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Amber Paulen

Camping Trip

Above a loud-raucous, vibrant-chaotic street in District 1, Saigon, I sit. It’s only been a couple days since the beaches’ tranquility has been broken by veritable rivers of honking motorbikes. In foresight of departure from the Andaman Sea, its flanking sands and Thailand, we signed ourselves up to be taken off on a one-night excursion to idyllic isles.

The Trang Islands cluster to the south of Ko Lanta. On a fisher’s boat we rode— captained by a man of few words—to snorkel, to lunch, to swim, to camp. On the shores of Ko Kradan we cracked through our dinner of crabs and prawns and fish and squid the freshest I’ve ever eaten.

If it had only been the teeming jungle, the populous waters of creatures mythical and blood-filled, the fiery orb melting another round around the world, it may have been enough. But there were also night-time stories told over whisky and smoke to fully fill-out my pleasure of present place.

The people who have lived their lives on the water, around the jungles, emit an animism that they couldn’t explain if asked. It is who they are. It is what the world is: alive with the seen and unseen. Spirits occupy the spaces, Ned told us. When we asked him about what lived just behind us in the dark trees he answered us blissfully: many things. With a smile he told us of the poison and agility of the snakes who live there, the poison of giant centipedes, of crabs, of spiders, of big black cats. The forest is alive! When we asked him if anything had ever happened to anyone who had went on one of these camping trips, he smiled: of course. Bit by a giant centipede.

Ned’s most cheerful depictions of nature’s most horrific awestruck me again: how great is Nature’s cruel balance and how wise are those who know of it!It is our separation from that which we were birthed from that has caused us to complicate that which is unknowably simple. And here? In Ho Chi Minh City? Where it is human rubbed up to human and the rest is dust, cement and pollution. When you walk across the street just close your eyes, and trust in your part of the chaos.


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