When we left Danang, headed for Mui Ne, latest information indicated we were barely in front of Haiyan, still predicted to be a Category 3 typhoon. By the time we actually arrived, around noon the next day, the storm had slowed significantly and turned north. By the time it actually hit, closer to Hanoi than Danang, it had reduced to a tropical storm and it was well over 24 hours later. I felt a little silly, but it would’ve been sillier to ignore the weather forecast. I was certainly grateful to have scored berths in a four-person compartment, but this was the shabbiest yet; though, when you board a train at 11:30pm, your focus is largely getting things stowed and getting to sleep. Vietnamese trains also gave us the new experience of a squatting toilet which was simply a hole over the tracks. We got used enough to squatting toilets in Nepal to be largely indifferent to which kind we use, but this was still… interesting.
Mui Ne is a beach and sport resort on Vietnam’s south coast, and we planned to spend a few days there doing not much other than swimming. This plan went successfully. While we scored a very nice room in a small hotel with pool, it was some way out of the central strip (and the town is a single, long strip), and we had to take taxis to get to the watersports area. Mui Ne is a big kitesurfing destination, and I will admit to feeling jealous of the clouds of kitesurfers, shooting across the waves with often only the stabilising fin touching the water. Looking down the beach in the late afternoon, the sky is a cloud of brightly coloured kites, drifting almost lazily, like birds.
Another strange element to Mui Ne and its nearby resort Phan Thiet: the Russians. “Everywhere is the Russians now,” said our taxi driver the first night, as he picked us up. “Fighting all the time.” We didn’t see that, but our drive through Phan Thiet showed almost every shop front labelled in Cyrillic, and drunken Russians demanding things of largely uncomprehending Vietnamese shop owners was a semi-regular sight.
To round off our time in Mui Ne, we took the “jeep tour”; seven people in a rackety ancient jeep that visited the shallow “fairy stream” through dramatic sandstone hills, the local fishing village, and the “red” and “white” sand dunes, where you can sandboard or rent a dune buggy. By the time we hit the red dunes, the sun was going down and the wind was up, and while wind patterns on sand are beautiful, it is akin to having the skin slowly scoured from your body. All of our exposed skin was covered in a thin coat of sand by the time we returned.
In Ho Chi Minh City, things didn’t go as planned. Already tired from the long bus journey, we found that our good-value hotel room in the backpacker district was windowless and smelled distinctly musty. The backpacker area itself was lively, but more pounding bass and flashing lights than I’d expected, or particularly appreciated. Saigon is a distinct contrast to Hanoi; more developed, louder, and arguably more modern. Still, things were going well until about 10pm, when we settled down to sleep and the music from the clubs nearby ramped up. Earplugs did nothing. Around 4:30am, I gave up entirely and took my laptop and a book into the bathroom. Unfortunately, the bathroom turned out to be the domain of a whole clan of cockroaches during the night. At 5:30am, the music finally stopped; at 6am, we decided to spend our second night at a different hotel.
And so it was that I spent almost the entirety of our single full day in Saigon asleep in the (delightful, since you asked) Northern Hotel. I’m not sorry.