Books about Cambodia
From the grandeur of Angkor Wat to the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge
Welcome to the wonderful world of Cambodia! If you’re planning a visit to this fascinating country, or just have a deep interest in its history and culture, you’ve come to the right place. From the grandeur of Angkor Wat to the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia is a nation with a rich and complex history that is ripe for exploration. Whether you’re a history buff, a traveler, or simply someone who wants to learn more about this incredible country, these recommended books about Cambodia and its people are the perfect way to deepen your understanding.
With a focus on the country’s history, culture, language, cuisine, and politics, these books offer a comprehensive look at Cambodia’s past, present, and future. From learning about the resilience of the Khmer people to discovering the secrets of traditional Cambodian cooking, you’ll be able to delve deeper into this amazing country and its unique culture. Whether you’re interested in the country’s dark history of the Cambodian genocide or its current political landscape, these books have something for everyone. So why wait? Start exploring the world of Cambodia today!
Five must-read books about Cambodia
All of this books provide a deep understanding of the Cambodian recent history, specifically the Khmer Rouge period, the impact it had on the society and the country’s political, social and economic situation.
“First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung
is a memoir that describes the author’s childhood during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The book provides a powerful and personal perspective on the atrocities committed by the regime and its impact on ordinary Cambodians.
“When the War Was Over” by Elizabeth Becker
is an in-depth look at the history of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era and its aftermath. Becker, an American journalist, covered the conflict and provides a historical context to the Cambodian war.
“Cambodia’s Curse” by Joel Brinkley
is a book that examines the political and economic factors that have contributed to the country’s ongoing struggles, including the legacy of the Khmer Rouge.
“The Gate” by Francois Bizot
is an account of the author’s imprisonment by the Khmer Rouge and his subsequent release. Bizot, a French anthropologist, provides unique insight into the workings of the regime and its leadership.
“Stay Alive, My Son” by Pin Yathay
is a memoir of a Cambodian civil servant who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide. Yathay’s account is a first-hand witness of the atrocities committed by the regime and how he and his family struggled to survive during that period.
A List of Must-Read Books about Cambodia
Books about starting/doing business and investing in Cambodia
Essential Cambodia: A Guide for Foreign Entrepreneurs, Investors and Managers Cambodian American entrepreneur Allen Dodgson Tan’s book is a good read for foreign businesspeople and investors. It’s a work of his more than a decade doing business in Cambodia. Not surprisingly, Michael Hayes praised that “This book is an absolute must-read for any and all foreigners interested in investing in Cambodia.” Check it on Amazon.com
Recommended Books about Cambodian History
The first step to understand this beautiful country is by starting to learn more about Khmer history, culture, and arts. From the glorious Angkor era to the year zero or genocide, these selected English-language books about the history of Cambodia will help you grasp a sense of the people, culture, and politics through the chronicled timeline. If you’re passionate about Cambodian history, here’s a list of selected books to get an in-depth understanding of beauty and darkness of Cambodian past.
Cambodian Wooden Houses (1500 years of Khmer Heritage) by Darryl Collins & Hok Sokol (not yet available on Amazon)
A New Sun Rises Over the Old Land: A Novel of Sihanouk’s Cambodia by Suon Sorin and Roger Nelson The title and story is a translation from the original Khmer book (popular among Cambodian scholars). David P. Chandler, author of A History of Cambodia, praised this new book saying that “Reading this passionate, absorbing novel, it’s poignant to re-enter a period that was filled for many Cambodians with optimism.” Buy it on Amazon
First They Killed My Father
Top of the list is the Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father. The Cambodian-born American author wrote this non-book that was later adopted as a film, directed by filmmaker Angelina Jolie.
This personal story of the author touches the heart and soul of most readers, while also guides us through what it’s like to survive the Khmer Rouge period as a little.
A History of Cambodia
David P. Chandler is one of the most regarded historians of Cambodia. This well-researched book examines the death of Pol Pot, the fall of the Khmer Rouge, and the Vietnamese invasion of 1979. However, it’s his remarkable analysis of the country and its politics that resonates with most of Cambodia’s scholars and researchers.
When The War Was Over: Cambodia And The Khmer Rouge Revolution
Veteran journalist Elizabeth Becker covered Cambodia and Southeast Asia for the Washington Post back in the 1970s. This book about a modern history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge gives you an insight into the country during the internal conflicts as witnessed by a foreign correspondent.
Traumatic Pasts in Asia: History, Psychiatry, and Trauma from the 1930s to the Present Included in this book, there is a chapter ‘Haunting and Recovery in Post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia by Caroline Bennett. The auhtor explored how relations with the dead as well as the experience of haunting opened way for Cambodian people to rebuild their modern society.
A Short History of Cambodia: From Empire to Survival (A Short History of Asia series)
This is one of the most readable history books about the strange tragedy of Cambodia. Through this book, by John Tully, you’ll get the balance of ancient and modern history. The author’s coverage of the post-World War II is helpful.
