Surreal surroundings on the sea shore
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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Fortunately it was also very rewarding too, because the surrounding countryside is absolutely extraordinary - it's both highly photogenic and also definitely not what most people would expect from Vietnam. There are no dense jungles here, which is the sole stereotype most people have of the Vietnamese countryside. In my time here I saw a variety of landscapes that reminded me of places I have visited around the world, and also the images of some places that I would very much like to visit. The diversity of such a small patch of land is amazing.
The trip down from Saigon on an 'Open Bus' was harmless enough - six or seven hours at speeds ranging from a steady 40km to wild 120km per hour rally race. No doubt the velocity depended on where the police were thought to be, but as it was a large bus we would be on the winning team in most potential collisions, so the handful of passengers settled back to sleep or read and it was all over by early afternoon.
Rural areas we travelled through were certainly poorer than their urban cousins, another example of the central paradox now existing in Communist nations I have recently visited - farmers who were meant to be the backbone of the Marxist revolution (and usually the ones that fought most fiercely) are now the most poverty stricken as these economies belatedly rush towards a market-based economy. Mui Ne (pronounced (pron. Moo Ni) the tourist destination is better off than most - a strip of resorts, restaurants and bars that stretches for kilometres along the coast, ending a few clicks short of the fishing village actually known as Mui Ne.
The village is quite cute with hundreds of colourful fishing boats crushed into a small space in the corner of the bay. The row boats used here a circular jobs made of bamboo matting; quite stable in the water but not very aqua-dynamic, which seems to result in a lot of work and hassle for its driver. Still, they don't tell me how to do my job so I just take pictures, enjoy the view and keep quiet.
My first steps into the wilderness beyond town and the tourist strip were up the Fairy River, a smooth running red stream that cuts a verdant valley through the dry hills around and that has worn magnificent formations in the white stone found below the rich ochre sands of the area. After following the flow for a kilometre or so, walking straight up the shallow river bed, I managed to climb the steep slope to my left which rewarded me with expansive views of the valley all the way to the sea in the distance. The palm-lined riverbanks below reminded me of images I've seen of the Nile wending its way through the deserts of Egypt, and I am looking forward to seeing if this comparison is fair in the coming months.
Venturing further afield the next morning, with a motorcycle guide called Moet, delivered the true reward of the visit. Thirty kilometres out of town and simply known as the 'White Sand Dunes', this collection of immense sand ridges dotted by foliage-ringed lakes induced mirage-like scenes in my mind. The lush green oases punctuating the breath-taking austerity of your typical Saharan desert environment came straight to mind. All I needed was a passing camel caravan and the scene would be complete (although the wedding photo session would have been just a little out of place).
Fortunately it wasn't past midday or the shimmering of heat waves over the sands would have completed the stark but beautiful picture. We trudged across the barren landscape until all footsteps and water features were well behind us, leaving a sea of brilliant white sand and shadows for myself and trusty camera to admire. Small clouds breezing past added character to the shots and eventually when I was done with the aesthetic, I enjoyed a shim or two on a piece of rented plastic down some of the steeper slopes to be found.
These are my two favourite shots. Again, I don't think anyone would expect this of Vietnam but here it is. Bizarre.
Retreating from the growing heat and cruising on the bike for a while seemed like a good idea. Next stop was the red canyon, an eroded area which immediately harkened back to some environments of central Australia, or possibly some canyon areas of the USA. Unfortunately the base is also farming land for some reason, so a lot of the higher ground is inaccessible behind chain link fencing and the lower areas are planted with some crop which makes it difficult to get around. I didn't stay long because of this but I particularly liked some of the Chinese characters carved into the compacted red sand.
Bordering all this are two other distinctive landscapes. For kilometres around further inland the countryside is a desolate expanse of rolling fields which seem to be only lightly grassed but somehow sustain a sizable number of healthy looking cattle. One fellow traveller mentioned that this looked like a summertime Mongolian hinterland of his imagination. For me almost moorland, but just a dash too sunny and hot. Another interesting feature here was the occasional graveyards around, an unordered hodge-podge of aboveground tombs covering a couple of square kilometres, with little consistency in direction or spacing.
The other is the ocean road, beach-lined one side and rolling hills and dunes the other - mile after mile after mile. Very much akin to the one running along the south east coast of Australia, so I was lucky to get some sunshine I think!
The final stop of the expedition was the local pagoda, a character-filled structure the resident monk was only too happy to show me through. I still don't have any idea what most of the ornamentation is meant to symbolise, so maybe I should make that a homework project to complete before exiting China in a few weeks time.
Later in the day the weather worsened making things look a lot more like the Great Ocean Road as each minute ticked by. Still, this seems to be a favoured destination for wind and kite surfers worldwide so as the weather deteriorated, more of them went out. Fascinating to watch over a beer (especially the kite guys), I found solace in the warmth of the bar and looked back fondly on my short time in these diverse and spectacular environments - seemingly so incongruous in this country, at least in my mind.
If you're in the neighbourhood, this place is definitely worth a stop.
Next entry -> Dalat and the central highlands
Technotrekker Travel Technologies
Today I'd like to introduce another integral team player and possibly the most handy tool in the universe since the humble Towel (as defined by Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). You wouldn't be reading this without the Sandisk Cruzer mini 1.0Gb USB key.
This little guy gets the finished journal entries from my laptop to the internet via most computers found at the local internet cafe (Windows XP machines are best). With built in drivers and 1Gb of storage, its like a tiny but huge floppy disk of old and can easily carry backups of important information and hold documents sent to your email, often required for later printing. Just plug it into any USB port and upload or download to your heart's content. Don't leave home without one!