Movie: The Killing Fields
Guidebook: Footprint Cambodia Handbook
(I have added another essential book for Cambodia.)
People always ask a traveler, “What was your favorite destination?” I have found something to love about everywhere I go, so choosing a favorite might be difficult. However, I can answer without hesitation that the place of my travels that stays in my heart and mind is Cambodia. I might feel quite different had I gone to busy and sometimes sad Pnom Phen. Instead I focused on Siem Riep and the temples of Angkor Wat.
The landscape of varied green trees and rice paddies all misty like a water color painting. The romantic and relentless twining of fig tree roots around gray rocks that once were sturdy walls, now tumbled into abstract sculptures creating ponds for croaking frogs. The enormous and intimidating heads towering above the yellow-clad bicycling monks at Ta Prohm. The delicate carvings in golden stone at Banteay Srei, the Woman’s Temple.
I would like to find a book that reflects the Buddhist calm of the country (I constantly caught myself thinking, “How can they smile so much with such a dreadful recent history?”) and the beauty of the countryside. For now I am stuck with books that tell the stories of the worst days of Cambodia. Americans tend to freeze Cambodia in the years after the Vietnamese War. We have a sense of remorse and guilt, but the history is deep and rich before that time.
A must, of course, for the wartime memory, is the movie The Killing Fields, with Sam Waterson. Our guide in Cambodia pointed vaguely in the direction of the killing fields near Siem Reap–the famous ones are near Pnom Phen–but didn’t want to take us there, because he felt it was best NOT to remember.
There are more good travel guidebooks to Cambodia now than when I went there ten years ago, but I learned much about the history, art and architecture of Cambodia from the Footprint Cambodia Handbook . The other books I read were about grim history and war, and I did not record their titles.
Here are some books I have not read yet:
- When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him, a memoir of what the Cambodians refer to as the time of Pol Pot.
- First They Killed My Father by Loung Un
- The Stones Cry Out: A Cambodian Childhood 1975- 1980
- Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War by Karen J. Coates. This one sounds very promising, and I am hoping my library has it, because the price is quite high.
Photos by VMB, who apologizes for the pre-digital qualiy. All rights reserved.
You can see an article I wrote about Cambodian monks at Killing the Buddha web site.
YOUR TURN. Before I launch blindly into adding one or all of these to my travel library, what are your recommendations? And have you found a good book about present day Cambodia, or literature of Cambodia other than memoirs of the Pol Pot times? Have you traveled to Cambodia? What did you read? And next we will talk about Vietnam.