Asia, Book Club, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Travel Tips

3 Books to Read Before Heading to Asia

21st November 2017

As a kid I would read a book every night before bed. My sister has some sort of photographic memory for reading and barely looks at the page of her books before moving on to the next one. In typical second child fashion everything she did, I wanted to do. I’d read as much as I could but would never be able to keep up, and for every book I would read she would literally get through 6 or 7!

As I got older I stopped reading, started drinking and going out, reading was less cool. I hate to admit it but the last 10 years I would say I have only read books while I have been on holiday. Those books are always of trashy chick lit genre or the crime thriller genre.

‘Never judge a book by it’s cover’ That age old saying to live our lives by, and I fully agree with it. Except literally in the context of books. I choose a book by standing in WH Smiths at the airport and pick out the most colourful, attractive looking covers. And I hate to be smug, but it’s always worked out well for me so far!

I decided to raise my reading game before setting off on my travels. Not only immersing myself in the Lonely Planets for each country I want to see, but by researching the history of the countries and finding books to paint a better picture of the real things that had happened there.

The books below are all ones I have read from start to finish, books I couldn’t put down and books I couldn’t recommend highly enough to anyone thinking about setting off on their travels across South East Asia in particular!

Finding George Orwell in Burma

Emma Larkin

In high school I remember studying 1984 written by George Orwell, where everyone is a slave to the ‘regime’ and your thoughts and actions are controlled by ‘them’. Big Brother is always watching. This concept has been taken into the modern day through the TV show, Big Brother, which is ridiculous and nothing to be taken seriously. But when you think this is actually how some people have been forced to live, it is scary!

Emma Larkin writes this book on her journey through Myanmar /Burma. She is using George Orwell’s life and work to guide her around the country. As she is exploring Orwell’s life she has spotted many similarities between the story of 1984 and the way people live in Burma today. Emma’s book was only published in 2o11 and really shows a side to Burma that proves ‘Big Brother’ is very much watching and controlling them. They’re living in a society where they cannot speak their minds, those that do face prison. She at one point suggests that if Orwell hadn’t been living in Burma he may never have actually written 1984. Emma is travelling around Burma by herself, and local people are scared to speak to her. She has to speak in code and be careful who she can trust to be able to have a conversation about the way they are all living. Everyone is too scared to speak out against the government for fear of being jailed.

I found this book shocking, I consider myself to be well educated and yet I had no idea that this was happening in Burma as recently as 6 years ago.

I am currently sat in the airport in Bangkok to go to Mandalay and there is so much news around the problems in Myanmar right now. In a nutshell, there are an estimated 1.1million Rohingya people living in Myanmar. They speak a different language to the government and are considered ‘stateless people’. Without the same education, medical and general human rights as others in Myanmar they aren’t welcome to the same quality of life. The military launched a ‘clearance operation’ and have been driving them out of their towns and forcing them to flee and try to escape over the borders, many to Bangladesh as that is the nearest neighbouring country.

The government in Myanmar are putting the death toll to be under 400 people, whereas the UN seems to be under the impression it is closer to 3000 people! The fact that freedom of speech isn’t a human right over there makes me believe the second figure over the governments very low one. Reading this book has really helped me to understand how this has been kept under wraps to the outside world for so long, and I am really glad that international media is beginning to report on these things happening. Because with more of a spot light on the government in Myanmar this will stop them being able to get away with the things they have been doing.

First They Killed My Father

by Ung. Loung

I couldn’t put this book down and I highly recommend that anyone planning on visiting, or has previously visited, Cambodia gets their hands on a copy.

While visiting Cambodia I visited S-21 and The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh which made for an incredibly sad and eye opening day. Before visiting the country I didn’t understand exactly what had happened in the county under the awful period of time when Pol Pot and the Khumer Rouge were in control. Visiting S-21, which is now the genocide museum, you learn a lot about what happened to those captured and tortured under the regime. The Killing Fields are an eerie place, where you learn what happened to the bodies of those being killed.

After my visit I thought a lot about what the country had been through and how horrific things had been. The book by Ung Loung is her life story, she was a small child when the Khumer Rouge soldiers took power and with her family, they escaped Phnom Penh and went into hiding in the smaller villages.

Her story is so sad. It broke my heart learning what happened in that time through a child’s eyes. Understanding how the Cambodian people were treated, moved around, split up, families torn apart and lives ruined was such an eye opener. This all happened between 1975 and 1979, which is really not long ago! Uni Loung survived, but her parents and some siblings did not.

The recent history of Cambodia is incredibly sad, but when you visit now the people are so warm and friendly, it is a beautiful country which has seen some horrendous times. I think it puts into perspective how lucky we are and as I said, I strongly recommend reading it for yourself and taking the time to learn a little more about a nation who’s lives were turned upside down.

Angelina Jolie has always been in love with Cambodia as a country, and has actually made this book into a film. I’m not 100% sure if and when it is out, but keep an eye on Netflix if you’re not into the reading side of things!

Cast of the “First They Killed My Father” New York Premiere on September 14, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)


The Beach

Alex Garland

Ok, ok, I know this isn’t a real story! HOWEVER, it’s a bloody good book and teamed with the film it has certainly boosted Thailand’s tourism industry.

In ‘The Beach’ a young American backpacker heads to Thailand to explore. He meets a crazy guy in his first hostel in Bangkok and the adventure starts there.

With a dodgy map in hand Richard and two new friends set off to find this paradise island. It is obviously massively exaggerated but it’s a great book and you can totally understand why people head to Thailand hungry for adventure.

The film was set in Maya Beach which is far from the deserted paradise you see on screen, it’s a massive tourist trap which is shame but it doesn’t alter how beautiful it is. Once Richard and co find the island they realise life isn’t the dream it first seems to be once you are living there. After quite a bit of drama and a mix up with some drug lords the surviving characters head back home to real life. If you aren’t into reading the book you should at least watch the film, it’s on Netflix and hello … Leo is in it!

So there you have it, so far three bloody good books I have read and couldn’t recommend highly enough to you all!

Let me know if there are any travel books you think I need to read and what your favourite ones are!

Some other useful posts on travel in Asia are below for you to have a peek if you fancy it 🙂





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