I derive most of my pleasure from reading these days. Whether it’s a physical book or an online publication, reading has been an excellent way for me to learn about different cultures, develop income streams, and even improve my interpersonal relationships.
This list comprises my favorite books for traveling in Asia. Each book provides insight into different cultures, and many are autobiographical. What they all have in common is that they are incredibly captivating.
This list is constantly growing and evolving as I discover new and interesting books to add. For now, here are the books I’ve read cover to cover over the past two years and highly recommend:
“First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers” by Loung Ung.
This is one of the most powerful books I have ever read and provides an excellent insight into Cambodia’s troubled past. It helped me appreciate the resilience and warmth of the Cambodian people today. The book details the loss, hardships, and horrific realities of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia from 1975 in a way that brought tears to my eyes on multiple occasions.
It was a difficult read at times, with moments that made my hair stand on end as I was immersed in the childhood story of this remarkable woman. Her strength and courage shine through as she transforms from a spoiled city child to a strong, independent fighter. For those traveling to Cambodia, understanding the genocide is crucial to comprehending how the country has evolved into what it is today.
“Miss Bangkok: Memoirs of a Thai Prostitute” by Bua Boonmee
This is not a comprehensive guide to Thailand or its rich culture. However, it cannot be denied that many people visit Thailand as sex tourists. This book sheds light on how some women end up in the sex industry and provides a revealing account.
Without giving too much away, it’s a powerful story that explains why some women resort to this line of work to survive. I would wager that many customers of the Thai sex industry are unaware of the harsh realities behind the scenes.
“Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Journey Through Vietnam’s Landscape and Memory” by Andrew X. Pham
This book is a captivating page-turner penned by an author with a natural talent for writing. Reading his words helped me develop as a writer, as a traveler in Vietnam, and even as an American. Andrew X. Pham was born in war-torn Vietnam, and he and his family risked their lives to come to the United States as refugees when he was a child. He grew up feeling like an outsider in the United States and, as an adult, felt like a stranger in his homeland. His goal was to cycle across the country, and while that would have been a compelling story in itself, it was Andrew’s cultural reflections and personal struggles that made it so fascinating to me.
Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Vietnam. As a white American, it’s remarkable how different our experiences turned out to be. If you read this before or even during a trip to Vietnam, you will be deeply moved.
“Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Nepal’s Lost Children Home” by Conor Grennan
It was the first book I read during my travels in Southeast Asia. It had a profound impact on me, and I traveled to Nepal on my own less than a year and a half later. Grennan’s self-deprecating writing style in the early parts of the book endeared him to me as a reader and made me empathize with him as he made one shocking discovery after another about orphanages in Nepal.
Whether or not you plan to visit Nepal, this is an excellent read that I have recommended time and again to friends and family.
“Sold” by Patricia McCormick is a novel based on the true stories of thousands of girls who were trafficked from Nepal to India to become sex slaves. While it’s not a feel-good book filled with puppies and rainbows on every page, I believe that reading about such topics is important for understanding the world in all its complexity – both the good and the bad. Through awareness and education, we can foster growth and change.
Any Buddhist country
(Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, parts of China, the list goes on)
“What Makes You Not a Buddhist” by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
The title of this book is somewhat misleading. At first glance, it appears to be a lengthy, dry, and dull account of the religion. In reality, it’s a brilliant, engaging, and easy-to-understand explanation of Buddhism as a philosophy of life, love, and loss. Although I’m not religious, this book has truly changed my life and perspective for the better. It helped me understand change, what’s truly important in life, and helped me embrace compassion and release anger.
I know that’s a lot to attribute to a book, but it opened up a world to me that I couldn’t otherwise comprehend given my background and Western upbringing. The author does an excellent job of explaining Buddhism in a Western context without promoting it as a religion, making it suitable for people of any religious or cultural background. It was a valuable introduction for me before embarking on a 10-day silent meditation in Thailand. In short, it simply aims to promote understanding.
This is the book I most often recommend to friends who are traveling, undergoing a period of transformation, or simply seeking to better understand life in general. Best of all, all profits are donated.
All over Asia
Conquer the Mountains: How to Solo the World Without Fear
I created this guide after three years of solo travel, two of which were spent in Asia. After returning from five consecutive years of solo travel, I updated it with new information on how to overcome the fear of traveling alone, stay safe on the road, and save and earn money while traveling. I’ve also included case studies and tips from other solo female travelers. This is the ultimate resource for women traveling alone!
Anywhere in Southeast Asia
“A Thousand New Beginnings: Tales of Solo Female Travels in Southeast Asia” is a memoir I wrote during my first year of solo travel in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Australia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It’s the personal story of my decision to leave my job and boyfriend behind to travel alone with nothing but a one-way ticket and a backpack.
The book includes excerpts from this blog as well as many previously unpublished journal entries about falling in love, healing from heartbreak, and encountering surprises at every turn on the road.
I read all my books on a Kindle because carrying heavy books would hinder my goal of traveling light. Since I usually have 2-3 books on the go at once, I need them in electronic format. Plus, I can save highlights and clippings for future reference, which comes in handy.
I’m always on the lookout for new additions to this list, so if you know of a good read, please let me know!