Mui Ne is Money

Friday, June 20, 2008

Somewhere, five hours north of Saigon lies a quiet town tucked between giant sand dunes and an endless sandy coastline. Somewhere in that small stretch of green surrounded by blue and red, a young Canadian fellow by the name of Dean has disembarked from a bus and is speeding on the back of a motorbike towards a cheap hotel. He has arrived here rather randomly, after seeing a few pretty photos, and doesn’t have long in his time budget to stay. He is prepared to ignore this budget, should it prove necessary, as all good travelers must, but after finding cheap $5 accommodation on the beach at the Saigon CafĂ©, he has lunch, rents a motorbike for $4, and endeavours to explore the blue and red regions surrounding him.

The first stop is what he believes to be the white dunes. It looks rather unlikely – yes, the sand is white, but there’s scarcely more than a single set of prints going up the slope and a 1.5m retaining wall to scale. It’s hard to believe this is the place, but some locals assure him it is, and he trudges up. It later was revealed that no, the white dunes are twenty some kilometers away, but the view up here is probably far superior to what he might have seen there anyway. The rolling sand dunes are untouched and drop off into a blue sea littered with a hundred fishing boats. Small as ants, motorbikes silently crawl their way up the coastal road and the white waves disappear into the coastline in a peaceful rhythm.

On the way back from a drive into the countryside and the white dunes towards red, Dean’s bike coughs once and goes silent. Aside from the road arching up over a hill, there is no sign of civilization as he maneuvers the bike onto the shoulder and attempts to restart it fail. A young boy biking by stops to lend a hand to this hopelessly incompetent tourist and discovers that, contrary to the bike renter’s assurances, there is NOT enough gas to see everything there is to see in Mui Ne. The bike is without fuel, the sun is without mercy, and Dean is without a hat pushing the bike up the hill and making sounds he hopes are curses in Vietnamese – or, failing that, some language. Thankfully, it’s not more than a kilometre back to town and what goes up can roll down with minimal effort. The bike-turned-scooter is half rolled and half pedaled to a small restaurant where they see him coming and bring out a 1litre bottle of gasoline that they can sell at 25% more than the going rate. A pretty fair deal, when they know that he has no choice but to refuel.

A litre of fuel for the bike and a litre of water for Dean and he pays the 25,000 dong. The mother of the family running the restaurant nudges her 7-year old son and he ashamedly holds out his hand and says, “Mister, money?” There are a lot of things Dean would like to say about their corruption of their son and about work and money, but he finished his water, sets it down, and trudges up the red dunes. A young boy doggedly follows him up into the hot sun and the desert, ignoring protests that no, Dean would really rather not ride a crazy carpet down the sand dunes. They go slow, stop, and you end up full of sand with little to show for it, he knows, but the kid presses on. Thinking back to the other child sitting back and holding out his hand, it’s hard not to admire – if not feel pity for – this young boy working so doggedly for a bit of cash. So Dean gets to the top and pays for the ride, slowly slides down the giant dune and winds up at a standstill halfway down and covered in sand.

The final major stop is the Fairy Stream. The hour is now 4:30 and the sun will set in an hour or two, so this should allow just enough time to travel up to the waterfall at the stream end. More children attempt to follow and serve as ‘guides’ but give up eventually. Dean is glad for this, as he can quite capably walk up a stream on his own and the kids were just getting in his photos anyway. The stream is another example of colourful Mui Ne, walled as it is by green palms catching the late afternoon sun while the stream itself is mostly shaded by a massive wall of hardened red and white sand. At the end, he manages to find the waterfall and a way to the top but discovers there is little else to see and turns back as the entire stream is now covered in the hillside shadow. Back in town, there is very little by way of people as well, and so after a nice barbecue dinner of some of the fishermen’s bounty, he informs his guesthouse he will be leaving the next day and books a ticket for Dalat, a town high in Vietnam’s mountains.

After having paid for the ticket at a travel agent, the agent calls his guesthouse to inform him that there is not a 7:30 bus as promised but only a 1:00 bus. Quite a nice scam, because there is no way he’d book a bus in the middle of the afternoon for a short trip up the mountains (4 hours) losing an entire day. But an opportunity was provided to spend the next morning on the beach and exploring the blue side of Mui Ne. And at 1:00, a bus spirits him away to the next unscheduled stop on the itinerary, somewhere he knows nothing about but hopes will be worth the trek. It’s not exactly on the way or out of the way, but the short trip to Mui Ne turned out to be well worth the day and a half and he has hopes for more inadvertent adventure on the road ahead. And, somewhere in the recesses of his mind, he hopes you will join him there.

Mui Ne Photos

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