Vietnam Pt.III


After another journey on a night bus, we arrived in Mũi Né to find that our dorm room was dark and cramped. We couldn’t expect much else considering that it was costing each of us less than £3 a night to stay there, but we were in for a pleasant surprise. The place where we had chosen to stay also had villas and a hotel on site with a resort that could have easily passed as the resort of a 4 star hotel somewhere in Europe. It turned out that we had full access to the resort, despite only being in the dorms, meaning that we were suddenly on a relaxing holiday for the next few days.

We took full advantage of this, so after finding our new English friend already occupying one of the sun loungers when we got there, we all proceeded to do very little for the next 3 days. On one of those days, I did not move from the same spot for around 7 hours, as the staff would bring food and drink to whomever asked. I felt like a king. The three days also ran over Halloween, and the bar gave out free drinks to whomever dressed up that night, which gave me the perfect excuse to buy something outrageous that I was most likely going to buy regardless of the situation:

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How great do I look?

Getting off our arses

Being stuck in our lethargies of relaxation, we had not actually done what we had come to Mũi Né to do, which was see the red and white sand dunes. Therefore, we booked one more night and vowed to actually accomplish something. We managed to follow through with that vow by booking ourselves onto a tour with a group of other backpackers. This tour, for some reason, started with us walking aimlessly down a dirt river for 20 minutes only to then walk all the way back up the river and question why we had even bothered, and was followed by a trip to the nearby fishing village to check out the sights. Only then were we taken to the white sand dunes so that we could explore them. While some, including our English friend, decided to explore the dunes on foot, others, including Anya and I, rented out some quad bikes for the next half an hour.

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View from the fishing village.

We were quickly shown how to use them and told to drive towards the closest dunes. Immediately, both of us were confused as to why a local had jumped onto the back of each of our bikes as we made our way up there. Only when we had made it to the top did we then realise that there was no way that they would have allowed us to drive down the scarily steep dunes. It was at these points that we would swap positions with them and they would try their best to terrify us with high speeds down sheer drops.

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Clearly loving life.

Time flew by, and while Anya’s driver screamed in her ear, “Maximum! Maximum!” followed by, “Not maximum! Not maximum!” as directions on how much throttle she should be using as she drove, my driver led me to the top of one of the largest dunes he could find. He took over as driver and proceeded down the dune as fast as possible. At the bottom of the dune was a small pond, with several cows resting in it. As we quickly approached the pond, the driver showed no intention of slowing down. The size of the cows grew exponentially and the growing certainty of an impact caused me to brace as best as I could for what would come next. Only in the last moment, as we hit the water, did the driver steer away from the unfazed cow leaving me soaked and shocked at the same time. He laughed while I tried to get my breath back. The half an hour was over.

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The man who tried to terrify me and I.

After the white sand dunes, we were taken to the red sand dunes so that some of us could sand sled while others sat down and waited for sunset. It was cloudy, so no one expected to see anything, but it turned out that the breaks in the cloud made for an impressive view.

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Anya checking out the sunset from the white sand dunes.

With the tour over, the three of us headed back and went to the bar in the evening to try and win at the pub quiz. Teams were quickly formed amongst all the people that were there, but as the quiz was about to commence, two late comers joined. Our team was the smallest, so they asked if they could join us, and as the winner would get a free tower of beer, we were more than happy to have the extra brain power join us. The late comers were a light-hearted and funny German couple that we shared drinks with long after the quiz was over. We did not win the quiz, but in our defence, the quiz master was useless. Many of his answers to the questions were wrong … not that we were cheating and using our phones or anything like that …

As great as this German couple were, it was our last night in Mũi Né and it was their first. We said goodbye to them without any expectation of being able to see them again. Of course we were still unaware of just how small this world really was.

