Vietnam has mostly been defined by its tumultuous history of border scuffles, invasions, and colonialism — which does this beautiful, graceful, colorful southeast Asian country a disservice.
Respect for tradition jostles up against a forward-facing attitude in Vietnam, which makes for a jumble of fascinating contrasts: the hyper-energetic urban centers of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City versus the idyllic countryside (which two-thirds of the population call home); state-mandated atheism versus a long tradition of spiritual practices; Communist government versus capitalist economy.
But spend any time getting curious about Vietnam, and one thing becomes abundantly clear: family and a reverence for tradition are nearly universal. As is a passion for flavorful food that woos all the senses and an appreciation for the country’s stunning natural beauty.
In this episode, we delve into Vietnam’s dramatic history and discuss what makes it like no other place on the planet, then we recommend books that transported us there on the page, including moving family sagas, first-person memoirs, and an ode to a perfect bowl of pho. (show notes / transcript)
Top image courtesy of Nguyen Quang Ngoc Tonkin/Shutterstock.
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