These are the books that I like to recommend for people who want to visit Cambodia for the first time.
I suggest that you read these books before you visit the country. This is to give you an exception comparison between what you imagined when you read the books and the reality when you visit the country.
It would be a nice experience, believe me!
You might already come across many lists that recommend various books about Cambodia.
In this collection, I want to propose you something very different. I personally selected these 5 books with following intentions:
- To create imagination through the work of fiction or travel experience.
- To get you outside of the commune topic Khmer rouge or genocide.
- The kindle version is available (you can read them immediately!)
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1. Temple of a Thousand Faces
If this is your first time to visit Cambodia, this book is for you. People will recommend you to visit Angkor Wat, the famous temple which no one can explain how it was built.
Temple of a Thousand Faces sets in Angkor period. The book will bring you to almost thousand years ago.
It tells the story of King Jayavarman 7 and his wife Ajadevi to fight against the enemy (Cham) and save their people.
The book is well received. It received 822 ratings and 171 reviews at Goodreads and 91 customer reviews at Amazon.
2. The Map of Lost Memories
The Map of Lost Memories sets in the 1920s, tells the journey of a woman researcher who believed there were a lost civilization and temple (Angkor Wat) in the jungle of Cambodia.
During the research, she also discovered the secrets of her own family in the past.
The books received a lot of positive reviews. People said they learned a lot of Khmer culture, especially the rise and the fall of the Khmer empire throughout the book.
It has 1,348 ratings and 332 reviews on Goodreads, 131 customer reviews on Amazon. Listen to these two parts of the interview with the author Kim Fay about the book:
The author herself tweeted about this article when it was first published:
— Kim Fay (@kimkfay) January 7, 2016
It is a good occasion to read the book before you visit the country.
3. A Woman of Angkor
A woman of Angkor also sets in Angkor period but a bit earlier. It is started when the King Suryavarman 2 began to build the famous temple, Angkor Wat.
The story told from a typical Khmer family who earned a living by selling fruits in the market. One day the family was invited by the king to the palace because her husband is a master of the silk parasols.
The story was told through the eyes of a woman called Sray who will give you an idea on how the temple was built.
Nat Geo travel book specialist Don George recommends “A Woman of Angkor” as a book to read before going to Cambodia.
Nat Geo travel book specialist Don George recommends "A Woman of Angkor" as a book to read before going to Cambodia. https://t.co/F9nuPPct8l
— John Burgess (@burgessjs) January 29, 2016
I personally like the simple writing style. It is easy to read and will give you a nice journey into the glory days of the Khmer empire.
4. A Record of Cambodia
A Record of Cambodia is not a fiction but it is a travel notes written by a Chinese traveler named “Zhou Daguan” who visited Cambodia between 1296-97.
Zhou arrived at Angkor right after it was completely built. It is a very rare document. The book describes in very details about the King and Khmer people. This is not a fiction but the true notes on how people lived at that time.
It will give you an exception image of Cambodia that doesn’t exist anymore. It is interesting to read before you first visit Cambodia. You can compare what you imagined when you read the book and the reality you will face when you put your foot in the country.
It is the first time that the book was translated directly from Chinese into English.
5. Phnom Penh Noir
I read the book in 2012. Here is my full review of Phnom Penh Noir.
After I recommended many fictions that will bring you to the glory days of Cambodian history, here are the book that will give you another angle of imagination to the presence.
The book is the collections of short contemporary stories written by various Cambodian local and international writers.
Despite its “Noir” theme, I found a lot of interesting stories. I do hope we will have more contemporary stories to read, especially some good happy ending stories.
If you like to read more books about Cambodia, here are some nice collections you can check out: