01 March 2011

Travelling to Mui Ne

The only way to get to Mui Ne Beach is by bus or train. I didn’t relish the thought of either even if it was only four hours away. It has to do with the one major downfall of travelling alone; who watches your bag when you go to take a pee?


A bus trip would have meant going to the very crowded backpacker section of Ho Chi Minh City, which gets even more crowded in the morning when all the buses line up to take tourists and locals to vacation destinations. It would have meant watching your suitcase get thrown in the storage unit under the bus and then just hoping it will be there when you arrived. It also meant a long, uncomfortable trip, maybe with a potty break; maybe not.
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So it was to be the train. And what the heck was wrong with me? I come from a long and honorable line of railroad engineers; it’s in my DNA. I love trains. I love the sound and the chug-a-chug, and the ability to get up and roam around. Except there still remained the problem of who watches the bags. Worst case scenario I just might be able to avoid leaving my belongings in search of the train loo if I stopped drinking anything 24 hours before the trip.
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I came to Vietnam with a big suitcase, a small suitcase, and a backpack that contained laptop and camera. There were definitely things I could leave at a friend’s house thereby deleting the small suitcase. As I sat on the larger one trying to zip it at 5:00am yesterday morning, I wondered how I still had managed to be travelling with so much weight.

The taxi dropped me at the station at 6:15 which gave me forty minutes to wait on the platform and try to sort out just how I was going to get that heavy bag up onto the train and after that, just exactly where I was going to put it.
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Luck would have it that this guy saw me walk over to get on. He looked as though he might have spoken English, but he didn’t say anything. Just pointed to my bag indicating he would help, then hauled it up onto the train and without my even asking, shoved it behind the last two seats. Fantastic! I was set. Except that that wasn’t my assigned seat. Once again, I had forgotten to think things through. I should have requested an aisle seat, I should have asked for the last seat in the car. I got anxious for no reason at all since it turned out those last two seats were empty. And it was then that I realized that in the future I will just pay for two seats and make sure they are in the back of the car. Considering the trip only costs around $4, double that price is worth the comfort and freedom of mind.
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The ride was comfortable since I had two seats and when I did need to get up and move, I looked around the train car; people looked normal. I didn’t see any thugs or shady characters so just left my backpack in my seat. The train toilet was at the front of the adjoining car. Having been in a Vietnamese train bathroom before, I knew what to expect. A squatter toilet. On a rocking train. Much more dangerous than on an airplane with turbulence. I then made the mistake of hitting the flush pedal and only speedy reaction time saved me from a soaking wet shoe.
I was now no longer so obsessed with watching my belongings. I stood between the cars and let the rhythms run through me. I began to hum along with the four measure repeating cadence that the train made as we rumbled through farm land and jungle. It was as close to a samba beat as I was going to get and seeing that it is just about Carnaval time, I did a few Brazilian steps to the tempo of the locomotive.
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The scenery was lovely and I thought of pulling out the camera but with dirty, scratched-up windows, nothing would have looked very nice. Also, it was simply too labor intensive to haul it out.
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Once at the train station in Phan Thiet, I hopped in a taxi for the twenty minute ride to my hotel. Yet another harrowing trip along a narrow two-lane road, taxi driver honking and passing everything in sight. At least this car had functioning seatbelts.
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Within twenty seconds of arriving at the hotel, I was already getting bad vibes. I could see that the rooms were not what I had expected. Although on the beach, there were no “sea views”. Two long buildings of guestrooms ran along either side of a central garden/courtyard. I passed one with an open door and it was pitch black inside at twelve noon. But what was most troubling was the surly staff.
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In all my travels in Vietnam, and in fact the world, I don’t think I have ever been to a hotel where the staff made me feel as if I were imposing on them. And then the gal at reception tells me there are no rooms because they over-booked. I pointed out I had a reservation and she got upset. They finally took me to an upper level room. I saw at least four other empty rooms.
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The room was small-basic-basic, but since it was relatively new, it was clean. Being upstairs it was bathed in sunlight from the huge windows that ran across the front of the room. OK, that was nice. But then I noticed that the windows didn’t open. And I noticed there was no mini-fridge, but there was internet access. That’s another major change fro just five years ago; no budget hotel had internet then and now every place, from cheap to five star, has Wi-Fi available in the rooms.
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The place was fine for the night but not for anymore than that. Just before I had left HCMC, I ran into a friend who had given me a name of a hotel in Mui Ne that was reasonably priced and very nice. So after dropping off my bags, I headed out to walk down the street to find it. On the local map I had picked up, it was just down the road.


After walking twenty minutes I realized this was another Vietnam tourist map that greatly distorted distances. I stopped to ask how far the hotel was and found out it was another 5K. This time I did not mess up the conversion to miles. I then asked about a city bus. I just happened to be at the bus stop and one would be by in fifteen minutes.
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I instantly fell in love with the new hotel the minute I walked through the front entrance. It had beautiful gardens, and wide open structures and it just had to be way above what I had hoped to spend. But I persevered. A smiling young man came out to greet me and I explained what I was looking for. He took me over to the front desk and handed me a room price list. There must have been something wrong; rooms for $16? I must have looked shocked because he quickly explained the 10% discount. Still not quite believing that this could be true, I asked to see the rooms. They were similar in size and darkness to where I had just come from. I asked to see something with more light. I have booked the room for a week and will move there in a few hours. I will pay $18 a night because I want hot water and breakfast, otherwise it would be $14. This still just doesn’t make sense, when everything else around here starts at close to $40. Even the backpacker places are $12.
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I will be very happy to finally unpack for a while and not have to get on a plane or train. And I am at the beach, the most wonderful place to be in the world.
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Kate

1 comment:

Tina said...

Can I ask what hotel you decided to stay at? We are leaving for Mui Ne later today. Love your blog!