Vietnam Travel Books for Children & Adults

The more powerful a country is, the more disposed its people will be to see it as the lead actor in the sometimes farcical, often tragic pageant of history. So it is that we, citizens of a superpower, have viewed the Vietnam War as a primarily an American drama in which the febrile land of tigers and elephants was simply a backdrop and Vietnamese mere extras. That outlook is reflected in most of the literature — and Vietnam was a very literary war, producing an immense library of fiction and nonfiction. Among all those volumes, you’ll find only a handful (Robert Olen Butler’s A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain comes to mind) with Vietnamese characters speaking in their own voices. If you are looking for exceptional Vietnam War history books, that should include Bright Shining Lie (Sheehan), Vietnam (Karnow), We Were Soldiers Once...and Young (Moore).

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s remarkable debut novel, The Sympathizer ­Nguyen, born in Vietnam but raised in the United States, brings a distinct perspective to the war and its aftermath. His book fills a void in the literature, giving voice to the previously voiceless while it compels the rest of us to look at the events of 40 years ago in a new light. " —Philip Caputo, New York Times Sunday Book Review

Perfume River. A novel by Robert Olen Butler

Perfume River

A novel by Robert Olen Butler

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain comes a powerful novel about the way the Vietnam War divided families, and a layered portrayal of marriage, brotherhood, and the sum of a life

From one of America’s most important writers, Perfume River is an exquisite novel that examines family ties and the legacy of the Vietnam War through the portrait of a single North Florida family. Perfume River is a lyrical and emotional exploration of one family’s drama that echoes the lives of so many who are affected by the aftermath of war. It is a profound and poignant book written by an author at the height of his powers, a portrait of family, personal choice, and how war resonates through the American experience. -- Grove Atlantic

[Amazon Link]

Catfish and Mandala
A true story by Andrew X. Pham

Catfish and Mandala

A true story by Andrew X. Pham

An immensely engaging, highly personal, and insightful book by Vietnamese-born Andrew Pham who returns from California to explore the country of his birth.

You may have some measure of Vietnamese history and culture from a Western writer like David Lamb who spent many years there, but Vietnamese-American Pham truly bridges cultures for readers providing insights and nuances into Vietnamese culture.

As a side, the true story of his return at a tumultuous time in his life and desire to discover his cultural identity is captivating, as he moves from adventure to the next you will find it hard to put the book down. As a bonus, much of Pham's travel takes place on bicycle. —Patrick Morris, Indochina Travel

[Amazon Link]

World Food Vietnam Richard Sterling

World Food Vietnam

James Beard award winner Richard Sterling

"If cooking were a painting, Vietnam would have one of the world's most colorful palettes." One time New York Times food journalist wrote this Lonely Planet special edition which is actually one of the better guide books written in general about the country. Much more than about food, Sterling captures not only that Vietnam is one of the best countries to travel by your stomach but enlightens us to the cultural aspects behind Vietnamese dishes and cuisine. The definitive culinary guide to Vietnam. With tantalizing photography throughout and written in an entertaining, opinionated and contemporary style, this guide is intended to be the benchmark for the country's cuisine. This pocket-sized guide includes everything to do with eating and drinking in Vietnam.

Now out print, but copies can still be found on Amazon.

Indochina Travel Comments: "A favorite book on Vietnam by a favorite writers. I first came across Sterling from his no-holds-barred book Dining with Headhunters about two favorite subjects: travel and curry. Sterling wrote this as a one-off for Lonely Planet, one of the best reference books to have for Vietnam." —Patrick Morris

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction by Robert Owen Butler

A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction by Robert Owen Butler.

The Vietnam War continues to play itself out in fiction, autobiography, and history books, but no American author has captured the experiences of the Vietnamese themselves--and caught their voices--more tellingly than Robert Olen Butler, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. The 15 stories collected here, all written in the first person, blend Vietnamese folklore, the terrible, lingering memories of war, American pop culture and family drama.

Butler's literary ventriloquism, as he mines the experiences of a people with a great literary tradition of their own, is uncanny; but his talents as a writer of universal truths is what makes this a collection for the ages.

