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Planning a trip to anywhere or even armchair traveling, a great way to learn more about a place is through books and movies. Cambodia is a place people often have vague notions of without a great deal of knowledge. You might remember Pol Pot’s Regime (depending on your age), have seen pictures of Angkor Wat or be familiar with Asian cooking from nearby neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. As our featured destination this month, we have a list of the best of books, cookbooks and movies about Cambodia to help get you in the mood and learn more about this ancient part of the world.
This is a handpicked selection of books (novels and non-fiction), cookbooks and movies. These items are also in the Compass & Fork shop for future reference.
Note: this post contains affiliate links.
Best of Books, Cookbooks and Movies about Cambodia
There are a lot of books about Cambodia, many of them about the Pol Pot Regime and the Khmer Rouge, this list covers that era but is also broader.
The Best of Books (non-fiction) about Cambodia
A River of Time: A Memoir of Vietnam and Cambodia– by Jon Swain
This is the memoir of British war correspondent Jon Swain. If you have seen the movie the Killing Fields, Jon Swain is the British journalist portrayed in the film.
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When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge by Chanrithy Him
First hand account from a survivor of the Khmer Rouge. As you travel you will meet people that have survived the Khmer Rouge and/or children of survivors. This provides an insight into one family’s experience during that time.
Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land by Joel Brinkley
This is one of the more recent books published about Cambodia (2012). It is a look at what happened under the Khmer Rouge and what has happened (or hasn’t) since. I read this book after traveling through Cambodia as I was curious about some of the things we saw. It provides a context to explain much of what you do see in present day Cambodia.
The Gate by Francois Bizot
This book receives excellent reviews. It is the first had account of the fall of Phnom Penh and the start of the Pol Pot regime. Bizot, who is French, was in Cambodia as an academic studying Cambodian Buddhism. This provides his own interesting perspective on events. (This has also recently been made into a movie.)
Ancient Angkor by Michael Freeman
This is a comprehensive guidebook for the Temples at Angkor. You can order on Amazon or you can buy this from someone at the temples. It is widely sold by enterprising folks. We bought a copy at the temples paying less than we would have if we had bought it at home, but obviously not bargaining very hard for it, as our guide laughed at us and thought we paid too much!
The Best of Fiction Books (Novels) about Cambodia
These novels cover different periods of life in Cambodia. Historical fiction can be a great way to bring history “to life”.
Temple of a Thousand Faces by John Shors
This is set in the glory years of Angkor Wat and is the tale of conflict and love during these ancient times.
A Woman of Angkor by John Burgess
Set during the 12th century in Cambodia when Angkor Wat was originally constructed.
In the Shadow of the Banyan: A Novel by Vaddey Ratner
A novel set during the Khmer Rouge tells the story of one family’s experience.
Cambodia Noir: A Novel by Nick Seeley
A new fictional crime novel set in Phnom Penh. Published in 2016, this book has received good reviews. It explores the seedy underworld of this bustling city.
The Best of Cookbooks about Cambodia
The Elephant Walk Cookbook by
The Exciting World of Cambodian Cuisine from the nationally acclaimed restaurant Elephant Walk restaurant in Boston, USA.
The Food & Cooking of Cambodia by Ghillie Basan
Over 60 authentic classic recipes from an undiscovered cuisine, shown step-by-step in over 250 stunning photographs; … using ingredients, equipment and techniques
The Best of Movies about Cambodia
There have been a number of movies made over the years about Cambodia, including numerous documentaries about the Temples of Angkor and Angkor Wat and films about the Khmer Rouge regime.
This category also contains movies filmed in Cambodia.
The Killing Fields
Perhaps the best known film about Cambodia. Made in 1984, it tells the story of the fall of Phnom Penh and the later occupation. It is set in the context of a British journalist, Jon Swain and his interpreter, Dith. Sam Waterson from Law and Order, stars in this film. If you are going to Cambodia, or have any interest in its history, this film is highly recommended.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Staring Angelina Jolie, some scenes are filmed at the Temples of Angkor. This film also starts Ms. Jolie’s interest in Cambodia and leads to her producing the next movie, a documentary about Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime.
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers
Due to be released in 2016, this film is directed by Angelina Jolie. It is based on the book by the same name, written by a survivor of the Pol Pot regime.
City of Ghosts
Stars Mat Dillon and James Caan, set in 1990’s Phnom Penh.
S21: Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (English Subtitled)
Documentary about S21, one of the Khmer Rouge prisons in Phnom Penh. S21 still stands in Phnom Penh and is open for visitors. It is a shocking reminder of what occurred in the not so distant past.
Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia
A documentary by Australian film-maker John Pilgar. This and other films by this director are available free on YouTube. Year Zero is the term Pol Pot gave to the first year of his rule.
We hope you find this list of the best of books, cookbooks and movies about Cambodia inspiring! Over the coming month we will share more content about Cambodia.
If you would like to see previously curated lists of books, cookbooks and movies from our featured destinations, you might enjoy:
The Best of Books, Cookbooks and Movies about Greece
The Best of Books, Cookbooks and Movies about Peru
The Best of Books, Cookbooks and Movies about Thailand
All of our previous recommendations of books, cookbooks and movies can also be found in the Compass & Fork Shop.
Have you read/seen any of the books, cookbooks and movies about Cambodia? Do you have any other recommendations about Cambodia? If so please leave a comment below. Thanks.
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Good recommendations, I have nothing much to say but congratulation to the list. I love it. These books and movies will give imagination and allow people to start to know Cambodia. I would suggest they read or watch them before they visit the country.
This will create experiences of knowing a country from a distance. Things might change a little bit when you put your foot in the country. I wish everyone has a great holiday in Cambodia.
Thank you Santel. We think it is important that tourists “educate” themselves as to the customs and culture before arriving in a new country. That way it adds more to the enjoyment of the trip and a better understanding of what they see when they arrive.