Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Reading Traveller

Ah the summer holidays – lying on a beach reading a book, snoozing after lunch after reading 2 pages of a trashy thriller. It’s all about relaxing, and giving your remaining brain cell some much needed time off.  Or is it? On a beach holiday last year, in Vietnam, I realized that it’s actually much more fun obsessively reading about the place you’re visiting. In the local book shop in Hoi An, my husband and I found two photocopied books : Michael Herr (an American journalist)’s Dispatches and Bao Ninh’s The Sorrow of War, a novel about the Vietnam War from the point of view of a North Vietnamese soldier. We were mesmerized.

Charlie reading Bao Ninh's The Sorrow of War at a resort in Vietnam

I actually felt sorry for a person I saw alongside the same pool at our resort reading Helen Fielding’s latest offering (which, for the record, I have read). ‘You’re in Vietnam!” I thought to myself. "Don't waste it!"  We do have a Five Books interview on Vietnam with Karl Marlantes, a Vietnam vet and novelist. So after getting home, I read his book, Matterhorn (also about the war). A guy from the US Embassy in Beijing saw it in my handbag, and said “Oh, if you’re enjoying that, you must read this…” And so it went on. To say that reading these books made the holiday more interesting would be an understatement. It helped it one of the most fantastic holidays ever. And I don’t even like sunbathing.

First stop Hanoi! I was not able to see quite as many museums as I would have liked as the kids refused to leave the hotel swimming pool. 

We stayed at the Metropole Hotel

We took the overnight train, the "Reunification Express" from Hanoi down to Da Nang on the coast (info for parents: yes the tooth fairy does service this line!) 

Looking out of the train window on the "Reunification Express"

Part of the reason I got so obsessed with reading Vietnam War books - I think -- is that the Vietnamese are so gentle and friendly, I just couldn't imagine how anyone could get into a war with them. 

The Victoria Resort in Hoi An. Highly recommended. The manager is French, so nice things happen like you unexpectedly find bottles of red wine in your room.

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