Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong” as Want to Read:
The River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The River's Tale: A Year on the Mekong

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  227 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
Along the Mekong, from northern Tibet to Lijiang, from Luang Prabang to Phnom Penh to Can Lo, I moved from one world to another, among cultural islands often ignorant of each other’s presence. Yet each island, as if built on shifting sands and eroded and reshaped by a universal sea, was re-forming itself, or was being remolded, was expanding its horizons or sinking under t ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published January 7th 2003 by Vintage (first published January 22nd 2002)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The River's Tale, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The River's Tale

Blood River by Tim ButcherThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradDeath on the Nile by Agatha ChristieLife on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
304 books — 144 voters
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenThe Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniShōgun by James ClavellNorwegian Wood by Haruki MurakamiThe Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Best Books on Asia
736 books — 530 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Nov 04, 2008 Annette rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2008, travel, memoirs
A perfect book to read while traveling in Southeast Asia. thought provoking. Also a reminder of how quickly things are changing in Vietnam and Cambodia...mostly for the better.
Dec 23, 2014 Tom rated it really liked it
This is a travel tale of the writer’s experiences traveling from the headwaters of the Mekong River in the Himalayas to the Nine Dragon Delta in Vietnam. Published in 2003 it naturally does not bring the reader up to date on all the rapid changes that have taken place in the region in the last 12-13 years, but that is not a criticism. The book describes the author’s attempt to take stock of the varying cultures along the river, and to learn about how they have been affected by, and adapted to, t ...more
May 10, 2010 Colin rated it really liked it
An excellent read - and extremely well-written. It was very nice to read such an elegant travelogue, though as the cover says it is far more than just some thrown-together notes from a journalist's sabbatical. Gargan is thorough and engaging in his description of the Mekong's journey from its source to the Delta and weaves a vivid tapestry through incorporation of history and personal experiences both far in the past and closer to the present. The only thing that kept putting me off was his need ...more
Feb 11, 2012 Lisa rated it really liked it
The existence of Google Earth made this a much more engrossing read!
Dec 02, 2012 Patricia rated it really liked it
Shelves: armchair-travel
A friend recommended this book as he knew I had travelled to about three-quarters of the destinations travelled by the author. Perhaps that is why I was less excited than I thought I would be when I finished it. Some of the sites along the Mekong I had travelled twenty-odd years ago, others as recently as last month (Luang Prabang), so there was a mix of both romantic nostalgia and small irritations. This is perhaps unfair to the author as The River's Tale is a personal travel diary and therefor ...more
Excellent book! Author is former New York Times journalist who became a journalist after quitting his doctoral studies in East Asian Studies. In mid-life, he took leave from NYT to travel the Mekong River from its origins in Tibet to the South China Sea.

The book is part adventure travel, explaining his adventures trying to arrange various modes of travel and lodging along the way. It also includes the author's observations about the cultural and political environment through which he traveled.
Jan 10, 2015 Mitch rated it liked it
Shelves: includes-colon
Writing: Gargan's vocabulary struck me first. He deploys a myriad of strong, simple verbs and avoids cliches. He's a journalist, all right. His imagery worked well at times and poorly at times, strangely motivating my page turning. Will his wording trigger an imagined thing/motion realistically or as a (often amusing) caricature? Average is boring.

Content: Elucidating, sad, joyous. A complete know-nothing of upper Southeast Asia before, I now feel somewhat expert. A built-in pronunciation guide
Feb 05, 2012 Katie rated it really liked it
If you want to know what life is like in parts of Asia today, and how the Vietnamese are getting on after the end of the Vietnamese War, and why you should be afraid of China's influence on the countries around it, read this book.

If you like travel books, particularly about places you've never been to and probably will never visit, read this book.

If you want to learn a little more about southeast Asian culture and history than you know already, read this book.

