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Learning About Cambodian History: What to Read, Watch and Listen to

Updated: Apr 26

At Women Going Beyond, our goal is to empower and help young women in need. One of the main countries we focus on is Cambodia, as this country is particularly poverty-stricken and gender inequality is prevalent. Life there is challenging, but it is even more so for females. You can read about this in more detail here. But why is Cambodia like this? To better understand what life is like and why young women need our support, learning about the culture and history of this country is important. To get you started, we have compiled a list of films, podcasts and books that will help you become more informed.


Angkor Awakens Cambodia history documentary

1. A documentary: Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia directed by Robert H. Lieberman


A documentary is a superb place to start if you would like to learn about Cambodia, but you are short on time. Angkor Awakens provides a concise overview of the country's history through fascinating interviews with genocide survivors, experts and historians. Although the documentary mainly focuses on the years between 1975 and 79 when the country was under the Pol Pot regime, you will gain an insight into the most important events throughout Cambodia’s history. It also examines the country in the 21st century, reflecting on the devastating, lasting impacts that the Khmer Rouge atrocities have had on society.


First They Killed My Father Cambodia book by Loung Ung

2. A book (and movie): First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung


First They Killed My Father is a beautifully written memoir by Cambodian author Loung Ung. She shares the story of how she survived the genocide under the regime of Pol Pot. Written from the perspective of her as a young girl, this tragic yet inspiring story gives you a detailed insight into a child’s experience of life in Cambodia during the 1970s. Until the age of 5, Loung was a happy, healthy girl with a loving family and a good education. In 1975, Loung and her family were forced to flee Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge army stormed the city. She describes the harrowing events that follow in a riveting way, encapsulating the strength and bravery of the Cambodian people. If you prefer films to books, First They Killed My Father has also been made into a film.


Learning from Genocide podcast about Cambodia history

3. A podcast episode: Learning From Genocide podcast - Episode 3: Genocide in Cambodia by Holocaust Memorial Day Trust


Learning From Genocide is a 7-part podcast series by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. By shedding light on past tragedies, this podcast aims to educate people and honour genocide victims. Over these 7 episodes, you learn about genocides which occurred around the world through interviews with people who were directly affected by those atrocities. In episode 3, two Cambodians share their heart-breaking stories of survival during the 1970’s genocide under the regime of Pol Pot. This episode provides a very personal, detailed account of what life was like during this time from two different perspectives. These courageous individuals remind us of how important it is to learn from the past so that history does not repeat itself.


A History of Cambodia David Chandler Cambodia history book

4. A book: A History of Cambodia by David Chandler


A History of Cambodia is a non-fiction book which gives you exactly what the title states. The author and historian, David Chandler, takes you on a journey through time by exploring the historic events which have shaped Cambodia and the factors that have made the country what it is today. It is a comprehensive overview of the country’s history which provides valuable insight into the people and their culture. To ensure the book remained relevant since its first publication in 1983, it has been revised and updated several times to reflect recent research.


The Missing Picture documentary about Cambodia history by Rithy Panh

5. A documentary: The Missing Picture directed by Rithy Panh


This Oscar-nominated documentary on the Cambodian genocide under the regime of Pol Pot is presented in a unique way filled with shocking imagery. The Cambodian film director Rithy Panh takes a non-conventional approach to telling his personal story by using quaint clay figurines, archival footage and narration. Panh pulls from his own experience as a teenager as he was just 13 years old when the Khmer Rouge gained control of Cambodia. Now as an adult reflecting on this time, he longs to have tangible memories of his childhood and adolescent years. However, most cameras, films and photographs were destroyed when the Khmer Rouge came into power, so Panh feels a deep sense of loss. By using clay models in this film, Panh has made his own pictures from the past by creating intricate scenes based on his memories.



Whether you listen to a podcast, watch a film or read a book about Cambodia’s history, it probably won’t be light or easy. There are many wonderful aspects of this country’s past and culture, but there is also a dark side that we need to be aware of. We hope that something from this list has sparked your interest and that you feel inspired to learn more about Cambodia. If you have any of your own recommendations, please leave us a comment below.


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