Due to International Workers Day (Quoc Te Lao Dong) falling back-to back with Liberation Day (Saigon Giai Phong), the Vietnamese people are allocated a public holiday from the 30th of April until the 3rd of May. This means that many local businesses are closed, and those which stay open for the tourists – namely the T.M Brothers – can unfortunately get away with charging inflated prices over this period. Therefore, if I were to leave for Mui Ne on the 3rd of May (as originally planned), it would cost me an additional 40% on top of the normal ticket price. I wasn’t prepared to part with an extra $8.80 for my open ticket up to Hanoi so I decided to stay in Ho Chi Minh City until the end of the public holiday. I needed some shopping time to find birthday presents for my parents and as Ho Chi Minh City is supposed to offer some of the best shopping in Vietnam, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to find out.
It seems that moto and cyclo drivers have a solo female traveller radar attached to their vehicles and I never realised quite how annoying it would become throughout the duration of the day. Even before I left the backpacker ghetto that surrounds Pham Ngu Lao I had alreday been approached by about 20 or 30 drivers who offered me their services and enquired what I was looking for (I had my map in my hand simply so that I didn’t have to rummage around in my bag to locate it at a later stage), where I was going, where I was going after that and so on.
As I was shopping I wasn’t going anywhere in particular, which is a little difficult to explain to a moto or cyclo driver who speaks limited English. In the end it was simply easier to say I was walking to one of the nearby attractions, but they then wanted to show me where the attraction that I mentioned was on my map. I’m sure they were only trying to be helpful but I felt like saying, “I know I’m female but I’m perfectly capable of reading a map!” So my shopping expedition was a little more stressful than I’d anticipated.
However, I successfully found the gifts I was looking for, as well as a lovely little local street cafe slap bang in the middle of the Dong Khoi district, where I was served a deliciously strong cafe sua-da and the usual complimentary pot of Vietnamese tea that you’re given in the majority of the more ‘local’ dining establishments, for 5000VND (approximately $0.30). I also found a large hypermarket, the Co-op Mart, where I managed to get hold of some dye for my hair, which was closely resembling the colour of straw after months of exposure to the sun.
The next morning I caught the bus to Mui Ne. As Vietnam is a much more developed country compared to the likes of Cambodia and Laos, and a lot more tourist orientated than many parts of Thailand are, it was actually cheaper for me to book an open bus ticket to the north with the T.M Brothers (who seem to have a bit of a monopoly in Ho Chi Minh City) than it would have been for me to catch a local bus to each of my destinations. An open bus ticket gives you transportation (via air conditioned tourist bus) to the destinations you choose (I chose Mui Ne, Dalat, Nha Trang, Hoi An, Hue and Hanoi) and allows you as long as you wish to spend at each place within a two month period. Yes, it’s easy, comfortable and hassle free but I rather like the authenticity that comes with using local transport; the strange sense of fun you experience from being squeezed into your seat with your knees up to your elbows, from losing all sensation in your feet, from feeeling every bump in the road, and almost passing out from the heat or achieving an instant tan as all the dust from the streets blows in through the open window. I don’t like the separation that catching a tourist bus inadvertantly provides, as one of the main reason I choose to travel to countries such as this is to be part of the culture that they embody. So I guess in hindsight, despite the cost and the comfort, I wish I’d have parted with a few extra dollars and a few extra hours of my time, and opted to travel the same way the majority of Vietnamese people do.
Nevertheless, I arrived in Mui Ne and checked in to the hotel which our bus stopped outside, the Ngoc Bich, as the room I looked at was $5 and I know from my experience in Ho Chi Minh City that cheaper rooms are very few and far between. I quenched a four and a half hour bus journey worth of thirst at a nearby cafe, The Sand Dollar, where the cheapest drink on the menu other than water was 15,000VND (I guess the same principal applies to Vietnam’s beach resorts as it does to Cambodia’s) before heading down to check out the beach. It appears that each hotel has its own portion of Mui Ne’s beach, which they all use as a selling point on their business cards : advertising it as a ‘private beach’. The beach wasn’t very private but it was very pleasant all the same, with numerous windsurfers and kite surfers scattering themselves upon the ocean.
I set my towel down in front of the occupied sunbeds and amused myself by watching a young boy build a den out of some large tree ferns that were lying around on the beach. For those of you that have played Zelda on the N64, he then decorated himself with the tree ferns so that the result was a creature resembling a deku scrub, and then charged full throttle into the den sounding much like Link when he chops those little rupee plants down with his sword. It was both bizarre and random and for those reasons, it was also the most hilarious sight I’ve been witness to for months!
Photo to follow.