Books, Guides and Maps

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Best Books About Vietnam- A Reading List for Your Next Trip

Books, Guides and Maps

Do you like to come into a country with the attitude that you will find out everything you need to know and more while on the ground OR do you want to learn about the places and people before you go? Below you’ll find a great selection of literature, guide books, specialty guides and maps to help you prepare for your next trip to Vietnam.

Pre-Trip Reading

Reading a book about the area you are going to visit can really enhance your holiday by sparking your curiousity, helping you make a list of must sees and keeping the motivation up for that savings plan you have in place to get there. In the case of Ho Chi Minh City there’s a whole raft of literature out there to spark you interest. Granted, much of it is focussed on the war, but let’s face it…it is a huge part of the country’s recent history and it’s good to get a perspective from the different points of view. The selction below has a sprinkling of everything including love stories, personal accounts and historical essays. Check out some of these great reads:

Little Girl Big War – by Ting Ting Burford (Author). The story of a prominent Saigon family’s struggles to survive and escape during and after the Vietnam War, as seen through the eyes of a girl old enough to remember it. 

Goodnight Saigon -By Charles Henderson (Author) Winner: American Society of Journalists and Authors Outstanding Book Award, General Nonfiction, 2006.  The achingly dramatic story of the end of the Vietnam War as told from both sides of the conflict.

The Lover– By Marguerite Dumas (Author) An international best-seller with more than one million copies in print and a winner of France’s Prix Goncourt, The Lover has been acclaimed by critics all over the world since its first publication in 1984.

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House to House: Playing the Enemy’s Game in Saigon, May 1968 – By Keith W Nolan (Author)  The battles of the Tet Offensive were over, and the Paris Peace Talks were about to begin. Yet, the battlefield situation remained tense.

Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam Strong & Flexible)
-by Johnny  Fincioen (Author)-The eighth volume in a series concentrates on Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding region. It offers the reader a holistic view of today’s way of life in and around historic Saigon. 

The Lucky Few: The Fall of Saigon and the Rescue Mission of the USS Kirk by Jan K.Herman (Author)
As the Vietnam War reached its tragic climax in the last days of April 1975, a task force of U.S. Navy ships cruised off South Vietnam’s coast. The Lucky Few focuses on the role of USS Kirk in the rescue of not only the remnants of the South Vietnamese fleet but also 32,000 refugees fleeing from Communist forces to the safety of the Seventh Fleet ships offshore.

The Battle for Saigon: Tet 1968 by Keith William Nolan (Author)olan puts readers on the firing line in the stunning invasion of South Vietnam’s capital city: the assault on the American Embassy, the chaotic fighting in downtown Saigon, the ground attack on U.S. headquarters at nearby Long Bingh, and more. His work is a moving and memorable account of a bravely fought and desperate battle of profound historic dimension.

Saigon: A History Nghia M. Vo (Author)This is the city’s complete history, from its humble beginnings as a Khmer village in the swampy Mekong delta to its emergence as a major political, economic and cultural hub. Examined in detail are the city’s many transitions through the hands of it’s many rulers.

Saigon’s Edge: On the Margins of Ho Chi Minh City
by Erik Harms (Author)In Saigon’s Edge, Erik Harms explores life in Hóc Môn, putting forth a revealing perspective on how rapid urbanization impacts the people who live at the intersection of rural and urban worlds.

The Fall of Saigon: Scenes from the Sudden End of a Long War by David Butler (Author)The story of the final months of the Vietnam War told through the experiences of some thirty people caught up in the crisis of those days.

Last Men Out: The True Story of America’s Heroic Final Hours in Vietnam by Bob Drury (Author), Tom Clavin (Author)n a gripping, moment-by-moment narrative based on a wealth of recently declassified documents and in-depth interviews, Bob Drury and Tom Clavin tell the remarkable drama that unfolded over the final, heroic hours of the Vietnam War.

Escape from Saigon by Ralph S. Watts this updated edition tells of the dramatic evacuation of Seventh-day Adventist Vietnamese and overseas personnel as the North Vietnamese forces closed in on Saigon. Ralph Watts, who directed the evacuation, gives his eyewitness account of the mayhem and its impact on the church. A page turner from start to finish

Passion, Betrayal, and Revolution in Colonial Saigon: The Memoirs of Bao Luong by Hue-Tam Ho Tai (Author) This is the incredible story of Bao Luong, Vietnam’s first female political prisoner. In 1927, when she was just 18, Bao Luong left her village home to join Ho Chi Minh’s Revolutionary Youth League and fight both for national independence and for women’s equality. A year later, she became embroiled in the Barbier Street murder, a crime in which unruly passion was mixed with revolutionary ardor. Weaving together Bao Luong’s own memoir with excerpts from newspaper articles, family gossip, and official documents, this book by Bao Luong’s niece takes us from rural life in the Mekong Delta to the bustle of colonial Saigon. It provides a rare snapshot of Vietnam in the first decades of the twentieth century and a compelling account of one woman’s struggle to make a place for herself in a world fraught with intense political intrigue.

