias have moved in, taking advantage of the lawless environment to open casinos, fighting locals for economic dominance, sometimes with fatal results.”

Going ‘wild’ in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains in The Nikkei Asian Review

“Camera traps have been smashed and stolen. We have caught hunting dogs. A logging gang started to build a road through the national park so our team watched them for three days, then stormed the camp and arrested 20 people. The following day, everyone was freed, but at least the road was not built.”

Laure Siegel and I traveled into the Cardamom Mountains to look at Shinta Mani Wild, a luxury tent camp that contributes to anti-poaching measures in Cambodia’s national parks.

Read the full story in The Asian Nikkei Review.

My Indo-European Artist Residency in Kolkata 2019

I just arrived at my fantastically old school guest house in Kolkata, India.

I’ve been selected artist in residence for the Goethe Institute’s 2019 Indo-European Artist Residency in Kolkata for the coming eight weeks.

A big thanks to the Goethe and to Laure Siegel who pushed me to apply for the program.

Very much looking forward to writing some gripping crime fiction, with my favorite city as the main protagonist.

Cambodia: Jouney through the Land of the Khmer 2nd edition bestseller

Cambodia: Journey through the Land of the Khmer with photos by Kraig Lieb and my text remains a bestseller in Cambodia. The second edition came out late last year.

There’s currently a great light display for the book at Phnom Penh airport.

Sacred Skin – Second edition, 8 years in print

Sacred Skin -Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos by Tom Vater and Aroon Thaewchatturat, published by Hong Kong imprint Visionary World, was first published 8 years ago. The highly acclaimed best-selling title, currently in its second edition, garnered more than thirty reviews, including a three page spread in TIME Magazine.


Sacred tattoos, called ‘sak yant’ in Thailand, have been around Southeast Asia for centuries and afford protection from accident, misfortune, and crime. Young women get tattooed with love charms in order to attract partners, while adolescent men use the protective power of their yants in fights with rival youth gangs. For most though, the tattoos serve as reminders to follow a moral code that endorses positive behavior.


During the application of a sak yant, the tattoo master establishes a series of life ‘rules’ that need to be closely adhered to, starting with Buddhism’s first five precepts. Failure to observe the master’s instructions will cause the sak yant to lose their power.


Beautifully photographed these are tattoos that are the essence and ‘key’ to individual identity, a philosophy for living, the translation of soul to skin, as complex as the leaves of an autobiography, the story of a life

Will cleaning up Thailand’s most famous party street improve it, or kill its soul? – in The Daily Telegraph

Leonardo Di Caprio has been here. As have countless young backpackers from the West. Over the past forty years, Khao San Road, once a quiet residential street on the fringes of Bangkok’s historic centre, has morphed into the world’s best-known backpacker hub.

Loud, inexpensive, garish and in your face, the 400 meter long strip has been a party destination and traveler transit point like no other in Southeast Asia with more than a million annual visitors slumming it, often in a culturally insensitive manner and on a tight budget, through its guest houses, cheap eateries and roadside bars.

Now it seems, the days and nights of laid back, devil may care tropical revelry may be coming to an end….

My latest in The Daily Telegraph looks at government plans to regulate and reorder one of the world’s most anarchic and free-wheeling business strips.

Past Masters

Spotted a couple of books of mine in a second hand shop in Banglamphu, Bangkok, the other day.

My first nonfiction Beyond the Pancake Trench (2004) and my second novel The Cambodian Book of the Dead (2013).

Eaux Troubles – crime novella set in la Reunion – published in Ecoute Magazine

Finally got my hands on the first short novella I wrote with Laure Siegel for Ecoute Magazine.

The five parts of Eaux Troubles, a crime story set around the problematic relationship between man and shark on the French island of La Reunion have been published.

Our next story, set in 1940s French colonial Cambodia, is set to start running this month, with a spoken word version on accompanying CDs, and we have a third novella set in the Atlas mountains of Morocco in the works for 2020.

Figures Libres – A Tattoo Book Classic


I just finished translating Figures Libres, an incredible book that documents how tattoos morphed from back alley subculture to global pop culture.

Published by Noir Meduse, Figures Libres features crazily beautiful portraits by Dom Pichard aka P-mod & a colorful round-the-world-to-follow-the-needle essay by Laure Siegel.


Figures Libres is out in September in French and English.
Pre-order a copy now and receive a free print.

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