Indochina Travel comments: "We get so caught up the idea of what Vietnam and the Vietnamese are like, it's interesting to read their experiences in America and their perceptions of their new, adopted country. Even those these are fictional, I found them very real compared with my Vietnamese friends that are in California." ~Tree Tam

[Amazon Link]

Vietnamerica by GB Tran

Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction by Robert Owen Butler


A superb new graphic memoir in which an inspired artist/storyteller reveals the road that brought his family to where they are today: Vietnamerica. GB Tran is a young Vietnamese American artist who grew up distant from (and largely indifferent to) his family's history in Vietnam. Born and raised in South Carolina as a son of immigrants, he knew that his parents had fled Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. But even as they struggled to adapt to life in America, they preferred to forget their troubled past and to focus on their children's future. It was only in his late twenties that GB began to learn their extraordinary story. When his last surviving grandparents die within months of each other, GB visits Vietnam for the first time and begins to uncover the tragic history of his family, and of the homeland they left behind. In this family saga played out in the shadow of history, GB uncovers the root of his father's remoteness and why his mother had remained in an often fractious marriage, why his grandfather had abandoned his own family to fight for the enemy, the Viet Cong, and why his grandmother had had an affair with a French soldier.

GB learns that his parents had taken harrowing flight from Saigon during the final hours of the war not because they thought America was better, but because they were afraid of what would happen if they stayed. They entered America—a foreign land they couldn't even begin to imagine—where family connections immediately dissolved and shared history was lost within a span of a single generation. In telling his family's story, GB finds his own place in this saga of hardship and heroism. Vietnamerica is a visually stunning portrait of survival, escape, and reinvention and of the gift of the American immigrant's dream, passed on to their children. Vietnamerica is an unforgettable story of family revelation and reconnection.

[Powells Books]

The Last Valley by Martin Windrow

The Last Valley

By Martin Windrow. Thick, yet riveting, historical account of the fall of Dien Bien Phu. Also covering Vietnamese history and culture. In this masterful account of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu of 1953-54, Windrow dissects retrospective criticism of the French strategy. For reasons that emerge within his comprehensive, meticulous analysis, the ideas behind the French strategy at Dien Bien Phu were taken from a prior victorious battle. Generals believed that establishing a ground base deep in Communist-controlled territory and supplying it by air would regain them the initiative against the Viet Minh insurgency.

The heart of Windrow's narrative, and implicitly his sympathies, lies with the officers and men who carried out the strategy--and bore its cost as its assumptions were progressively stifled by the Viet Minh commander, the storied Vo Nguyen Giap. As the mobile battle envisaged by French planners degenerates into a wallow of World War I-style attrition, Windrow describes with brutal realism the carnage of the combat, which snuffed out tens of thousands of lives. Many works address Dien Bien Phu's history-altering significance in the Indochina conflict, but for learning about what actually happened there, Windrow's will be difficult to surpass.

Indochina Travel Comments: "For awhile it was all available for English readers and sure the writing was exceptional, including Karnow's Vietnam, Sheehan's Bright Shining Lie, and We Were Soldiers Once by Hal Moore, are engrossing reading. However, I was hooked on this historical fiction book from the first sentence. Well written and captures much about the Vietnamese culture left out of other war-era books." —Patrick Morris

[Amazon Link]

The Other Side of Heaven - Post war Vietnamese fiction

The Other Side of Heaven

Most of its contributors are former combatants. Referring to one of his co-editors, Le Minh Khue, Karlin writes in his introduction: "This book was born out of the meeting of two people who, if they had met two decades previously, would have tried to kill each other." (Truong Vu, representing the South Vietnamese side, was added later.) The stories, Vietnamese and American, are grouped together thematically, under chapter headings like "The Honored Dead,""Wounds" and "Hauntings." This wise arrangement highlights common concerns and blurs national distinction.

Some of the contributors are from the Vietnamese overseas community; two of them, Andrew Lam and Thanh ha Lai, write in English, while a third, Phan Huy Duong, writes in French. One can always write from the other's perspective, of course. Take the case of Robert Olen Butler, who won a 1993 Pulitzer for his A Good Scent From A Strange Mountain, in which all the protagonists are either Vietnamese or Vietnamese-Americans.

