Not Really a Blog

May 11, 2012

Mũi Né

I arrived to Mui Ne from Dalat using the Easy Riders early in the afternoon and chose a room close to the old village. Mui Ne got famous among tourists recently, apparently. It is a long beach strip in southern Vietnam, famous for its winds, which attracts kite-surfers, and the different dunes around the area.

The old village is quite picturesque, as it is a fishing village and has lots of boats in its harbour, which makes for nice pictures. It is not uncommon to find tens of people taking photographs at any given point there.

Mui Ne

It’s even been the cover photograph of one of the editions of the Lonely Planet for Vietnam:

Now, that’s one thing, but the rest of the touristy area is a different world. Basically the whole beach strip is a succession of hotels, guest houses and restaurants non-stop for a few kilometres. Literally non-stop, parallel to the beach and to the main road of this town. Which is a bit more inconvenient than it seems as you have to cross through one of these establishments to reach the beach.

Mui Ne

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Mui Ne fishing village

So, having a scooter here is a must, as there’s no way you are going to walk like 9 km to get to the nicer spots in this place. And well, driving in Vietnam, I should just post an entry on this blog about driving in South East Asia, starting by ‘It’s illegal to drive unless you have a Vietnamese issued driving license‘ to ‘100 ways in which you can kill yourself or end up permanently disabled by driving in Vietnam‘. I’m sure it would be a success among readers ;-)

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Boats in Mui Ne

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Sunset in Mui Ne

But the thing that I found the weirdest here is that it’s full of Russians. Everywhere. I found it extremely difficult to meet people as most of them were Russians with mostly no command of the English language. Damn, even the menus were written in Russian in restaurants. I don’t know why, but everywhere you go you can breathe russian. Even the kite-surfing schools were employed by russians for russians (!).

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Jump jump

Yeah, kite surfing seems to be the big thing here. it’s literally filled with people kite-surfing. Schools everywhere, experienced surfers jumping above the waves also. It was nice to see all these people doing their stunts.

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Vietnamese kids

The beach is not particularly impressive. Good for kite surfing but not so good for swimming. Although it’s nice to go for a walk early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the sun is rising or setting.

Starfish
Starfish on low tide

Sunrise
Sunrise

Stars over Mui Ne
Orion under the palm trees

But Mui Ne is also famous for its dunes, as it seems like a big local attraction which gets visitors all day round. It’s funny because around these dunes bars and restaurants have sprung up to take care of all the tourists that go there. It’s also full of kids who try to get you to buy something from their family owned restaurants. The deal is, you buy something from them, they’ll keep an eye on your scooter or bicycle. Which is a good way to get to know them a bit as they are easy to talk to, they want to know a bit about you, where you’re coming from, etc.

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You can just walk the dunes, which are prettier at sunset, getting them in an even more intense orange colour. Or you can just rent one of the sliders and then go down one of the dunes. Don’t worry if you go there, you’ll be harassed by zillions of kids who want you to rent their board ;-)

The sand slider I

Sand slides

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Nice place to come, but preferably come with some friends or having notions of Russian as it’ll be difficult to make new friends ;-). And with lots of energy to try kite-surfing. Have a look at my full gallery on flickr if you fancy these photos.

From here, next step, Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City!

March 11, 2012

Hué

Only spent a day and a half in Hué. I somehow didn’t particularly like it. I have this theory about liking a city, where , when  you don’t like a particular city, it has to do with your mood during those days. And I don’t know about you, but my mood changes a lot during this trip! :) Or maybe, it was the welcome I got when I arrived to Hué and went for a stroll…

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I was on my own on this city and I joined an organised tour to see the city. I’m hating these tours, but I came to this realisation after doing a few of them. They are too constrained, as they take you from place to place where you have limited time to see it, and generally you are being hand-held all the time. They even tell you when you can take pictures ‘Sir, now take pictures‘ ‘Oh, really? Thanks‘. On the other hand, it’s a good way to meet people, on these trip I ended up meeting three nice australian girls who I would see again in Nha Trang. You keep bumping into the same people on different places. this is good if you like their company. Not so good if you don’t like them (oh, it’s you again (smirk)).

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Anyway, Hué is interesting from a historical point of view. Here the battle of Hué took place (remember Full Metal Jacket)?. It’s kind of weird to be in one of these places where all this Vietnam war happened (sorry, American War as it’s called in Vietnam). But well, it’s not only about recent wars. You can visit many temples and other places in the city, like the Citadel.

Have a look at some of the views about this city.

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Hué 18
Car that belonged to Thich Quang Duc

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I specially liked the market, where you don’t get to see many foreigners and see the real Vietnam. Markets in this part of the world are even more boiling with life. You see all sorts of people selling everything. Clothing, accessories, amulets, roots, meat, vegetables, everything.  And it’s full of food stalls where you can try real cheap-ass food, sometimes not knowing what you are eating. But that’s part of the experience and what makes it interesting.

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Yummy!

But maybe, it was that it was raining (again) and that made me not like this city very much! Rain Rain Rain, when are you going to go away? ;-)

March 10, 2012

From Ninh Binh to Hué

I really don’t know any more which day it is now. I mean, I know the number, as I base my bookings on that. I also know when my visa is expiring. But I don’t know if it’s a Thursday or a Sunday. Not anymore. I guess this is what happens when you are doing pretty much every day the same thing and there are no ‘weekends

That’s what happened to me when booking a train from Ninh Binh to Hué. I thought it was going to be on a Sunday, but it ended up being a Tuesday Morning.

Anyway, I had this train ticket I had bought in Hanoi to go to Hué. I found out that I paid some commission at the hostel. OK, fair enough, they did all the work and I didn’t have to go to the train station. In Hanoi. Beep beep.