Cruel April: The Fall of Saigon by Oliver Todd (Author) Cruel April is much more than a riveting account of the fall of Saigon. In the current reassessment of the Vietnam War, it is a revelation–a revisionist view that documents Todd’s belief that, for all our many errors in Vietnam, we were right to be there.

After the War Was Over: Hanoi and Saigon by Neil Sheehan (Author) The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Bright Shining Lie revisits the scene of his magisterial account of the war in Vietnam and reveals the country that is just beginning to emerge from the war’s ashes. “Enlightening . . . mesmerizing . . . luminously clear.”–The New York Times.

Unsung Heroes, Saving Saigon
by Albin F. Irzyk Unsung Heroes, Saving Saigon, the latest work by retired Brigadier General Albin F. Irzyk, recounts the harrowing events that occurred in Saigon during the notorious TET Offensive of 1968.

The Story of the Saigon Airlift (Cornerstones of Freedom) by Zachary Kent (Author) Describes that dramatic helicopter airlift, the largest in history, which during two days in 1975 carried thousands of Americans and selected South Vietnamese out of Saigon as the North Vietnamese marched to capture the city, thus ending the long Vietnam War.

The Unwanted: A Memoir by Kien Nguyen (Author) When Saigon fell to the Viet Cong in April, 1975, Kien Nguyen was there. He watched the last US Army helicopter leave without him, without his brother, his mother or his grandparents. More risk than most in the decimated country, with his odd blond hair and light eyes, he was the most “unwanted” – an American.

Guide Books

Despite the fact that more and more information is available on the internet, we still like to travel with a guide book in hand. Maybe we’re old fashioned but it’s still far easier to cross reference a book than be flicking around onlin. We are spoilt for choice with Ho Chi Minh City. All the major guide book companies have publications for Vietnam and quite a few have specific guides for Ho Chi Minh City. Here’s a selection below, including one for the traveller looking for luxury on their holiday.

Lonely Planet Ho Chi Minh City Saigon by Mason Florence and Robert Storey (Authors). Contains an essential historical and cultural guide to major attractions and out-of-the-way sights; detailed accommodation for every budget; the best in Saigon cuisine; fascinating excursions to the Mekong Delta and seaside retreats; and an indispensable Vietnamese language chapter

LUXE Ho Chi Minh City (LUXE City Guides) by LUXE City Guides (Author) Many of Saigon s elegant boulevards and French colonial buildings are still around, mixing effortlessly with the hurly burly of this burgeoning metro city. It s a swank shopper and foodie s dream, stacked with world-class local designer fashion, interiors and lifestyle, saturated in history and waiting for you on a plate.

Ho Chi Minh City & Mekong Delta (Footprint Focus)
by Claire Boobbyer (Author)Featuring practical advice on getting there and around and tips on what to do and see, Footprintfocus is a thorough, yet concise guide to this fascinating region of Vietnam.

Saigon 2013: Guide to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam: Including Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang,… by Mr Alfredo de la Casa (Author)This book will bring you to most interesting parts of Ho Chi Minh City, as well as to other parts of the country. Do not worry if you think I am not covering everything and you will be short of things to do and see: if you visit everything I review in this book, you will need three to four weeks!

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Saigon: Top 10 Guide to Ho Chi Minh City 2013
by Tony Houseworth (Author) The guide for the wise traveler who wants the best!18,748 Words, 235 Pages, 184 Pictures, 140 Reviews

Wallpaper* City Guide Ho Chi Minh (Wallpaper City Guides) by Wallpaper* (Author) Wallpaper* City Guides are a ruthlessly-researched, design-conscious guide, for the discerning traveller who wants to come away with a true taste of the best a city has to offer.

Insight Guides: Ho Chi Minh City & Hanoi Smart Guide (Insight Smart Guide) by Aviva West (Author), Samantha Coomber (Author)A brand new series from Insight brings you the Smart Guide to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The unique and innovative A-Z format of Smart Guides allows you to plan your trip according to your own personal taste.

If you are over the big names and want to make your experience more intimate there are several Ho Chi Minh specific guides that will not only help you get the most of your experience but will also save you  money as they explain how to avoid the usual tourist traps. Nothing like getting the good oil from a fellow traveller or a well researched local.