The biggest service provided by The Other Side Of Heaven is in introducing the American audience to a generous roster of Vietnamese writers, most of whom have never been available in English. As an act of "moral reconciliation through the literary art" (as stated on its back cover), The Other Side Of Heaven is a beautiful gesture for which we should thank its editors. As for Le Minh Khue's pronouncement that "We must teach each other to love, so that war will never happen again," I can't help but remember Plato's aphorism: "Only the dead have seen the end of war."

[Amazon Link] [Full Review]

Vietnam, Now by David Lamb

Vietnam, Now

War correspondent returns to Vietnam after thirty years. If you've time for only one book, this should be it. Astute insight into Vietnamese culture, history, the American conflict. Extensive writing on Hanoi.

An extraordinary rich portrait of post-war Vietnam, a country just emerging from years of political and economic isolation, by a journalist who covered the war and returned thirty years later to cover the peace. Vietnam is run by one of the world's last communist governments but great changes are sweeping the country. It is moving, if with caution and fear, toward a free-market economy. It is slowly lifting many of the civil restrictions that burden its 80 million inhabitants. It is divorcing itself from the isolation that followed the end of the Vietnam War and in return is being rewarded with an influx of Western tourists, foreign investors, and international aid workers who often ask: "What is Vietnam and who are the Vietnamese?" David Lamb answers that question.

For four years he explored the "new" Vietnam, wandering from the Chinese border to the depths of the Mekong Delta. He encountered many of the personalities from America's distant, dark days-the legendary general, Vo Nguyen Giap; Hanoi Hannah, once the propaganda voice of North Vietnam; a trusted Vietnamese journalist for Time magazine who turned out to be a Viet Cong agent. But more importantly, he brings us into the lives of scores of uncelebrated Vietnamese-students, former soldiers, shopkeepers, Communist Party members and unabashed capitalists-who share their memories of the wartime past and their hopes for the peacetime future. What emerges is a moving portrait of a remarkable country and a resolute people. This is a personal journey that will change the way we think of Vietnam, and perhaps the war as well.

Indochina Travel Comments: "This is an excellent choice for the airplane, just before you arrive in Hanoi (if you've followed our advice). Lamb's love story with Vietnam, and primarily Hanoi, delves deep into the local culture few Western writers have." ~ Patrick Morris

[Amazon Link] [Read more about David Lamb and his book]

Vietnam: A Traveler's Literary Companion

Vietnam: A Traveler's Literary Companion

if you're traveling with us to Hanoi, you'll enjoy meeting the editor of these short stories, Nguyen Qui Duc. Since relations between the U.S. and Vietnam have normalized, many more people are traveling to this exotic country, previously closed to a generation of Western visitors. Vietnam provides one of the first chances for Americans to know the Vietnamese outside the context of war. Vietnamese have been telling stories for thousands of years, in poetry and in song, in Chinese script and then in Vietnamese nôm, and more recently, in novels and short stories.

These 17 stories, from contemporary Vietnamese writers living in Vietnam and abroad, take the literary traveler to extraordinary places: from the jungle-clad mountain ranges of the North to the mysterious silence of the old capital along the Perfume River. Proximity of the spirit world, love of family, exhaustion from war, one's Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist obligations, social protest, and the hunger for a better life - these are some of the concerns to be encountered in these thrilling landscapes. Contributors include Nguyen Huy Thiep, Linh Bao, Nguyen Ba Trac, Thich Duc Thien, Ho Anh Thai, Le Minh Khue, Doan Quoc Sy, Vu Bao, Duong Thu Huong, Andrew Q. Lam, Nguyen Qui Duc, Qui The, Bao Ninh, and Pham Thi Hoai.

[Amazon Link]

Eyewitness Travel : Vietnam & Angkor

In rapidly-changing places like Vietnam, printed guidebooks are already hopelessly out of date as soon as they reach the bookstore. Rather than stale information, the Eyewitness series is a vivid complement to your travel, with hundreds of bright photographs, diagrams, maps, cutaways and floor plans of all the major sights, and 3-d aerial graphics of cities. Worth having as well for your bookshelf as a souvenir of your trip.

From Amazon: "Part of the award-winning Eyewitness series, this sumptuously illustrated guide leads readers to it all, from the floating markets of the Mekong Delta in the south to the hill towns inhabited by the Hmong minority in the north, and the best beaches to be found in between.