But today, I was talking to this girl at Ninh Binh train station. She’s German, but from Vietnamese origin, so she looks totally Vietnamese, and people treat her as a local, until she speaks, because she only has a basic command of Vietnamese.

  • Yeah, I look Vietnamese but I pay foreigners’ price.
  • Foreigners’ price? What?
  • Oh yeah, they have a two-tier pricing system here. Institutionalised.

Fantastic. I still don’t know if it’s true or not. But on the tickets themselves it’s printed with a big font: Foreigner

Score: Vietnam 5 – Jesus 1

From Ninh Binh to Hué
Typical Vietnamese Train

From Ninh Binh to Hué
My cabin

I had a ticket for this soft sleeper on an empty cabin, just for me. Boring. Almost every carriage was empty. And I had 12 hours ahead of me on this train. Only the people who work on the train are using one of the cabins. Luckily, after one stop more people come in and it becomes nicer, as you see you are not the only one travelling on this carriage.

From Ninh Binh to Hué
Empty train

Alright, what do I do? The train is moving. There’s nobody in this train except two women and a semi-naughty kid on the adjacent cabin. Get some sleep? No, too noisy to get some sleep at 10 in the morning. Try some music? Could do, but I still have 12 hours ahead of me…

It was obvious that this was going to be a really boring trip, 12 hours trapped in this metal cage without having anyone to talk to.

From Ninh Binh to Hué
Kid next door

But as it happened, the guys working on this train were very nice and they somehow managed to get my attention. First, one of the girls gave me some sunflower seeds, like the ones we have in Spain, but not salty at all. And while I was eating them, a middle-aged woman called me from 5 cabins away. Intrigued I went there and found all these guys who work on the train. They were all sitting comfortably there.

Three girls, one guy and this woman. Ah, yes, and a Spaniard. All the conversation carried in Vietnamese, as English was only spoken by a couple of them, and by English I mean a variation of ‘How are you?‘, ‘What’s your name?‘ and so on.

So what happened is that each of them sat in front of this woman, who had deployed a table-cloth on the train seat, on which she put some cards, while all of them paid attention to her. WTF? After a few moments, I figured it out. She’s a fortune-teller. In Vietnamese. Awesome!

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Fortune teller in action

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more fortune telling

So I sit there for like an hour watching the whole thing fascinated while I try to speak some rudimentary English with one of the girls, who had a limited vocabulary and pronunciation. At the same time I’m paying attention to this woman and the reaction on these guys. Well, trying to get their body language, because to say this was a conversation would be a bold statement.

I was enjoying watching all of that, actually. When the lady finished we all moved to my compartment (except the lady, who wanted to get some sleep ;-)) and they all tried to engage me in some conversation. They either kept my company as way to spend some time or they really wanted to know more about me because they don’t see many like me (I know, I know, one of a kind…). Probably they were equally bored about being trapped on a train to Saigon (36 hours)

And to top it up, the kid sleeping next door joins us attracted by the smell of some Oreos cookies, so a lot of fun was guaranteed.

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Oreo cookies, anyone?

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I have to say that the Vietnamese have surprised me in many more ways than the Chinese. While they try to squeeze a few dollars off you, when buying stuff or negotiating a taxi, etc, they always do it with a smile and, true, they try to get your money. But the normal people you see on trains, hostels, etc, they seem very very nice, and they actually are very friendly by inviting lame foreigners like me to share a bit of their lives, which has made me very happy on all of these tiny moments so far :) It’s nice to get to talk to local people and know a bit about their lives (and I guess them knowing a bit about mine too)

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Fun and giggles

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From Ninh Binh to Hué 18

This trip has been very enjoyable, what looked like a train trip from hell turned out to be a fun trip. There was even more to come. Apparently one of these girls seemed to fancy me as she gave me her phone number. Like she saw my phone, grabbed it and put her number on it. She didn’t speak any English so I’m still wondering what she was thinking, as most of the time she was ‘translated‘ by the other guy. This one even wrote on my notebook ‘Dung loves Jesus‘ (I think he meant ‘likes’ instead of loves). To which I tried to reply with ‘everybody loves Jesus‘ but they didn’t understand the pun ;-)

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From Ninh Binh to Hué 28

And now the other girl moved the conversation about whether I was married or not and whether I wanted to get married and, specifically, married to a Vietnamese girl. Oh, I can see where this is headed. He he he. And, the thing is that all of this was happening while I was cracking up and didn’t have anyone there to tell this story while it was unfolding :-)

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Rice fields along the way

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And the kid who would not stop

This way, a 12 hour train ride to Hué that looked like it was going to be hellish turned into an entertaining day.

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And then I got to Hué, got to my hostel finally. I took a taxi which reminded my of my first day in Hanoi. Again, they try to scam you and get more money. You get approached, no, harassed when you get off the train by all these ‘taxi‘ drivers and they offer you a flat-price ride to your hostel. Where flat is 100000 dong ($5). But I thankfully had done my homework and had found out that the taxi rate in Hué is 15000 dong ($0.75) per km. Telling these guys that you want to use a metered-taxi for 15000 dong makes them disappear. And when they disappear you can see the official taxis that use that rate. Total fare in the end was 45000, so a bit less than $2.

And, 22:00, I need some fresh air and I go for a stroll around the hostel. Just have an hour. Guess what? you get approached by moto and cyclo drivers. Every 5 minutes, and the conversation goes like:

  • Where you going sir?
  • Just want to walk for a bit.
  • I can take you anywhere.
  • No thanks, I want to walk.
  • Marihuana?
  • No thanks
  • ‘sniff, sniff’ (while he does the snorting gesture)
  • No, thanks.
  • Boom Boom? Girls, pretty girls?
  • No thanks.

(If you are interested, it’s $20 for one of these girls…).

Anyway, welcome to Hué.

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