It is 4 am in rural Phong Nha. Water sheets the ground from heavy rain. Puddles pick up bulbs of light from neighbouring guesthouses, rippling like candle fire in the dead of night. It is too late to sleep and too early for anything but walk. A warm wind blows in through the town and I follow it. There are times when experiences are so understated, they are almost uncertain. It takes the oddest hour with no want or need to see the world at its most vivid.
I find myself on a bridge and gauge my bearings. The town sits slumbering in darkness, all that stir are my own shuffling feet. In a growing instant, faint whistling comes in on the wind. Expanding, thin peals and tinny chimes materialise carried in from a sourceless distance. It is music, harmonious and foreboding. In the same breath I hear the symphony reverberate from all around. And like a key turned, through the gloom I notice towering cliffs stretching upwards into the dark. Great looming pillars of stone circle the town, faintly etched against the charcoal of the night. Giants frozen in rock, the crust of the earth, the music booms back off their chests. Straining into the twilight I see them all around, great arcane guardians of some forgotten time, twisted and majestic with amethyst collars of mist high in their peaks. Not a soul in sight in this heavy night. With eerie chords striking deep into the karst I feel like a witness to an ancient ceremony of protection. For the town; for my passage through. My eyes squint at dots or dust swimming in my vision below. A family of fireflies gently skim the river, rising and dissolving into the dusk.
Breaking the spell, a night bus howls past in a streak of crimson. Its ultraviolet night-lights rippling like a different kind of supernatural creature slithering away into blackness. Alone again, the world returns. The sun yawns out from the fog, scooters buzz in passage and the hustle of people beginning their to and fro neutralises my sacred moment of twilight. The day carries on. I am unmistakably in Vietnam.