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Thursday, 5th November 2015

Six books you should read before travelling to Cambodia

Not every book you need for a trip is a guidebook; sometimes it's helpful to learn about the history and culture of a place from a memoir, biography or even a novel.

With this in mind, we recommend that you read a couple, if not all of these books before travelling to Cambodia.

Enchanting Cambodia, Enchanting Asia - Mick Shippen

Although it isn't the only point of reference you should have, a travel guide is always handy and Enchanting Cambodia, Enchanting Asia is one of the best.

Shippen details that the well-known Angkor Wat is worth visiting, but maintains that Cambodia has much to offer besides this hot spot.

Read as he takes you through landmarks, temples of Phnom Penh, wildlife-watching and the surprising French-colonial heritage. 

Top knowledge he imparts is that you should expect French instead of English on the signs on arrival at the airport along with croissants in lieu of toast.

The Embassy of Cambodia - Zadie Smith

A trip away isn't worth its salt without some good fiction to read and we highly recommend The Embassy of Cambodia from Man Booker Prize nominee, Zadie Smith.

The novel starts and ends in the Cambodian Embassy in London and follows the life of a young, Cambodian woman.

The protagonist has escaped the hardships of her country only to swap them for the hardships of being a domestic servant to a family. This novel is a wry and moving look at people and the life choices they have to make. 

Hun Sen's Cambodia - Sebastian Strangio

Sebastian Strangio wrote a journalist's account of living in the capital city of Phnom Penh, giving an eye-opening appraisal of modern-day Cambodia.

Strangio's book covers the conflict and bloody upheaval that can be seen throughout Cambodia's history and moves forward into the present day, where the country is now unfortunately under the neo-authoritarian rule of prime minister Hun Sen.

The author's account speaks at length on how the rule of heavy-handed politicians affects the lives of the ordinary person in Cambodia.

The Years of Zero: Coming of Age under the Khmer Rouge - Seng Ty

The Years Of Zero is a first person account from Seng Ty, who details his life from the age of seven, when he was separated from his family and thrust into an agricultural labour camp.

He recounts how his mother was worked to death, while most of the rest of his siblings succumbed to starvation.

This story is one of strength and depicts how a person with a resolve to survive can endure through to a seemingly unlikely triumph.

Phaic Tan: Sunstroke on a shoestring

This is a guide book with a difference; it is in fact the book version of a spoof that outlines all the things you shouldn't do in Cambodia with great humour.

Of course, this isn't just a book that pokes fun of travellers as the finger of shame is pointed to everyone, including locals and guidebook authors.

River of Time - Jon Swain

Most of the books mentioned here were written in the last 10 years, however River of Time is the only one from the nineties and it remains a favourite for anyone who has been or is going to Cambodia.

This book depicts Jon Swain's life as he lived it alongside the Mekong River; it covers the beauty of the area, the people and the food alongside the corruption and violence they have had to face.

Related news stories:
5 things you didn't know about Cambodia (12th July 2016)
Trains are the name of the game in Cambodia (8th June 2016)