My Saigon: The Local Guide to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Volume 1) by Elly Thuy Nguyen (May 9, 2013) A complete local guide to visiting Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam by a Saigon native,. Elly shows you all the locals’ places that you could never find on your own, and you definitely won’t find in any of the standard Vietnam guidebooks written by foreign travel writers.

My Saigon: Saigon Secrets to Save Money in Ho Chi Minh City, VietnamThis book is like having a local friend in Saigon helping you save money and get the best of everything. Elly, gives out all the tricks and insider tips to get Vietnamese prices at every step of the way.

Vietnam, what tourist dont see: Temples, Markets & Life: Hidden gems in Ho Chi Minh City (Volume 1) by Alfredo de la Casa (Author) This new guide book from and awarded author helps you discover some hidden gems in Ho Chi Minh City, giving you the opportunity to observe and experience real life of Vietnamese people. Lots of pictures and maps. – Suggested walking itineraries, and time to do them. – Up to date information as per January 2014

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Saigon Survival (Vietnam Travel Guide): A Counter Intuitive Guide to Surviving the Streets of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) by Simon Miller (Author) This condensed volume combines the essentials of both a guidebook and travelogue in one indispensable package. Save thousands of dollars, avoid countless scams and never have to wonder what that bucket of water in the bathroom is for.

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Travel Guide – 3-Day Beyond the Guidebook Itinerary Michael Tatarski (Author) This itinerary is intended to give you the most out of your time in Saigon, Vietnam’s biggest and most chaotic city. It ensures that you hit most of the usual tourist spots, but it will also take you to places most visitors never see.

Saigon 2013: Guide to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam Kim Thoa Kieu (Author) Kim initially arrived as a tourist to Vietnam. She was enchanted by its magic, and decided to quit her job in London and move here. None of the guides she bought really satisfied her, so she decided to write this one. Lots of tips only the locals know.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Travel Cost Guide by Budget Your Trip (Author) This travel cost guide gives you insider’s information into real travel costs in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (Saigon). A perfect supplement to other travel resources, here you will find a compilation of expertise from every type of seasoned traveler, from backpackers to resort hoppers.

Eating in Vietnam will be one of the best parts of your trip. The food is fresh, tasty, in the main healthy and cheap, cheap, cheap. The range is huge so it will pay to get an idea of what to eat before you go. So…here’s a list of specialty guides and fantastic cookbooks for “Foodies”. Grab one…your stomach will love you for it.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) best restaurants: Fine dining at a fraction of Western prices by Alfredo de la Casa (Author)This book covers some of the best restaurants in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Through his job as journalist, restaurant reviewer, and food and beverage editor, the author has visited most of the eateries in Ho Chi Minh City, and selected some of the best ones for this book.

Vietnamese Food.: Vietnamese Street Food Vietnamese to English Translations by Bruce Blanshard (Author, Translator), Use Fat Noodle to order up food like a local.* Save hundreds of travel dollars in Vietnam when you eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks in local places rather than expensive hotels and cafes which serve the same dishes but charge you more plus service tax and VAT. The first foodies dictionary for Vietnamese street food.

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Nguyen (Author) When author Andrea Nguyen’s family was airlifted out of Saigon in 1975, one of the few belongings that her mother hurriedly packed for the journey was her small orange notebook of recipes. Thirty years later, Nguyen has written her own intimate collection of recipes, INTO THE VIETNAMESE KITCHEN, an ambitious debut cookbook that chronicles the food traditions of her native country.

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Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan (Author) In his eagerly awaited first cookbook, award-winning chef Charles Phan from San Francisco’s Slanted Door restaurant introduces traditional Vietnamese cooking to home cooks by focusing on fundamental techniques and ingredients.

The Food of Vietnam by Luke Nguyen (Author) A beautifully packaged cookbook and highly personal culinary and cultural journey through the diverse regions of Vietnam. Join Luke Nguyen on a culinary and cultural journey through the country of his heritage to discover the people and recipes that have endeared Vietnam to the millions of travelers who visit each year.

The Foods of Vietnam by Nicole Routhier (Author),The Foods of Vietnam, the only book of its kind on Vietnamese cuisine, will be a revelation both to those familiar with Vietnamese dishes and to people discovering these delicate, fresh foods for the first time. Illustrated.

Lonely Planet World Food Vietnam by Richard Sterling (Author) The definitive culinary guide to Vietnam. With tantalising photography throughout and written in an entertaining, opinionated and contemporary style, this guide is intended to be the benchmark for the country’s cuisine. This pocket-sized guide includes everything to do with eating and drinking in Vietnam.

