Over the years, I’ve noticed three things about books about Vietnamese culture:
- They are all written by foreigners. A guidebook to a country written by a foreigner is like a cookbook written by someone who has only had experience in looking at the food. There needs to be a book about Vietnamese culture written by a real Vietnamese.
- They all start with the war. Come on, the war ended 4 decades ago! There are so many more cool things in Vietnam.
- They all read like textbooks at best and phonebooks at worst. I believe that books should be not only informative but also entertaining.
I’ve spent the last two years interviewing many people: foreigners who have traveled in Vietnam, foreigners who have lived in Vietnam, foreigners who have never been to Vietnam, Vietnamese who have lived overseas, Vietnamese who have never been outside the country, etc. I’ve combined their opinion into a book called “How to not get your ass kicked in Vietnam: The native’s guide”. But I still need more input to make the book as comprehensive as possible. So please help me through this short survey:
Thank you very much! The prologue to this book can be find below.
It was a cold and damp post-Tết afternoon in Hanoi. Water was drizzling from the gray sky, enough to amuse your skin but not enough to wet your hair. I was sitting on the pavement with a group of ragged backpackers—their long legs crouched uncomfortably on the low plastic stools. We were sipping on our over-sweet egg coffee while trying to ignore the coffee lady who was shooing us away for sitting longer than people typically do. I asked them about the books they read when they were in Vietnam. They named me one after another: Lonely Planet, The Rough Guide, Fodor’s Vietnam, Food of Vietnam. Then it hit me: every single one of those books was written by foreigners! A guidebook to a country written by a foreigner is like a cookbook written by someone who has only had experience in watching other people cook. There needs to be a guidebook to Vietnam written by a real Vietnamese.
Being as responsible and jobless as I am (mostly jobless), I felt compelled to take up the challenge. This is not a book that gives you a list of places to eat, to sleep, or to kill time—you can find thousands of those lists online without even trying. This is a book that helps you understand my country. If guidebooks written by foreigners describe what they experience in Vietnam, this book, written by a 100% Vietnamese, explains how and why they experience that. Are you feeling deep yet?
Most of what is written in this book is so true that many Vietnamese will call me a self-hating Viet and stone me to death. That’s why I wrote it in horrible English, so that even Google Translate wouldn’t be able to decode it back into Vietnamese.
While I understand that you are excited to delve into my Far Eastern wisdom, please don’t take this book too seriously. The writer is just a student whose real aspiration is becoming a street performer. When I’m not writing or working in a lab, you can find me juggling at obscure street corners in South America or sipping hot tea in the Himalayas. I live a fabulous life.
This alternative guidebook is arranged in a manner as erratic as my personality, so feel free to skip directly to the chapter that most interests you. If nothing interests you, move along.
About the author
Born and raised in Vietnam, Chip Huyen has been to more than 30 countries in 5 different continents. Chip is currently pursuing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Computer Science (Artificial Intelligence) at Stanford University, USA. Her travel advice has been published on SFGate and numerous Vietnamese newspapers and magazines.
 Our New Year. And no, it’s not on January 1 of your calendar.