Don’t Miss the Dawn

Last updated November 2015 | 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 on the Ca Ty River, Phan ThietDawn on the Ca Ty River, Phan Thiet

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.

The Cat Lai docks at dawn, SaigonThe Cat Lai Docks at dawn, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

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 ProvinceDawn 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).

Notre Dame Cathedral at dawn, SaigonNotre Dame Cathedral at dawn, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

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.

Women gather at dawn to meet the fishing boats, Mui NeWomen gather at dawn to meet the fishing boats, Mui Ne

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.

Dawn preparations on a wooden junk, Mekong DeltaDawn preparations on a wooden junk, Mekong Delta

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.

Sunrise over the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc Island Sunrise over the Gulf of Thailand, Phu Quoc Island

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)

RELATED POSTS:


WEATHER IN VIETNAM:
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Weather in Vietnam


LITTER IN VIETNAM’S BEAUTY SPOTS:
Trash is rapidly spoiling many of the country’s finest landscapes……read more

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THE THEATRE OF RICE:
Harvest time in northern Vietnam is a memorable spectacle……read more

Rice harvest, Vietnam

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4 Responses to Don’t Miss the Dawn

  1. Oh Tommy I can smell the dawn. Well done. Opportunity abounds.
    Look forward to a meal,drink and chat anywhere, anytime.

  2. Jim Carlson says:

    You are correct, Tom. Early morning in Vietnam can be nice.
    For example, even in Hanoi a walk around Hoan Kiem Lake is pleasant.
    Individuals and groups are doing their various exercise routines, and the air is cleaner in the early morning.

    Am currently in Phuket and will fly to HCMC next Tue, stay there for four nights, and then on to Nha Trang for one month. Will eat some street food in HCMC following your suggestions. After that my itinerary is open but will use your information to help plan the rest of the trip. Will leave Vietnam on 31 Mar from HCMC.

    Cheers,
    Jim

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