Language Guides

Whatever country we visit we always try and learn the basics of a language. Usually it’s just hello, please, thankyou and goodbye. The next step is numbers and how much? and then directions. If english levels are really sparse in a place we’ll start expanding our vocab rapidly. Every little bit helps. Just trying bridges a gap, forms a relationship and quite often creates a moment of hilarity. If the locals can’t understand you they normally appreciate that you have tried and we have found they will normally try their best to help you out. Speaking even more loudly in English is not a productive nor polite way to get your point across. Higher volume doesn’t equate to better understanding nor goodwill. Most guide books will have a small section at the back with the basics but here are a few other resources that can help you on your way in Ho Chi Minh City.

Lonely Planet Vietnamese Phrasebook & Dictionary
by Ben Handicott (Author)Shopping in Vietnam could give you conical hats, lacquerware bowls and flag T-shirts. All are fine – you can compare them with everyone else’s. Or really get talking and bring home souvenirs that no one can match. Open the Vietnamese phrasebook and make this trip your own.

Instant Vietnamese: How to Express 1,000 Different Ideas with Just 100 Key Words and Phrases! (Vietnamese Phrasebook) (Instant Phrasebook Series)
by Sam Brier (Author), Linh Doan (Author) It’s amazing how 100 key words and phrases provide instant communication! Do you want to speak simple Vietnamese but are too busy to study it? Are you visiting Vietnam for a short time and want a Vietnamese phrase book to help you communicate? If so, this is the book for you. It’s tiny 0.4 x 4.1 x 5.9 inches size makes it incredibly convenient to travel with but without losing the most essential content for communication.

Vietnamese for Beginners – Second Edition by Jake Catlett (Author) This is the second edition of the book “Vietnemese for Beginners” by Jake Catlett which is much improved from the first one. This book and CDs (sold separately) teach the Southern dialect of Vietnam.

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Vietnamese, Basic: Learn to Speak and Understand Vietnamese with Pimsleur Language Programs by Pimsleur The 10-lesson (5 CDs) Basic Course gives customers the chance to test drive the incredibly effective and efficient, world-famous Pimsleur Comprehensive Program. A real try it before you buy it deal. Customers will love the experience of acquiring the essential grammar and vocabulary of Vietnamese during the spoken practice sessions. It is this ease of language acquisition that makes the full Comprehensive Pimsleur Program so popular and successful for adult language learners.

Elementary Vietnamese, Third Edition: Moi ban noi tieng Viet. Let’s Speak Vietnamese. (MP3 Audio CD Included) by Binh Nhu Ngo Ph.D.This is a complete Vietnamese language course designed for college or high school–level classroom use or self–study.
Since its publication in 1998, Elementary Vietnamese has become the leading book for anyone wishing to learn Vietnamese, and an invaluable resource for people traveling, studying or working in Vietnam.


Most of the good guide books will have some kind of map inside but don’t wory if it doesn’t. It’s easy to pick up a map on your arrival in HCMC. Most hotels will either have a free map or can sell you one for less than a couple of $. If you haven’t got one by the time you’ve checked in, just step outside your door in any of the major tourist areas and a street vendor will happily oblige. The price will depend on the size and whether they are laminated or not. You shouldn’t have to pay more than 50 000VND for even the top of the range map. And if you really want to study up before you get there, here’s a couple that should help you out.

Ho Chi Minh City 1:15,000 & Region Street Map 2010*** (International Travel Maps) by ITM Canada (Author)A detailed street map of Ho Chi Minh City (ex-Saigon), scale 1:15,000 with a street name index. The reverse side includes a regional travel map around Ho Chi Minh City at the scale of 1:300,000 with an inset of central Can Tho City and D.Con Son Island.

Ho Chi Minh Insight Flexi Map (Insight Flexi Maps)
This innovative series of laminated maps includes text and photography describing the destination’s top sights and lists useful addresses and essential contacts. The laminated finish is waterproof, hard-wearing, durable, scribble-free and tear resistant. The maps are easy-to-use and fold even when it’s windy and are ideal for short-break, fly-drive and package holidays.

Note: I do not receive any payment for this post (or any others on the site for that matter!). I do however, receive a small amount of money by allowing advertisements on the site and any purchases made through the links on this page.

7 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    I love the site thus far. As I was going through the books you mentioned I came across one I found really interesting. Goodnight Saigon was the title. I used to be in the Marine Corps and served between 03- 07, and have always loved to read about my predecessors. I’ll be purchasing this for my next read. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    • Sharyn says:

      If you purchase it through my link I get a small commission…Probably less than a beer here in Vietnam but every bit helps. Thanks so much for visiting. Appreciate the feedback. And enjoy the read.

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