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Travel Essentials: A Good Book!

Whether I am on the road or at home working, I am always traveling - through books!

The below list is a diverse, sometimes offbeat, selection of travel literature. KEEP ON READIN'

p.s. Feel free to email me your suggestions!




Asia General | China | India | Mekong/Southeast Asia | Laos | Vietnam | Burma/Myanmar
Japan | Nepal | Tibet | Bhutan | Borneo | Republic of Georgia/Azerbaijan
Italy/France | Spain | Africa General | Morocco | Kenya
Baja California, Mexico | Middle East General

Miscellaneous Travel reading

Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World, Rita Golden-Gelman : The inspiring adventures of a true modern day nomad. Rita sold her belongings and threw off the '"chains" that bind woman her age to the life they "should" live. She travels the world using organizations like "couch-surfing" and "Servas" to connect her with locals and housing. Then she parks herself for a few months and really gets to know the people and the culture. Buy From >

Female Nomad and Friends - Tales of breaking free and breaking bread around the world, Rita Golden-Gelman : The latest from Rita - includes recipes! To be released July 2010. Buy From >

The Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain : Twain's adventures with a band of bourgeois Americans cruising the Med & visiting the middle east back in the late 1800's. Twain's irreverent comments and incisive insights are amazingly pertinent today. Buy From >

The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Through Asia, Paul Theroux :

Theroux travels from London, through Europe and Asia by Train in the 1970's. This is not travelogue, it is about the train experience, but even more about the idiosyncrasies of the people he meets along the way. His descriptions are incisive and astute, but may be lost on any but the seasoned traveler. Buy From >

Shadows in the Sun: Travels To Landscapes Of Spirit And Desire, Wade Davis : This collection of essays is cultural anthropology at it's best. A short, easy, fascinating read. Davis is a well-known anthropologist and "ethnobotanist". Buy From >

The Journey's Echo, Freya Stark : A collection of stories by one of the original female adventurers - made me wish I was born a hundred years ago! Lovely poetic style. Buy From >



  ASIA Misc. :

These books feature chapters on various countries in Asia.

The Lands of Charm and Cruelty: Travels in Southeast Asia, Stan Sesser : The author profiles the societies and politics of Burma, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia, and Borneo. Buy From >

All the Wrong Places, James Fenton : Fenton recounts his experiences as a reporter in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Korea from 1973 to 1987. Buy From >

Spice, the History of a Temptation, by Jack Turner : One of the ideas in days gone by was that paradise was where the spices came from. The world was essentially explored by boat, not so much as to see what was on the other side of the mountain but to find spices. Buy From >



From a fan, Tony recommends:
The Great Game, by Peter Hopkirk. (one of the Great Game Trilogy) Hopkirk gives an excellent account of the rivalry between Great Britain and Russia for control of Central Asia. Very pertinent today given the current situation in Central Asia with the new "game" being played by the United States and China. Buy From >

When China Ruled the Seas: the Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne 1405-1433; Oxford Univ. Press 1994: Louise Levathes' book about the Ming treasure fleet. Buy From >

From a fan, Terri recommends:

The Forgotten Kingdom: Eight years in Likiang, Peter Goullart : His amazing 1930's book on living in the Lijiang area, home of the Naxi tribal culture. He was one of the last westerners to live and work there before the communists took over. Tough to Find! Buy From >

Also from Terri:

Peking Story: The Last Days of Old China, David Kidd : One of the last "white men " in china during the last days of the mandarins, their final feasts, Mah Jong games - you can taste the food and hear the tiles clack! Buy From >

From a fan and China scholar:
A Dream of Red Mansions, Tsao Hsueh-chin and Kao Ngo.

Tony gave me this very thorough synopsis: Written during the middle of the eighteenth century, during the decline of the Manchu or Ching dynasty. The novel is two fold, a love story and the record of the decline of a once powerful extended Mandarin family. The novel is also a commentary against feudalism. The last forty chapters and happier ending were added later by Kao Ngo. Either the work was left unfinished by Tsao or the last forty chapters were lost. The abridged version is fine, but I feel the character of the novel is altered. I prefer the unabridged version although it is lengthy at three volumes. Buy From >

Wild Swans, Jung Chang : popular historical novel centering around a Chinese family. Buy From >

The River at the Center of the World - A Trip Up the Yangtze and Back in Chinese Time, Simon Winchester : A lengthy memoir, great to take on a Yangtze Cruise! Buy From >

Iron & Silk, Mark Salzman : Memoir of an American school teacher in China. Buy From >



There are many different aspects of Indian history that make great stories.