It helps most people to understand the importance of Southeast Asia in the Cold War apart from the U.S. War in Vietnam. John Tully’s observations and impressions are compelling.
Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land
When this Joel Brinkley’s book was first released, it’s often criticized for factual errors. However, if you’re fascinated by the modern history of Cambodia, you cannot really skip this book with an interesting, catchy title.
Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare
Philip Short the author offers readers through the lens of French. Well written and researched into a horrible period of Cambodia’s history, the book Pol Pol: Anatomy of a Nightmare is a good read with historical background. You’d gain insight of Saloth Sar, his childhood, youth years and his final way to total power.
Haing Ngor: A Cambodian Odyssey
The Cambodian author Haing Ngor (also know as Dith Pran in the ‘Killing Fields’ movie tells the world about struggling story of surviving the Khmer Rouge. Haing Ngor’s personal story is human survival (from the genocide) and triumph. Haing Ngor was murdered in LA in 1996.
- by Haing Ngor (Author), Roger Warner (Author)
- Hardcover – February 2, 1988
The Khmer Kings and the History of Cambodia: BOOK I - 1st Century to 1595: Funan, Chenla, Angkor and Longvek Periods
This is one of several books about Cambodian kings.
Before this book, The Khmer Kings and History of Cambodia, the author’s work has appeared online: “The Last Khmer God-King” (Phnom Penh Post, October 2012); “Yuon: What’s in a Xenonym” (Phnom Penh Post, February 2010); Preah Khan Reach and the Genealogy of Khmer Kings (2008).
- by Kenneth T. So (Author)
- Paperback – November 1, 2017
9 The Khmer Rouge: The Notorious History and Legacy of the Communist Regime that Ruled Cambodia in the 1970s
- Charles River Editors (Author)
- Kindle edition - October 1, 2018
Soul Survivors - Stories of Women and Children in Cambodia
The most fascinating read in this book is the personal stories of a dozen of Cambodian survivors who told how they survived and thrived after the Khmer Rouge regime.
- Bhavia C. Wagner (Author), Valentina DuBasky (Photographer)
- Paperback – July 20, 2008
Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia: Political Culture and the Causes of War
This book is the first comprehensive, scholarly analysis of the causes of the Vietnamese invasion. At its core are two separate but related histories covering the years 1930 to 1978.
All My Silent Years
This is the story of a young girl dragged across the jagged edge of history who must learn to forgive herself for the law she broke to stay alive.
Must-Read Books about Angkor Wat History
Are you planning to spend a great time in Siem Reap? What’s a better way to delve deep into the ancient time of Angkor? Built in the 12th century, the grand, complex architecture is an expression of Khmer civilization and one of the planet’s largest religious monuments.
Many centuries later, Angkor Wat temple and its rich history still and will continue to amaze the travelers, tourists, historians, and researchers from all over the world. This is a list of recommended books about Angkor Wat you should read before visiting Cambodia. Get one of the books from our list of 10 best Angkor Wat History books. You should read some of these Angkor Wat history and guide books.
Angkor Wat: The History and Legacy of the World’s Largest Hindu Temple
Did not realize that the Angkor Wat Temple complex was Hindu? This book centers around the architecture of the temples that were influenced by Hindu and Buddhist religion.
What elaborated about the architecture and building may be hard to follow. But the featured photographs make this book very worthwhile.
- Published: December 19, 2017
- Charles River Editors (Author)
Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples
If you’re interested in detailed monument-by-monument itineraries and maps to the temple sites, this is one of the few books you should read.
In some way, this book is like the bible for any visit to the temples, including the best restaurant tips. This book is the must-have guide to Angkor Wat!
- by Dawn Rooney (Author), Magnus Bartlett (Photographer), Peter Danford (Photographer)
- Fifth edition (July 29, 2005)
Angkor Wat: Time, Space, and Kingship
This is one of the most insightful, scholarly, unorthodox, and well written books about ancient Angkor for most people.
The 360 pages detailed the principles of 12th-century Khmer temple architecture. Therefore, it’s not highly recommended for the travelers and backpackers because it is dauntingly technical.
- Published: 2000
- by Eleanor Mannikka
Khmer Mythology: Secrets of Angkor
This books explains the mixed Hindu and Khmer myths that lie behind the carved reliefs at Angkor Wat. The Khmer Mythology: Secrets of Angkor is one of a few excellent books on Khmer mythology.
The book discusses the rulers, Buddhist and Hindu interplay, and outstanding description of individual ruins. You’d find it quite helpful if you are traveling to Siem Reap and want to read up on what you will be seeing.
- Published: May 1, 1998
- Vittorio Roveda (Author)
Sacred Angkor: The Carved Reliefs of Angkor Wat
For those who are fascinated by the magnificent carvings of the long galleries, the corner pavilions, pediments, lintels, this is another excellent book on this particular subject.
- Published: 2007
- Vittorio Roveda (Author)
A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam
This is one of the must-read books for those who enjoys travel writing or anyone interested in anthropology or in the recent history of South-East Asia.
