The Typhoon Cometh…
Vietnamese night buses are a true test of traveller strength. How will you cope with drivers who overtake zooming HGVs in the face of oncoming traffic? How will you react when you’re barked orders to take your goddamn falang-xa ass off the bus and get thrown with your backpack onto the streets in the middle of the night? And that’s before we get into the issues of Vietnamese music being blared loudly when you are trying to sleep, dealing with feeling very hot, and then very cold, and being too tall to fit into the sleeping cubby (not an issue for me but very much so for every dude I’ve spoken to about this over 5’9″)
We were woken up at 5am or so and commanded off the bus. We werent meant to arrive for another 90 minutes! The town was awake however, but in the dark I couldnt tell if I was seeing people on their way to work, or people traipsing home from a late-night bar. I stood in the middle of the pavement, dazed and confused. 2 French women and a trio of North Americans who’d travelled with me from Hoi An huddled with me; we’d made the 12 hour journey despite being chucked off our first bus because it was overcrowded and there was nowhere for us to sit, (and then sitting in the road for half an hour waiting for another bus) constant weaving in and out of traffic lanes and then trying to sleep whilst travelling over bumpy roads. And that’s before I get into the puker at the back whose vomit was well stinky!
The American and 2 Canadians were heading to the same hostel as me so we grouped together and haggled for a taxi, got them down to 40,000 for all of us. We later heard of a guy who jumped on the back of a motorbike to the same place and got ripped off for 200,000 VND. Duh!
Dawn came quickly and we sat outside the hostel waiting to be allowed in. I considered going to get breakfast but decided I was actually too knackered and as soon as I could get into my room, at about 7, I did and slept through until the afternoon. My dorm room had a widescreen TV, computer and hair straighteners in! Not bad. Bed was real comfy too.
Now, remember I haven’t seen the sun since leaving Laos. Things were about to get a whole heap worse… The dawn had been bright, but I woke up after 12 to the sound of… rain?! Is that rain?? A girl came to join our dorm. She told me she’d been in Nha Trang for 5 days and had had a great time on the beach but it was now raining. Great. Id come to Nha Trang to relax on the beach and lie in the sun. Maybe there was something else I could do? The girl told me there wasnt a heap of stuff to do but she could show me around town if I liked? So off we went. I saw the beach and the bars and a good place to get ice cream. But there really wasnt a lot to do so I agreed to meet the girl later for dinner then went and sat in the gelateria for 4 hrs.
The rain continued. Sometimes soft and drizzly and sometimes hard and heavy. But it continued.
I later met the girl for dinner. Her name was Denise. When you travel alone, a friendly face, a good conversation and a sense of fun can be all that matters. Though conversations generally start with exchanges of names and where we come from, they dont always and sometimes with conversations that dont, you know you’ve made a good friend; those little things like what you do at home dont matter much. We joined up with a lovely girl called Hannah who was on her way back to the UK after 2 years living in Oz and working in the Outback. Her stories fascinated me.
A girl bounced into our dorm the next day (and who I also shared a dorm with in Mui Ne and helped find her hostel in Saigon) and announced that a typhoon was on the way (hadnt stopped raining). Immediately, Hannah and I logged on to find out more. Indeed. A rogue typhoon. How bad was it going to be? Would we be stranded? Was it going to be dangerous? Rather than get annoyed that my plans for this part of the coast were ruined, I just conceded that I was in a tropical country and these things happen. They just do, so deal with it.
Nha Trang really had very little to do so we spent our time partying! It’s not historically interesting or anything. I did end up at a very small art gallery in Nha Trang, run by a French photographer and his Vietnamese-born wife. They were really interesting and I enjoyed having a coffee and chat with the wife about Vietnamese culture and how travellers are looked upon and so on.
On the plus side, I had a couple of great evenings meeting new people who Im very sure Ill keep in touch with. On a night out I met a guy called Stephen who was immediately familiar. He said I also looked familar. Turned out we both work in TV and I went to uni with his best friend! Small world…
Water, Water, Water Everywhere!
