Books for the Road: Vietnam

There’s something sacred about reading while on the road, as if it’s an integral part of the journey itself. Even more so, reading about the place you’re visiting amplifies the experience through the history, characters and situations stories take you. Vietnam is no exception, with its indelible past and complex present full of people and places that beckon your attention and capture your heart. Here are 4 books to read for your travels to Vietnam:


1.    Catfish and Mandala, Andrew X. Pham – This poignant memoir is the author’s journey – by bike – up the West Coast of the U.S. to Canada, across the Pacific to Japan, then on to his birthplace of Vietnam to rediscover his roots. As a refugee of the Vietnam war, Pham’s memories of home are from the perspective of his younger self, and there are so many questions to be answered and stories to be completed. With one foot solidly in the U.S. and another dipping a toe into the past, this book captures the struggle of cultural identity that so many face when their worlds are ripped apart by war. Pham’s adventures and vibrant descriptions of Hanoi, Saigon, and all around the countryside give a vivid picture of Vietnam and its people, past and present.  


2.    The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen – It’s hard to even know where to start with this remarkable literary work that gives voice to those unheard in the last century in Vietnam. Nguyen – who was born in Vietnam but raised in the US – illuminates historical context around the war through his nameless character, an Americanized Vietnamese who is a “man of two minds.” The novel is riddled with duality in its descriptions, characters and scenarios highlighting the misconceptions and miscommunication between East and West and the role of perspective in right and wrong, which Nguyen’s cleverly portrayal of both sides through the eyes of his characters.

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3.    The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui – For those that want to go straight to the heart of war-torn Vietnam, this illustrated graphic novel is an intimate portrait of one family’s escape from 1970s Vietnam. Infused with history, context, and stories, this memoir layers on the complexity of an era that is too often simplified while portraying the human experience of war, poverty, immigration and resettlement. The author – a female – explores her new status as a mother by going through her own family’s experience while  looking toward the future for that of her child. 


4.    Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh – The Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh is known throughout the world for his books, poems and quotes, and his calming approach to mindfulness. All of his works are incredible, but for a trip to Vietnam Being Peaceis high on the list of recommendations. This book gives insight to interdependence, a critical cultural component of Vietnam and one that we can all learn from. How does your state of mind affect all of those around you? Peace begets peace, and this book inspires readers to do their part in brining peace to the world. 

Want to visit Vietnam? Check out our 12 and 16 day cycling trips through the backroads and villages of this incredible country.