AVID traveller and experienced writer Walter Mason has completed his second book – Destination Cambodia, which is now available in bookshops around the nation and online.
The Cabramatta resident’s first book, Destination Saigon, is in its 11th reprint and was named by the Sydney Morning Herald as one of the best travel books of 2010.
Destination Cambodia, published by Allen & Unwin, is an account of Mason’s journey through Cambodia.
The book focuses on contemporary Cambodia and the stories of the people on the ground including Phnom Penh’s oldest hooker, a young author, and people with hopes and dreams, rather than the nation’s sad history.
‘‘Cambodia is one of the most beautiful and alive and fascinating places on earth and I wanted to get that across,’’ he said. ‘‘I wanted to say, ‘this isn’t a museum’. It’s worth looking at on its own terms not just in terms of its horrible history.
‘‘I also want to tell people to go visit. There’s nothing dangerous about the place. It’s perfectly safe, it’s perfectly beautiful. A lot of elderly tourists go there and a lot of people travelling by themselves go there.’’
The travel memoir was written over a year and a half with Mason living in Cambodia last year for four months.
“What I try to do when I write is connect with people, it’s the same when I travel,” he said.
“Wherever I go I want to meet people almost instantly and I want to hear their stories.
‘‘I think if you take the risk of pushing yourself into people’s lives, you’ll be rewarded all the time because people actually like you to take an interest in them.
‘‘People tell me the most incredible things, the most incredible sad stories about their past and sometimes quite inspiring stories about their past too because Cambodia’s a really tough place to survive.’’
Mason has visited the country nine times in the past 17 years but never tires of it.
He recalls the way people brought him into their lives.
“There’s a Buddhist monk I know really well,’’ he said. ‘‘He took me back to his home village to celebrate his grandmother’s long life ceremony. But it turned out to be this multi-day affair and I was sort of trapped in this farm with religious ceremonies going on all around me.
“I had no way of leaving but it’s part of my philosophy of travel that I always say yes to the things that people ask me to do.’’
The Fairfield/Cabramatta area, home to a large number of Cambodian-Australians, has been Mason’s home for more than 10 years and when he’s not working on a book, he’s busy adding to his blog or speaking at a writer’s festival.
While Mason speaks Vietnamese and has a Vietnamese partner, he says he has also felt a strong connection with the Cambodian community.
“Even back when I was a young man, after I came back from Cambodia for the first time, I used to come out to Cabramatta and tutor the Cambodian monks in English,” he said. “If you want to see Cambodian culture alive and well in Australia, this is the place to come.”