Far Pavilions, M.M. Kaye : One of my favorites - A classic historical novel, long - good for a three month trip through India! Buy From >

Gandhi, William Shirer : A first step in understanding the great man and Indian culture. Buy From >

A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth : Long & not gripping, but a very pleasant read. Weaves history, & politics with the story of three families in the newly independent India. Buy From >

Raj, Gita Mehta : The time when the Rajputs (Indian Princes) ruled the country. Buy From >

In Rajasthan, Royina Grewal : Part of the Lonely Planet Journeys series. Buy From >

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy : Beautifully written story of an Indian family in Kerala in the 1960's. Weaves politics, the caste system, and a vivid picture of Indian life with a family tragedy, and the "small things" that are not discussed. Buy From >

Moonlight on the Ganga, Claire Krulikowski : A spiritual journey that takes place in Rishikesh on the Ganges River, home to many seekers & ashrams. The author does a good job of illuminating the experience of independent travelers - trying to be open to a very different culture, but struggling with wariness of strangers and differences that we cultivate in our culture, where we think WE are the ones in control. Buy From >



(Buy these to take on the Asian Oasis cruises of the Mekong! )

The Mekong : Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future, Milton Osborne :

A terrific book that covers the history, peoples and culture of the Mekong River region, from ancient civilizations, the French expedition trying to discover a route to China. Buy From >

The River's Tale : A Year on the Mekong, Edward A. Gargan : Gargan, a foreign correspondent, takes a year off to follow his passion - literally! He starts in Tibet and journeys along the Mekong telling the story of the mighty river and the cultures that surround it. Buy From >


  LAOS :

I love the country & loved all four of these books.

Tragedy in Paradise: A Country Doctor at War in Laos, Charles Weldon : Memoirs of an American doctor who, with his wife and three children, lived and worked in Laos during the Vietnam war. Buy From >

The Ravens, Christopher Robbins : Fascinating, personal accounts of the secret war that was fought in Laos while the world was focused on Vietnam. *May be tough to find in paperback - but worth it! (I heard it was "blacklisted" here in the U.S. at one time) Buy From >

Stalking the Elephant Kings: In Search of Laos, Christopher Kremmer : A contemporary portrait of an ancient monarchy and the political history of Laos. Buy From >

Ant Egg Soup: Adventures of a food tourist in Laos, Natcha Du Pont De Bie : A nice travel companion for a trip through Laos! You may have to buy this through Lonely Buy From >



One of my favorite books ever:
Saigon, Anthony Grey : The history of Indochina, from French rule to the American evacuation of Saigon. Follows a love story between an American and a Vietnamese girl over five decades. *May be hard to find, but GET IT, it's one of my favorites! (was supposedly black listed in the U.S. at one time) Buy From >

When Heaven & Earth Changed Places, Le Ly Hayslip : Le Ly's true story of her childhood during the Vietnam war and her return 20 years later. Tough to find.

The Quiet American, Graham Greene : A classic - every backpacker in Vietnam has a bootlegged copy and it was made into  a film with Michael Caine. The trials and tribulations of an American journalist trying to do the right thing during the French war in Vietnam. Buy From >

A Wavering Grace, Gavin Young : A Vietnamese Family in War & Peace. A correspondent during the war, Young tells a touching story that takes the reader behind the headlines. Buy From >

Seeing Vietnam : Encounters of the Road and Heart, Susan Brownmiller. A mix of travel guide and internal journey of the author as she explores post war Vietnam with all it's complexity. Buy From >



Saving Fish from Drowning, Amy Tan : This book is ok-good if you are interested in Burma. It's a pretty superficial story about a tour group of Americans getting into trouble in Burma. An entertaining, light read. Not up to par for Tan. Buy From >

The Piano Tuner, Daniel Mason : Wonderful story about a British piano tuner summoned by the military to Burma in the late 1800's. An easy, interesting read that will give you some background on the "warlords" and tribal struggles in Burma. Buy From >

East of Mandalay, Suzanne Clauser : Exciting novel about a woman missionary held captive by a Shan drug lord in Burma - good action drama and love story. Buy From >



The Samurai's Garden, Gail Tsukiyama :Set in Japan just before WWII - a young Chinese man goes to a small Japanese village to recuperate from tuberculosis, and the relationships that develop. Buy From >



Another of my favorites:

The Mountain is Young, Han Suyin : Story about British expat life in 1950's colonial Kathmandu. I loved this book, just stick with it through the 1st few chapters to get used to the writer's style (as with most good books!) Buy From >

