Books and Movies to get you Pumped for your Trip to Vietnam
There’s a ton of entertaining books and movies about Vietnam. Before you pack your bags, why not watch a few films and read a few books. You’ll not only learn something about the country, but you’ll also get yourself psyched for your travel adventures. Here’s some recommendations from me. Full disclosure: the links will take you to Amazon where you can buy the product. If you do happen to buy it through our link, we make a little bit of money at no cost to you.
We all know how great Vietnam War movies are. I could fill this list with some of my favourite films (Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter), but frankly those films don’t really have much “Vietnam” in them. In fact, none of them were even shot in Vietnam. If you really want to learn about the war, Vietnam – The Ten Thousand Day War is your best bet. It’s a mini-series comprised of 13 hour-long (or 26 half-hour long — depending which version you get) episodes that take you step-by-step through the war. Some episodes are dedicated to a particular aspect, for example the 6th episode is about firepower and it covers all the weaponry that the Americans and Vietnamese used. You’ve probably heard of the B52 Bomber, but have you seen it in action, loaded with 2 tons worth of bombs, flying high in the sky, out of sight and ear-shot, then unloading it’s cargo, carpet bombing large areas? The footage is spectacular and frightening. The Canadian filmmakers did a great job presenting the information in an unbiased way, from both sides of the story. It’s often frustrating to watch, but it really gives you an idea of how dedicated and relentless the Vietnamese people are.
A Cook’s Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines
by Anthony Bourdain
A search for the perfect meal will no doubt include a stop in Vietnam. No one describes the country quite like Anthony Bourdain. He loves it, and his excitement for it is contagious. The way he describes the food makes me want to fly to Saigon for my lunch break.
As the black coffee dribbles slowly through and around the ice cubes, swirling gently in dark-on-white wisps through the milk, I feel Vietnam doing the same thing to my brain. I’m in love. I am absolutely over-the-top gonzo for this country and everything in it. I want to stay forever.
While Bourdain travelled the world, writing this book, the Food Network had a camera crew following him around shooting the television version of the book. Two of its episodes are dedicated to Vietnam: Cobra Heart-Food That Makes You Manly, and Eating on the Mekong.
After that series Bourdain moved over to the Travel Channel and made Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations which ran for 9 seasons. If you’ve never seen it you are missing out on the greatest travel/food show ever. Bourdain’s no BS attitude carries you through the series, taking you to all parts of the world and making you hungry along the way. Of course, he had to go back to Vietnam again. Three episodes were dedicated to the country: Vietnam – Island of Mr. Sang, Vietnam: No Place Like Home, Vietnam: Central Highlands. I highly recommend getting all of these Vietnam episodes, pouring yourself a beer, and watching 5 hours of passion-filled travel that will have you checking in at the airport 30 days early.
“After the whole history of Vietnam is written, it’ll just be our photos.” —Eddie Adams to Nick Ut
The war in Vietnam changed the way people thought about war. It’s often referred to as ‘the living room war’ because it was the first war that Americans could follow from their homes on television. Amazing photographers like Eddie Adams and Nick Ut risked their lives to show people what was going on. Their works played a huge part in putting an end what I believe was an unjust war.
Eddie Adams: Vietnam is an amazing collection of Eddie Adams’ Vietnam photos. It’s glossy images will leave you with goose bumps. Adams’ most famous photo, ‘General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon’ shows the police chief of Saigon executing a Vietcong solider. With one single frame, the brutality of war is captured.
Nick Ut’s most famous photo won him a Pulitzer Prize and is without a doubt one of the most disturbing images of the Vietnamese War. The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photograph, and the Vietnam War
tells the story behind the photo. Kim Phuc was seven years old when she was severely burned by napalm. This image was taken of her running naked down the street. Denise Chong wrote Kim Phuc’s biography detailing what happened before and after the photo. The book tells an amazing story and haunts its readers, similar to how the photo haunts its viewers.
The Quiet American
by Graham Greene
Published in 1955, this political novel about the French war in Vietnam is frequently included in top 100 book lists. It focuses on the relationship between a French journalist and a young, well-educated American man. It’s anti-war, and some claim anti-American. In any case, the author Graham Greene (a former war correspondent for The Times) has the experience necessary to tell the story, and puts together sentences that make you float from word to word in awe.
So it always is: when you escape to a desert the silence shouts in your ear.
If reading is too hard for you… check out the film versions of the book: The 1958 version is a total disgrace — it’s been called American propaganda. The story was rewritten, the Vietnamese love interest is played by an Italian, it’s crap. The 2002 version may star Brendan Fraser, but it’s much better.
The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)
The only Vietnamese film nominated for an Academy Award, although it was made by a French company, and shot entirely at a studio in France. It tells a nice story about a young Vietnamese girl in the 1940s who works as a servant for a family. The shots are beautiful. The pacing is slow and calculated. It’s worth watching it for the nasty little boy’s trademark move. I don’t want to spoil it, so all I’ll say is that it surprised the crap out of me and made me laugh uncontrollably.
Three Seasons (1999)
This film’s story revolves around various characters in Ho Chi Minh City, but the real star of the movie is the city itself. Westernization is coming, Saigon is changing, which means the people must change too. Three Seasons was the first film to capture both the Grand Jury Award and Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. If that’s not enough, in one of the many story lines Harvey Keitel plays a Vietnam War vet who comes back to Vietnam to find his daughter. It’s hard to find a recent movie that showcases modern Vietnam like this film does. The cinematography is stellar.