I woke up after a long slumber yet still early enough in the morning to get a good start to the day. In the quiet morning when barely a creature was stirring, most certainly not even a fellow backpacker, I rode off with plans on having the day to myself while the others chose to take the rushed tour package. I had to eat something before I removed myself from the nerve center of Mui Ne’s resort strip but nothing of any circumstance stood within sight. I checked into a random restaurant with a slow moving old woman who seemed to have no desire to embrace the day. I ordered beef pho but it turned into being a sad interpretation of the famous dish with American style instant ramen noodle which has come to form the backbone of frugal American college students for years. With wretched eternal shelf life food coursing through my body, I finally got some distance behind me on the way to the dunes, which is the most famous attraction around Mui Ne. I rode past the red sand dunes which were colored more of a reddish orange hue since I planned on saving them for sunset. The next stretch of road jutted out towards the coastline where it opened up to the fishing village with boats spanning the full bay as each bobbed colorfully with no captain to speak of. It may have been a tourist ploy since they were set out so perfectly but I certainly wasn’t going to complain with such a tourist. The oddity that went beyond the surreal speckled wood peppering the large open bay was large circular and plastic containers that either floated near the shore or stood on the rough beach waiting to be deployed. These containers or tubs were just as colorful as the boats yet seemed to lack the similar purpose as they had no rudder or some other mechanism to propel over a predestined route. After getting past what I found to be the real Mui Ne filled with genuine villagers living their lives around the market and their life source of the sea far removed from the high class beach resorts that many have come to cater to, I hit the coastline now that the road hugged it firmly. The water stood directly at my side as I maxed out the speedometer during the thrilling long open stretches of pavement (don’t worry this girl – that has yet to be named aka my motorbike – can’t rev too fast to my chagrin). The coastline felt like a bizarro Scotland coast in my own weird deceived imagination thanks to its rockiness and occasional hills that rose promptly and firmly next to the water’s edge but had its own taste and feel with the mixture of red sandy expanse opening up to thick mirage-like forest. The oddest part of this section was the tombstones intermingled with the red sand. They jutted themselves out of the ground as planned without any order while having the odd balance of color enveloping their shells. At this spot near the desert graveyard, I experienced perfect peace. For a short while, not a single sound entered my ears with the exception of the cool breeze rippling off from the coast and no man nor traffic stood within sight of my eyes. Eventually I arrived to the road that supposedly led to the white sand dunes. I could see them from the distance but I had to traverse a thick sandy and dusty dirt road to reach them. Sooner than I would have preferred, I had to continuously dodge ruts that could turn into quicksand at a moment’s notice, each of them ready to suck in the next unsuspecting wheel. Far too frequently I had to waddle like a battered duck with the motorbike between my legs to mush it out of its sandy purgatory. Once through the awaited entrance gate, I walked the white dunes which were almost too perfect and too clearly pearled. With the exception of the lake that stood directly at its side it had certain imaginable feel akin to the Sahara desert. After trudging up to the highest sandy peak, I scanned around me to see the sometimes black peppered sand in the distance as well as the eye candy of the sea and red dunes much further away. I had planned on saving the red sand dunes for later but since I was fully exposed to the sun’s rays I decided to get it done so that I could relax later on with time to spare. The red sand dunes were impressive but the sand dunes park out west in the U.S. reach well beyond a place like this (sometimes comparisons need to be made even if I sound ungrateful). I had had more than enough sand for the day. The highlights of my day were having the freedom of riding freely by myself with such a scenic atmosphere surrounding me along the way. Needing some lunch I went to the real Mui Ne as I explained earlier with its real villagers. This place lacked the throngs of tourists and their stuffy resorts. I zipped through the town and explored the narrow side streets that reminded me of a dirty Italian village with neighbors so jointly packed together. As I turned around at a dead end, one limited English speaking Vietnamese said hello while trying to say something basic phrases and questions. Soon after another approached without any harsh or ill mannered demeanor yet quickly and out of the blue told me to ‘leave’ and ‘get out’ of here. Well good afternoon to you too! I chuckled a bit before leaving as I already planned and stopped at the Mui Ne market mainly for exploration purposes rather than to buy any certain item. Accidentally but realistically, likely, I found a food stall worth exploring beyond sight alone. Noticing what the old woman had grilling up, I asked for one as well. While she went about preparing a snack food that resembled a grilled Asian taquito, another extra humorous woman quickly pulled up a chair for me as well as a separate one for my daypack since the floor was beyond dirty. She even tried to round up a third chair for my helmet until I waved her off. I soon realized that I had become quite an attraction as a group of woman, mainly older, surrounded me in curiosity. While they talked amongst themselves, I began eating this delicacy made from rice paper that was dotted with black sesame seeds. The rice paper was rolled initially like a present and the true gift that is with a spicy spread along with what appeared to be fish but then again who am I to know the difference out here, carrots, holy basil leaves, plus others unbeknownst to me, yet throughly delicious. I lit up with each bite savoring the taste but more so to put on a show for the women that gathered around me. I ordered a mysterious soup from an adjacent pot that turned out to be a tofu noodle soup. Before digging in with my well tuned chopsticks, I encouraged her to add more chilies than she first deposited atop the bowl; I am not some typical foreigner in many senses of the word. After another Asian taquito (the whole meal cost me less than $1.50), the amiable and energetic woman who generated the most conversation amongst the women got my attention and pointed in another direction before quickly pointing back to me in attempt form some kind of unison between two unknown quantities. Clearly, I couldn’t understand what was occurring since none of these lovely ladies knew any English. The unknown quantity in question soon approached. Apparently she was trying to hook me up with an English speaking Vietnamese friend or younger sister of hers (Asians have some big families). We talked with her awhile as I can only assume the woman got encouraged with exchange the two of us made. For a short while, the two of us taught each other some bits of each other’s languages, mostly in terms of food. We pointed at different vegetables and fruits amongst the stands further building up one another’s foodie vocabulary. On the way out some fruit caught my eye since I have been long dying to eat something fresh and cheap but too afraid with the sanitary conditions out here at the markets. After the one fruit stand lady (no actually stand since most items just lay on the ground over a laid out cloth or blanket) noticed my interest, she began pitching me on the idea of her fruit. I ended up buying six oranges and three apples along with a branch of a fruit that appeared to be lychee (looks like Dr. Seuss truffula trees from the Lorax book). Apparently they weren’t satisfied with the bundle I had already purchased since they kept trying to pile on more and more fruit gesturing at mangoes, papayas, anything really within sight and reach. It felt like they were trying to sell me their whole stock as if I was ready to buy out the entire market. I kept pointing to my belly and then expanding out my hands to show them I would get fat if I bought as much as they requested. After evading their desperate pleas, I returned back to the resort stretch of Mui Ne while getting a needed oil change along the way (I guess that I am being capable of being somewhat responsible with this bike). The rest of the day meant some R and R after the uptempo pace of the morning and afternoon. Satisfied with my time hear in Mui Ne, I am now content to move on and head up north to Dalat, the old French colonial hill town up in the mountains.
Riding Vietnam Day 157: Dunes Day