Basically, if you're at all interest
Mar 07, 2008 Danielle rated it liked it
This was an interesting journey from Tibet to Vietnam. I enjoyed the author's descriptions of the people and places that he saw as he traveled on the river. I tended to skip the historical background on each country he described, as well as his political views about the oppression of China on Tibet. But it did make me want to learn more about what is going on in Tiber, which was just in the news again last week.
His descriptions of the people in Cambodia were heartbreaking. My husband served his
Jul 28, 2013 Ellen rated it liked it
As someone who rarely reads non-fiction except professionally, I would never have read this book if my book club in HCMC had not picked it. I found it slow, but interesting. although having been in Laos, Siem Reap and the Mekong Delta, the fact that that all these areas have chaned dramatically in the last ten years madeit all seem quite outdated. Now the concerns are how the various countries will or will not work together to prevent ruin in the fertile delta by polution and by building dams al ...more
Oct 11, 2011 Marguerite rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
A decent read, but author Edward Gargan never seems passionate about his pilgrimage. It's an adventure, through some of the biggest hot spots in recent history, but that dynamic seldom comes across. For someone writing about a river, he seems to spend precious little time on the water. In the hands of another writer, this could be much livelier. I do appreciate his thoughts on the disappearance of native cultures, arts and ways of life. But Gargan seems tired of the topic long before the end of ...more
Aug 07, 2011 Emma rated it really liked it
Edward Gargan spent a year travelling the length of the Mekong river, from it's origins in Tibet to where it joins the South China sea. In travelling down the river his course took him through several countries and even more cultures, all of whom have their own relationship with the river. Gargan is very good at evoking the place and the people as he travels and has written a fascinating account of the river's growth and the people who inhabit it's banks.
Jan 22, 2008 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Although the concept was amazing, a years worth of travel down one of the most interesting rivers, this book fell terribly flat. Gargan filled his pages with boring history missing most of the beauty of place and characters he could have used. I have traveled to some of his destinations and relied heavily on that experience to fill in the tactile details that he missed. It made it hard to pick up and hard to get though. Would not reccomend this book.
Jun 14, 2009 Gail rated it really liked it
This was a wonderful way to review and remind myself of a great journey I once took along a similar path. I could smell, taste and hear all those incredible pieces of my story while reading this story. I read it simply because I was hoping to rekindle some of those memories and it was just that - all that I needed to enjoy my version of those pieces of the world.
David Koblos
Dec 18, 2012 David Koblos rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture
A very interesting travel book. Gargan combines his own experiences traveling along the Mekong, and the impressions of the landscape, buildings, and people he met, with the local cultures' histories, mythologies, and anecdotes, creating a beautiful mosaic of images that bring these remote places close to the reader.
Apr 01, 2014 Michael rated it really liked it
A Good Travel Biography.
Ed takes an interesting look at the cultures that have thrived along the Mekong for millennia and the sorrows of their drowning cultures as the currents of modernism erodes them
Geir Ertzgaard
Jun 14, 2014 Geir Ertzgaard rated it it was amazing
Kanskje den beste reiseskildringen jeg har lest. Boken får mye pepper for å være for treig, forfatteren bruker for mye tid på reisen og drar ut i for mange ord om opplevelsen. For meg var dette helt perfekt, og jeg SKAL en gang gjennomføre samme rute.
Dec 03, 2008 Joe rated it it was amazing
Excellent book! The writer made me wish that I was there. It is amazing to that as human beings we can treat others the way we do. The atrocities that were and are being done along the Mekong are unbelievable. It appears that the human spirit may win in the end but there is still a long way to go.
Jul 28, 2007 Zeke rated it liked it
An interesting travelogue, especially because I recognized the atmosphere from my trip to the area. But he bills it as a trip down the Mekong. He doesn't hold very closely to this, taking speedboats, busses, and even planes for much of the way.
Nancy Higbie
Oct 11, 2009 Nancy Higbie added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: travelers
I've just read two excellent travel books. One is THE RIVER'S TALE and the other is LOST ON PLANET CHINA by J. Maarten Troost. Good travel books are hard to find. I'm delighted with both of these books.
Aug 05, 2014 George rated it it was amazing
This was a great book to be reading while in SE Asia. Part travelouge, part history, part political/social commentary, and part humor, it was a very enjoyable and educational read.
Nov 12, 2010 Katie rated it it was ok
Didn't finish. Gargan doesn't shy away from lyricism, and it's worth reading just to see how many adjectives he can turn into verbs and then apply to personifying a river.
Nov 24, 2009 Alice rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, asia, travel
This was interesting for anyone who's interested in cultures, but it didn't really "transport" me to that world in the same way as some other memoirs.
Mar 12, 2010 Phyllis rated it it was amazing
Absorbing, colorful and very touching portrait of the cultures along the Mekong - Tibet, China, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.
Feb 08, 2012 Tami rated it really liked it
Shelves: asia
I was really enthusiastic about reading this because I am currently living and working in SE Asia. It was a great read. Informative but not tedious.
Aug 18, 2015 Tracy rated it really liked it
Very informative and gives good insight into Southeast Asia. It was great to read during/after my time there.
Allison Breaux
Jul 31, 2008 Allison Breaux is currently reading it
The book follows the author from Tibet to the South China Sea following the Mekong River. A bit slow in sections. Interesting to read about all of the different cultures in Southeast Asia.
Cat rated it really liked it
Jun 30, 2008
Sean rated it it was amazing
May 17, 2012
Kate West
Kate West rated it really liked it
Nov 13, 2013
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
se asia 1 4 May 07, 2009 08:23PM  
  • Forbidden Journey
  • Ant Egg Soup: The Adventures of a Food Tourist in Laos
  • One Foot in Laos
  • Golden Earth: Travels in Burma
  • River of Time
  • Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land
  • Sailing Through China
  • Under the Dragon: Travels in a Betrayed Land
  • In the Empire of Genghis Khan: An Amazing Odyssey Through the Lands of the Most Feared Conquerors in History
  • Arabia
  • Foreign Devils on the Silk Road
  • Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam
  • Unbeaten Tracks in Japan
  • Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo
  • The 8:55 to Baghdad
  • The Trouser People: A Story of Burma in the Shadow of the Empire
  • I Have Seen the World Begin: Travels through China, Cambodia, and Vietnam
  • Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus

Share This Book