Reading Culture in Cambodia

Today, I am reading a “Self-enrichment” book in Khmer, compiled and written by Mr. Kim Channa. I like to read his books. He has written and compiled so far 19 books and they are widely on sale in the book centers and in the markets in Phnom Penh and across Cambodia. I have read many books of other Cambodian writers as well.

 Many reasons why I like reading his books are as follows:

  • his Khmer written style is easy to follow, to understand, very well structured and orderly organized
  • many good stories, guidance, slogans, proverbs, speeches from famous books of well-known world leaders, personalities, writers, leadership’s Guru inside
  • practical examples, successful case studies of highly successful people, including his owns
  • the design of the cover and the layout are quite attractive
  • the fond used is good and readable
  • very few spelling mistakes or wrong facts

Kim Channa's books on sale store in a book center

I, myself, own more than ten of his books and have read all of them. I like reading since my childhood and always have books with me while travelling or going elsewhere. I enjoy reading very much. Every morning, I could not start to do anything properly before reading important news/headlines in at least four newspapers (2 in Khmer and 2 in English).

To me, there are some benefits one could get from reading good books. Good written books help us to:

  • improve our knowledge, either general or technical
  • enhance our (creative) thinking ability
  • generate (new) ideas
  • improve our memory and train our brain
  • think focally
  • practice self-discipline
  • reduce boring feeling and have fun
  • understanding more words, concepts and theories
  • improving our reflection capacity
  • make time useful for our life
  • share our gained knowledge and experiences with others etc.

 However, I have observed that in our country there are still not so many people who like reading, including ordinary people, pupils, and students at all levels and even teachers or lecturers. Or people just read what is required to be read by someone else. From my points of view there are several factors which lead to this “low reading culture” :

  • Poverty. 26% of Cambodians are still living under the poverty line. So, for them food for the stomach is much more important than food for the brain
  • Illiteracy rate. It is estimated that around 30% of adults could not read and write properly
  • turbulent history. Many educated people, including writers, were eliminated during the Khmer Rouge period. The country needs time to produce new human resources to be able to read and write
  • wrong perception of some people: “reading makes headache or learning makes you crazy”
  • passive learning culture. Most teachers still required their students to learn by heart. Good students should be able to memorize all the learning stuff and put on the paper during exam to get good points

Biographies of world-famous people compiled and easy written in Khmer for children

But the trend is positive. There are currently program designed by many organizations and state institutions to encourage people to read such as building more libraries at schools, using mobile library facilities, publishing more simple books and fairy tale for children and many more feature and scientific magazines, set up reading centers, public and private internet cafe, reading awards projects etc. Romans, facts magazines, history books, biographies, self-enrichment and leadership books are easy to find and affordable.

There are plenty of books in Khmer, in English, Chinese and some other languages of all political colors available in the markets. We could find books of Cambodian politicians -even political opponents -posting side by side for sale. For example: books of Pen Sovann, Hun Sen, Prince Ranariddh, Nhek Bunchhay, Norodom Sihanouk, Khieu Samphan, Pol Pot, Mong Rithy, Tea Banh, and many others are easy to get and with reasonable price. This is good evidences of open political culture and freedom of speech, where it is lacking in some neighboring countries.

Books of Pen Sovann, Hun Sen and the Khmer Rouge regime posted side by side for sale

Many Cambodian writers start to write and sell their books. Many publishing houses are open for business. More and more books shops are open. More and more people start to find some food for their brains, since they have enough food for the stomach already.One of the challenges to support the reading and writing culture is the fight against copy rights abusers. One option would be to produce the book with high quality than the copied one with cheaper/reasonable price so that it is better for affordable users to buy original book than copied one.



  1. I have just fill a servay in my school about reading culture in university. In my school, there is a campaign called D.E.A.R which mean Drop Everything And Read. They try to promote reading habit which is very important.

    • Chhouk

      To Nana,
      I am now working on “Building reading Habit with Cambodian student” for my dissertation. Do you have any related document on this.
      Best Regard,



  1. កំសាន្ត​វីដេអូ៖ បី​ថ្ងៃ​នៅ​ប្រទេស​កម្ពុជា « ស្រុកខ្មែរ ស្នេហ៍ខ្ញុំ

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