Last updated April 2020 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
A PERSONAL MEDITATION ON WAKING EARLY IN VIETNAM
“And now the young dawn showed again with her rosy fingers” Homer (not Simpson).
Dawn is the best time of day in Vietnam. Yet most travellers and expats – unless they are catching an early morning flight or coming back from a long night out on the town – never experience it.
Dawn in the tropics is fresh, cool, crisp and clear. The hours between 5am and 7am are when Vietnam is at its most magical. There’s none of the humidity that blights the daylight hours, especially in the southern rainy season or northern summers.
Dawn in the northern highlands, Cao Bang Province
Ethereal purples and bright oranges streak the sky as the sun spills over the lip of the horizon. Whether you’re in the city or the countryside, dawn is accompanied by birdsong (yes, even in Saigon).
Vietnamese people know and appreciate the special qualities of dawn: older people go for morning walks at 5.30am; teens gather in parks for coffee and gossip at first light; folk stories tell of lovers greeting the day on hilltops to compose poetry together.
Get up at dawn and you’ll see the ‘roots’ of daily life: street food vendors lighting charcoal stoves beneath cauldrons of broth; farmers untethering oxen and buffalo ready for a day in the fields; factory workers in boiler-suits marching to work along the hard shoulder of national highways; fishermen coming ashore in woven bamboo coracles with the night’s catch; fresh produce delivered to markets and met by a sea of conical-hatted women; the cities’ sanitation workforce – road sweepers, trash collectors, street vegetation gardeners – tidying up before the start of a new day.
At dawn there’s a sense of being on top of the day, the rare feeling of being one step ahead of time. Because most people are still in bed, there’s a satisfying sense that the dawn is all yours: a secret time of day that no one else knows about.
Calm, quiet and uncluttered, peaceful, beautiful and fascinating, witnessing the dawn should be on everybody’s list of things to do in Vietnam. A favourite poem of mine by A. E. Housman has long inspired me to get up early, and to travel:
Wake: the silver dusk returning
Up the beach of darkness brims,
And the ship of sunrise burning
Strands upon the eastern rims.
Wake: the vaulted shadow shatters,
Trampled to the floor it spanned,
And the tent of night in tatters
Straws the sky-pavilioned land.
Up, lad, up, ‘tis late for lying:
Hear the drums of morning play;
Hark, the empty highways crying
‘Who’ll beyond the hills away?’
Towns and countries woo together,
Forelands beacon, belfries call;
Never lad that trod on leather
Lived to feast his heart with all.
Up, lad: thews that lie and cumber
Sunlit pallets never thrive;
Morns abed and daylight slumber
Were not meant for man alive.
Clay lies still, but blood’s a rover;
Breath’s a ware that will not keep.
Up, lad: when the journey’s over
There’ll be time enough to sleep.
A. E. Housman: A Shropshire Lad (1896)
WEATHER IN VIETNAM:
When and where to travel according to Vietnam’s seasons……read more
LITTER IN VIETNAM’S BEAUTY SPOTS:
Trash is rapidly spoiling many of the country’s finest landscapes……read more
THE THEATRE OF RICE:
Harvest time in northern Vietnam is a memorable spectacle……read more