Traveling to Mui Ne

  • By Daniel
  • 2009-11-15 23:11:00-0800

Sunday morning when I woke up I noticed a recurring morning phenomenon; stiff ankles. I thought about how I should probably stay more active to avoid that displeasure.

Right after waking up Tien called a bus service and found a bus going to Saigon at 9:30. Thu got us some hot breakfast from the market while we packed. We ate and headed off by bus. We were still unsure about the train schedule and availability and decided just to head to a travel agency in Pham Ngu Lao and see what we could find.

As we were leaving Binh Hoa I saw a scooter stacked 4 boxes high that had fallen over while parked and the driver was trying to pick it back up. A peloton of cyclists passed by. Real cyclists, not just school kids on their way. We did pass a school though and I noticed that all schools in Vietnam look the same. Tan buildings with big fences and blue signs with white text.

As we got to Saigon I noticed some large text written with plants on a wall. As we passed I looked back at it and saw it was a billboard wall made with an array of pot holders so you could use pots containing different colored plants to make patterns. Potted plant pixels.

The clouds were dark and it began to rain. I feared bad weather or worse, really bad weather.

I noticed a police checkpoint set up at the side of the road. I had also seen one as we were entering Long Xuyen and I would see another as we were leaving Saigon. I never found out what the story was.

Just after getting into a taxi I saw a guy on a motorbike with no helmet and a styled Asian hairdo with the addition of a mullet.

I saw two young girls on a scooter collide with a woman carrying baskets on each side of her handlebars in busy Saigon traffic.

I saw a guy on a motorbike sharing headphones with his passenger the way Tien and I do. I'd never seen anybody else wearing headphones while riding.

Our taxi turned down Nguyen Trai street, home of the Ruby Star, and we drove for many, many blocks. There were tons of stores full of awesome girl clothes and I thought about how if I was a girl I'd go nuts in a place like that. For a man of my style and stature there is neither the inclination nor the option for such an occurrence.

After arriving at the same travel agency where the two motorbike taxis had dropped us off at last time, Tien and I quickly figured out our travel situation, bought bus tickets and went to find coffee. We only had to go next door to Highland Coffee. We had eaten lunch here before, it was the cafe where the French club owner was negotiating with the local DJs. The food was good here but we just wanted coffee. It had western prices but with them, western flavor, which was very welcome. I had savored a cappuccino.

We stayed there for an hour while I caught up on some internet stuff and charged my phone whose battery had been depleted while playing Fieldrunners on the bus, then went outside and boarded our bus to Mui Ne.

There were very few people on the bus and about half of us were white, though not all speaking English. Most were a group of three girls and one guy who I thought were Ukrainian.

As we headed north there was a variety show on the TV with guy and girl hosts who I recognized. Tien said the man's name was Nguyen Ngoc Ngan, which may not sound like you think but is still pretty hard to pronounce.

There were a lot of songs sung between guys and girls reaching dramatically out into the air and gazing at each other during the harmonies and looking away during the solos. I asked Tien why so many Vietnamese people like this kind of thing and she just laughed and said it was romantic. I asked why Vietnamese people like romance so much and she didn't know. It seemed odd for a conservative culture to be so enamored with romance. I thought that as far as video media is concerned, romance was to Vietnamese people what action is to Americans.

A bit later two Vietnamese people got on, one guy and one girl, and immediately struck up a conversation in English with the Europeans. They both spoke english very comfortably and phrases such as "you know, like" made it clear they had lived in America for a while. The man said he was engaged, though not to the girl he was with, then continued to flirt with the Norwegian girls, a detail I garnished from unwilling eavesdropping. He talked on about money and living in America, and it even seemed like his girl friend was being his wingman. For a while I thought he might just be the guy we stayed with in Binh Duong. He was certainly just as sleazy with all the same lines.

One of the bus employees came by asking where to drop us off, but we really didn't know because we hadn't planned that far ahead. The man in front of us said he could recommend a cheap hotel to us.

I put my headphones back on and we lost ourselves in a variety of music that I picked while scanning the songs. Debussy, The Thompson Twins, Oscar Peterson, Simply Red, Zero 7, Above and Beyond. We settled on classical and I drifted off for a few songs.

When I woke up we were slowing down next to the ocean to let the Norwegians off. There was a sizzler restaurant and a wind surfing and scuba diving tour place. We rode a little farther and got off where the man who was recommending our hotel got off. A guy on a motorbike was waiting for a fare, and he flagged down another passing motorbike to take us to a hotel. As we were riding Tien's driver talked on and on and on in Vietnamese. We left town and headed inland a bit, which wasn't encouraging because I wanted to be in the city or at least by the water. We took some big roads, passed an empty round-about by some big sand dunes, and eventually popped back out onto a highway that paralleled a beautiful beach. I could see the caps of breaking waves in the darkness. The air was warm, and it was magical riding along the coast through that warm night air on a motorbike next to Tien.

Tien's driver led us to a dark resort hotel with trees scattered between various buildings. Tien later told me that he had skipped the hotel that the man had recommended because it was apparently too loud and was a dirty place. I honestly couldn't imagine what a hotel was that was dirtier than the place he took us to. It had water stains on the wall, chipped plaster, it smelled funky, there was a board covering the window in the bathroom, and it looked pretty much like it wasn't kept up very well.

We checked in and agreed to pay 400k a night, which was clearly too much for what we were getting. We had come so far out of town and hadn't passed anywhere that was definitely open that I figured the price to take the motorbikes elsewhere would've been more than the difference, so I decided to go ahead and take it.

Right after checking in we went 50 feet down to the beach where there were lots of red and blue lights bobbing in the dark ocean. We couldn't tell what they were, though it was clear some of them were boats because a few times somebody turned on a flashlight and shined it around the boat they were standing on.

There were also some circular boats that looked like baskets sitting on the shore. Somebody was busy filling one of them up with some kind of supplies as if they were about to go out into the water.

The sand was coarse and the water seemed a little dirty, so with that and the fact that I was tired we decided against swimming or even staying at the beach and returned to our room for the night.