We leave Prao after breakfast whilst the mist is still rolling over the mountain tops. It’s fresh on the motorbike and I feel exhilarated. We drive along the meandering mountain pass road, past waterfalls cascading hundreds of meters down.
The scenery changes from lush forest vegetation to farmed land and it’s not long before I ask that we stop so that I can take some photographs. Trees and wooden structures on the opposite side reflect off the still waters of a large lake. It’s serene and quiet as the mist curtain gently lifts and reveals a magnificent landscape.
Far too soon we leave the mountain and are on our way to My Son, passing many villages and paddy fields. Life goes on here undeterred as it has done for many years. People grow vegetables in their front gardens, making use of all the space available to produce something edible, they tend to their paddy fields, bathe their water buffalo, chitter and chatter, celebrate weddings, are saddened at funerals, sing Karaoke, as we pass by on the back of the motorbike, catching a glimpse here and there. It feels somewhat voyareustic and I realise that travel is exactly that.
We visit other countries to experience and see how other people live. To compare the lives of others to ours. To learn about their history and culture and to, hopefully, in the process, grow and enlighten ourselves from the experience.
We arrive at My Son, a Cham city and another UNESCO world heritage site. A religious centre in the late 4th century and occupied up to the 13th century, it boasts the longest development of any city in the Mekong region. Unfortunately, it was heavily bombed by the Americans during the war, and the temples are no more than ruins. The location is exquisite as the ruins are nestled in the lush valley surrounded by the mountains we have spent the last two days traveling through.
After lunching on a hearty noodle soup and some sweet coffee we’re off again making our way to Hoi An. There are many stops along the way though, as we hit that magical afternoon time when the light is perfect and there are photographs demanding to be taken. I spot a family watching some cock-fighting, and although I am totally against this form of sport or entertainment, I take photographs not only of the animals fighting, but of the family too.
The entire family including grandmother and a number of young children are present and participating and I guess this Sunday afternoon is no different to many others for this family, living off the land in this quiet village. Nobody is offended or the least bit bothered that I join in to watch and take photos. They welcome me with open smiles and nods of the head, and it is obvious to me that they are neither embarrassed nor sorry for what they are participating in. I expect to feel repulsed and angry by what I see and am surprised that I experience neither. For me, it means that travel is also about accepting the differences of other people and cultures and suspending judgement and personal feelings wherever possible.
Just next to the family enjoying their weekend sporting activity, I spot three ladies planting rice in a paddy field. I walk along the dyke to get closer to them and they wave and smile, welcoming me to their foray. From the age difference, it seems to me that there are 3 generations working together, grandmother, mother and daughter. The youngest lady speaks some English and confirms my suspicions for me. Her grandmother, a beautiful lady with a heavily wrinkled face, mischievous eyes and toothless smile is 82 years old. She poses for me as I take a dozen photos of her and shows me her great, big gummy smile when I show her the portrait on the back of the camera. It’s times like these when I love digital technology. As I thank them and wave good-bye she teasingly makes as if to throw some mud at me. She cackles loudly as I pretend to be frightened and run away. I shake my head as I walk back to our bikes, glowing with the joy of this special moment.
We arrive in Hoi An and go through the formalities of hotel check- in before taking a short stroll to find a place for a meal and some light conversation. It’s been another incredibly amazing day, and I can’t wait to lie quietly in bed and relive it as I drift off to a gentle sleep.