Overall, this book is both informative and entertaining for most readers.
- Published: December 19, 2003
- Norman Lewis (Author)
Ancient Angkor (River Books Guides)
The book provides an excellent overview of the Angkor temples. If you’re heading to Cambodia and visiting the ancient Angkor, you should get this book with you.
It’s as if you’ve got a historian and a photographer as your personal guide while visiting the wonder temple of the world.
- Published: January 16, 2009
- by Michael Freeman (photographer) and Claude Jacques (historian)
A Woman of Angkor
A Woman of Angkor book? What’s in a book title? Well, this book is wonderful work of historical fiction by John Burgess, an American author and journalist.
If you’re looking for the best way to learn about Khmer culture, then you should get this book.
- Published: January 21, 2013
- by John Burgess
Temple of a Thousand Faces
The author wrote that “a story set nearly a thousand years ago, an empire is lost, a royal love is tested, and heroism is reborn.”
The 544 pages gives most readers a wonderful historical fiction. A good metaphor is reading this book is like really living in Ancient Cambodia.
- February 5, 2013
- John Shors (Author)
The Map of Lost Memories: A Novel
This fiction is the author’s “quest to make the greatest archaeological discovery of the century soon becomes a quest for her family’s secrets.”
This novel about Angkor has these three elements in one: adventure, romance, and history.
- June 18, 2013
- Kim Fay (Author)
The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples
First time to visit Angkor Wat temple? If you’re prepping for a trip to see the real Angkor, you should consider getting this book. It’s an insider’s guide to the history of the ancient Angkor.
- 3rd edition (2016)
- Andrew Booth (Author)
Focusing on the Angkor Temples: The Guidebook
In addition to texts, you’ll find the illustrations and detailed maps useful to guide you through the temples of Angkor. The book focuses on more than 80 ancient temples in Siem Reap.
- Michel Petrotchenko (Author)
Angkor the Magnificent - Wonder City of Ancient Cambodia
Incredibly, Helen Churchill Candee is a survivor of the Titanic. In 1922, she traveled to Cambodia and explored the mysterious jungle capital of the ancient Khmers before writing the book.
- Paperback – October 1, 2010
- by Helen Churchill Candee (Author), Kent Davis (Editor), Randy Bryan Bigham (Afterword)
Fictions About Cambodia
- The Governor’s Daughter (The Mysteries of Colonial Cambodia Book 1) by Khmer American author Sambath Meas
- Samantha Sutton and the Temple of Traitors This 320 page novel is about mystery-adventures of a teenage heroine (Samantha Sutton), who joins her archeologist uncle in excavations at the Preah Vihear temple’s clifftop.
- The King’s Last Song by Geoff Ryman (Author)
- In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel by Vaddey Ratner (Author)
- Khmer Legends by Demaz Tep Baker
Travel Guide Books
Troubling the Water: A Dying Lake and a Vanishing World in Cambodia book by Abby Seiff, a foreign journalist who has covered Cambodia, Thailand, and Nepal. She announced her book relase on Twitter: “So! After years of work, my book is due out in two months which is pretty surreal and extremely terrifying. If you’re at all interested, I hope you’ll consider preordering it - which is apparently very helpful.” Buy it on Amazon
- Lonely Planet Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos & Northern Thailand (Travel Guide) Paperback – August 15, 2017
- Lonely Planet Cambodia (Travel Guide) Paperback – August 21, 2018
- Moon Angkor Wat: With Siem Reap & Phnom Penh (Travel Guide) Paperback – October 2, 2018
Kindling the love of reading among Khmer children in Cambodia
As a busy father of two kids, I always strive to find interesting and educational resources to keep them engaged in reading. One way I do this is by keeping up with the latest technology and reading my favorite tech news websites, long-form articles on Medium, and books. I also aim to instill the love of reading in my kids, and take advantage of opportunities like the annual National Reading Day in Cambodia to bring them to the book fair at the National Library in Phnom Penh.
Lucky for me, I have some tech-savvy friends who have introduced me to valuable resources for my kids’ education. One of them recommended the Khmer KorKa Kids app, which teaches children basic Khmer alphabets, vowels, and consonants through artwork and audio. Another friend brought my attention to the Let’s Read website, which offers a wealth of children’s books in the Khmer language, available for easy download in both EPUB and PDF formats.
During my spare time, I like to browse the Let’s Read website and download some ebooks for my kids to read over the weekend. I particularly appreciate the colorful illustrations and conversational stories, such as “ងូតទឹកភ្លៀង” or “Rain Shower”, which features tips and advice in a fun and engaging way.
The convenience of modern technology is something I cannot ignore. With a fast Fiber internet connection at home and mobile internet access on-the-go, I have unlimited access to information and resources for my kids’ education. I recall the days when I had to go to an Internet café to write and read, but now, with mobile internet readily available, the possibilities are endless.
For parents, it’s crucial to stay informed about useful and educational online resources and apps for kids, and I am grateful for the opportunities technology provides for my children’s learning and growth.
Also good read:
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