The Love House

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Vietnam  ,
Thursday, February 9, 2006

Bus Rides
Heading north from Saigon, I took an Open Tour Bus up the coast to Nha Trang. The bus stopped in Mui Ne with its overpriced hotels stuck between a road and a narrow beach. Near Mui Ne, we drove through a dune environment--a miniature Sahara. Along the way we passed small fishing villages with blue boats, palm trees, white sand beaches, larger towns with small industries, food joints, and green rice fields until we reached Nha Trang, where I took a boat tour with the Number Four Boat and Funky Monkey.

Open Bus Tours are somewhat more expensive than public buses and are run by tour companies. Luckily, they have more leg room to accomodate long-legged Westerners.

After a couple of days in Nha Trang, I awoke early in the morning to catch a public bus to Kon Tum, taking a moto to the bus station. I went to buy a ticket: "no ticket" a man said. I continued to the ticket booth, the man following, trying to get me to buy a seat on the bus at his higher price: "no ticket." I went and bought my ticket, 50% less than his quoted price. He tried, I'll give him credit for that. In Vietnam, it seems the few scammers are found in bus stations.

The bus from Kon Tum passed through the spine of the Central Annamite Range. At the heart of this range is one of the most endangered and important natural areas in Southeast Asia, the Dry Forests of the Northern Plains. Within these tropical dry forests are rare ungulates--the Large-antlered Muntjac and the Saola--only recently discovered and classified. The area is also a hotspot for endemic birds. We passed rubber and coffee plantations, grown in the rich red mountain soils.

From Kon Tum, I continued by public bus to Da Nang, in the center of Vietnam on the coast. After getting another "no ticket" routine and making a high speed moto trip back to the hotel to pick up my passport (the hotels keep the passport and it was much too early for my groggy mind to think that hard), the bus left for the coast. We passed into the wet zone of Vietnam: this time of year, Central Vietnam is bathed in rain from northeastern winds wicking rain from the South China Sea. Ten hours later, after driving through and around the swirling rainclouds, we were in Danang.

Love and Marriage
I was talking to a young woman working at the internet cafe in Nha Trang. She said:

"I don't want to marry a Vietnamese man. When you get married you lose all your freedom. My sister is married and now she can't go out with her friends. She must do everything with her husband. I don't see her anymore. We used to sleep together and talk all night."

She also couldn't get a visa to leave the country: Vietnam is very restrictive because, of the few people they allow to leave, many do not return.

She also said: "in Vietnam, women traditionally stay virgins until they are married, unless they work in the 'massage parlors' and 'hair salons.' Many married men and tourists go there."

Later, a taxi driver asked: "are you married?"

"No," I replied.

"Good," he said, "all women want is money, money, money. You go home, she says 'money, money, money.'"

I haven't taken any polls to see if these conversations are reflective of Vietnamese culture in general.

The Love House
In Kon Tum are a handful of minority cultures, including the Sadang. These people live together in longhouses, with four generations sharing one room. When two people marry, the longhouse is expanded. Each couple shares a window. The single men, however, typically live in the communal house called a rong in the center of the village, where they traditionally were called upon to defend the village. I took a tour with a moto driver called Wong who said: "People ask me how the married couples get any privacy to have sex: they go to the love house."

As the B-52s said:
"The love shack is a little old place where we can get together
Love Shack baby, bay-bee.
Love shack baby, that's where it's at, Ooo love shack baby, that's where it's at

Sign says.. Woo... stay away fools, 'cause love rules at the love shack!
Well it's set way back in the middle of a field,
Just a funky old shack and I gotta get back..."

(This is one of the 'taboo' songs you don't want to sing at Karaoke)

The Sadang probably don't know the lyrics to 'Love Shack,' but they probably have their own songs.

Kon Tum Gone Bad
Kon Tum was a medium-sized city for the highlands, but very remote and inaccessible by Open Tour Buses. This was good because there weren't any other tourists in town. This was bad because, for some reason, the only hotels in town were expensive and Kon Tum Tourist holds a monopoly on the tourism business here.

I had hoped to take a trek for several days into the more remote western villages and forests, but the trips they offered were almost three times as expensive as anywhere else. That didn't matter anyway because there were some recent border issues with Cambodia in the area, so the park I wanted to visit was off-limits.

Instead, I took a short tour to the villages and jungle to the east of Kon Tum. It was all I could afford given the higher than expected prices and no ATMs or banks exchanging currency. We never made it to the jungle, however, as the driver was puttering along. Then, when we visited the villages, they were essentially empty. Finally, the road we took for the moto trip ended up being the main bus route, so I saw everything the next day from the window of the bus. Turns out, the jungle further along the road was being deforested anyway to make room for more houses and hydroelectric plants--progress. I did learn about longhouses and love shacks, however.

All in all, I felt rushed in an overpriced place with too few options, too many long bus rides, and I was exhausted. I'm sure that park would have been great.

You win some, you lose some, but I am glad for what I did see. I need to keep telling myself: "Slow down again. Bring extra money. Buy a ticket. Don't forget your passport."
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