Vietnam: Pre-trip reading and viewing suggestions

Textile Reading

Textiles of the Highland Peoples of Northern Vietnam, Mon-Khmer, Hmong-Mien, and Tibeto-Burman” by Michael C. Howard & Kim Be Howard in the series ‘Studies in the Material Culture of Southeast Asia’ No 5 published by White Lotus Press in 2002

Textiles of the Central Highlands of Vietnam” by Michael C. Howard & Kim Be Howard in the series ‘Studies in the Material Culture of Southeast Asia’ No 4 published by White Lotus Press in 2002

Patterns on Textiles of the Ethnic Groups in Northeast of Vietnam by Diep Trung Binh published by Cultures of Nationalities Publishing House Hanoi in 1997.

Textiles of Southeast Asia: Tradition, Trade and Transformation” by Robyn Maxwell

Handwoven Textiles of South-east Asia” by Sylvia Fraser-Lu published by Oxford University Press 1988. Weaving in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Kampuchea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, Indonesia.

Ethnic Minorities in Vietnam by Dang Nghiem Van, Chu Thai Son, Luu Hung published by The Gioi Publishers, Hanoi.

Hill Tribes of Vietnam – by Joachim Schliesinger

  • Volume 1: Introduction and Overview 
  • Volume 2: Profile of the Existing Hill Tribe Groups

The Yao: The Mien and Mun Yao in China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand” by Jess G. Pourret

The Hmong, A Guide to Traditional Lifestyles” by Robert Cooper

Home work: domestic labour in the suburbs and villages in and around Hanoi, Vietnam by Tessa Bunney The author explored the ‘craft’ villages around Hanoi. These specialise in a single product or activity, anything from palm leaf hats to incense sticks, and from noodle making to snake-catching. The photographs depict ‘working from home’ in an unromanticised sense, where their subjects, mostly women, balance childcare with the routine work necessary for survival. 

General Reading

The Dragon Apparent by Norman Lewis:  First published in 1951, this book documents Lewis’ travels through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam but is mostly set in Vietnam.  Graham Greene ‘s ‘The Quiet American’ is based on Lewis’ experiences.

The Quiet American by Graham Greene: a fictional story portraying 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. For obvious reasons, this is a great one to read alongside A Dragon Apparent.

Mad About the Mekong by John Keay:  Subtitled Exploration and Empire in South-East Asia, Keay tells the story of the Mekong River from its delta in Vietnam up through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, China and Tibet.  Drenched in history, the 12th longest river in the world has not undergone much industrialisation and until about 20 years ago, it didn’t have any bridges. Keay looks at the great age of exploration in contrast with the Mekong of today.

Vietnam – Rising Dragon by Bill Hayton.  The author was a BBC correspondent in Vietnam in 2006-7.    Recommended as one of the best books on modern Vietnam by experts of the Vietnam Studies Group, Hayton looks beyond the Vietnam that is presented to tourists and explains how the country works today, with capitalism flooding into the nominally communist society and cultural traditions being influenced by modern pressures. Vietnam Rising Dragon covers the story of Vietnam from the end of the ‘American War’ until the late 2000s as an energised eye-witness account. This book provides a crash course in the history, politics and economics of the country.

The Penguin History of Modern Vietnam by Christopher Goscha.  Having been both colonisers and victims of colonisation over the centuries, Vietnam has survived and retained so much culture, while evolving with the Western influences that have shaped it into the much loved tourist destination of today.  This book will help you understand the many layers of history from an insider’s perspective. It includes some pictures and, despite its heavy appearance, the content is explained clearly. Its in-depth accounts don’t read like a typical history book.

At Home in the World by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book is ideal if you are going away to find inner calm or want something mindful to read to counterbalance an action-packed trip. It is a selection of Zen teachings and autobiographical stories written by the Vietnamese Buddist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh.  He reminisces about his childhood in rural Vietnam, his initial years as a novice monk, his experiences as a writer during a time when war created a huge upheaval to the country, right up to recent times when he has been travelling the world and reaching out to a modern audience in need of ‘mindfulness’. The teachings each have their own title and are half a page to a couple pages long, so it’s a good one to dip in and out of.

For a list of books set in Vietnam click here


Three Seasons (1999):  Written and directed by Tony Bui, was the first American film to be shot in Vietnam after the war. A portrait of a country in transition, it is an extraordinary cross-cultural masterpiece with breathtaking images, a keen sense of place, and a reverence for the incredible yearning of ordinary people. Writer and director Tony Bui tells the stories of four very different individuals whose yearning for meaning, love, redemption, and survival matches the mood of a nation slowly coming back to life after years of carnage.

The Quiet American (1958 and 2002) – based on Graham Greene’s novel.

Indochine (1992)  This French-language film tells the story of a French plantation owner (Catherine Deneuve) amidst the Vietnamese people’s struggle for French Indochina’s independence from France. In Hanoi, you can visit Kinh Do Café, where Deneuve bought her coffee and croissants every morning when she was filming Indochine.

The Buffalo Boy (2004)

The Love Market (Ronin Films 2008): In the highlands of North Vietnam lies the remote town of Sapa, home to a mosaic of colourful hill tribes. Sapa opened to tourism in the late 1990s, and now roughly 200 hill tribe girls aged 7 – 18 years live independently on the streets of Sapa selling embroidery. Australian filmmaker Shalom Almond visited Sapa as a tourist and became friends with four Hmong girls. The girls were savvy, street-smart and dreamed of life beyond selling souvenirs. How will these young girls survive the leap from remote tribal culture to 21st century Asia? For three years Shalom returned to Vietnam with her camera to find out.

The Mekong River with Sue Perkins: (Episode 3 is set in Laos) BBC docum

There are also plenty of war movies which we won’t list here.

Note: The above list is by no means exhaustive.  If you’d like to recommend a book or movie that you’ve enjoyed or found informative and inspiring, please email us at