The East coast & Highlands of Vietnam

Trip Start Aug 18, 2010
Trip End Aug 31, 2011

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

My first Vietnam bus journey is not a bad one as a comfortable sleeper bus shows up for my pickup with every passenger provided with their own space like capsule as a seat which is a little short for most westerners but probably fits the locals very well. The journey from HCMC (Ho Chi Minh city) up the east coast to Mui Ne was due to take about 6 hours so I settled in with my headphones and let the Robin Williams inspired "Good morning Vietnam" soundtrack act as the background to my scenic tour of Vietnam. Time actually flies by pretty quick, which included a stop at a fruit and vegetable store which also sell these delicious baguettes with pork or chicken fillings and veggies, it's so cheap and often acts as my quick meal on my trip through Vietnam.

I had opted to book into the only backpackers at Mui Ne as it was cheap and it was time to hang out with some travelers again. The hostel sits right on the beach, and is cozy and comfortable. Mue Ne is a extensive strip along he coats dotted with an assortment of accommodation ranging from cheap motels to luxury spa resorts and once again an obvious Russian influence judging by the names and restaurant menus on offer. The mornings at Mui Ne are beautiful and swimming time. By afternoon the wind picks up and the coastline becomes a scene bearing witness to every sort of kite and water sport available making the destination a must see for kite surfing and windsailing enthusiasts.

I quickly befriend a couple of fellow dorm mates, including a young Dutch girl and an Australian girl and we head out that evening for a meal followed by many drinks and shots, soaking up the cheap drink deals, but it isn’t very busy at Mui Ne and it ends up being a relatively early night, but by Vietnam standards a late one. We bounced between the bars on either side of the hostel, one offering good western meals which we were all craving for and the other bar live music, in the form of a resident guitar playing local who has been churning out the same cover songs for some years and seems bored himself.

The first full day is spent being a beach bum as I secure a deck chair right by the beach and enjoy doing nothing for most of the day besides reading and listening to music while taking on some of the scenery. By lunch time I explore the strip a little more and am amazed at the range of lunch options, from turtle to shark to snake, but decide on some cheap local noodles and beef, once again looking out over the increasingly growing waves as the afternoon wind picks up and immediately signals the start of the kite armada which dominates the skyline.

Later that evening we join a few other travelers including a Portuguese guy who has recently spent time travelling through southern Africa and a couple Belgians, one of which turns out be Anouk’s (famous Belgian rock star) assistant manager so the conversation that evening ranges from travels to music. We had ventured further along the strip where the more well known clubs and bars were located, but they weren’t that special and more expensive. The place we ended up at was nice, with bean bags scattered along the beach and a happy hour selling watered down drinks, “forced” me and the Aussie girl to sneak a bottle of vodka in from a nearby store which ended up getting the Ozzie girl very drunk (especially after my taunts that Australians aren’t as big a drinkers as their reputation suggests).

After a few games of pool we made our way back to the hostel, but not before stopping for a 1am pizza, at which the local Vietnamese family was enjoying a feast of seafood and welcomed us into the group and through a mix of broken English and hand signals we have a great time eating our pizza and trying their mix of crab and fish! Back at the hostel I bid my farewells as I had booked my bus early the next morning to the French influenced town of De Lat in the highlands of Vietnam.

My bus journey from Mui Ne to De Lat is less enjoyable. A far more dated and small shuttle bus shows up, and crams us all in to confined spaces and with no aircon for what is meant to be a 4 hour trip but lasts much longer. The roads are also increasingly poor through to the highlands but the last third offers far more enjoyable scenery as the landscape changes to lush forests and roaming hills, a stark contrast to the dry and dusty roads from the previous couple hours! I had also decided by this stage to not pre-book any more accommodation as there were always plenty of options available and many of which were not online. The winding roads leading into De lat, although a little bit scary due to the ongoing crazy driving antics of everyone, and the sheer drops on either side of the road, eventually lead us into the outskirts of the town and we roam past some beautiful villas and a lake in the towns centre, it all certainly looks very European and Swiss or alpine.

The bus drops us off at an affiliated hotel and after very little haggling I decide to take up the deal of a room for myself for under $10. After settling in I get talking to the nearby bike tour guys at Freelance Riders. Many travelers I had met either come to De Lat as it’s known as the honeymoon or romantic town or to take a epic bike ride north, but after hearing some of the prices I was reluctant. However I for some reason had this nagging feeling I would be missing out on something specials so after a little bargaining and finance checking I agree to take a 3 day trip to Nah Trang, just me and the guide Boh, to explore the highlands, the countryside and a host of other promised places.

As I had booked with the guys, although they were very friendly and not pushy at all already, they increased their charm by offering to take me to a local place for local food for lunch and then a afternoon tour through De Lat to get a good experience of what the town has to offer as we were due to head off the following morning on our epic adventure. After a very cheap and good lunch Boh took me on the back of his bike through the town and firstly stopped at the Crazy House. What it is the brainchild  of some guy to create this mazelike and amazing house that is like a real world combination of something out of the Hobbits village and Tim Burtons imagination. With creaking wooden facades and dwarf like rooms all over the place interconnected by winding and twisting stairways, it’s a site to behold. The stairs take you up a few floors for a good panoramic view of the city. Sadly not the entire house is completed but it’s well worth the visit in any case. Next stop, Boh took me out of the town through winding roads and through beautiful tree lined roads, out to a lake, called Love Lake. Boh joked that this is where I should take a lady-friend, he is actually a really funny guy and always wanting to learn new English words to add to his vocabulary.

Our penultimate stop was a waterfall outside the town. However to get to the waterfall you can choose to take a ride on a luge/rollercoaster type contraption. Basically you are locked into a cart on tracks which takes you on a fun and winding ride through to the valley. There are breaks in the cart so you can slow yourself down, of course I don’t notice the faded signs at every winding bend warning you to apply the brakes, there I am building up a massive head of steam with a grin on my face, before I notice a traffic jam of carts on the outside of a massive bend all stopping to take photos and I slam on the brakes only just stopping a few centimeters behind the next cart, with their faces aghast, it was a pure Hollywood moment. So now of course with the brake signs noticed, I take  a more leisurely ride down the rest of the valley and disembark for the small walk to the waterfalls.

I was the only Westerner/tourist at the falls, which  is not something I had really noticed at first but became obvious a few minutes in, let me explain. I had taken a few photos as the waterfall is beautiful and then decided to perch on a nearby rock to not be in the way of anyone else’s photos, some of the Chinese in particular are not aware of this form of generosity and awareness. Anyways a few seconds after sitting down a child is literally plonked down on my lap by a couple of Vietnamese parents. I kinda look bemused as they start snapping photos of me and their child and then smile, kind of thank me and take their child back. This starts a chain reaction of children and families posing with me for all kinds of photos and a very surreal, celebrity- like moment.

One family in particular can’t get enough of me and the two attractive (I think 20 something girls) want me to walk arm in arm with them and offer all kinds of poses. Anyway after my moment of stardom I walk back up to meet Boh, who I explain to what happened and he just laughs. Our final stop is a viewing deck looking out over the city at which I get to chat to Boh a bit more and about local culture and Westerners etc which all offers good food for thought. I thank him for the afternoon’s trip and have a quiet evening as we are due to start early the next morning for our 3 day ride.
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