Vietnam is, without a doubt one of the most visually interesting places I have ever been. The countryside is beautiful, often majestic, the towns and cities a fascinating collection of French colonial and modern South East Asian concrete with tiles stuck everywhere. I could easily spend another week in Hanoi just wandering around without getting bored.
After 6 weeks in Vietnam I had shot more film than Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand combined. This doesn't mean that I don't find these countries beautiful, but Vietnam is very special.
Vietnam and the Wars
On arrival in Ho Chi Minh City I went on a tour of the Cu Chi tunnels. It was one of series of tours, all designed for dollar-weilding foreigners that 'recreated' some of the American War. I don't normally take any tours in a country, preferring to find things out by myself. These tours, without exception confirmed for me all the reasons why I don't take them.
So, how might one come to a slightly better understanding of Vietnam's recent history without getting on a bus with dozens of middle-aged Americans? Well, one of the ways I would suggest is through books. The Sorrow of War, by Boa Ninh is one of the few books to come out of the North. Bao fought the Americans for 10 years and was one of less than 10 survivors of his brigade of 5000. While the book is a novel it is largely biographical and deeply disturbing giving some insight into the mental suffering inflicted on combatants and civilians in war.
There are many books of photographs of Vietnam. From a photographic point of view much of the work is amazing, and contrasts strangely with the almost complete lack of quality visual material from recent wars, like Gulf War II. Phillip Jones Griffiths' Vietnam Inc. has some very familiar but stark work that became extremely unpopular with the American authorities of the time. Many of the images from this book can be viewed on Magnum Photos' website.
Larry Burrows, Vietnam, Burrows was killed in a helicopter crash while working in Indo-China. He was the winner of the Robert Capa Gold Medal for still photography requiring exceptional courage and enterprise.
Another Vietnam: Pictures of the War from the Other Side is dedicated to photographers who served with the North Vietnamese forces. Some of the stories of how they took and developed these images make fascinating reading.
Requiem: By the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina is a thoroughly depressing book filled with some of the best reportage photographs ever taken.