Biking in Vietnam and Cambodia is popular. A quick Google search will reveal pages of travel content for bike companies, tours and trips to pedal through Indochina. As a result, both countries’ tourism revenue has spiked. In 2013, Vietnam’s tourism industry is scaled to be worth $9.1 billion, according to companiesandmarkets.com.
Vietnam and Cambodia have an outpour of creative talent. Both countries are quiet epicenters of innovation when it comes to graphic design, illustration and artistry. While volunteering with Room to Read this summer, the nonprofit that builds libraries and schools in ten program countries including Vietnam and Cambodia, I scanned titles into the database and archived ten years worth of published children’s books that illustrated gender equality, education, hygiene, games, science, etc. The designs from Vietnam and Cambodia were some of the most eye catching, creative and beautiful books I worked with. One book outlined a story designed with claymation and photographed. Another book’s scenery was constructed with strips of paper, ribbons like and scanned flat, to make a seamlessly textured illusion. The colors were outstanding. The books from Vietnam were written in Vietnamese. The books from Cambodia were written in Khmer.
Travelers are experiencing Vietnam and Cambodia’s paved and unpaved narrow roads. In noticing the talent exhibited in the children’s books, I imagined on a hypothetical bike tour of both Vietnam and Cambodia’s literary landscape.
Cambodia doesn’t have large education or trade multinational publishers, but there are a handful of small, local commercial and NGO publishers such as SVA and SIPAR. According to the International Institute for Asian Studies, the Cambodia government opened the country to a free market in 1993. One of the publishing houses, Norkorwat Publishing, set out to publish quality books in the Khmer language, an underrepresented language among Cambodia’s publishing presses, especially among children’s publications.
In Vietnam, there are several private companies in the country’s domestic market. In an article with Vietnam News, translator and publisher Nguyen Van Phuoc explained that his devotion to sharing more books with Vietnam sprung from his time abroad where he realized that “books were an intrinsic part of human development.” Eventually, he started a small publishing house.
“I have dreamed of working with books ever since I was a child. Books are miraculous and mystical to me. When I hold an old, battered book, I want to create books which are beautiful in both content and cover, so I am able to share my passion with others,” Phuoc said.
Vietnam and Cambodia both have many untamed roads, figuratively and literally. Vietnam and Cambodia may be an attractive destination for tourists, but the literature road is still waiting to become the region’s next silk road in terms of a personal and literal sojourn. It’s time to bike closer to the countries’ presses and authentic stories. I look forward to one day biking down those roads to experience the stories first hand.