Volunteering or travelling in Cambodia is about seeing wonderful places and getting immersed in a different culture with its own unique history. We recommend all visitors and volunteers to take some time to learn about the country before visiting it. It will help you understand the reality of the country behind what you see on the surface. Here’s a small selection of books and movies we like to recommend for people who want to visit Cambodia for the first time.
Notable books on Cambodia
First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung
Loung Ung’s powerful autobiography is a terrifying and emotionally draining narrative that describes her experience during one of history’s darkest revolutions.
Lucky Child by Loung Ung
Loung Ung’s follow-up to First They Killed My Father describes Ung’s experiences as a young refugee in the United States in parallel with her sister’s life in a Cambodian village.
When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him
Chanrithy Him’s memoir is an excellent first person’s account of the harrowing environment brought about by the Khmer Rouge regime.
Angkor by George Coedes
The premier study of the Cambodia’s ancient temples.
Cambodian Folk Stories from the Gatiloke
Fifteen folk stories with origins in the teachings of Buddhist monks.
Movies about Cambodia, with a point of view
First They Killed My Father (2017)
This is a biographical historical thriller film directed by Angelina Jolie, based on Loung Ung’s memoir of the same name. Loung Ung is five years old when the Khmer Rouge assumes power over Cambodia in 1975. They soon begin a four-year reign of terror and genocide in which nearly two million Cambodians die. Forced from her family’s home in Phnom Penh, Ung is trained as a child soldier while her six siblings are sent to labor camp.
The Killing Fields (1984)
The fundamental movie to see about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge period. The film describes the effects of Pol Pot’s dictatorship amongst the real story of friendship between American journalist Sydney Schanberg and his Cambodian translator Dith Pran.
City of Ghosts (2002)
Matt Dillon, bewitched by the seedier side of Cambodia after several visits, wrote, directed, and starred in this attempt at a modern noir set in Phnom Penh in the gritty early 1990s. Not necessarily a great movie, but it’s certainly interesting to see how much Phnom Penh has changed since the early 1990s.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
This video game adaptation features lengthy action sequences filmed in Angkor Wat and particularly in Ta Prohm. This is the film that first brought Angelina Jolie to Cambodia and put the country on the tourist map once again. Many guides still reference this film when showing the Ta Promh temple!
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock ‘n’ Roll (2014)
This documentary shows Cambodia’s Golden Age, when Phnom Penh was a thriving creative hub. During the 1960s and the early 1970s, Cambodian rock ‘n’ roll was booming, the capital was dubbed the “pearl of Asia”, and life was good. Then came the Khmer Rouge, who targeted artists as part of their genocidal regime that reigned from 1975 to 1979, which resulted in the death of 95% of the country’s artists. Moving and informative.
If you would still like to read more books or see more movies about Cambodia, here are some nice collections you can check out.
- The best books about Cambodia by Lina Goldberg
- 5 best books about Cambodia by Walter Mason
- Top films to watch before visiting Cambodia by Culture Trip
- 6 books to read before making your way to Cambodia by Culture Trip
- Top 10 books about Cambodia by the Guardian