Reading and Viewing List for Your Trip to Cambodia

By Clarcie Howell, Regional Director

If you’re looking for a way to get back to Cambodia, might these titles suffice…

No traveler ever wants to leave Cambodia. We know this, here at ARCC, because we hear it every summer from every student and every leader who has the opportunity to visit this warm country. Each time a gap semester or teen summer service program ends, we have students and leaders telling us they can’t wait to go back.

Cambodia is a country rich in history, both connected to the rest of Southeast Asia and what used to be known by the French as “IndoChina,” and yet completely, uniquely Cambodian. In the late 1970s, Cambodia was taken over by a group called the Khmer Rouge. Unspeakable acts were performed across the country in an attempt to return to an uncivilized, agrarian society. These atrocities have played a huge role in Cambodia’s history, culture, society, and literature today.

Since that troubling period, and a subsequent civil war, Cambodia has risen from both literal and metaphoric ashes to become the charming and welcoming country that it is today. Angkor Wat is rightly the greatest attraction in Cambodia, but travelers to the ancient country are often more taken by the people. A population largely under the age of 30, Cambodians look to improve their country with smiles and positivity; not forgetting their past, but refusing to let it hold them back.

In the books below, you’ll find that emphasis of compassion in the face of atrocity, and an inside look at what makes Cambodia a place worth traveling. Or, if you’re longing for a way to get back to Cambodia, might these titles suffice in the meantime:

Books to Read Before Visiting Cambodia

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, by Loung Ung:

Just five years old when the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh, her home, Luong grew up in the midst of a genocide she hardly understood. Through her own childhood eyes, Luong recounts her tale of survival and defeat in a Cambodia turned on its head.

Angelina Jolie, adored by the Cambodian people, adapted Loung’s story for a 2017 Netflix Film under the same title.

In The Shadow of the Banyan, by Vaddey Ratner:

Much like First They Killed My Father, this novel tells the story of survival from the Khmer Rouge through the eyes of a child, but this time as a piece of historical fiction. As Raami bears witness to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, she clings to memories of her father, particularly through the myths and poems he recounted to her when they were together.

Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land, by Joel Brinkley:

As a journalist, Brinkley covered the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, and was in Cambodia when the UN became a protectorate of the unstable country in the early 1990s. After the turn of the century, he returned to Cambodia, and in this non-fiction narrative, relates the wonderful people of Cambodia, young and old, and their eternal struggle with the past.

Holiday in Cambodia, by Laura Jean McKay:

If you’re looking for something a bit more fictional and illusory, this collection of stories explores the world of tourism in a post-colonial Cambodia. McKay’s characters run into everything from the Khmer Rouge to Vampires to Vietnam-war time dancers.

Films to View Before Visiting Cambodia

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, 2001

While not the most academic of suggestions, Tomb Raider, and especially its principal actress, Angelina Jolie, are very popular among locals, especially those who can show you around the temple of Ta Phrom at Angkor, the legendary temple that hosted much of the filming. Jolie fell in love with Cambodia during filming, and went on to become a hero of the country through her humanitarian projects.

Two Brothers, 2004

Filmed in a mostly-forgotten temple near Angkor Wat, this is a story about two tigers, separated in their youth, made to fight one another as adults. A comment on much more than the bonds between human and animal, this film is a telling of colonial rule in pre-WWII Indochina and its effect on natives and their history.

The Killing Fields, 1984

Winner of over 25 awards, including Academy and Golden Globes, this film has caused controversy, conversation, and ultimately a broader understanding surrounding the events of the Khmer Rouge takeover and genocide of “unwanted” Cambodian peoples. Our students on summer programs and gap semesters watch this film in a local theater in Phnom Penh, and recommend it as a film for all who seek to understand human nature better.

ARCC Programs has offered summer travel programs for teens for over 35 years. With travel programs for teens on six continents, there is something for everyone. Find a summer program on our website or request a catalog today.