Sea, sand dunes and a mountain
Day 1 (03 June 2018)
The adventure starts by going out of Saigon, which is an adventure by itself.
Saigon a.k.a. Ho Chi Minh City
I go on the highway that connects Saigon to Hanoi and start waiting for the mythical bus 604. The schedule says it passes every 15 minutes but from experience I know it is more like every hour. The bus stop is on the highway itself, the buses often drive with 50-60 km/h in the left lane and stop only if someone waves at them. I become super alert every time I see a bus coming so that I can wave at it in the interval of two seconds – just when I have seen its number but at the same time it is not too late for the driver to stop. Finally! Here it comes!
I start waving at it insanely. There is always a conductor in the buses in Vietnam whose job is to look at the bus stops in order to see if someone is waving. He sees me and tells the driver but I have obviously missed the two-seconds window by just a millisecond and the bus passes me by. So one more hour of stalking the prey.
While waiting bus number 150 passes by six times, bus 34, two times, bus 66, seven times and bus 603, three times. Here it comes again this elusive 604. Risking my life I go out on the road and start waving insanely with both arms. The bus passes the bus stop… and then it stops! Stopping a bus may be hard but the conductors and the drivers are nice and caring once you get inside so the whole experience is not so bad.
After an hour driving among honking cars, trucks and motorbikes I am out of Saigon… in a way. In Vietnam all the towns, villages and cities are connected and on the roads there are always houses, cafes, shops and people. Anyway officially I am in another town. I hitchhike for a while, a car stops by and takes me to another town. It is 5 p.m. and as we are close to the earth’s equator it will get dark at around 6 p.m. so it is time to look for a place to set up the tent for the night. Close to the main road I find a dirt road with bananas on one side and rubber trees on the other. I choose the banana garden. In the evening there are hundreds of fireflies and magical lights blink everywhere.
Day 2 и 3
I go out on the road and start hitchhiking. Soon a nice man who works in a hotel on the coast stops. The scenery is desert-like and there are dragon fruit plantations everywhere. The man who took me told be that this interesting fruit grows best in the sand.
Dragon fruit field – usually there is one light-bulb on every tree in order for the fruits to grow faster, so at night the view of the fields is pretty awesome
Unripe dragon fruit
Ripe dragon fruit
The fruit inside is either white or dark-red with a lot of seeds – resembling kiwi. The taste is light, watery and sometimes earthy.
Map of the journey (direction is south to north)
The man takes me close to La Gi – a small town on the coast. I stop in a pine tree forest on the beach. The sea is warm, maybe 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). There is quite a lot of garbage on the sand coming from the sea. In time I get used to it and am not bothered but it is time for us to clean the planet and enjoy the pristine nature, right?
Its other side
It is cloudy and starts drizzling soon. I pray that my tent survives the rain and it indeed does. In the morning it is still raining slightly so I decide to stay another day. Good that I did as it rained all day. There is a small village nearby where I buy food and water. It is Sunday and the only shops that are working are a small road shop, the hair dresser and… the gold shop.
The mysterious cucumber
In Saigon I have bought vegetables for the road. There was this cucumber that I wanted to eat few times but every time the moment I try to find it disappears. In the evening I searched for it in the tent and couldn’t find it. To my surprise in the morning it was inside, right in front the entrance.
In the morning I start to pack my stuff and put the cucumber in a box outside. Soon cows start passing by and I see how a cow puts its head in the box with the cucumber. I approach the situation and see the cucumber covered in saliva, so I give it to the cow. Finally it is eaten. Then the cow becomes hyped by this new restaurant for cows and starts going around the tent searching for something else to eat. The animal is not at all impressed by me shouting at it and then a calf, maybe the cow’s kid, joins the search-for-food party. They both go around the tent and leave in a minute after they don’t find anything else to eat.
I go out on the road and two young guys with a truck take me to Mui Ne – a tourist town on the coast. I decide to eat there and see a restaurant that looks a little bit like a temple. It is quite nice inside.
