New Guidebooks to Vietnam

by Steven K. Bailey, Jun 1, 1996 | Destinations: Vietnam / Hanoi

When you board your flight to Vietnam, you ought to consider bringing along two kinds of guidebooks. The first sort of guidebook to include in your travel kit is one written by a Western traveler who has visited Vietnam and knows the country well. This kind of book is useful because the author shares your culture. He or she will have a pretty good idea of what you want to know about Vietnam, and will be able to explain these things in terms you can easily understand.

The second kind of guidebook worth taking with you is one by a Vietnamese author. This sort of book is valuable for its insider's view. Such a book will tell you about Vietnam through the words of a knowledgeable local. You will not just learn about Vietnam; you will learn what the Vietnamese think about Vietnam. Some good examples of this kind of book are printed by The Gioi Publishers of Hanoi. All their guidebooks have Vietnamese authors, and can now be mail-ordered in the United States from Global Directions Incorporated.


One particularly useful book from The Gioi Publishers carries the straightforward title of Vietnam. This book provides a complete overview of Vietnam, and is meant to be more of a compendium of information about the country than a how-to travel guide. This book makes for good pre-trip reading. Everything you ever wanted to know about Vietnam, from annual rice production to the nomenclature of ethnic minorities, can be found in one of the books five subsections. These are titled The Vietnamese Nation, The Economy, Education, Health, Sciences, Sports, and Culture, International Relations, and Tourist Information. The book is all the more interesting because it contains things a travel guide would never have, such as the Vietnamese national anthem and a portrait of Ho Chi Minh. Color and black-and-white photos and a detachable fold-out map of Vietnam supplement the text.

If you are planning to spend some time in the capital of Vietnam, The Gioi Publishers also produce an excellent city guide titled Hanoi: Past and Present, by Nguyen Vinh Phuc. This is a versatile, multipurpose book that falls somewhere between a history of Hanoi and a guidebook for foreign visitors.

Hanoi: Past and Present

Hanoi: Past and Present recounts the history of Hanoi and explains the culture, economy, geography and weather of the city in great detail. Statistical information is exhaustive, supplying such obscure facts as the amount of solar radiation received in Hanoi per year'122.8 kcal/cm2, in case you wondered'and the number of district postal employees laboring to speed your postcards on their way: 8,396. A selection of photos provides a visual overview of the 1000-year-old city.

A wealth of more practical information can be found in the section devoted to tourism which describes the sights worth seeing in Hanoi, including pagodas, temples, parks, lakes and museums. There is also a mouth-watering description of Hanoi's culinary specialties like pho (noodle soup) and sweet com vong (translated unappetizingly as grilled glutinous rice). A directory in the back of the book lists telephone numbers for hotels, embassies, restaurants and airline offices; there is also a bibliography of books about Hanoi and related topics. A particularly useful list provides locations and schedules for the districts sixty-eight markets.

One of the most interesting portions of the book describes local festivals that you might not otherwise hear about, such as the rice-cooking contest in Thi Cam village. Certainly you would not want to miss the Trieu Khuc festival, whose participants are described as young men disguised as girls wearing gauze silk robes, lotus colored brassieres, silk turbans and black silk skirts with red silk belts over white trousers.

A chief advantage of both Vietnam and Hanoi: Past and Present is their 1995 publication date, which ensures up-to-date and accurate information. Another advantage is that these books are small, light-weight paperbacks that will not take up too much space in your bags. If you are American, however, be ready for one possible disadvantage: All measurements are metric and all temperatures are in Celsius. Fortunately, The Gioi Publishers avoid the bizarre, substandard English that plagues locally produced guidebooks worldwide. The English in Vietnam and Hanoi: Past and Present remains perfectly readable, if occasionally quirky. And in a fitting tribute to France's influence on Vietnam, the odd French spelling'artistes'slips in every now and then. But this just adds to the books charm, and any unorthodox English is more than balanced out by the accurate use of Vietnamese words and place-names, something guidebooks by foreign authors often neglect.

If you are going to Vietnam, Vietnam and Hanoi: Past and Present will both prove to be invaluable sources of reference. They will not only provide you with factual information about Vietnam'weather patterns, transport networks, political history'but also insight into the Vietnamese themselves.

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