Love & Death in Kathmandu, Amy Willesee & Mark Whittaker : True tale of the royal family of Nepal, living a life that attempts to straddle the centuries, and the massacre at the palace in 2001. Makes me wonder, are all royal families a tad nutty? It's not a literary masterpiece, but an interesting read for those traveling to Nepal. Buy From >

Shopping for Buddhas, Jeff Greenwald, Lonely Planet Journeys (
An enjoyable, humorous, touching read about the author's travels in Nepal and his search for the perfect Buddha souvenir. If you have traveled and shopped in So East Asia, you will be able to relate! Buy From >



from a fan:
The Rose of Tibet, Lionel Davidson : "best adventure tale ever" ...non fiction. Buy From >

The Blue Poppies, Jonathan Falla : about Tibet in the 1950s with china looming. Buy From >



Also recommended by Terri:
The Peaceful Dragon, Katie Hickman : Terri says: "Her trip through eastern Bhutan, an area closed to most... a fab book" Buy From >



Stranger in the Forest, On Foot Across Borneo - Eric Hansen : Chronicles the authors crazy, 2400 mile journey back & forth through the rainforests and jungles of Borneo in 1982. Buy From >

Shooting the Boh, Tracey Johnston : The author's mid life crisis converges with the first decent of a treacherous river. A good contemporary travel book, exciting, easy read. Buy From >



Stories I Stole, Wendell Steavenson : Recommended by a viewer who says: "the author lived in Georgia for several years - it's a hoot!!" Buy From >

Ali and Nino, Kurban Said : A love story between a Christian girl and Muslim boy in World War I Azerbaijan, first published in Austria in 1937. Buy From >



Mediterranean Summer: A Season on France's Cote d'Azur and Italy's Costa Bella, David Shalleck : David brings to life the trials and tribulations of a chef on a luxury yacht. You'll experience the sights, sounds, smells and glamour of sailing the Med. A thoroughly appetizing read! (Only problem was I found myself coveting that yacht, and someone to cook for me! One can dream...) Buy From >

Five Quarters of the Orange, Joanne Harris (author of Chocolate): This lyrical, but intense little book reminds us that the people fighting our wars are real people, and that in the chaos of war time, nothing is black & white. The story follows a woman and her children in a small French village during the German occupation. Buy From >



The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway : Legendary Hemingway - a must read for any reader, and a great compliment for a trip to Europe, or Spain and Pamplona. Buy From >

Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway : Another classic - a fascinating look at the history and grandeur of bullfighting, also a contemplation on the nature of cowardice and bravery, sport and tragedy. Buy From >



West with the Night, Beryl Markham : A "must read" even if you never go to Africa! One of my all time favorite books - don't miss this one! Buy From >

The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles : Three Americans traveling in post WWII North Africa. Not your typical travel tale - a haunting, terrifying, complex, psychological drama played out against a shimmering, cruel desert backdrop. A Classic - was made into a movie with Debra Winger, but the book is better. Buy From >

The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, Ernest Hemingway :
Classic short stories by the master storyteller. Buy From >

Malaria Dreams: An African Adventure, Stuart Stevens : A witty, humorous account of Steven's misadventures in Africa. Buy From >



Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail, Malika Oufkir : True story of a woman and her children imprisoned for 20 years in a desert jail in Morocco. So horrific an existence, it's hard to believe it's true, and that they survived, and, that it happened so recently! Buy From >



Poverty and Promise: One Volunteer's Experience in Kenya, Cindi Brown : A very real tale of the rewarding, yet emotional struggles faced by an American volunteering in the midst of overwhelming poverty in Kenya. Buy From >



The Log from the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck : True story of Steinbeck's journey with biologist and friend Edward Ricketts on a boat from Monterey California around the Baja peninsula and up into the Sea of Cortez back in 1945. Peppered with his opinions & insights into politics and human nature. Buy From >

Miraculous Air ; A Journey of a Thousand Miles Through Baja California, the Other Mexico, C.M. Mayo : A very enjoyable, contemporary read about 2 women traveling thru the Baja. Called "one of the best books ever about Baja" and a "rare jewel" by reviewers. Buy From >

Loreto, Baja California: First Mission & Capital of Spanish California, Ann & Don O'Neil : An easy to read historical account of the indigenous people, missionaries, European settlers and Loreto today. Buy From >



The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini : Heart wrenching story of the relationship between a father, his son, and his servant's boy. Begins in Afghanistan pre Taliban and follows their as the become Afghani immigrants in California. An easy, touching read. Buy From >


What's your favorite Travel Book?


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