Book Review: A Short Ride in the Jungle by Antonia Bolingbroke-KentPosted: March 27, 2015
The Ho-Chi Minh trail is the stuff of history books and legend, the supply route used by the North Vietnamese and their backers to transport weapons and equipment during the Vietnam war. Manned by volunteers it became a major thorn in the side of the US war effort and the subject of an unprecedented bombing campaign. It stretched through Laos and Cambodia, but forty years later much of the trail has been forgotten and all that remains is a mass of unexploded ordinance (UXO) which continue to blight the countryside of these nations, injuring the people who live there, decades after the war came to a close.
The mysterious trail is the focus for this book, which Antonia Bollingbroke-Kent attempt to follow the trail and find it’s secrets having been to Vietnam for a work trip while working for the BBC. ABK is an experienced traveler but the trip still posed a significant challenge, as she would be traveling alone and her vehicle of choice was a small Honda Cub dubbed the Pink Panther, a bike not really suited for the grueling off road journey before her.
The trip is an incredibly interesting affair and ABK is an observant and affable narrator, talking about the struggles she faces with energy and keenly observing the people she meets along the way. It’s written in a very easy going manner, and ABK juggles historical facts and info with what’s going on with her personally as she travels.
She passionately writes about her reasons for her journey as well as the injustices and tragedies she witnesses and hears about on the road. She finds three countries all of whom continue to bear the scars of their violent pasts, and the unfair way they have been treated. When the US pulled out from the region they did so quickly, leaving many of their former comrades in dangerous positions, and ABK is rightfully angered by the fact that UXO continue to kill and maim. She also highlights the fact that the US has done very little to help in clearing these bombs, especially compared to the money it pours into attempts to locate the bodies of their MIA soldiers.
But it’s the personal journey that is the most intriguing, with ABK taking to the road and experiencing life in a place a world away from her home in the UK. She’s roughing it and at times the road is tough going and she has to dig deep to keep going. It’s about someone having to push themselves and face their fears, and the result is inspiring, it got my feet itching and kickstarted my dormant desire to learn to ride a motorbike, although I might build up a bit of experience when I decide to go off road in a distant land.
The Vietnam war has long been an interest of mine, and it’s interesting to read about the lasting effects of the conflict and how it has shaped the area. It’s a good read, mixing history and travel in good measure to fantastic effect, ABK isn’t the greatest writer but she’s still warm and engaging, and a passionate guide on her road trip.
Verdict: An engaging and entertaining travel book, written in an easy going and warm manner, with a likable narrator. Bolingbroke-Kent bravely tackles a significant challenge and discovers an interesting place where the scars of the past are still vivid on the natural psyche. It definitely made me want to hit the open road, and then go off it. 7/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.