Inside the restaurant
It is a vegan restaurant. in Vietnam there are not many vegetarians – all of those that I met, who are, don’t eat meat because they are Buddhists. So in fact the restaurants here are vegan – meaning they don’t cook meat, eggs, fish or cheese (which is not popular in Vietnam anyway). I order vegan chicken wings and the classic ice coffee with milk.
Classic Vietnamese coffee served with condensed milk and a lot of ice
Ready to drink
Vegan chicken wings made of soy protein with a chili sauce and cucumbers
The restaurant is situated on a river, birds sing divinely. On the other bank of the river there are more restaurant tables. One could go there by a boat which is pulled by a rope stretched between the banks of the river.
Inside the restaurant
I go on the main highway connecting the north and the south of Vietnam. Hitchhiking is a little challenging on this particular road as every 2-3 minutes some bus passes by and stops to ask me if I need a ride. I wish the buses of the public transport of Saigon could be so attentive and dedicated to stop…
In fact buses are like this because many people here catch the bus on the road, without any bus stops. So hitchhiking goes like this: you see a car, you wave at it, behind it is often a bus, the conductor sees you and the bus gets ready to stop, you wave at it to not stop and hope that the people in the car don’t think that you don’t want them to stop. Then there is a truck coming by and a bus next to it, you try somehow to communicate to the truck to stop and to the bus not to stop. And so on…
I prefer to travel hitchhiking since in this way I meet local people and learn new interesting things about the local culture and customs.
I walk and hitchhike for a while and then stop to drink cane juice. As everything in the south of Vietnam it is also served with tons of ice. Taste is very fresh and not too sweet. Here is how they make it:
Fresh cane juice press
Ready to drink
I wait for an hour. Then at some point hop on one of the buses that stops. It is a sleeping bus. Inside it there are three rows with beds.
In 3 hours I reach the secluded beach I wanted to sleep on. It is next to the road and there is a huge power station in the distance – it is maybe 10 kilometers long with enormous chimneys and all kind of futuristic equipment inside. Next to the road there is a restaurant and a huge shop – maybe 500 square meters (5400 square feet). Inside it there are three sales people and a guard. The only product they sell is two kinds of fish sauce of the same brand. Oh, Asia!
Fishermen live on the beach. There are few huts next to the road. I see few ladies gathering mountains of dead coral – I am wondering what do they do with them. Later I saw a house that had coral macadam covering. The owner was quite proud with it.
In the morning two nice middle aged men take me with their van to Nha Trang – the huge and most popular tourist city on the coast. I go out of it with a bus and go to a ferry pier. My idea is to go with a boat to a nearby uninhabited island and live there for a few days Robinson Crusoe style.
The ferry I read about is no longer operating and I go to talk to тхе sales person on the reception. She pretends I don’t exist. Finally she asks me what do I want and after explaining to her where I want to go she says they can take me to the island for 25 dollars. The island is 10 minutes sailing away and the expenses of the company would be 7 dollars – this if they tip the boatman 5 dollars. I don’t like the offer, or the lady and the company and leave their office.
Close-by there is a village and I decide to go and ask there for a boat. People on the streets are strange and look like they like drinking too much. Everyone is shocked as I wander the streets. The reason I think is that they have never seen a foreigner there. I go at a small dock where men carry huge blocks of ice and put them in small round boats. I try to communicate but they don’t understand English and my Vietnamese is too basic.
I decide to hitchhike again. A car packed with people stops, moves me for 50 km and after that I catch a bus to Doc Let – a beautiful beach 20 km. north of Nha Trang. The sea is a little cooler here.
Doc Let beach
The huge Nha Trang and all the resorts and the hotels around it are visited mainly by Russians. Respectively the Vietnamese have adapted to their needs. Only in this region I saw shops where they sell vodka, rum and wine. Usually everywhere they sell beer as the Vietnamese drink only this. All the signs and the menus of the restaurants are in Russian and many people speak Russian. I order noodles with sea food which here are served with spaghetti and not with noodles as in all of Vietnam. Prices are high – 4 dollars. Usually this would cost you 1 or maximum 2 dollars. Anyway the in the price are included peanuts, salad and two pieces of fruit so it’s no so bad. People in the restaurant are friendly and nice.
