by Jon Bowermaster (Author), Photographs by Rob Howard
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My Journey Down the Coast of Vietnam
Sometimes the longest journey begins with great patience. When Jon Bowermaster proposed an 800-mile kayak expedition along Vietnam's northern coastline, the country's government initially responded, "That will be quite impossible." Negotiation saved the day, and Jon Bowermaster and his team of five - including a Vietnamese-American woman who had fled Saigon as a child on the final day of war in 1975 - completed an unprecedented voyage, seeing Vietnam and its people in a brand new light.
One-third of Vietnam's 80 million citizens live on or near the coastline, and Bowermaster met thousands of them - rich and poor, fishermen and entrepreneurs, almost all beach dwellers who live and depend on the sea. For many, he was the first American they had ever encountered. In chapters flowing from north to south, Bowermaster's highly personal story and Rob Howard's compelling images bring to life Vietnam's vibrant edge.
This fascinating volume, offering a fresh perspective on the land and its people, will captivate real-life explorers and armchair travelers alike with its intriguing take on Vietnam from the sea.
New York Times Sunday Book Review
After assiduously stroking the Vietnamese bureaucracy, the veteran adventure-travel writer Jon Bowermaster wins permission to paddle a sea kayak 800 miles from Ha Long Bay, near the Chinese border, to Hoi An, just south of fabled China Beach. DESCENDING THE DRAGON: My Journey Down the Coast of Vietnam (National Geographic, paper, $21.95) is Bowermaster’s chronicle of that journey, accompanied by Rob Howard’s photographs. Bowermaster’s party of four kayakers — which included a Vietnamese-American interpreter who, as a small child, escaped from Saigon with her family in 1975 on the last day of the war — shuttles from spontaneous encounters with fishermen and schoolchildren to stiff, staged meetings with People’s Committee functionaries. Despite the flowering of free enterprise over the last decade, Bowermaster and his team repeatedly run up against representatives of an autocratic state. Their meddlesome government minder, Linh, is an Asian Elvis Presley wannabeewhose “standard uniform in the field is a green army pith helmet, mirrored sunglasses, and a pair of cellphones in a carrying case strapped to his belt.” Eventually, Bowermaster comes to regard Linh as just “another hurdle to be dealt with on a daily basis, like an incoming wind or rainstorm.”