Vietnam & Angkor Wat
By Eyewitness Travel
Dorling Kindersley – £14.99
Like the regions themselves, Vietnam & Angkor Wat is not only a repository of literary splendour, but a more than colourful reminder of why this particular part of the world is so very beautiful and inviting. Not to mention very economically up and coming, which the editors ever so succinctly adhere to at the outset of ‘A Portrait of Vietnam’ in this book’s Introduction: ‘’Lush green mountains, scenic beaches, ancient pagodas, and the allure of a fascinating culture attract millions of visitors to Vietnam each year. Today, the country is emerging as an increasingly prosperous nation, with a thriving tourism industry, largely due to economic reforms and a successful effort by its people to emphasize that Vietnam is ‘’a nation, not a war.’’’’
This is indeed very true, although the trajectory of The Vietnam War is a very apparent fact of everyday Vietnamese life. It was very much in evidence when I visited the country, just as it is very much in evidence amid the History section of this Eyewitness Travel Guide. In fact, prior to said section, there are also such nugget-sized accounts as ‘Establishment of French Control,’ The Colonial Period,’ The Rise of Socialist Resistance,’ ‘The First Indochina War’ and ‘Prelude to The Vietnam War.’ All of which, lends the reader a substantial overview of the country’s rather turbulent recent history – both humbling and harrowing as it was, and to a certain degree, still is.
Yet as is written on page 47 of ‘Rebirth,’ Vietnamese society has changed at an alarming rate: ‘’For several years Vietnam has been one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. The year 2010 saw an influx of foreign brands and construction of many modern skyscrapers in Saigon. Although still autocratic, the government has abandoned the failed economics of state socialism and is embracing free market capitalism.’’
This is quintessentially reflected in the section on Ho Chi Minh City, where the writers have homed in on the Notre Dame Cathedral (‘’built of locally quarried stone and covered with red ceramic tiles shipped in from France’’), the Continental and Rex Hotels, the French-colonial style, Municipal Theatre (‘’this lovely Neoclassical building, known as the Opera House in colonial times, was once the heart of French high society’’), as well as, among other areas and buildings, Dong Khoi (‘’Home to stately hotels, elegant boutiques, and cosy cafes that coexisted with bars and brothels, it was at the centre of most of the action in Graham Greene’s novel, The Quiet American […]. Today, Dong Khoi’s vibrance is unparalleled in the country, and it does justice to the city’s old nickname ‘Paris of the Orient.’’’).
Moreover, the 312 pages of this terrific travel guide, doesn’t just focus on the hustle and the tremendous bustle of Ho Chi Minh City. There are also colour-coded chapters on the Mekong Delta and Southern Vietnam, South Central Vietnam, Central Vietnam, Northern Vietnam, Hanoi, and as the title makes clear, the ancient capital of the great Khmer Empire, Angkor. All are littered with maps, great colour photos, a section called ‘Getting Around,’ as well as information on hotels, restaurants and a visitors’ checklist.
Finally, with the rear of Vietnam & Angkor Wat containing a Survival Guide and Practical Information, a Phrase Book and a Mileage Chart (both in miles and kilometres), I cannot recommend it more highly.
Along with your partner, your credit card and your toothbrush, this book will prove indispensable.