A few suggestions for your shortlist.
Published/Last edited or updated: 9th August, 2017
If you wander into Monument Book Store on the riverside to the south of Old Market, you’ll discover, among many others, about half a dozen shelves piled high with guidebooks to Angkor—but which one should you get? Here are a few that belong on your shortlist.
A Record of Cambodia—The Land and its People
This is a translation by Peter Harris of the accounts of a Chinese emissary who visited Angkor in 1296, when the empire was still at the height of its reach and strength. Zhou Daguan spent a year in Angkor and carefully recorded details of daily life, from the architecture, the customs and religions, trade, the natural world, holidays, agriculture and much more. His is the only surviving witness of daily life at Angkor and his perspective is fundamental to much of what we understand about the capital of the Khmer empire at this time. Some of his accounts will shock you, while you can still see scenes that he described more than 700 years ago being acted out today. See more on Amazon
Khmer Mythology—Secrets of Angkor
The temples of Angkor are renowned for the unique beauty of the carvings that adorn them. The ancient Khmers excelled at this art form, employing a complexity and artistry that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. The carvings depict scenes from the Hindu epics, especially the Ramayana, the Buddha’s life and Buddhist legends as well as representations of great battles and ordinary scenes from daily life. The best account and explanation of all these can be found in Vittorio Roveda’s book, Khmer Mythology—Secrets of Angkor. He carefully describes the legends involved, and the elements and symbols employed by the Khmers, in a way that will add another dimension to your experience of the temples. See more on Amazon
With Ancient Angkor Claude Jacques and Michael Freeman have produced a lovely, insightful guide to the temples that fully employs Jacques’ academic expertise and Freeman’s photographic skills. The text is authoritative and lively, and beautifully illustrated. Lightweight and easy to carry even in a pocket, it is one of the most popular guides to the temples available. See more on Amazon
Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples
Dawn Rooney is an art historian who has focused on Angkor, and other parts of Southeast Asia, for more than 30 years now. Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples is her principal guidebook and is regarded as one of the most authoritative on Angkor, providing a richly detailed account of the history, art and architecture of the temples. Her large book may be a little heavy for porting around the Angkor Park, and there is a lighter version with condensed descriptions that may be more convenient. See more on Amazon
Focusing on the Angkor Temples
The latest to be produced is a work by Michel Petrochenko. No historian or academic, he is in fact a photographer for whom the temples have evidently become an object of fascinated devotion. His book, Focusing on the Angkor Temples, was 10 years in the making and it shows. It adroitly presents an enormous wealth of information in a way that is engaging, easy to consume and absolutely teeming with fascinating little nuggets of information. It’s what every guidebook should be like, appealing as it does to almost every conceivable customer, without alienating anyone either. Whether you’re an academically minded nerd, a geek who loves random bits of esoteric information, an aesthete, or simply looking for superficial little bits and pieces that will enhance your connection to what you’re seeing at the temples, this book will work for you. It’s all there, and very easy to navigate. Temple plans are broken down and colour coded making it easy for readers to situate themselves and hunt out the interesting little details that he illuminates. See more on Amazon
An Interactive Guide to Angkor
Archaeologist Dougald O’Reilly collaborated with noted Southeast Asia scholar Professor Charles Higham of the University of Otago (who provides the voiceover) to create An Interactive Guide to Angkor which should appeal to the iPad-enabled traveller. At 88 pages in length, it covers many of the sites most travellers to the region would be interested in, is illustrated with excellent photos, 3D interactive renderings of some of the main sites, maps, plans and even a “traffic map”, which illustrates the best time to visit any of the monuments. Professor Higham narrated large sections of the book, which are accessed by touching an icon corresponding to a particular part of the monument. This means you can be standing at the southeast corner of the Bayon, tap the voiceover icon and the guide will talk you through exactly what you’re looking at. This is ideal for solo travellers who can just plug in a set of headphones, but would also work for small groups as the voiceover is clear and easy to follow. While the selection of monuments isn’t exhaustive, many of the favourites are included. We paid A$9.99 for the app via the Apple AppStore .
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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