I buy things from the nearby store and head to the beach. It is beautiful, with yellow, almost white, sand and interesting plants. The water is crystal clear.
On the beach
In the morning I head to a fishermen village nearby. There are around 100 houses in the village, 7 shops, a restaurant and a cafe – where there are only local people and very rarely some Russian tourists.
The beach next to the village where the fishermen build and repair their boats
Round boat – it is the most used one here. I have seen that the fishermen use one paddle and advance the boat by moving the paddle with special circular movements. It looks easy but I am not sure if it will be when one tries for the first time
Drying sea weed on the beach – I have no idea what they use it for
Even the smallest villages in Vietnam are filled with families, small children and many young people. In the cafe youngsters play cards. Watching them play I come to the conclusion that the most important part of the game is to hit your card on the table the hardest possible. At the culmination point the payers even stand up and hit the cards so hard that they fly pretty far from the table. In the video below the boys are still in the calm phase:
Youngsters play cards
I drink a coffee, charge my phone and head on foot to the next beach – 20 minutes away.
The next beach
On Google maps it seems like there is way through a hill going to the next beach. I head on the path, which is almost invisible at times. It seems that this forest has more thorny plants per square meter than any other place in the universe! Plants have thorns on their stems, branches and some even on their leaves!
Other kinds of thorns
At this moment the clouds clear and heat becomes unbearable. I calculate I must be half way to the beach. The path disappears. I have to obviously go back…
After some more fighting with the thorny plants, a lot of swearing, like really a lot, I reach the beach where I started.
I decide to try to reach the secluded beach on the rocks. After 20 minutes of hopping on the rocks and crossing super small beaches – just two meters long, I finally reach my destination. It seems it is the high tide so I hope can go back tomorrow. One needs to be careful going to beaches reachable only by rocks because if one does it during the low tide it might not be possible to go back during the high tide.
The beach is amazing, surrounded by high mountain slopes.
The secluded beach – photo for the social media
Fire on the beach
I find a heart-shaped pillow, wash it and take it with me.
I love the beach and the beach loves me
In the water there are corals, colorful fish, sea cucumbers, blues sea stars and many other interesting creatures.
The beach might be secluded but this is Vietnam. The bay in front of the beach is full of boats and ships. Then at night some big boats turn their ultra strong lights and the everything is illuminated as if it is a day.
The other side of the beach – the photo is NOT appropriate for social media… all the garbage is brought by the sea
The story of the shit (not for squeamish people)
At Doc Let – the beach I visited before, just before I set up my tent, I saw a human excrement that seemed very dry and kick it aside. I continued pitching the tent but the smell of the shit got stronger somehow. I went to it and put a pile of sand on it. It is dark already and the smell didn’t disappear. I start looking around and to my horror saw that there is shit on my shoe and on the tent. I started bringing bottles of water from the sea to wash it. I did this for almost an hour but the smell is still strong. I had bought some cocoa rum and pour half a bottle on the tent out of desperation. The rum didn’t taste good, but it was great for disinfection.
On the next day, when I went to the secluded beach, I set up the tent and saw something. What was it? It was not a stone as i thought in the beginning. It was a cow’s shit. I took two sticks and this time moved it very carefully While doing so it broke and I saw white worms wiggling inside it. What the hell?!
In the morning I head back and to my delight the tide is OK and I can walk on the rocks. They have some interesting designs.
Figures in the rocks
Crabs run around rapidly jumping in the sea when they I approach them.