Onwards and upwards

The next day, the three of us jumped on a minibus that would take us to the mountainous town of Đà Lạt in Vietnam’s central highlands. The 6 hour journey took us along long and windy roads with edges going over precipitous drops that would make even the bravest gasp. Yet again, the driver we had ended up with had never developed his own sense of danger or peril, and was gunning our mini bus at breakneck speeds around some of these bends. The passengers on our bus were fearful for their life on more than one occasion during the journey.

We made it in one piece. However, during the journey I became increasingly aware of the group of English girls closer to the front of the bus with their rice paddy hats. They were loud and annoying, and it was highlighting to me the stereotype of British people being hated abroad. I made jokes about the bad luck we would have if we ended up staying at the same place as they were, and I was glad to be off of the bus and away from then. But when we reached the place we had booked to stay at, the owner was currently out, so we were let in by some of the other backpackers currently staying there. They told us that a group of girls had checked in only about 10 or 15 minutes before us and the fear that my jokes had rung true had begun to set in. I asked them what they looked like, and when they told us that they had all been wearing rice paddy hats, I knew that my jokes had just become reality.

The owner, Lucky, returned shortly afterwards and showed us to our beds. It turned out that what he had done was convert a part of his house, including his loft, into a place for backpackers to stay. We would be in the loft with the girls. The loft consisted of around 12 mattresses placed on the floor one after another. The concept seems ludicrous, and even laughable considering that this was the loft of someone’s house. But the mattresses were so comfortable, with soft, thick blankets to protect us from Đà Lạt’s cold temperatures that we were so pleased to be there. What’s more, Lucky himself was a lovely man who tried his very best to accommodate for his guests, and would end up taking us all to a bakery at midnight on that first day so that we could all pig out to our heart’s content.

It was on the first day that I realised how wrong I was about those girls. After we had settled in, we began to get to know our roommates, and it wasn’t long before I found myself laughing at their jokes and group dynamics. It became abundantly clear to me that I had come to judge these girls far too quickly, using a single situation to try and work out their entire personalities. It was an eye-opener for me. I was clearly in need of reigning in my judgemental ways.

A change in climate

The weather so far for us in Vietnam had not been kind. We had expected nonstop sunshine, and so far, had been greeted with almost nonstop rainfall. The situation was not so different in Đà Lạt, only now, being in the highlands, the welcoming heat had been replaced by a crisp cold. For that reason, when the girls we were sharing the loft invited us to do canyoning with them the next day, we turned it down. Canyoning involved abseiling down waterfalls, swimming in rivers and watersliding. As great as it all sounded, it was too cold for us to even consider that as an option. We had already become so acclimatised to the heat that we could only imagine ourselves being cold and miserable if we partook in it. Therefore, we chose to do a tour of Đà Lạt instead.

The tour covered a number of places. After first being shown a now-defunct train station as a result of the war, and after being shown a local strawberry farm we were then taken to see a village that belonged to the Cơ Ho so that we could learn about them. The Cơ Ho are one of many ethnic minorities found in Vietnam and are a family-driven matriarchal society whose language is only spoken, and not written. Being a family-driven matriarchal society, we learnt that the women are the leaders of the household, and it is their duty to find and propose to a male that they hope to be their husband. The male must then negotiate with the women’s family about what they shall gain from the marriage, perhaps a water buffalo or two may be what it takes. Once a deal has been struck, a marriage can ensue and the husband will live with the woman’s family from then on. Any children will bear the mother’s surname, and the eldest daughter will receive the inheritance.

It was fascinating to learn about these group of people. They live basic lives in simple wooden houses. They have no electricity, use fire pits to keep themselves warm in the evenings, and some still dress traditionally. They willingly choose to follow these traditions and this way of life. They mainly keep themselves to themselves. Interactions with outsiders is limited. Personally, I found this all to be astonishing. They were aware of what life was like outside their village, but they chose not to adopt it. I found a link about them if you wish to learn more about this enthralling group of people:

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A typical kitchen in the village of the Cơ Ho people.

