Being a large man taking up a space usually occupied by three Vietnamese, writer Walter Mason was obviously an easily noticed foreign visitor in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon).

Indeed the cheerful insults he often got about his size add to the charm of his account of three months travelling through Vietnam. He falls through plastic chairs, breaks floor tiles and gets run down by an elderly female cyclist, all occasions which give much merriment to the locals.

Thanks to a partner who is Vietnamese, Mason is a fluent speaker of the language, able to attend a university in Ho Chi Minh city, which he describes as "a kind of oriental LA without the celebrity".

Fluent he might be in the words, but not in the ways of the 10-year-old boy in the Hanoi Ambassador Pagoda who cons him out of a set of amber prayer beads and then has the cheek to ask for money. There are many such delightful moments as Mason wanders the countryside discovering a people who live by their wits, kindness and beliefs.

Destination Saigon, by Walter Mason, Allen and Unwin, $29.99