For A Few Dollars More and The Road To Nowhere

Coast - Beyond Mui Ne

It was relaxing coming downstairs to the restaurant area to watch the shimmering sea off the Mui Ne coastline. A perfect setting. I could gaze all day.
Diverting my attention to the stream of motorcyclists, some quite casually, as though a few had grabbed a shopping bag or two, then holding it limply, was quite amusing.
I set off in search of a motorbike to rent for the day and legged it to the Sta Travel Agency. I was disappointed not to see yesterday’s smiley guy manning things. Instead, there was another guy, not so smiley, and not as friendly.
“I’m looking to rent a motorbike,” seeing two models parked outside.
“Six Dollars.”
There was one manual model.
“Try it. It’s easy,” the guy encouraged.
Although I’d used one quite easily in Cambodia, I couldn’t feel confident or bothered about changing the gears while riding.
Feeling foolish on the bike, I got off and quickly changed the subject.
“What’s there to see?” Noticing pictures of the main attractions plastering the back and sides of the office.
“Red Sand Dunes, White Sand Dunes, Red Canyon, Little Stream. Red Sand Dunes. Canyon closed for repair.”
“And the White Buddha?”
“Too far.”
I dithered about trying out the bike, then changing my mind at another agency that had better bikes.
Walking away from feeling embarrassed, I was shortly confronted by a motorbike owner who was eager to hire his out for the day. His persuasion didn’t take much.
“You want a motorbike? Yes?” I felt foolish as I procrastinated.
“You can use mine for two hundred thousand Dong. It’s automatic.”
I hadn’t ridden for two years. The owner showed me how to use the controls:
“This is brake, then ignition. Turn the handle towards you to accelerate. Then turn the key backwards to open the seat to find crash helmet and petrol tank. Try it for a few hundred metres.”
I sped off and returned – that easy for 8 Dollars. Two Dollars more than using an older manual model.
“I’ve put in two litres. The pointer should be halfway.” He hadn’t.
This seemed to justify the Dane’s point about affording fuel – or lack of – or the guy just didn’t want to coff up the extra money. If anyone visits Vietnam after reading these posts and want to do the same thing, make sure there’s enough petrol in the tank or go elsewhere.
“Where’s your guesthouse?”
“It’s called ‘Keng'”
“What time should I come to collect it?”
“How about five pm. There’s a yellow sign outside. You can’t miss it.”I sped off, although I awkwardly climbed the bike over the pavement kerb to get the tank filled from a transparent cylindrical petrol canister, much to the amusement of a woman sitting nearby.
“How much for one litre?”
“Twenty Thousand,” a boy replied.
It felt buzzy, or zany, speeding along the road to Mui Ne village, past the cluster of bobbing fishing boats anchored off-shore. A map, more like a drawing, showing the way past the Red, and then to the White Sand Dunes, was inadequate. A couple of girls pointed in the right direction at a turn off.Throttling along the coastline, against the wind, admiring the sweeping landscape is exhilarating, and so much better than being cossetted in some organized tour.
Vietnamese were swinging and lounging in hammocks in a run-down shed, shading themselves from the burning sun. the shack looked like their home. I stopped and asked a German the way to the white sand:
“Oh, I see. Those are the Dunes,” looking at some distant white hills to the left of a lake, blued by the sky.
“The picture postcard view.”
I stopped a few metres from the paying entrance:
“How much?”
“A hundred thousand,” a girl standing by the gate answered.To walk on some sand just didn’t feel worth it. I took some pictures instead by the lake made attractive by trees and vegetation.
“Would you like me to take your picture?” A young American couple asked.
“Okay.”

Lake and White Sand Dunes

The German guy had doubled back and said the road yonder went nowhere.
“There is nothing. It’s like what I experienced in Australia.”
Clocking up the kilometres meant clocking up the fuel consumption. My stomach sank at the thought of running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere, so I stopped, relieved, at the nearest petrol station – another cylindrical pump.
“How much for two litres?” I asked a woman manning the pump.
“Fifty thousand.”
“But it’s twenty thousand a litre in Mui Ne,” I challenged.
A boy assisting the woman – maybe his mother – came over:”Mui Ne’s far. Here it’s different. The extra’s no big deal.”
The woman fluttered a few notes in the wind. I settled on forty-five. A German couple pulled up:
“Is this the way to the Dunes?’
“Yes, you’ll see a stand and parking lot, but it’s a hundred thousand if you want to go to the sands. The woman riding pillion looked astonished.
“Money. money, always money,” her partner confirmed. “We’ll just take some pictures instead. Better idea.”
I headed back to Mui Ne, enjoying the breezy ride, although the exposure to the sun on my arms took its toll.I rode into two eager little girls who asked if I wanted to slide down the red sand I was passing. I made the mistake of stopping as the girls, shabbily dressed, became a nuisance.

Passing the Red Dunes

“How much to slide down?” I asked.
”Ten Thousand.”
“Just to do something stupid.” I tried to wave them away.
Seeing I wasn’t going to pay up, they hung around the front of the bike and fingered the throttle handle.
“Leave it alone, it’s not my bike.”
“You’ve got some candy.”
“I don’t have any.”
“You lie. You’re a liar.”
“How am I a liar? I don’t eat much candy. It’s bad for your teeth. You don’t know anything about me.”
Getting confrontational, asking them awkward questions, made the younger girl’s eyes water.
“Bye, bye, bye, bye,” waving me away.
“Yes,” as I sped away, reciprocating their uncomfortable reaction.
Mui Ne’s market is busy: crammed with street sellers selling vegetables, fruit, notably water melons stacked high.
After finishing a baguette sandwich for the ridiculous price of 7,000 Dong, I motored to the other side of the resort area to find three or four remaining

Cham Tower - Mui Ne

towers – the old Champa Ruins – Khmer architecture from the 9th Century.
The road was busy at the bottom of a short hill as I made an awkward turn.
Ruined towers from a bygone age are at the top of another hill, like monuments around Angkor Wat, used for Hindu deification or god-worship. It was nice getting a bird’s eye view, scanning the coastline and nearby fishing town. I sped back, had a beer, showered and waited for the motor bike guy who turned up one hour and forty-five minutes later. He checked it over.
“You didn’t leave much fuel in the tank.”
“And you said there was two liters in it at the start, but there wasn’t.”
“Not knowing how to counter this argument, he asked if I wanted to use it tomorrow.
“I’m leaving tomorrow.”
“I see. Good bye.” He rode off.
The son of the guesthouse proprietor was helping his son ride his buggy cart on the pavement. I talked to an Israeli girl who’d checked in earlier.
“You didn’t go to the Dunes?”
“Didn’t think it was worth it.”
“You would have had fun.”
“Really?”
“Did you see the Fairy Stream?”
“Missed it. Was it that good?”
“Not spectacular, but nice. Everything in Vietnam’s cheap.”
“I’m leaving tomorrow; making my way back to China. I’m working there.”
“You’ve reached the end of your vacation.”
The Japanese girl I’d met in Hoi An left for Saigon this morning. She told me she also had to stop and get out at Nha Trang on the way here, and was also surprised.
Why was I not surprised at hearing this news?

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