A $10 sleeper bus took me halfway up the coast to Nha Trang, in the middle part of the country. I boarded the strangest looking bus I’ve ever been on with three rows and two levels of plastic reclined sleeper pods on board. My pod neighbor to my right was a Dutch video producer. A well dressed, short brown haired 28 year old, also traveling solo on his way to Mui Ne to meet his college friend who bought and was running a hotel.
That deep tan, so often seen in southeast asian travellers had not yet set in. As we neared his destination, he actively collected GoPro clips of the bus and people.
“Dune surfing. That’s what you do in Mui Nei,” he said.
“Dune surfing?” I asked.
“Dune surfing is where you ride something down a sand dune. It’s very popular,” he said pointing at the dunes passing by off in the distance. “ Like sledding in the north.”
I had no time for dune surfing this trip but it sure seemed like fun. Mui Nei was clearly one of the many Russian settlements which cover India and Asia. Russian signs lined the streets together with English and Vietnamese. Kite surfers hopped off windy waters of the South China Sea in the distance.
A scooter collision in a rural grassy area set my bus schedule back several hours on the way to Nha Trang. A local family happened to graciously cook ramen noodles for the entire bus as we sat on their spacious cement porch and traded travel stories while waiting for a police report.
“Hoi Ann is my absolute favorite place in Vietnam. It’s a cute little fishing village,” said a thirty something English teacher from San Francisco.
“The food is amazing. They have little lanterns hanging everywhere,” he described of the small seaside town halfway to Hanoi.
I had no time for extra destinations before my visa expired, but collecting information via expats is essential in my books. They’re the best source of local knowledge for a foreigner. They know the best spots and can give you insight into the culture and people. He informed me about agent orange usage by the US military in the war. Damage is still showing up years later with people’s health conditions.
“Many locals will only drink bottled or filtered water because they are afraid of contaminants still in the soil,” he said.
I was unaware of the agent orange situation, and nothing in any of my guidebooks mentioned anything about it.
As the sun started to set, and our noodles disappeared, our group thanked the local family and gave little bows and waves. They didn’t speak any English but would appreciate and understand a slight bow of respect. When in doubt in Asia, just smile and bow.
It’s hard to imagine how much poverty there is in Asian countries when we’re wowed by beautiful scenery and exotic culture but it is there, and undeniably in your face when you venture out of major towns. You pass by shack after shack. Houses. Businesses. Stores. After three hours of shacks, you then end up in some new exotic, built up town.
Driving down the night highway, florescent tube lights were glowing over fields or swamps. I imagined it was some kind of farm or aquaculture operation. Fisherman use lights in water at night to attract squid, so this is a possibility. Hundreds of these speckled off into the black Vietnamese night for miles and miles on my way up to Nha Trang.
A Korean guy that I met and chatted with on the bus teamed up with me to negotiate a stellar taxi deal to our hostels. Taxi drivers crowded around the bus as the twenty or so departed in the dark streets. We were not in any recognizable area. Landmarks were not an option in this new city and signs are barely legible in daylight much less at our 1am arrival, and are almost all going to be in Vietnamese.
Regardless of the delays along the way, exotic spiritual temples, South China Sea scuba and white sandy beaches were just one sleep away.