The Best Books For Travelers To Asia

Andrew X. Pham Author Of Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam
By Andrew X. Pham

The Books I Picked & Why

From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey

By Pascal Khoo Thwe

From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey

Why this book?

A Paduang tribesman journeys from a distant mountain village to Mandalay to become a university student but soon finds himself caught up in protests against the military dictatorship. He becomes a revolutionary and fights in harrowing battles. Somehow through it all, he escapes and, thanks to a random friendship with a stranger, journeys to England to study at Cambridge University. Exquisitely detailed and lyrically written, his memoir stands as a fine work of literature, rare and utterly unique. Consider it a travel memoir in reverse.


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A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East

By Tiziano Terzani

A Fortune-Teller Told Me: Earthbound Travels in the Far East

Why this book?

Terzani is one of those grizzled war correspondents from the old days, a man of vast knowledge and keen observations. He is gifted with the storyteller’s tongue and the artist’s eyes. His travels, adventures, and reflections, noted over two decades ago, are as timely today as ever. This is a must-read semi-modern classic.


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The Lover

By Marguerite Duras, Barbara Bray

The Lover

Why this book?

Travel back in time to colonial Vietnam with this exquisite memoir about a girl’s coming of age in an exotic land. Duras’ narrative voice is magic itself—at times soft as silk, and at other times, hard, brilliant as a diamond. Read it for tone. Read it for wisdom. Read it for the first love that echoes for a lifetime. Fly across the decades, down the length of a lifetime, within a hundred pages.


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Iron & Silk

By Mark Salzman

Iron & Silk

Why this book?

This classic about a young American teacher’s adventures in post Cultural Revolution China set the standard for “travel memoir”. Salzman’s journey is captivating and unique because it is, at its core, a love story with the country, the culture, the people, and martial arts—the sort of adoration that could only manifest in youth. He gives himself entirely to the experience and, thus, takes the reader along with him. A wonderful book that lingers in the memory for decades.


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Survival in the Killing Fields

By Roger Warner, Haing Ngor

Survival in the Killing Fields

Why this book?

There are beach reads and there are must reads. Ngor’s memoir is the latter, preferably consumed in the secure comforts of one’s own home. Known for his Oscar-winning role in the movie The Killing Fields, Ngor is a Cambodian doctor who survived the country-wide massacre committed by the Khmer Rouge (who were funded by the Chinese Communists). He narrates his personal journey through the deepest horrors in human history, full of savagery, unrelenting brutality, and often sheer madness. It is a heavy story, difficult and disturbing, but also a story of the human spirit. We do not need to look far to find the true heart of darkness.  


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