It was after dark and I was walking down a street in Hue Vietnam when my attention was captured by a narrow alley off to my right. It was pitch black except for the soft glow radiating here and there from windows in the buildings that lined the alley. The pavement glistened from the rain that had fallen earlier and all was eerily still and quiet except for the barking of a dog in the distance. As I turned into the alley to take a picture a chill ran down my spine. I was suddenly aware that I was a lone woman, walking in an isolated area of a foreign city after dark. Yet I was not afraid.
In fact I felt very comfortable, but I was puzzled because I realized that I would have been stiff with fear under the same circumstances in Calgary. In SE Asia our family had become accustomed to being out after dark. Even in these exotic locations we were still in the Northern Hemisphere and it was fall so the days were short. We often walked home from supper in the dark.
We chose accommodations that were centrally located so that we could walk everywhere. If we were staying for more than an overnight, walking gave us a really good sense of the place. After a couple of days we knew where all the restaurants were, where the taxis congregated and we began to know where some people lived. We didn’t have the artificial security of a vehicle, so we were forced to get comfortable with being in the streets after dark if we didn’t want to stay in our hotel room all evening. Besides lots of cool stuff like night markets happen, you guessed it, at night.
It wasn’t until the evening in Hue that I realized how afraid we are of the dark. We illuminate everything and spray enormous amounts of light pollution into the sky. South East Asian governments don’t waste resources on things such as superfluous lighting. In some cities such as Luang Prabang, Loas only the two main streets have street lights, but night time is when the city comes to life.
In the late afternoon, vendors start setting up their stalls for the night market. First come the awnings to protect everything from the rain if it happens. Huge sheets of plastic are laid on the ground under the awnings with blankets, textiles and various crafts placed on top. Stalls are lit with single light bulbs hanging from extension cords. We bought a duvet cover in the night market. After looking at many we decided on one that was a beautiful burgundy colour with white flowers - until we got it back to our hotel and realized the flowers were florescent green!
The food vendors were clustered in a narrow street off of the main night market. Tables and chairs would appear in the late afternoon. Huge portable charcoal or wood barbeques would be lit and the amazing smells waft down the main street.
Cart vendors would also find a spot. Often they would be operating on battery power, with one small bulb casting a dim circle of light around them. In many cities these carts would be operated by women who would be out all evening on their own selling a small selection of food items to people on their way home. Some of the most amazing fruit milkshakes came from these street vendors, as well as deep fried bananas and other local delicacies.
People are simply accustomed to less light in other parts of the world. Homes as well as streets are dimly lit. Windows and doors are often left open until everyone goes to sleep, so when we walked in the street at night we could see into people’s homes and their lives. Sometimes the television would be the only source of illumination. The family would be clustered on mats on the living room floor, which also often doubled as a bedroom.
In Truc’s village, the main highway through town had only a few street lights. The pathways leading off the main highway to the houses were not lit at all. When we were summoned to the police station on our first evening in the village, we walked with a flashlight. As it was, the Grandma we were staying with, walking in her bare feet, veered suddenly off the path and ran into a fence. She bounced back toward us and we caught her by the arms before she landed on her backside. On another occasion, Truc’s uncle drove slowly behind us on his motorcycle so that the headlight would illuminate our path.
The night holds unexpected delights as well. Our first night in the village we slept on the second floor balcony under our mosquito nets. It was warm and clear. As we lay on our mats and listened to the crickets, we were treated to the antics of fireflies. We strained our eyes to see them as they flickered in the darkness. They foretold of how amazing our visit to the village would be.
The only real fear we had was dogs, of which there are many in SE Asia. Sometimes when we were walking down a dark and desolate street a dog that had been sleeping beside the street would suddenly bolt up from nowhere. It was more unnerving when several dogs in a pack would approach us at night. One could never be sure of the condition of these dogs and we had rabies vaccine to guard against dog bites as much as any other source.
Overall, the scariest part of the trip was at home, in my bed, before we left. The worries we create in our minds are often much scarier than the actual place we visit.
Bissky Dziadyk Family
Travelling the world as a family since 2008.
In September 2008 our family embarked on a four month journey through South East Asia. Traveling with a child who uses a wheelchair presented its challenges, but following the Mekong River through China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam with a wheelchair was truly an adventure.
When we move beyond our fears and embrace our dreams, the Universe has an odd way of not only supporting us but giving us more opportunities than we ever imagined. Embarking on a journey with an open heart we can not help but be changed forever by the experience. Indeed it would be a waste to return untouched in the spiritual realm.
September: China (Beijing, Xi’an,Kunming, Yuanyang)
October: Northern Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay) and
Laos (Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane)
November: Southern Vietnam (Hue, Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta)
December: Cambodia (Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Battambang, Kampot and Sihanoukville).