This was a valley of sand; a fantastic farm where sand grows like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where sand takes the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke…
We checked out first thing to get breakfast before the bus, but unfortunately struggled to find anywhere open – a uniquely Đà Lạt quirk. Having dropped our bags off the only option for food we came across was more Laughing Cow cheese bànhs (15,000₫ a bành) – a meal that doesn’t feel Asian at all but if the shoe fits…
The bus was mainly empty, so we were fairly comfortable, despite the bumps. Again, the scenery even along the highway was stunning. The journey passed with few things of note, and my companion (a smoker) befriended the driver and his co-pilot/passenger-liaison-man (also smokers).
On arriving in Mũi Né the heat was intense; we had no idea where we were going, nor where anything was. MapsMe indicated we had been dropped off at the next town to Mũi Né, but we were too hungry to think properly.
Seeing our confusion, the bus employee took us to a yard coffee shop next to the tourist information office, and bought us tea and coffee; a truly sweet act of generosity. Using their wifi we worked out the distance to Mũi Né, the distance to a cheap beach campsite that had been recommended to us, and ways to cover this distance.
A local bus would get us there, but as we could flag it down anywhere along the road we decided to start heading in the right direction. Missing three buses, and over-heating with our big bags, we called in at one of the numerous seafood restaurants that populate the coast, offering a variety of Russian dishes as well as traditional seaside fare.
Unfortunately seafood restaurants are traditionally vegetarian unfriendly, so we each opt for a vegetable and rice dish, and share some chips. It came to about 45,000₫ a head.
We then set up camp to wait for the bus, and it arrived as if it were running to our own personal timetable. At only 13,000₫ we were pretty happy – until the lady insisted on charging us for our bags as well. Despite the annoyance, the bus took us directly to Long Son, via the litterstrewn market streets and alongside the litterstrewn beach. Sadly, Mũi Né looks to suffer that horrible seaside affliction of litter.
At Long Son, a night in a two person tent (with mat, pillows & blanket) worked out at just over 90,000₫ each, and so we set to an afternoon in hammocks to celebrate the bargain. Ca
As Long Son is a bit out of town, and as it was my companion’s birthday, we decided to stay in the hostel for the daily special: tofu burger and fries for 35,000₫. We then celebrated with birthday beers: Saigon Red at 10,000₫ each. We met a Belgian couple who, based on the experiences they were recounting, had been travelling a completely different country. It’s amazing how even within such small borders, different people with different attitudes can experience such different worlds.
We spent our night in the tent, and were woken early because the sun made it too stuffy to sleep and too light to want to waste the day.
15/03 – Sandy day, sandy feet, sandy tent… TL:DR; sand
Breakfast was bành with omelette, a meal that is fast becoming my staple. What started as a “chill morning” soon became an adventure, as we decided to rent a motorbike for the next 24 hours. At 230,000₫ it was more expensive than we wanted, but it came with the advice of which junctions to avoid, as the police target foreigners to for unfair fines.
We head towards the red dunes, which unsurprisingly were about “2km that way.” Though they looked impressive from afar, once we began climbing them (which was like running in jelly in a dream) the harshness of the sunlight made it near impossible to take pictures with any kind of depth.
Although an impressive sight to behold, we were still at close quarters to the road – and many other tour groups. Keen to get out of the midday sun, we sought out a café, and I got to try a kiwi soda and passionfruit mousse cake; both were as sweet as they sound.
We headed back to the hostel seeking shade and lunch; my tofu and eggplant clay pot came in at 35,000₫ and was the perfect level of heat and spices. After shady reading time turned to beachside reading time we decided to chase the sunset to the White Sanddunes – allegedly all together more impressive and awe-inspiring than the red.
This time, we were heading “about 5km that (opposite) way.” Along the way we rode past innumerable half-built and unfinished villas and hotels; it was quite eerie. We were unable to find out why they’d all been abandoned.
Armed with only vague directions, we really weren’t sure about where we were headed, so we did a bit of doubling back before pulling over at random and trying our chances.
Climbing up the dune, we came across a large pipe shooting muddy water down a sheer face, burying the trees in gloop. A bizarre detail in the foreground, we were then confronted with the oddly winteresque landscape of fir trees and white sand dunes.
We wandered about, feeling like the only people in the world. Crossing the crest of a mound the illusion was soon shattered by a herd of goats. Even though each had at least a kid of her own, they were fairly inquisitive, and even posed for photographs.
We walked on to take in the spectacular views, but the haze that afflicts South East Asia made the sunset fairly dim, so we headed back via a corner shop. Again, we were really taken aback by the sheer amount of litter everywhere, and noted the slimmer builds of the locals, and how there were significantly fewer children in uniform.
16/03 – Time to shake off the sand
The stuffiness of the tent again called for an early rise, so I watched the sun rise on the beach. After breakfast, we set off for Ho Chi Minh. Again we were charged for our bags; this time at a higher rate and we were each shortchanged about 4,000₫. Not much – but enough to be a bit annoyed.
Before catching the bus, we stopped for coffee/tea opposite Mũi Né market: a bustling market with ample people-watching opportunities. Sat with us in the café was an older Belgian gentleman who retired to Thailand after a stroke left him unable to work or use his left arm. Unfortunately, he was a certain type of older European gentleman whose drawn towards a more exploitative aspect of Thailand, but I had to admire that his disability wasn’t holding him back.
Before the coach I had to frequent the market bathrooms – 5,000₫ for foreigners, you had to flush the toilets manually and one woman went to slap my arse for daring to try wash my hands in a sink. I boarded the coach in a less than sunny disposition, but it’s all part of the experience, hey?
En route to Ho Chi Minh, we stopped at a services where I dined on the balanced meal of a cream-filled horn (it seems the further south the more European the baked goods get), and some mango pieces: all in about 40,000₫ for both. Next stop: Ho Chi Minh.
Read all about our adventures on the Mekong Delta here.