Introducing a special new tour by Rusty Compass - Vietnam by the Book - Rusty Compass travel blog

Introducing a special new tour by Rusty Compass - Vietnam by the Book

| 07 Feb 2018
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07 Feb 2018

It's more than 25 years since I ran my first tour through Vietnam. After a long break from leading tours, I now head back out on the road each year leading a special 15 day experience - Vietnam by the Book. We take three books and use their stories to help us make sense of this captivating country.

In August 1993, I led my first tour through Vietnam. I’d been visiting for 3 years before that. I was besotted with the place and together with a school friend, decided to start a travel company. Vietnam was at the beginning of a new era after decades of war, hardline communism, and a punishing US trade embargo.

We travelled from one discovery to the next. Everything was a revelation. There were no Instagram posts. Travel information was limited. Travellers were scarce. It was a magical time.

The natural beauty, the food, the history and the warm welcome of the locals left a deep impression on everyone. We were confounded by how a place that had suffered so much at the hands of foreigners, and was still so poor, could be so friendly.

I set about reading everything I could find about Vietnam. They were mostly books about the Vietnam War - that’s all anybody wrote about in English. The best of the books had deeper insights though.

In the early years as a travel company we named Travel Indochina, we carried a box of books on the bus. We read passages from them as we travelled, and talked about what we were seeing. It made everything more special.

So more than twenty five years later, and after more than 25 years getting to know Vietnam, I need lead a couple of special tours each year. On this tour, the books are front and centre.  I’ve launched The Old Compass Travel Book Club and a new tour, Vietnam by the Book.

I’ve selected three books about Vietnam and built an itinerary around them. We’ll read and explore beyond these three books too.

We’ll visit Hanoi, Ninh Binh, Dien Bien Phu, Sapa, Hue, My Son, Hoi An and Saigon.

Fruit sellers - Hanoi
Photo: Mark Bowyer Fruit sellers - Hanoi
Hmong village, Sapa
Photo: Mark Bowyer Hmong village, Sapa
Pa Khoang Lake not far from General Giap's Dien BIen Phu bunker.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Pa Khoang Lake not far from General Giap's Dien Bien Phu bunker.
Hue Citadel and its historic flag tower.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Hue Citadel and its historic flag tower.
Hoi An World Heritage listed old trading town.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Hoi An World Heritage listed old trading town.
My Son Cham temples
Photo: Mark Bowyer My Son Cham temples
Hotel de Ville - The centre of government in Saigon from French times.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Hotel de Ville - The centre of government in Saigon from French times.
Ho Chi Minh City - the propagande billboards haven't changed much.
Photo: Mark Bowyer Ho Chi Minh City - the propaganda billboards haven't changed much.

Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, Duong Van Mai Elliott’s Sacred Willow and Nguyen Qui Duc’s Where the Ashes Are, are the books that are our companions.

Two of the three books are personal stories by Vietnamese authors that reach into the Vietnamese experience over two centuries - family, tradition, colonialism, war, communism and the post-war refugee experience. Graham Greene’s prescient 1950s classic gives us a completely different angle.

If you like history, reading and getting amongst the places you visit, you’ll enjoy this tour. We’ll be walking, talking, reading and eating our way around some of my favourite places. And we’ll be meeting amazing people along the way.

If you’re interested in joining, check out more on the tour here.

About me

I’ve been involved in tourism in Vietnam and South East Asia for 28 years. After co-founding Travel Indochina, I founded the independent travel guide, Rusty Compass in 2010. You can read more about me and Rusty Compass in this New York Times piece.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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