Vietnam: travel books to read before you go

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This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Vietnam guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

VietnamVietnam: A Traveller’s Literary Companion (1996), edited by Qui Doc Nguyen, is a good way to learn more about the culture of the country. It has an engaging collection of stories by various Vietnamese writers, ranging from folklore and the tragedy of war to love and family ties, all set against evocative backdrops from Hanoi to Dalat.

Vietnam Body and SpiritVietnam: Journeys of Body, Mind and Spirit (2003), edited by Van Huy Nguyen, is a beautifully shot photographic journey that travels to the heart of Vietnam. It’s put together by locals and residents of Vietnam and offers an intimate portrait of the country.

Fragrant Palm LeavesFragrant Palm Leaves (1998) is a remarkable, poetic collection of journal entries by Zen monk and peace crusader Nhat Hanh Thich, written in Vietnam and the USA during the 1960s. As the American War in Vietnam rages on, he tries to make sense of it all, and there are some vivid scenes from South Vietnam.

To Asia with LoveWritten by writers who know and love their countries, To Asia with Love: A Connoisseur’s Guide to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam (2004), an anthology edited by Kim Fay, is a delightful introduction to Vietnam and the Mekong region for those looking for some inspiration and adventure. A new To Vietnam with Love (2008) has just come out brimming with stories.

The Indochina ChroniclesThe Indochina Chronicles (2005) by Phil Karber is a lively travelogue taking in adventures and misadventures in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Sparring with CharlieSparring with Charlie: Motorbiking down the Ho Chi Minh Trail (1996), by Christopher Hunt, is a light-hearted travelogue about modern Vietnam that takes you off the tourist trail and into some less-travelled parts of the country.

DerailedDerailed in Uncle Ho’s Victory Garden (1995) by Tim Page is the story of the author’s quest to erect a war memorial in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) to honour the fallen war correspondents on all sides.

A Dragon ApparentA Dragon Apparent (1952) is Norman Lewis’ fascinating account of his journeys through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in 1950, and is an eloquent insight into the last days of colonial rule.

Hitchhiking VietnamKarin Muller’s Hitchhiking Vietnam (1998) is a travelogue detailing one woman’s tumultuous seven-month journey through Vietnam.

Catfish and MandalaPart memoir and part travel narrative, Catfish and Mandala (1999) is Vietnamese-American Andrew X Pham’s fascinating account of his escape from the war-torn Vietnam of 1977 and his subsequent return two decades later, equipped with a bicycle and a need to work out his mixed-up cultural identity.

Phaic TanThe ultimate spoof guidebook, Phaic Tan: Sunstroke on a Shoestring (2004) makes fun of us all. No one is spared, not the locals, not the travellers, not even hallowed guidebook authors. An absolute must for anyone travelling through Vietnam and the region beyond.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found here.