I got the taxi to Dalat on less than 3 hours sleep. Worth it but boy, did I feel like shit! It was still raining and the typhoon was due to hit the coast that evening. Best make it inland before then and just hope it disperses. Not enough people had booked on the bus so 6 of us ended up in a taxi. The mountain was road was awesome!! Luckily there was so much low-lying cloud that I couldnt actually see the steep drops or sharp bends so that was one less thing to worry about, but the sheer volume of water travelling down over the rocks was spectacular, creating roadside waterfalls. Vietnam had obviously experienced this type of weather before and I remember there was one stretch of road that they’d built a bridge over to cope with the force of a waterfall should it be created by rain. And there were drains so that the roads didnt get flooded but with this much rain it didnt always work and I was a bit worried when we drove up a road that was basically flooded. The car glided slightly and I noticed the huge cracks in the tarmac between us and the edge. Yikes! So I didnt sleep during the mountain road drive despite us having a super-careful driver.
My introductary views of Dalat were of the flower garden and the big lake; this was a very pretty city, even in the rain. It reminded me of some places Id been to; Wanaka in New Zealand and Puerto Varas in Chile, except there was a little quirkiness to Dalat. The flower garden had massive swans made of flowers and there was something kitschy about the cafes. In any case, i felt at home. My hotel was fab, with a rooftop jacuzzi which came as a welcome relief after time spent soggy and cold sight-seeing. However, Dalat was significantly cooler and the constant rain had me feeling a little less than my best and unable to fully enjoy the town’s charm. I spent my time wandering around under an umbrella eating cake and drinking coffee. I visited the Crazy House. Ha, not like that, its like this Gaudi-inspired house with lots of twists and turns, a bit weird, a bit unnerving and some of the walkways between the themed houses were steep and very high up which didnt inspire confidence in slippery conditions. It was during my journey there that I experienced something else.
I had got really bored and a bit fed up of walking around in the rain with wet jeans so I went back to my room and put some light trousers on. By the time Id got there to change, Id got a bit lazy so resumed my wandering with a cab to the Crazy House. Now, I dont really remember whose fault this was but my taxi collided with 2 guys on a motorbike. The guys on the motorbike started shouting at the taxi driver and sped across the front of the car and stopped. A guy got off the back, came straight over to my driver, whose window was open and grabbed him and started hitting him. Really hard! I gulped in the back and told him to stop. The driver didnt really react; he didnt say anything, he was just calm. He wound up the window a bit and then this guy opened the door to grab the driver by the throat. At this point the taxi driver pushed him off, shut the door and locked it. The bike guy came round the other side of the car and tried to open the door. It was locked. Just as my driver was about to pull off, the guy came back round, leant into the still-open window and tried to take the ignition keys. The driver was too quick, sped off round the motorbike, causing a few people to beep and off we went. Cor, drama!
Meanwhile, the typhoon had hit land, a little further south of Nha Trang, at Mui Ne (my next stop!!). It was now being classed just as a tropical storm. Weather forecasts indicated rain for the rest of the week and we were hearing that Saigon had had non-stop heavy showers. Ohhhhh great.
After The Rain…
I slept most of the way to Mui Ne. My jeans were still very wet when I packed them. Even if Mui Ne was rainy, it was bound to be warmer than Dalat so hopefully my wet things would have a chance to dry. I woke up to the sight of sand dunes and… what was that? a blue sky? Really? Maybe? Yeah.. it wasnt raining, in any case. We got to Mui Ne and I was immediately hit by the heat as I got off the bus. I think this was going to be good. By the time I got to the hostel, the sun was well and truly out! I met my dorm-mate, a Canadian girl called Erica, chucked my bikini on and ran off to enjoy the beach! Sand, sun, heat! Marvellous. I was so, so happy. I laid on the beach for hours, finally able to enjoy the feeling of sun on my face. I spent my whole time in Mui Ne on the beach, it was great! I enjoyed it so much that I wandered into a cafe in just my bikini and didnt realise til I started getting strange looks from people. That beach was full of very sunburnt Russians.
In the evening, Erica and I set off to have dinner with some boys from Brighton she had met the day before. We had a tasty barbecued dinner – all kinds of fish, it was really good and a welcome change from rice and noodles. A turtle of some kind was on the menu. I was sad for it and asked the chef how much I could offer him to rescue it – 700,000 vnd was the answer – about £20. I was like… naaah, sorry turtle, sorry. Some of Erica’s Canadian friends came to stay too and a girl from Edmonton turned up. I mistook her for Rachel, a girl Id met in Nha Trang. It wasnt her but the girl was stunned because her name was Rachel too. Weirdness!
Mui Ne was also a good place to go out and in many ways I preferred it to Nha Trang but Im not sure if my view of it would change if it hadnt been so rain-soaked. When I left Mui Ne with a handful of new Canadian friends and a tan, I was very happy.