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Planning a trip to Vietnam? Here are our Top 6 recommendations of travel books to read before you go.

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Vietnam : A Traveler's Literary Companion

Vietnamese have been telling stories for thousands of years, in poetry and in song, in Chinese script and then in Vietnamese nom, and more recently, in novels and short stories. These 17 stories, from contemporary Vietnamese writers living in Vietnam and abroad, take the literary traveller to extraordinary places: from the jungle-clad mountain ranges of the North to the mysterious silence of the old capital along the Perfume River. Travel to the raucous mayhem of Saigon where youngsters still circle the downtown in motorcycle promenades and where the reopened bars, caught in a time warp, play old Creedence Clearwater and Carlos Santana songs.

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The Eaves of Heaven

Once wealthy landowners, Thong Van Pham's family was shattered by the tumultuous events of the twentieth century: the French occupation of Indochina, the Japanese invasion during World War II, and the Vietnam War. Told in dazzling chapters that alternate between events in the past and those closer to the present, The Eaves of Heaven brilliantly re-creates the trials of everyday life in Vietnam as endured by one man, from the fall of Hanoi and the collapse of French colonialism to the frenzied evacuation of Saigon. Pham offers a rare portal into a lost world as he chronicles Thong Van Pham's heartbreaks, triumphs, and bizarre reversals of fortune, whether as a South Vietnamese soldier pinned down by enemy fire, a prisoner of the North Vietnamese under brutal interrogation, or a refugee desperately trying to escape Vietnam after the last American helicopter has abandoned Saigon. This is the story of a man caught in the maelstrom of twentieth-century politics, a gripping memoir told with the urgency of a wartime dispatch by a writer of surpassing talent.

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A Dragon Apparent

Travelling through Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the twilight of the French colonial regime, Norman Lewis witnesses these ancient civilisations as they were before the terrible devastation of the Vietnam War. He creates a portrait of traditional societies struggling to retain their integrity in the embrace of the West. He meets emperors and slaves, brutal plantation owners and sympathetic French officers trapped by the economic imperatives of the colonial experiment. From tribal animists to Viet-Minh guerillas, he witnesses this heart-breaking struggle over and over, leaving a vital portrait of a society on the brink of catastrophic change.

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The Quiet American

Graham Greene was a huge fan of Norman Lewis’s writing and it can’t be denied that the story told in The Quiet American is based on Norman Lewis’ experiences in A Dragon Apparent. In his dedication, Greene said, 'This is a story and not a piece of history', but through this fictional story, Greene perfectly portrays the political climate and personal feelings of war-torn Indochina that were so under scrutiny during this time. The novel is about an optimistic, naïve American official who is sent to Saigon to promote democracy through a mysterious 'Third Force'. It is a cautionary tale, and a lot of factors in this story subsequently happened in real life, in terms of the outcome of the Vietnam War and American involvement. For that reason and others, including a compelling and complex 'love triangle', The Quiet American has remained of great interest.

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Vietnam : Rising Dragon

Based on vivid eyewitness accounts and pertinent case studies, Hayton’s book addresses a broad variety of issues in today’s Vietnam, including important shifts in international relations, the growth of civil society, economic developments and challenges, and the nation’s nascent democracy movement as well as its notorious internal security. His analysis of Vietnam’s “police state,” and its systematic mechanisms of social control, coercion, and surveillance, is fresh and particularly imperative when viewed alongside his portraits of urban and street life, cultural legacies, religion, the media, and the arts. With a firm sense of historical and cultural context, Hayton examines how these issues have emerged and where they will lead Vietnam in the next stage of its development.

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Listen, Slowly

This remarkable and bestselling novel from Thanhha Lai follows a young girl as she learns the true meaning of family. A California girl born and raised, Mai can't wait to spend her vacation at the beach. Instead, she has to travel to Vietnam with her grandmother, who is going back to find out what really happened to her husband during the Vietnam War. Mai's parents think this trip will be a great opportunity for their out-of-touch daughter to learn more about her culture. But to Mai, those are their roots, not her own. Vietnam is hot, smelly, and the last place she wants to be. Besides barely speaking the language, she doesn't know the geography, the local customs, or even her distant relatives. To survive her trip, Mai must find a balance between her two completely different worlds. Listen, Slowly is an irresistibly charming and emotionally poignant tale about a girl who discovers that home and culture, family and friends, can all mean different things. Suitable for children aged 8-12, but a good read for adults, too.

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Have we missed a book you’d recommend travellers read? Send us your suggestions.

Main photo by Loi Nguyen Ducflickr