Da Nang - a small beach town in Viet Nam. Our stay in this beautiful town was short and sweet. We spent a day exploring the beaches, walking along the shore, and sitting in stillness absorbing the quietness of this place. When the sun set we started to walk back to our hotel. It was just another day in paradise.
And then....memories were made. While walking back we were greeted by two young women who started asking us about our travel. They both were vibrant, motivated and full of life. Even though we were skeptical in the beginning, there was this innocence in their behavior that we couldn't help but continue the conversation. We learnt they were pursuing their studies in a nearby college. We spent almost an hour sharing our travel experience, our stories, learning about them and their culture. It was so refreshing to meet college students who were eager to meet new people and learn about their culture. By the time we left, we had new memories made.
That's the thing about memories - they are made by moments, special moments like these. And that's what I am loving about backpacking....because it's giving us so many moments which will stay with us forever!
Mai Chau - a quiet district in Northern Viet Nam. Surrounded by hills, this district is adorned with beautiful rice fields and vegetable farms. We spent two days hiking and biking the streets of Mai Chau. The views from up the hill are breathtaking. The villages are full of farmers working in the fields, grazing their cows, feeding the chickens, selling their home grown vegetables. Unlike Sapa, this district is still not much on the tourist map so we could see the authenticity in culture, food and simplicity in the people and their lifestyle. The houses are made on stilts and it is not uncommon to see people hanging out in their hammocks under the raised floor. It felt like we went back in time to a place of serenity and tranquility. So many of us have to travel hundreds of miles to enjoy such scenery! How wonderful it must feel to wake up to such a magnificent view everyday. If the view outside our home and work place was like this, I think our productivity would multiply and the stress of to-do's and deadlines would be out the window :o)
Mornings....the most glorious part of every day. Each new day brings about a fresh start. As the sun starts painting the sky with shades of golden orange and the morning dew on leaves and flowers starts to wash away, the freshness in air reminds us to take a deep breath and pay our gratitude to this universe for letting us witness the beauty of this day.
We reached Hanoi early morning after a night long train journey from Danang. It was about 6am and the city was still asleep. Except for the railway station where the hustle and bustle of everyday life had begun. We stepped out and before we could start our morning walk to the hotel, the smell of fresh coffee pulled us to a small roadside kiosk. While we sat, the lady poured two really strong shots of coffee with condensed milk. I have never seen as much use of condensed milk as in South East Asia....be it coffee, tea, smoothie, pancakes....you name it! Anyways, we sipped the coffee and boy it did wake us up. And then we embarked our long walk through unknown streets of Hanoi....the sky was still dark but the birds were already awake.
Most fun part about first day in a new city where you don't know the language and all street names are written in the local language is trying to find you way to the destination. And at such times, more often than not, the phone GPS decides not to work. And that's exactly what happened :o) We were annoyed and angry at each other for not saving the hotel address and our attempts to ask the locals went in vain. But the morning freshness made everything seem small. We walked and walked on the empty streets, imagining how the same streets would be once the city wakes up. After wandering for an hour and few attempts, we finally found our hotel. It was 7am by then and our hotel street was full of vegetable vendors, meat vendors, people buying fruits, sipping their morning tea and just waking up. As we checked in and kept our luggage, the hotel staff suggested we go to the lake close by....and off we went!
Fifteen minutes later we were at the lake and we were amazed by the sight. As we walked, we saw locals exercising everywhere around the lake! Old, young, men, women everyone was doing something....some were jogging, some dancing, some playing badminton, some doing Tai Chi, some doing zumba, some practicing western dance and some just sitting in stillness by the lake....it was amazing! The women were carrying their shopping carts and after shopping with their friends they would take a break to just dance!! We both smiled....it was inspiring to see locals of all age groups taking time out for themselves before they get busy with their daily routine. It looked like everyone was celebrating, not some occasion, but their life!!
I have yet to see such a sight in a big city....yes we have seen a handful running or walking their dogs in the morning, but to such a degree - nowhere! In big cities like Houston and New York, mornings are meant to rush, run and be in the fast lane. No time to smell the flowers, to take in the fresh air, to sit and have breakfast. But being here in the city of Hanoi on that fine morning, it made me realize....life is too short to always be in the fast lane. Life is about celebration of everything - and every morning gives us a chance to start afresh and celebrate our presence in this world. And taking some time in the morning for our own self, before our commitments, our schedules and our deadlines is the least we can do to celebrate the gift of our life :o)
Ha Long Bay located in the Quang Ninh Province of Northern Vietnam reminded us of Milford Sound in New Zealand. Hundreds of limestone formations make cruising in the bay even more beautiful. We spent a day in the boat watching the sky, the water, the birds, fishermen and just chilling :) The thing is no day spent in nature is unforgettable. This saying by Jules Renard speaks my heart -
"On earth there is no heaven, but there are pieces of it...."
I wish we took care of these pieces of heaven like we loved our family and our possessions. After all, what would our Mother Earth be like without nature? What would our life be like without flowers, birds, trees, mountains? Nature fills our life with color and beauty. It makes me sad when I see we abuse it without thinking of consequences of our actions. Our Earth is a gift to us, this nature is loaned to us....with the hope that we will cherish it, nurture it and love it like our own while we are here and then hand it over to our children and generations to come so they can enjoy it and learn from it.
This Native American proverb says it all -
"Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."