Gazing upon water buffalo in rice fields. The scent and sights of incense wafting through the air. The hypnotizing hum of an open market. Vietnam is a seductive assault on the senses. Growing up with a Vietnamese mother and American father, both of who loved SE Asia, I learned to embrace the organized chaos of my maternal homeland. And somehow, each time I journeyed back to Vietnam, there were always personal transformations to be had.
My 2008 trip to Vietnam flashes like a vibrant picture movie in my mind. After my mom and I spent a week visiting my family in the Mekong Delta, we jumped in a van along with a handful of adventurous aunts and cousins (in typical Asian fashion!), and headed for a remote beach area on the Gulf of Thailand bordering Cambodia.
Hours (and many Vietnamese pop songs) later, we arrived in a small beach town/fishing village nestled into the side of a limestone mountain. Inside this mountain existed an ancient Buddhist temple, hundreds of years old. As we began wandering around the marketplace, we bought various tropical fruits and trinkets. Then, we spotted a peculiar stand where the vendor was selling rare looking birds and mammals for medicinal purposes. The sadness was palpable.
A light glimmered in my mom’s eye and I knew we had a plan! Using what money we had left, we bought as many of the birds and rare squirrels as we could. Operation freedom began! My inner-PETA-loving self was elated! Carrying cages of squirrels and birds, we began scouting the jungle area around the temple. Unbeknownst to us, two Buddhist monks had witnessed our strategic purchases and ushered us into the jungle at the base of the temple’s entrance.
In noble, focused silence, the monks gathered incense, a gong and a pair of pliers. They began chanting. The chanted vibrations penetrated every cell in my body. Blessing the sentient beings before us, one monk pried the wires open, releasing the animals back into the sanctuary of their natural habitat, their jungle home.
Through presence, these monks witnessed the desire of our hearts. Through action, they displayed the purest of compassion. Beneath words and tears, we sensed the simultaneous beating of our hearts. Through the present moment experience of my senses, my lens of the world was transformed. In that moment, I pledged to share the spiritual beauty of SE Asia with those in the West and, yet again, I was #ChangedByTravel. - Lena Franklin
Want to travel to Vietnam with Lena? There are only a few spots left in our upcoming trip.