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Off the Rails in Phnom Penh: Into the Dark Heart of Guns, Girls, and Ganja
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Off the Rails in Phnom Penh: Into the Dark Heart of Guns, Girls, and Ganja

3.24 of 5 stars 3.24  ·  rating details  ·  293 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Phnom Penh is a city of beauty and degradation, tranquillity and violence, and tradition and transformation; a city of temples and brothels, music and gunfire, and festivals and coups.

But for many, it is simply an anarchic celebration of insanity and indulgence. Whether it is the $2 wooden shack brothels, the marijuana-pizza restaurants, the AK-47 fireworks displays, or t

Paperback, 206 pages
Published December 1st 2000 by Asia Books (first published July 25th 1998)
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Although the author is certainly no Hunter S. Thompson as the cover may imply, this is a factual and intriguing look at the seedier side of an already seemy city, Phnom Penh. I bought this from a child selling books out of a basket in Phnom Penh, actually, and this book describes the Cambodian capital very realistically.

People here on Goodreads often call the author talentless, spineless, a terrible person for sleeping with hookers, etc. My regret with the novel was actually that Gilboa did not...more
Josh Fish
The only thing this book is worth is the anthropological perspective on expats in the nineties in Cambodia.

These people are A-holes, using women in brothels in the worst ways possible. I just wanted to reach into this book and beat the hell out of these guys. Plus the author seems to celebrate this behavior, even partially participating in it, saying things like, that's just how it goes in Cambodia, and they really care about these women. I'm sorry, if they really cared they wouldn't subjugate...more
This book pissed me off for many reasons. I'll first begin by outlining the most trivial of these and get myself gradually more worked up to finish in a full rant.
Firstly, it's bloody ColOmbia. It's an o, not a u. Get it sorted.
Secondly, there were 2 more spelling mistakes/omissions and I do think for such a short book, that's unacceptable. Whoever edited this sucks.
Thirdly, this by no means went 'into the dark heart' of the issue. The book never attempted to explain why ex-pats are so damn depr...more
A decent look at street level Cambodia in the 1990s and a little little history.
Stephen Dartnell
Off the Rails in Phnom Penh by Amit Gilboa

Off the Rails in Phnom Penh was written by the journalist Amit Gilboa in 1998 and published by Asia Books in Bangkok. It describes the adventures of foreign residents living in the excitement and chaos of Phnom Penh during from 1996 to 1998 and is an accurate record of Phnom Penh at the time. For an individual coming from a modern Western society, it was and in many ways still is, a place where the immoral becomes acceptable and the insane becomes normal...more
Ismael Galvan
First off the author is completely full of shit. He tries to be a Hunter Thompson style journalist documenting life in Cambodia but is really nothing more than an ignorant American that sees Cambodians as subhumans.

His attempt at trying to be a political scientist is an utter joke. It's convoluted, bias, and not credible in the least. After a few pages of that section, I completely skipped it because there was nothing redeemable.

The book revolves around a bunch of ex pat losers hanging out and t...more
While the topics covered in this book are certainly interesting, it was a struggle to read. The writing was almost painful at times and relied too heavily on the potential shock value of the subjects and most issues of interest are approached only descriptively, with any attempts at analysis sounding a bit like those of a stoned teenager. In addition, while the author does spend a bit of time reflecting (or attempting to reflect) on the implications of the often disgusting behaviors of these ex-...more
For lack of something to read, I purchased this book, one of a few English language books that looked interesting, at a Chiang Mai news stand. This is possibly the worst book I've ever read. The author, who freely writes about his exploration of Cambodia's brothels, is both arrogant and disgusting in what he describes. I couldn't read the whole thing, and I only post it as a warning to not waste your time, even if you've found yourself without a book and it's the only one available to you in a f...more
A disturbing, depressing, and shocking insight into the lawlessness of Phnom Penh. I would not have believed the extent of corruption, prostitution, drugs, and guns detailed in this book if I hadn't already heard accounts from people living in Cambodia on my several trips to the country, nor read other non-fiction reports. Even though the accounts of "shagging" and "ganja" smoking in this book become repetitive, it is balanced with government directed assassinations, bribery, arms smuggling, dru...more
On the front cover of my edition of the book is a quote from Time magazine that says "like a gonzo from Hunter S. Thompson" and being a Thompson fan and a non fiction fan I thought I would be in for a real treat when it came to Off the Rails in Phnom Penh. Now it was a good book, but it was more of a travel guide than a narrative non fiction work. I was expecting more of an in depth memoir about a land of cheap drugs and prostitutes with the narrator getting out alive. It wasn't much like that a...more
If planning a trip to Cambodia, this is a quick read that is very much worth your time. The writing is decent, if too self-aware and indulging on the personal; the author's shortcomings do not make for distracted reading. At this point, much of the intriguing sin and sleaze that form the story's backbone are more relegated to the shadows than when the book was written, giving it a slightly dated feel. One highlight is found in the detailing of Cambodia's history, especially 20th Century politica...more
I picked this up in the airport coming back from vacation in Thailand in 2001. The title and cover are amisleading sell. I read it back in 2001-2002. Nothing really revealing for most people except maybe how badly both Cambodians (men and women) and a few ex-patriates can treat Cambodian women. I did learn a little Cambodian (third world) history and current events. Personally, as a tourist in Bangkok and Thailand, I was not in search of the red light areas and really didn't discover it either....more
Ugh, this was like some of the terrible books written by Peace Corps volunteers that focus on ex-pats doing stupid things and loving it. I thought it would be an interesting picture of Cambodia from an ex-pat's perspective, but really it was (mostly) just about a bunch of guys finding cheap prostitutes.
Amar Pai
Middling travelogue from a Cambodian expat who lived there 1996-1998. Hits all the expected notes: sex, drugs, violence, plus an overview of the Khmer Rouge & Cambodian politics. But it just didn't do it for me. The essays suffer from a lack of humor and the writer's voice isn't memorable.