A full chapter is dedicated to Angkor in neighboring Cambodia, with the astounding temples illustrated in glorious detail.

Whether zipping around old Hanoi in a pedal-powered cyclo or dining on the exquisite local cuisine, the Eyewitness Guide to Vietnam and Angkor Wat is indispensable."

Indochina Travel Comments: "Worth having for the diagrams of sites and city aerial views, which provide a compelling perspective." ~Quyet Trinh

[Amazon Link]

the Quiet American by Graham Greene

The Quiet American

Graham Greene's classic post-colonial novel. Prescient of the American experience to come in years following.

"I never knew a man who had better motives for all the trouble he caused," Graham Greene's narrator Fowler remarks of Alden Pyle, the eponymous "Quiet American" of what is perhaps the most controversial novel of his career. Pyle is the brash young idealist sent out by Washington on a mysterious mission to Saigon, where the French Army struggles against the Vietminh guerrillas.

As young Pyle's well-intentioned policies blunder into bloodshed, Fowler, a seasoned and cynical British reporter, finds it impossible to stand safely aside as an observer. But Fowler's motives for intervening are suspect, both to the police and himself, for Pyle has stolen Fowler's beautiful Vietnamese mistress.

Originally published in 1956 and twice adapted (poorly) to film, The Quiet American remains a terrifying and prescient portrait of innocence at large. This Graham Greene Centennial Edition includes a new introductory essay by Robert Stone.

[Amazon Link]

Vietnam Books for Children

Children;s book on Vietnam: Leaving Vietnam by Sarah S. Kilborne

Leaving Vietnam

We love the children of Vietnam, who never stop smiling and have spirits greater than the sky. If you have children, this is certainly worth reading to them. "Gripping real-life adventures, told in a childlike first-person voice, will keep beginning readers interested in this Ready-to-Read chapter book. Leaving his mother and brothers in their village in South Vietnam, Tuan Ngo joins his father and a group of others fleeing the Viet Cong regime. As they make their way through dark woods Tuan articulates his fears: "If we're caught, we'll be put in a labor camp for five years. My father was in labor camp for six years, and he says that all he ate there were rotten potatoes. I don't want to eat rotten potatoes."

Crowded onto a small fishing boat, the refugees are adrift on the South China Sea when the boat breaks down. They are raided by pirates, who steal their few valuables but save their lives by fixing the boat's engine and giving them fuel and water. They spy a German oil tanker, and when the crew ignores them, the desperate escapees put a hole in their own fishing boat so that it starts to sink and the Germans are forced to help. Kilborne (Peach and Blue) also chronicles the seemingly endless waiting: Tuan and his father spend more than a year moving from camp to camp before they are approved for immigration to the U.S. Sweet's (the Pinky and Rex books) abundant watercolors are tender and inviting even when depicting the tensest scenes. Emphasizing Tuan's bond with his father, they project an aura of security that balances the frequently harrowing account." Ages 6-9. Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. [Amazon Link]

Vietnam children's book Water Buffalo Days by Huynh Quang Nhuong

Water Buffalo Days: Growing Up in Vietnam

"The village social life and customs in the central highlands of Vietnam prior to the involvement of the US provide an affecting platform for the author's warm memories of a childhood enriched by close relationships with the animals vital to the family's economic survival.

Delicate pencil drawings accompany the first-person narrative that shows the role water buffaloes played during dry-season farming and rainy-season hunting. They were creatures of such importance that, when one named Water Jug dies of old age, it is only fitting that he is buried in the graveyard, ``as we had done for all the dead of our family.''

The boy in this engaging children's book hopes for a new bull with the same gentle temperament as Water Jug's, but his father has always dreamed of a replacement bull that would be not only a valuable worker, but a strong fighter and true leader when tigers, panthers, and lone wild hogs from the jungle threaten the village's herd. The father brings home a calf from a distant village, but delays naming him until his nature makes one apparent.

