12 September 2002

Book Review: Off the Rails in Phnom Penh (2000), by Amit Gilboa, ****


Phnom Penh in the 1990s is a city of beauty and degradation, tranquillity and violence, and tradition and transformation; a city of temples and brothels, music and gunfire, and festivals and coups...

But for many, it is simply an anarchic celebration of insanity and indulgence. Whether it is the $2 wooden shack brothels, the marijuana-pizza restaurants, the AK-47 fireworks displays, or the intricate brutality of Cambodian politics, Phnom Penh never ceases to amaze and amuse. For an individual coming from a modern Western society, it is a place where the immoral becomes acceptable and the insane becomes normal as they search for love in the brothels or adventure into the dark heart of guns, girls and ganja.


This is an easy book to read. You will earn a genuine view of how debauchery and flimsiness governed this place in the 1990s, at least from the point of view of some foreigners who are not exactly sure what they are there to do in the first place. The book is largely anecdotal and interesting for that. It almost totally lacks analysis, which one would have expected from a professional writer like the author. You can almost breathe the air in Phnom Penh while reading this book, you can feel high, but I am not sure how much you understand... but there are other books for that. If you are not a young and slightly nut Westerner but would like to experience Cambodia like if you were one... this book is for you!! :-)

03 September 2002

Book Review: Meet the Akhas (1996) by Jim Goodman, ****

A comprehensive introduction to the Akha hill tribals of Northern Thailand and their way of life includes a language section to enable you to talk tom your hosts. The Akha of Thailand, as well as those of China, are the same ethnic group as those we met in Laos. Their history and culture do not follow the political borders of the map.

02 September 2002

Bibliography: Books on Cambodia and Laos


Morello, Massimo: "Mekong Story. Lungo il cuore d'Acqua del Sud-Est asiatico", (Milano, Touring Club Italiano, 2006)

Gargan, Edward A.: "The River's Tale: A year on the Mekong" (New York: Knopf, 2002). One year savoring the beauty of the river.

Goodman, Jim: "Meet the Akhas" (Bangkok, White Lotus, 1996). A detailed account of a little-known minority.

Swain, Jon: "River of Time" (London: Vintage, 1996). An account of the final years of the Vietnam war.

Road Map: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Freytag & Berndt.


Bizot, François: "The Gate". A French tells of his hair-raising experience among the Khmer Rouge and then in the French embassy, where hundreds had sought refuge.

Chandler, David: "Voices from S-21". The most detailed research into the main torture center of the Khmer Rouge, lots of direct testimonies from the victims.

Fröberg Idling, Peter: "Il sorriso di Pol Pot" (Milano: Iperborea, 2006) Un gruppo di svedesi ha il privilegio di visitare la Cambogia dei Khmer Rossi e ne torna entusiasta: non capivano o non vedevano?

Gilboa, Amit: "Off the Rails in Phnom Penh", (Bangkok: Asia Books, 1998). Funny and not so funny anecdotes from the 1990s.

Sach, Anita: "Cambodia, Bradt Travel guide", (Bucks, England: Bradt, 2001). The best guidebook on Cambodia's culture.

Shawcross, William: "Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger and the Destruction of Cambodia", (New York: Cooper Square, 2002).

Terzani, Tiziano: "Fantasmi: Dispacci dalla Cambogia". Raccolta di articoli del corrispondente tra la metà degli anni 70 e la metà degli anni 90 del XX secolo.  

Ung, Loung: "First they killed my father", (Edinburgh: Mainstream, 2001). The Khmer Rouge crimes as seen through the eyes of a child.


Bounyavong, Outhine: "Mother's beloved" (Seattle: U. of Washington, 1999). Translations of Laotian tales with a good introduction.

Murphy, Dervla: "One Foot in Laos", (London: John Murray, 1999).An unusual journey on foot by a seasoned super leftist writer.

Footprint Guide: Laos Handbook, 2000, 2nd Edition. This was, at the time of my travel, the best guidebook available on Laos, but make sure you get the latest edition.