12 December 2013

On the road... then on the beach

Fair warning... I'm writing this while watching the ocean surf roll in on a beach just north of Mui Ne.

I began the day with a 6 a.m. swim in the Pacific.

Then, once "the girls" got out of their room, we cut apple, pineapple, watermelon, banana, and a fruit whose name we don't knowall purchased last night for less than US$2for our breakfast. After a while, we noticed out tongues were tingling and decided to go light on the pineapple. It's going to be a good day when you start with a fruit cornucopia on an otherwise deserted Vietnamese beach...

At least a couple of you are thinking, "Girls? What girls? Wasn't he doing this solo?" Yes, I was. Past tense. If you're thinking "the girls" is not PC, please take a minute to remove the stick before reading on... :)

As reported last time, I took a couple extra days in HCMC for motorcycle repair and scabbing-up. I also got a street side sandal repair and shine,

talked with a few locals (note how the baby is mounted on the scooter),

and watched from across the street as the bar girls await customers...
   (Photo courtesy of Terence)

Also in that interval, Mr. Hung introduced me to two young women (Philine and Annika) from Germany who were about to depart on a journey similar to mine on rented 100cc Honda Wins and with ZERO hours on a motorcycle. They had decided a couple days earlier to do this as part of their four-month holiday and had zero preparation or supplies. Until I met them, I thought I was adventurous!

We talked for a while and I must've scared them a bit because when I invited them to join me for at least the first part of my trip, they accepted with virtually no hesitation. Now my solo trip was a party of four.

Four? Oh, yeah... Hahn, the woman I met who, along with her sister, cleaned and dressed my wounds last Saturday, had agreed to act as interpreter on the trip to Hanoi. Although I studied the language before leaving, the lessons were in the Hà Nội dialect which is different than the HCMC dialect. Add that to what I'm sure is my abysmal pronunciation of a tonal language, and I'm pretty sure they're hearing something indistinguishable from Urdu. After eight days, I'd gotten the basics, but the expats I'd met suggested lining up an interpreter and it would be worth the $75 per week expense... If that is how it had worked out. The night prior to departure, Hahn went home to pick up clothes, etc. and never returned. She also took the iPhone 3GS that I'd bought to replace the POS Altell phone I brought from home and a total of just under US$500. Since I'd paid for a room for her at my hotel, I didn't know she wasn't coming back until the next morningwhen I got to rush out a buy ANOTHER damn phone. So much for friends of friends of friends! AND I've got to be less trusting, which really sucks! Now back to three...

Tuesday morning a little after 9, Hung led us a km or so from the shop, where we picked up the highway out of HCMC. We were off! Off our nut, as the Brits might say...

I should mention here that Hung had taken them out to learn the basics, and when I asked about low-speed maneuvering, they wanted some more. So Monday afternoon we rode about 15 minutes out of town and found a quiet road where I gave them basic instruction on low--speed maneuvering, head turning (chin pointing), and a bit more. Stop laughing! 

(Note to those of you wondering why someone might be laughing--go back to the first post entitled "The Beginning")

Did you know that there's a moto ferry outside HCMC? Neither did we. It cost about 50 cents US for the three of us and, unfortunately, it was too hectic to pull out a camera or phone for a quick snap. It felt a bit like Hong Kong's Star Ferry, but more utilitarian, no polished wood in sight, and motos instead of people. Unlike the ferries at home, there's no time to get off your bike and no room to walk around if you did. For those unfamiliar with either of the above two references, think LA rush hour gridlock room to maneuver while on a boat.

On the other side of the Saigon River, we headed south and east, then eventually turned northeast. After about a five hour ride that included a stop for lunch, we reached La Gi. During a refueling stop, I called Gee and got basic directions to the hotel where he lives and were we would spend the night.

Once in La Gi, we realized that we had overshot, so we turned around. We missed a turn and ended up in unfamiliar territory; downtown. This point, we stop and ask for directions. The problem was, no one spoke enough English understand what we were asking. This would probably be the time to mention that all of our cell phones were dead. We had left them on for the entire trip, and figure that the constant searching for signal completely drained the batteries. I asked a shop owner if I could use her electricity to recharge my battery enough to make a phone call (all in gestures with a few poorly-pronounced Vietnamese words thrown in for good measure). After I was finally able to call Gee, it took about five minutes for him to show up and lead us back to the hotel, where he negotiated a very good deal for us.

Click here to get to the ferry and here for the other end of the ferry to La Gi without the getting lost part. I had to do two maps because Google won't recognize that you can cross the water via the ferry.

Yesterday morning, after breakfast with Gee, we hit the road again. The first day was about 105 km including wrong turns. Day two was about 111 km including wrong turns. Did I mention earlier that road conditions keep us under 35kph most of the time (~20mph for the metric-challenged).

Without my GPS, each day would be a lot longer with a lot more wrong turns. At least so far, road numbers and directional signs at minor intersections are quite uncommon in Việt Nam. It seems that most people know the route, so it's only a problem for us farangs. 

During a brief rest stop in Pan Thiet (see parking lot [Gui Xe] photo above), Philine and Annika looked for a GPS, but were unable to locate one (pun unintentional). I told them they are more than welcome to travel with me for as long as they like, though I'd imagine some point we will have different ideas as to what's next and I don't blame them for being wanting to be able to strike out on their own without fear of getting too lost. If you're going to make a similar trip, save yourself HUGE aggravation and purchase the SD chip for your Garmin GPS. It is worth many, many times what they charge for it.

Our goal for the day was Mui Ne and we overshot it by 10 or so km while looking for a specific hotel mentioned in our guidebooks. We again backtracked and, using the GPS, found a gravel road off the main road that led to a road we never would've otherwise found. After turning down one resort for $30 per night, our second stop found us at Suoi Nuoca, aclean resort with minimal frills and a very friendly host and hostess who speak no English.
Note: This is NOT "Jibe's Suoi Nuoca Beach Club" that shows up on an Internet search. I think you have to search for this gem in the real (non-virtual) reality. Click here for a map that will get you close... it's also the map of today's route.

Here's the chair 40 feet outside my $12.50 per night room:
We almost immediately decided to take a bit of a break and stay two nights. There's absolutely nothing to do on-property but be, and it feels good. Dinner last night was a kilometer or two down the road and very good. Dinner tonight, we don't know yet. That's too far in the future {smile}.

Please excuse any typos, I am on holiday. I would appreciate it if you point them out to me, though.


  1. I've been to Mui Ne~! Really nice beach 'ville'...Too bad I didn't connect you with my HCMC friend, Linh Dinh Ha. She and you would've enjoyed meeting each other~! Have a great rest-of-trip~!

  2. They use "farang" in Thailand also. In fact, the Thai's favorite comment is "farang bird shit" - Bird shit it Thai! - when they want to insult us. It sounds like you are having a good adventure. While I have done quite a bit of world travel I always used public transportation. I wondered about the challenge of navigating in a foreign land and it sounds "interesting". Like I said, a good adventure. Enjoy!