Destination Saigon: Adventures in Vietnam

Walter Mason

Destination Saigon: Adventures in Vietnam
Allen & Unwin
1 March 2010

Destination Saigon: Adventures in Vietnam

Walter Mason

From the crazy heat and colour of Saigon to the quieter splendour of Hanoi, Walter Mason gives us a rare, joyous and at times hilarious insight into twenty-first century Vietnam. Seduced by the beauty and charm of its people, and the sensuousness of its culture, we can almost taste the little coconut cakes cooked over a fire in a smoky Can Tho kitchen, or smell the endless supplies of fresh baguettes and croissants just out of city ovens.

As colourful city cafes and bars make way for visits to out-of-the-way shrines and temples, we take an impromptu visit to forbidden fortune tellers, and glimpse a little of the Cao Dai religion, made famous in Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. Escaping on impulse to a far-flung province, a brief imprisonment culminates in an invitation to local wedding celebrations.

Travelling off the beaten track to far-flung villages and lesser-known towns, we cruise along the Mekong, board hopelessly overcrowded local buses or perch perilously on the back of motorbikes. Behind-the-scenes visits to Buddhist monasteries reveal a quieter and more transcendent world beyond the busy day trips of tourists. And in the process we begin to see the country through the eyes of its people.


When Walter Mason spends the night in a beachside monastery, he wonders if some early rising monks might think him an apparition of Di Lac, the fat, smiling Buddha of the future. This is an apt description of my own impression of Mr. Mason after reading the personal and amusing account of his voyages in Vietnam as a festively plump foreigner.

Possessed of a fluid and receptive engagement with spirituality, Mr Mason directs his exploratory trip into the religious practices and beliefs of individuals and groups in contemporary Vietnamese society, finding charisma in all facets of Vietnamese life. I became more and more engaged with Mr Mason’s comical and touching stories, related in the sort of personal, unpolished style that heightens humour and forgives gentle moralising.

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