I sit in the village’s restaurant
Mini coco-nuts at the restaurant
Vietnamese people are real aesthetes
The kitchen of the restaurant
Huge shrimps are cooked in a pot on the table, on the side fried rice with sea food, cucumbers, green mango and Vietnamese basil, soy sauce with red chili on the left and green sauce on the right
Gigantic shrimp and a can of Vietnamese beer
After the huge lunch I head to the bus station next to Doc Let beach. It is cloudy so walking on the beach is nice. Suddenly the sun comes up and it become insanely hot for seconds. Vietnam is close to the equator so here the sun starts hitting you hard at 7:30 – 8:00 a.m. Like really hard. I start feeling like there are two fat guys sitting on me with a barbecue between them. It is 12:30 p.m.
I walk for just 15-20 minutes but feel like I will die of overheating. Finally at the bus stop. My body is burning and I am a mountain with hundreds of sweat rivers flowing all over me. In the mean time a Russian family seem really worried about when the bus leaves. This is somewhat strange to me as there is a schedule that is pretty visible.
I pour ice water on my head and shoulders, eat an ice-cream and the bus arrives. The AC inside is on so I start coming back to my senses slowly. I am saved by heat or sun stroke! In fifteen minutes I get off on the highway feeling good.
After an hour of hitchhiking I get on one of the buses, which stop to offer me a ride all the time. The bus stops me at a bridge and then I take a motor-bike taxi for 20 kilometers in order to reach the beach I want to go. The place is not touristic at all and locals live in huts on the beach. On it also walk a lot of goats, dogs and pigs.
I go to the next beach. The rocks here are really interesting and make me feel as if I am in some pre-historic age.
The bay is pretty land-blocked and respectively there are no waves – it looks more like a lake. Inside the sea there are hundreds of pontoons – some are restaurants, other fishermen’s huts.
I set up the tent and start hearing buzzing. Soon millions of mosquitoes arrive. I go inside the tent. Outside is a mosquito-geddon. Here they are:
When i go out to pee I wave my arms like crazy. Inside the tent is hot – 32 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) but… feels like 36 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit). In an hour it gets a little cooler.
The morning is lovely and there are no mosquitoes.
I pack my stuff thinking of how I could get to eat in one of the restaurants in the sea.
Restaurant in the sea
I near the coast on the other side of the bay and see some people getting in a boat obviously going to one of the restaurants. I wave at them to wait them thinking they are just random people going to the restaurant. They discuss something for a short time and tell me to hop on. It turns out these are two families and hired the whole restaurant for themselves.
Going to the restaurant
Inside the restaurant
The families carry fish and sea food with them and barbecue them at the restaurant. All are very busy, every one runs up and down and does something. People are laughing all the time and the atmosphere is pleasant. I order a fish, which the people from the restaurant take out from one of the submerged in the sea nets, filled with live fish. I share the huge portion they bring with the families. They on their hand give me beer, sea food and salad.
From left to right: green mango, cucumber and salad, fish, thin crispy rice bread. In the two small bowls there is fish sauce with chili and sweet sauce
The fish is cooked with coriander, chili, brittle fried onion, tomatoes and rice noodles
The people are so nice! They make me feel as if I am part of their families. At some point a guy puts my hat on his head, the ruck sack on his back and starts going around walking with an air of importance. Everyone cheers him loudly.
We eat and drink a lot and suddenly everyone leaves the table and starts walking around chaotically. I ask the girl who speaks English what is going on. She says they will go on an adventure and asks me if I want to join them. You probably guess what my answer was 🙂
All of us embark on a small engine boat and head to a close-by bay. Everyone wears safety jackets because most can’t swim. We all get swimming masks, jump in the water and start observing the amazing world below us. I see a huge eel on the bottom – maybe a meter and a half long. There are hundreds of colorful fish. After an hour we head back to the restaurant and stop on a wooden platform in the sea next to it. There is a hose with fresh water coming out of it all the time. We take a shower and go back on the beach. The girl gives me origami. These people are so nice!
I head on foot to the next beach. On the road there is a funny lizard covered in green and blue. Here it is.
While I am walking on the road I see some cows grazing… and a bull. It is standing in the middle of the road and looks at me with suspicion. As I pass by it it becomes more tense, then when I am 2 meters away it gives out a loud snort. I prepare myself to throw my ruck sack and run uphill. Thank God the bull doesn’t attack me.
