Destination Cambodia: Adventures in the Kingdom

Destination Cambodia: Adventures in the Kingdom

Walter Mason’s Destination Cambodia: Adventures in the Kingdom is a gentle, intimate look at Cambodia today.

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Mason eschews writing both the usual political treatise and typical cliched travelogue you might otherwise typically find on the shelves about Cambodia, in favour of the highly personal memoir. He paints a detailed portrait of the kingdom through a series of quietly thoughtful vignettes of his relationships with her people.

As in Mason’s earlier Destination Saigon, nothing particularly extraordinary happens (though being left to deliver an impromptu speech on Buddhism and human rights in front of a crowd of prominent Cambodians and screened live on TV comes close) – and this is precisely what makes this 2014-published book such a delightfully engaging read.

Mason, who has been visiting Cambodia since the 1990s and stayed there for several months with a view to writing this book, bursts out of the usual Cambodian historian/journalist/NGO worker pigeonhole to write of his experiences as a large, gay Westerner with more than a passing interest in Buddhism. He seeks friendships with ordinary Cambodians and his nuanced accounts of his relationships with them speak volumes. While some of the usual tourist sights get a mention — Angkor of course, Tuol Sleng, and even Pyongyang Restaurant — Mason’s writing consistently comes from a fresh angle and will leave even those who think they know the country with a new way of looking at things.

Self-deprecating Mason is acutely self-aware of himself as a traveller, and a chronicler, as frustrating as this can be for him at times. In one scene he asks a friend what the nightclub name “Love Orange” refers to:

“My friend studied the sign carefully and said, ‘It means “Love Orange”.’ ‘Yes, but what on earth does “Love Orange” mean?’ I asked. My friend looked at me in confusion. ‘It means what it says, “to love oranges”, you know, the fruit.’... ‘But why on earth would someone call a nightclub “Love Orange”?’ I asked. ‘Probably the owner really loves oranges,’ said my friend as we walked on.” Ask a silly question, as they say…

Mason immerses himself in life in Phnom Penh, though he also travels to various spots around the country including Siem Reap and Battambang (and even Thailand's Khorat), drawing back a curtain on everyday life. There’s a consideration of poverty, for instance: “I was struck by the fact that one of the measures of poverty is the preoccupation with small circumstances. In my privileged life, everyone, even the most decorously struggling, was concerned with a much wider-spanning arc of existence. Futures, careers, relationships, home — these were all the serious concerns of the day. In Cambodia, people fretted about buying meals items of clothing, visits to the doctor, buying petrol. These immediate concerns were actual and acute problems that always needed solving.”

Read this if you’re heading to Cambodia and would like an introduction, or if you’ve travelled there and would like another, entertaining, perspective. You’ll be sad when you have to turn the final page on Mason and his eclectic cast of ordinary but rather special Cambodians.

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108 results found

Burma (Myanmar)

Burmese Days
Burmese Days

By George Orwell

Finding George Orwell
Finding George Orwell

By Emma Larkin

Miss Burma
Miss Burma

By Charmaine Craig

The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh

The Trouser People
The Trouser People

By Andrew Marshall

Cambodia

Dogs at the Perimeter
Dogs at the Perimeter

By Madeleine Thien

Holiday in Cambodia
Holiday in Cambodia

By Laura Jean McKay

Hun Sen’s Cambodia
Hun Sen’s Cambodia

By Sebastian Strangio

Hunters in the Dark
Hunters in the Dark

By Lawrence Osborne

King Norodom's Head
King Norodom's Head

By Steven W. Boswell

River of Time
River of Time

By Jon Swain

The Gate
The Gate

By Francoise Bizot

Indonesia

A House in Bali
A House in Bali

By Colin McPhee

Beauty is a Wound
Beauty is a Wound

By Eka Kurniawan

Black Water
Black Water

By Louise Doughty

Home
Home

By Leila S. Chudori

In the Time of Madness
In the Time of Madness

By Richard Lloyd Parry

Indonesia Etc.
Indonesia Etc.

By Elizabeth Pisani

On the Java Ridge
On the Java Ridge

By Jock Serong

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

By Lawrence Blair

The Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago

By Alfred Russel Wallace

The Rainbow Troops
The Rainbow Troops

By Andrea Hirata

The Year of Living Dangerously
The Year of Living Dangerously

By Christopher J. Koch

This Earth of Mankind
This Earth of Mankind

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano

By Cameron Forbes

Laos

Malaysia

Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

From Third World to First
From Third World to First

By Lee Kuan Yew

If I Could Tell You
If I Could Tell You

By Jing-Jing Lee

In Transit: An Anthology
In Transit: An Anthology

By Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Sarong Party Girls
Sarong Party Girls

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Singapore Noir
Singapore Noir

By Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan

State of Emergency
State of Emergency

By Jeremy Tiang

Sugarbread
Sugarbread

By Balli Kaur Jaswal

The Tower
The Tower

By Isa Kamari (translated by Alfian Sa'at)

Thailand

A Tiger in Eden
A Tiger in Eden

By Chris Flynn

Bangkok Found
Bangkok Found

By Alex Kerr

Hothouse Flower
Hothouse Flower

By Lucinda Riley

Jasmine Nights
Jasmine Nights

By S.P. Somtow

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind
Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

By Carol Hollinger

Many Lives
Many Lives

By M.R Kukrit Pramoj

Sightseeing
Sightseeing

By Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Thai Street Food
Thai Street Food

By David Thompson

The Beach
The Beach

By Alex Garland

The Drinking Food of Thailand
The Drinking Food of Thailand

By Andy Ricker with JJ Goode

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North

By Richard Flanagan

The Sad Part Was
The Sad Part Was

By Prabda Yoon

The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture
Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

By Philip Cornwel-Smith

Vietnam

Bright Shining Lie
Bright Shining Lie

By Neil Sheehan

Destination Saigon
Destination Saigon

By Walter Mason

Dragon Apparent
Dragon Apparent

By Norman Lewis

Fishing for Tigers
Fishing for Tigers

By Emily Maguire

The Lover
The Lover

By Marguerite Duras

The Quiet American
The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

The Refugees
The Refugees

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sorrow of War
The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh

The Sympathizer
The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried

By Tim O’Brien

When the War Was Over
When the War Was Over

By Elizabeth Becker

General