Tuesday, 10 April 2007

HCMC, Mui Ne and Dalat.

Pegswood's Parm Trees

I was swimming off the idyllic palm-fringed coast of Mui Ne, observing the coconut trees when I had a childhood flashback. I was messing around near Pegswood train station when I noticed someone had added “by the parm trees” to the sign with deft strokes of a permanent marker. Was the spelling deliberate? Was it the work of an illiterate delinquent? Or was the perpetrator being ironic? Did train passengers commuting between Newcastle and Edinburgh perceive us as a village of Untermensch? So many questions.

Mui Ne beach
I took a 6hr bus from HCMC/Saigon to Mui Ne. I found a great family-run hostel and decided I'd stay here a while. It's currently out of season so very quiet and chilled. I spent six nights eating freshly caught steamed fish with German friends Nicole and Kia. I cycled 16km to Phan Theit fishing village with a huge fishing fleet in harbour which was quite a sight. There must have been more than one hundred vessels. 

Mui Ne is a top site for kite-surfing and I watched the experts doing it for hours on end – jumping 10m into the air at times – very cool. I swam amongst them and occasionally had to submerge myself as they surfed directly over my napper. Every night at dusk I would go for a small beachside jog and have a game of football with the local kids.

I hired a motorbike and rode out to the sand dunes. They're massive! There are red dunes which look like Mars and white dunes which look like deserts. The scale of these dunes is what strikes you the most - huge. After an enjoyable week by the beach I jumped a 7hr bus to Dalat.

Dalat is about 200km inland and sits at an elevation of 1400m leaving the climate cooler than elsewhere. At nights you need a blanket!! I haven’t used one for months. There's a lake in the middle of town and the green surroundings reminds me of England. It's a pleasant 5km walk around the Lake in the afternoon.

Dodgy food

The first night here I was unwittingly eating some goat’s brain soup when a group of local drunks dragged me to their table. They were drinking small shots of strong local wine and invited me to join in. As I looked more closely at the bottles I noticed a snake floating in one - cobra wine! Another bottle had goat penises floating in it! It was quite a culinary night. Goat brain soup followed with cobra and goat penis wines.

The view from the top of Mt Langbiang
In Dalat I found another quiet family-run hostel where I'm the only guest. Last night I was invited to join the family for dinner as they shared two whole Chinese roasted ducks. They let me eat the duck’s heed since I was a guest! I climbed up through pine forests and jungle to the summit of Mt Langbiang which is the highest peak in South Vietnam at 2163m. It was a tough climb but it was great to look down at the rice paddies and villages below. On the way up I saw snakeskins which made me look twice before grabbing for branches. The temperature has been cold for the last few days and I've had to wear my fleece. After glorious mornings, it seems to rain every afternoon. It's all a nice change after months of unrelenting heat. Some days I have a sauna to warm up!

Dantala falls
I hired a motorbike and explored the area around town. I visited the Datanla Waterfall and an ethnic minority village called Xa Lat. I then headed aimlessly into the countryside and was greeted by curious stares as I approached remote farms. One young dirty looking farmer offered a smoke as we communicated in sign language. I helped him herd his water buffalo into a field and he invited me into his shack to meet his family. Very strange just sitting there smiling and saying GamUn (Thankyou) all the time but it was a laugh.

Vietnamese schoolgirls
I saw some village girls returning from school and couldn’t believe how immaculate their clothes were given the shacks they live in. They were dressed in white silk tops and trousers with a smock over the top. Honestly, they looked like they were going to a wedding or something, certainly not school. To think they then sleep in these hovels.

One bad thing about Vietnam is the amount of motorbike accidents I've seen. I may have been unlucky but I've seen about ten accidents in two weeks. Today, a woman came off after running over a dog (there are millions of dogs here, like Mongolia) and she looked bad. This happened right next to me and I helped lift the bike off her. Other locals turned up and took over since I couldn’t exactly provide much comfort in English. I was racing around like a lunatic when I first hired a bike but I've calmed down somewhat.

Bao Nhieu Tien (Viet for How Much?)

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