After the village, we were taken to a cricket farm, where we were shown around before being able to sample some of their produce. As you would expect of anyone in that position, we were wary of trying fried insect, but as it turned out, they weren’t that bad at all. In fact, I personally loved them and gladly ate everyone else’s leftovers. Anya had more mixed feelings.

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Trying the local grub with our English friend grinning in the background.

After the cricket farm, we were taken to a silk farm and factory to be shown the process that is undertaken to collect and treat silk for use in the clothing industry. Our guide, an incredibly sweet Vietnamese woman who had melted all of our hearts, guided us through the process. She also pulled out a live silk worm that we could hold in our hands. Once we had all held the worm, I tried to hand the worm back to our guide but she told me I could keep him. I had no idea what to do with him, but there was no way I was just going to toss him away either, so I carried him with me wherever we went around the factory. I also carried him back to our minibus and I held onto the worm until we reached our next destination: Elephant Falls. There I found him a lovely place in a little bonsai garden where I set him free before exploring the falls themselves.

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I think I named the silk worm ‘Colin’.

After that, we explored the neighbouring pagoda before having a group lunch with the other people on the tour. A large selection of traditional Vietnamese dishes were brought out for all of us to share. With our bellies full, we were taken for the last guided tour of the day to a local Kopi Luwak farm, or to translate that for you: a Civet coffee farm. As it turns out, Luwak coffee is one of the most expensive and luxurious coffee in the world, costing around $700 per kilogram. It is made by feeding coffee cherries to civet cats. They are very selective with their cherries, and will only eat the ones of best quality. Their digestion system then begins to ferment the coffee before excretion. Farmers then sift through their faeces to find and clean the coffee beans before roasting them. It is believed that the slight fermentation of the beans is what produces such high quality coffee, and despite not sounding like the most appetising of coffees, we did try some while we were there.

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Anya and I at the pagoda.

With the day of touring behind us, the minibus dropped us off at Đà Lạt’s ‘Crazy House’ so that we could explore it before heading back to Lucky’s place. Looking more like something that you’d find in a theme park, this guesthouse has 10 differently themed bedrooms hidden within a jungle of unique and expressionist architectural design. Think of being in a fairytale on acid. We got lost more than once in this place. Satisfied that we had explored most of the ‘Crazy House’, we headed back to rest for the evening. It had been a long day.

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A fairytale on acid.

Crossing paths

The next day, the girls in the loft left. They were heading to Hội An next, and we would follow the next day. We originally considered the possibility of heading to Nha Trang first, but after hearing nothing but bad reviews of the place from fellow backpackers, we decided otherwise. With a night bus booked for the next day, we proceeded to have yet another day of relaxation and catching up with various TV shows. I became bored so went to visit the day markets in the city centre, and then all of us went to visit the night market with some other newly arrived backpackers in the evening before heading to the 100 Rooftop Bar.

This bar continued on the surreal and crazy architecture of the crazy house that we had seen previously, only this time, alcohol was thrown into the mix. A crazy maze of stairs and corridors entertained us before we became exhausted and found a place to sit down. We sat and shared stories and experiences for hours with the newly arrived backpackers, but none of our stories could beat their retelling of the tour around Chernobyl that they took. We did not even know that such a thing was possible.

It was during our time at this bar that our paths crossed with two familiar faces. It was the German couple from Mũi Né. The three of us were so pleased to see them again, and they were pleased to see us. We only spoke for a few minutes with them before they went off to find their friends, but it was clear that we had got on with them far more than we had realised. We also found out they would arrive in Hội An the day after we did, so we told them were we had booked to stay so that they could book themselves in there too. We would be able to explore Hội An together.

Two whole blogs with no “nightmares”

That’s right, with this entry finished, I have managed to write two whole blogs without any “nightmares” transpiring against me. However, little did I know at the time was that another was incoming. After our last night’s rest in Đà Lạt, the three of us killed time during the day and boarded our night bus in the evening without any problems. Only once we had arrived in Hội An was it that the texts about my travel card started coming through on my phone…