We drove along the coast of the South China Sea to visit the red and white sand dunes outside of Mũi Né. The drive was beautiful and the landscape rolled along to our left, increasing and decreasing in altitude. In front of some of the mountainous areas were patches of dry green landscape with odd trees growing up from the ground. The trunks were so short and the tops so wide and umbrella-like that it looked like someone piled soil several meters up the base to hide it.
We passed by little towns along the way and stopped for the odd drink or bite to eat, everything from sugar cane juice to noodle soup with congealed cubes of pork blood. It was all out of the ordinary for me and surprisingly delicious. Teresa is used to many of the ingredients that Canadians typically don’t experience when growing up and she always felt a sense of nostalgia when we tried different types of Vietnamese food.
The red sand dunes aren’t very far from Mũi Né. We had to keep our eyes on the little kids who would swarm us, trying to sell pieces of plastic that tourists apparently use to slide down the dunes. We weren’t too interested and had read stories of pickpocketing or motorbikes getting stolen from their parking spots. We were extra careful with our belongings and always tried to keep an eye on the bike.
From here, we traveled much further out to the white sand dunes. This area is much larger and on a patch of water that I believe feeds into the sea. You can rent dune buggies, but we opted to just traverse the dunes in our bare feet and jump or roll down the hills like little kids in a giant sandbox. It was a beautiful view and a very cool experience for us.
There wasn’t much more that we did in Mũi Né besides enjoy a variety of cuisine and some really good, really strong slow-drip coffee. It would come as the drip began and we would patiently wait for every last drop to descend from the clump of ground beans, through the screen and into the little cup where a spoonful of sweet condensed milk rigidly awaited the hot coffee. I remember feeling jittery after because of how much caffeine was in it, but it tasted so good and really got us going for the day.
We were in this little town for about 3 days and 2 nights before we embarked on a long two-part bus ride, first up to Nha Trang where we jumped off, grabbed some phở to go, and hopped on another bus that would take us up to Hoi An overnight. We decided not to stay in Nha Trang; Teresa’s been there before and the impression that we got is that it would just be packed with tourists and that there wouldn’t be much to interest us besides the beaches which we had recently gotten plenty of in Sihanoukville. We weren’t quite ready to bum around for another week yet; we hadn’t really earned it.
On our overnighter to Hoi An, we were smacked with another stark reminder as to the duality of freedom in a country as attractive as Vietnam. In the middle of the night, the bus was stopped and boarded by roadside police officers. They walked up and down the aisles, counting passengers and checking every nook and cranny. In Vietnam, and pretty much everywhere else we went in Asia, bus drivers/companies will load up as many people as will fit on the bus regardless of safety concerns. On this bus, there were people in the beds, people on the floors, and people underneath the bus where the luggage is kept. Teresa was able to understand every bit of the conversation between the driver and the cops. Due to the fact that the bus driver had illegally crammed so many people onto his bus, they fined him 900,000 dong, or the equivalent of about $40-$45 at the time. This is no light fee in Vietnam and the driver was really pissed off as he called his boss to relay what had just happened. We highly doubt that the cops really cared about the extra passengers or their safety. Their actions reflect the corruption that exists in positions of authority and how people will take any opportunity to gather a few extra dollars for themselves or for their family. They certainly didn’t kick off any of the extra passengers, many of whom were a little shaken up after the experience.
We continued on, driving through the night to our destination in central Vietnam where a real taste of the cultural variety that exists in this multidimensional nation graciously awaited us.