Wednesday, June 25, 2008
To Vietnam With Love
This book has been my morning coffee comrade ever since I received a copy a week or two ago, and now I'm ready to pack my bags and head off for Ho Chi Minh City. This is the very best kind of guidebook for the independent traveler--it trusts that you know how to get from an airport to a hotel and that you can pick up key civilities from a phrasebook. What it does and does quite well is provide you with personal and highly individual recommendations from expats, travelers, and Vietnamese people, who tell you what they love about this country. From their stories, you can draw up your own itinerary--their tips provide a springboard for your own adventures.
This is a book to dip into and to use for building dreams. Short essays provide information for every interest--Todd Berliner offers film buffs the Hanoi Cinematheque and Cafe, "which you cannot find unless you know where it is." Antoine Sirot tells where to find ballroom dancing to live music in the romantic destination of Dalat. Jeff Greenwald reveals the pleasures of searching for the elusive langur of Cat Ba Island, and Vu Kieu Linh not only tells why the hoa sua flower makes Hanoi an unforgettable place in autumn, but tells exactly where to walk for a fifteen-minute stroll through the flowering trees that bear these blossoms.
Where to stay, what to eat, how to shop: these conventional guidebook subjects are all included but are enveloped in the experience that has made the recommended places special to the author (there are 60 contributors to this book, including the editor and photographer.) If you're like me, you will develop a fondness for a particular voice and yearn to wander with that writer. (Believe me, when I finally get to Ho Chi Minh City, I plan to hunt down Emily Huckson.)
And in addition to the nourishment for dreams that it provides, this is a beautiful book that is sheer pleasure to touch. The cover feels like satin, and the paper used for the pages sets a whole new standard for the paperback publishing industry. Julie Fay Ashborne's photographs are generously sprinkled throughout the book and every one of them is a visual poem.
As for the editor, Kim Fay--she is a woman to be reckoned with, as well as an extraordinary writer (and one of my dearest friends.) To Vietnam with Love is one of a series that she conceived as the To Asia With Love guidebooks. It was launched in 2004 with To Asia with Love: A Connoisseur's Guide to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam and will be augmented soon by this book, rapidly followed by companion volumes on Myanmar, Nepal, Shanghai, Northern India, , Japan, Thailand, and Cambodia. It is a huge project, and a revolutionary one--these are books that will transform travel sections of bookstores around the world.
To Vietnam with Love will soon be available in bookstores and online at www.thingsasianpress.com as well as at amazon.com