After a fight in which he bests the reigning leader of the herd, the young bull is named Tank. Fierce in battle, Tank's gentleness otherwise earns him the respect of the village, and readers will come to admire him; his death, the result of "a single misplaced bullet'' in a military skirmish, is very affecting. In Tank's passing, the author brings home the waste of war, in a book written from the heart." Ages 8-11 [Amazon Link]

In a Village by the Sea

In a Village by the Sea
by Mượn Thị Văn and April Chu

For younger readers (ages 3-8). A picture book with minimal text featuring magnificent illustrations of a simple and elegant story of a Vietnamese family who live on the sea where the father is a fisherman with a fantasy aspect of the tale envisioned by a cricket who lives in a hole in the wall of the home.

[Amazon Link]

Book: Vietnam children's Favorite Stories

Vietnamese Children’s Favorite Stories
by Phuoc Thi Minh Tran, illustrated by Dong Nguyen, Hop Thi Nguyen

“A charming collection of fifteen tales as told by prominent storyteller Tran Thi Minh Phuoc. In it, Tran – Minnesota’s first Vietnamese librarian and an active member of the Vietnamese-American community – recounts cherished folktales such as The Story of Tam and Cam (the Vietnamese version of Cinderella), The Jade Rabbit, and The Legend of the Mai Flower.” Richly illustrated, these stories will provide unique insight into Vietnamese culture, but also will ring familiar to and Western children readers. Ages 5-14 [Amazon Link]

Vietnam Children's Book The Land I Lost by Huynh Quang Nhuong

The Land I Lost: Adventures of a Boy in Vietnam

"A short author bio at the end of the book notes that Huynh was born in Vietnam and eventually moved to the United States and this book is a wonderful account of growing up in rural Vietnam. Huynh describes his life in a village on a riverbank, with a jungle and mountains nearby.

The book is divided up into several short vignettes that describe the lives of the people and animals of this world. Although the danger and violence of some sections may be upsetting to some readers, I get the sense that the author is trying to present a truthful portrait of rural life. There are accounts of many interesting people, such as Huynh's opera loving, karate fighting grandmother. But I was particularly fascinated by the many accounts of the domestic and wild animals of Huynh's homeland. I loved the descriptions of animal behavior and the accounts of the interactions between animals and people, between animals of the same species, and between animals of different species. We meet monkeys, otters, a fearsome crocodile, and many other creatures.

It's a rich tapestry of life that is described vividly by the author. One of the most memorable animal characters is Huynh's water buffalo, Tank, a creature of great strength, loyalty, and courage. This is a wonderful book that is written in a very effective, straightforward style that is ultimately quite poignant. It's sort of like a Vietnamese response to Laura Ingalls Wilder's beloved "Little House" books. I recommend "The Land I Lost" to readers of all ages." Michael Mazza. Ages 9-12 [Amazon Link]

Vietnam children's book Escape from Saigon by Andrea Warren

Escape from Saigon

At the end of the Vietnam War, eight-year-old Amerasian orphan named Long fled his country and found a loving home with his adoptive family in Ohio. With a new name, Matt Steiner, he grew up to be high-school valedictorian and athletic star, and now he is a doctor with his own happy family.

But this stirring photo-essay is more than a rags-to-riches story. Always true to the child's viewpoint, Warren's clear narrative, with many documentary photos, begins as the boy struggles to survive in Vietnam, then describes the anguish of his abandonment by a loving grandmother no longer able to care for him; the kindness of rescuers at the orphanage, who arranged his adoption; and his terrifying evacuation on a plane under fire. The child-at-war story and the facts about the Operation Baby lift rescue are tense and exciting. Just as gripping is the boy's personal conflict: his struggle to become American; his attempt to deny his sadness at what he left behind; and, finally, his pride in his roots ("I will never forget that my American heart is half Vietnamese"). Ages 9-12 [Amazon Link]

Deliberate Travel children's workbook for Vietnam

Deliberate Travel Kids

A Dutch and English couple creation during the pandemic that allowed for "An online journey around the world for curious kids," in their own words. As travel opens again, the platform they've developed is ideal for children 7-12 to learn about the destination they will be exploring through workbooks, learning activities and educational puzzles to help kids explore the history, cultures, peoples, geography, animals and food of different countries. DTK's destinations include Vietnam and Japan with learning "journeys" of 3-12 months. There is a

For more details, visit Deliberate Travels.

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