The Exile it's not. If you want to see this sort of thing done better (done brilliantly, in fact) check out "The Exile: Sex, Drugs and Libel in the New Russia" :

Apr 26, 2008 Victoria rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: SE Asian travelers
This short and entertaining journal does just what its author says: it describes the dark side of Phnom Penh (specifically in the 1990s) that is not always visible to visitors. As a newly arrived expat, it has made me pay more attention to things I normally do not: license plates and the number of of SUVs parked in front of certain establishments; the uniforms and equipment on certain people; and even the companions of many westerners in the city. For one not traveling to Cambodia, it is an info...more
Chilly SavageMelon
The writing isn't terrible, it's just not so great. And to anyone who doesn't know: 20 somethings running around the developing world have a tendency to make "adventures", no matter how base, sound more exotic than they may have been. Not that I doubt any facts presented in this sort of slap-dash collection. And as the author himself describes, things weren't the same after the '97 coup. On the other hand, what better cover when trying to memorialize the "glory days" forever gone...
Read this during my time with a NGO in Phnom Penh. I thought this was a mildly interesting read, so why only 1 star? Well, besides the writers piss-poor writing-skills, I couldn't get over the fact that he sympatized to some degree with some of the guys exploiting teenage girls over there and made excuses for them...besides that he came across as a rightous and self-serving person.
I read this book weeks before visiting Cambodia and it gave me a lot to try and notice while I was there. What strikes you here is the decadence of the lifestyles of the English ex pats and the way their morals fall by the wayside in a country that caters to the unseemly appetites of modern man. This is especially striking in regards to prostitution in Cambodia.
I bought this book in Cambodia and found it made me more aware of some of the madness going on all around me. I love books that give you an actual feel for what it is like to live in a place, and this book really creates a tangible sense of life for the expat in Cambodia.
A good read - an interesting and shocking insight into ex-pats, peace-keepers, and aid workers abusing the system and taking advantage of a corrupt country and it's people in the late 80's & 90's...
Feb 22, 2009 Damian added it
A bit amateurish -- admittedly, the author was a failed journalist in Saigon -- but interesting nonetheless. Quite sad and depressing, but real. Made me wanna delve into it's history a bit more.
Andrew Hecht
If you want to discover a sense of the wild east in Cambodia before the tourist invasion of the last several years, you'll want to get your hands on this fast paced travelogue.
Nathaniel Miller
An almost surreal account of the 1990's expat community in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A quick read, and also an incite into the ragged fringes of neo-colonialism.
The title says it all... The story doesn't tell how the female expats lived their lives in Phnom Penh back in those days, have to find another book for that.
Manheim Wagner
They say everyone has one novel in them. Well, this book proves that idiom wrong! Amit Gilboa couldn't string a paragraph together to save his life!
Interesting read - didn't get full description of Cambodian life - more of an eagle eye perspective. Very sad living in Cambodia back in the 80s/90s.
Great book. I read this book every chance I got once I started it until I finished it. One of the most interesting books I've ever read.
Pretty down and dirty look at the seedy side of Phnom Penh and some of the even seedier people who feed off of it.
Crazy investigative reporting into life in Phnom Penh in the 1990's. Note the role that the U.N. plays...
A sensational, lacklusterly written gonzo account of scumbag expatriates in 1990s era Cambodia.
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