Vietnam was freedom, in almost every sense of the word, to a traveler like me. I could go wherever I wanted, get whatever I needed, and do whatever I felt like, whenever I felt like it. But signs of potential confinement existed as well, instigated by a State presence both underlying and barefaced, coursing through almost every facet of the land like a living, pulsing organism. When we arrived in Mũi Né, we witnessed some of those signs.
The bus ride, from what I remember, was uneventful and didn’t take too long. We got a really good deal on tickets; we essentially bought a booklet that would let us travel between Saigon and Hanoi, making various stops along the way. It was unrestricted so long as we used the tickets within a set amount of time, far longer than the month we’d have before our visas expired.
The trip to Mũi Né took us to the coast of Vietnam, on the South China Sea. The beaches here were spanning but mostly unoccupied, despite the decent selection of hotels and accommodations. It definitely wasn’t busy season, which worked in our favour based on the kind of traveling we were doing.
People flew large kites along the shores and the weather was a little balmy for the few days we were there. We found a guesthouse for $8 a night, possibly the cheapest place we had or would find on this entire journey, and no less clean or comfortable than anywhere else we’d stayed so far. The family who ran it were very friendly towards us, inviting us to sit with them for dinner one evening, which we appreciatively agreed to.
They were able to find me a motorbike rental as well, having it brought to the guesthouse for something like $4 or $5 a day. Because we were already staying with them, they didn’t ask for any collateral. I’d been used to handing over photocopies of my passport, or leaving some money with the renters until we returned the bike. Looking back, I’m still a little surprised with how trusting I was and how trusting the locals were with me.
I wish I could remember the husband and wife’s names because they were very good to us. They ensured that we got helmets to go along with our motorbike. The thing with driving in Southeast Asia is that for the most part, you’re not wearing a helmet to protect yourself from a fall. If you get a helmet that actually functioned as such, it was certainly a bonus, but many would have done little to protect from most types of spills. No, here people often wear helmets to ensure that they don’t get pulled over by cops just to get fined on the spot.
Teresa and I took a stroll that night (just because we have a vehicle doesn’t mean we don’t like to walk around as well) and ran into an Australian traveler coming from up the street. He came right up to us and asked if we could help him in any way. Apparently, he was on the back of a motorcycle with his buddy, neither of them with a helmet, and the local cops stopped them, confiscated the bike and took the driver into the station with them. The Australian was forced to make his way back to his hostel on foot and figure out exactly how to deal with the situation. I offered to give him a lift back, but I wasn’t about to leave Teresa behind and he didn’t have a helmet. He was nice enough to not want to risk me getting pulled over because of him. In the end, he just kept on his way. I’m sure they got it worked out, likely after having to pay a few bribes. I don’t understand why the guy’s buddy had to get taken to the station over it, but I imagine it was just to maximize the shakedown potential. It happens more often than you might think and it was a good reminder as to the dangers of not following some of the rules in a foreign country. That awesome, free feeling can be snatched away in a second with a dark cloud poised to hang over the adventure.
If you’re traveling anywhere new, obtain as much information as you can on the laws and customs, especially from the locals who know it best if you can. Respect the customs and exercise common sense and, generally, you should be fine. Mũi Né provided us with an opportunity to exercise our freedom, and while we were unfortunate enough to witness a presence very contrary to this notion, we were again privileged enough to be mere observers, rather than subject to it.
Up next: the Red and White Sand Dunes I had no idea existed in this part of the world.