* Not the usual nostalgia tour

Down Highway One: Journeys through Vietnam and Cambodia
By Sue Downie
Asia 2000. 325 baht.
Reviewed by Susan Cunningham.

Among books about Vietnam in the doi moi era—since the acceptance of capitalist-style economics was unveiled in l987–Down Highway One by Sue Downie offers a refreshing perspective. It’s not yet another bittersweet nostalgia tour by an elderly U.S. veteran or a former war correspondent. Neither is it a quickie travelogue by someone whose prior knowledge of the country was derived from the Lonely Planet guidebook, too many viewings of “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon,” and a skim through Michael Herr’s Dispatches.

Downie is above all a diligent reporter trying to describe how Vietnam looks and feels today. Or rather, how it looked and felt between 1988 and 1990. In 1988, she was the first Western Bloc journalist (apparently she’s Australian) since at least the 1950s to travel overland from the Chinese border town of Lang Son down the length of Vietnam and from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Her route was the 2,100 kilometre-long Highway One. She describes it as “a D-grade road–narrow and potholed with disintegrating edges.” Continue reading