The bay with the pontoons
I reach Bai Mon beach. It is a beautiful bay not so far from the road. On one side it has a river flowing by and other there are many sand dunes. I’ve read it will probably be soon “developed”. In my opinion we have to stop using euphemisms and call things with their real names. So the beach will not be “developed” it will be destroyed by mass tourism and concrete buildings. Rockefeller plans to build some huge complex inverting 2,5 billion dollars in it. Luckily it hasn’t started yet and I hope it never will.
The river next to Bai Mon beach
I set up my tent under a tree next to some big boulders. Up the slope it is a real jungle. Strange birds and insects produce the most interesting sounds. The beach is very beautiful. The water temperature is even cooler 26-27 degrees Celsius (79-80 Fahrenheit), compared to 31-32 Celsius (88-89 Fahrenheit) in the south.
Bai Mon beach
There is a light house on the rocks. It was built by the colonialists.
The evening is here and the mosquitoes follow shortly. In the evening I hear a dog whining next to the tent. I turn on the lantern and see a female dog carrying a piece of wood in her teeth, wiggling her tail. Then she comes closer and barks. Some minutes later she barks again. It feels like she is calling me. I go out and she approaches me slowly wiggling her tail. Then I tell her I can offer her only love and water. It turns out she needs namely these two things. After drinking some water and letting me caress her on her belly she leaves and returns to her dog deeds.
In the morning the dog is sleeping in front of the tent. This time she wants just love. Shortly some local boys show up and set up a fire. Then they start barbecuing some really small fish on a DIY barbecue they made using wire. They give me a fish. It is surprisingly delicious.
I pack my baggage and head to the light house. The view is spectacular. Beautiful rock formations and bays are all around. There is a staircase and people can get to the top.
The door to the balcony on the top of the light house
Views from the balcony
The actual light is on the top in an round glass room above the balcony
360 degrees view from the light house:
I go back down, eat and head to the next beach. It is 8 km away – 2 hours of walking.
On the road
The beach is very long. Here and there one can see sand dunes, behind them there is a green mountain and of course the sea. I reach the end of the bay. There is a restaurant and some nice rocks.
The rocks on the beach. In the distance a house under a big rock. I am definitely NOT staying in it if there is an earthquake!
I set up the tent and hear buzzing. It is the rain season now in Vietnam so there are a lot of mosquitoes here too. The good thing about them is they produce a lot of sound but don’t bite that much. Otherwise it would be a real nightmare
At 5 a.m. I wake up because there is a strong wind blowing. I go out to fortify the tent and see two huge rainbows in front of me. The sky is pink and it looks like the air itself is pink. After enjoying this surreal beauty I go back to bed.
At 9 a.m. it starts blowing again and at some points even turns the tent upside down. Then the sun comes up, I start sweating and the wind blows the find sand, which sticks on me. Being and adventurer is not easy sometimes – unreal beauty combines with hard moments sometimes in matter of minutes, like scenes from a dynamic adventure movie.
It is time to head to Tuy Hoa – another town on the coast, not very touristic.
I start hitchhiking and two boys stop – they are around 14-15 years old, each with his motor bike. I go with one of them. We drive through villages and pine tree forests. They take me to the town and I go to buy a ticket for Saigon the train. Then it is time for lunch.
Fried noodles with seafood and fish sauce with chili
Then head to the long beach that stretches 15 kilometers. I pitch my tent on the beach. There are some really huge jelly-fish in the sea – one of them is a meter long and maybe 80 cm in diameter. The night is quiet with no wind and no mosquitoes.
Rainbow on Tuy Hoa beach
I bid farewell to the surrounding beauties and head to the train, which is half an hour late. Inside it the AC is on and all the time vendors pushing carts with food, snacks and fruits pass by on the isles. The train arrives two hours later than expected. It is time to go home and count the innumerable treasures I collected on this journey – experiences, nature, people, roads…