Who could resist reading about a land where the Perfume River flows, where you can even stay in rooms ranging from budget to more luxe right on the Perfume River? Or almost any hour of the night or day you can have a bap, a crusty French roll bursting with flavor, filled with julienne veggies and perhaps some pate? Or where you could spend weeks exploring the almost-Atlantis world of the Mekong Delta? And all this at prices many of us had not thought to see again in this life.
We are told, for example, that in Nha Trang, one can stay in "well-appointed rooms" in a French-managed hotel that has an "inviting roof-top restaurant" and a ice-cream bar at the reception area, for US $22-32 (Ha Van Hotel). Too pricey? Not pricey/luxe enough? The authors of this Vietnam Country Travel Guide suggest 25 other options, including those in the US $10 range.
This kind of detail distinguishes the Lonely Planet Vietnam Guide from others I have seen: depth of information. Other guides may list five places or so to stay, to eat, attractions to see, and so on. This Guide, one feels, was intended to be exhaustive and comprehensive in most cases: just about all available rooms, eateries adventures that meet the L-P's admirable standards of safety, cleanliness, comfort, and reasonable convenience.
As an aid to deciding whether or not to go at all, and for planning a trip, such detail can be worth flossier pictures or more history. The reasons to go are well & charmingly told but the downsides are not neglected. That's what I have found consistently true for L-P Guides and it is wholly so in this book
For example, one must be wary of kamikaze mosquitoes and kamikaze motorcyle drivers, tolerant of rough roads, and mindful of the horrific consequences such as landmines from the American War. The difficulties of connections and finding places to stay in the villages of the Mekong, the risks of malaria, the extensive need for vaccinations and health insurance, and other hazards are vividly discussed.
Thus, readers will have been enticed by the pleasures, challenged by the hiking and ocean adventures, and warned well of the hazards through this Lonely Planet "Vietnam: Country Travel Guide".
As a book, it is well-illustrated. It covers almost every hamlet, village, and city, dwelling splendidly on Hoi An and the lovely central area. It gives just about all the details one could hope for and then some in the historic and cultural discussions of the attractions in each area. This is, I think, the go-to Guide to Vietnam, particularly if you planning a sail on that Perfume River. The paper seems a bit flimsy but not enough to be a major points-off.
A slightly controversial aspect is inclusion of detailed information on crossing the border to Laos and Cambodia, including a lot about Angkor Wat and Siem Riep. I have been there (as I have not in Vietnam) and can attest to the "what you read about here is what you'll experience" value of this Guidebook. Given the long border and the opportunity to visit Angkor Wat, the addition of this material is a plus. You don't need to buy two guidebooks---this will do it----and the border crossing how tos (and how nots) is where it should be.
Haven't decided yet whether to head to Vietnam this year but my copy is already dog-eared, marked, and quite a few of the hotels checked out!