Riding Up the Coast to Mui Ne

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I’m up at dawn, packed and on the road by 6:30. I’m leaving charming Vung Tao and heading up the coast to the beach town of Mui Ne, about 200 kilometers away. After the mechanical problems of the day before, I’m a bit nervous about my odds of success.

Navigation should be easy for this leg, I think, since I’m following the coast. How hard can it be to keep the ocean on my right? It turns out to be trickier than it sounds. As I head out of town, I stop to gas up. I ask the attendant for directions to the first town, Long Hai, and he pantomimes that I should go straight to the roundabout ahead, then take a right.

It’s a cloudy morning and I’m heading right into the heaviest cloud cover, hoping I don’t get caught by rain. The ride to Long Hai is lovely, with almost-florescent green rice fields and run-down buildings decorating the landscape. There seem to be an unusually large number of cemeteries. The bike is running well enough –I’d checked the bolts on the exhaust before leaving– but I’m constantly listening for the slightest change in engine sound.

 

Stopping for a break in Long Hai, Vietnam

Forty-five minutes into the ride and I’m not lost yet. Life is good.

I stop in what I think is Long Hai, a tiny tourist town with a small beach, and buy a soda and water. A local man looks at my map and verifies that I am indeed where I think I am. Forty-five minutes into the ride and I’m not lost yet. Life is good.

There’s about twelve kilometers of riding by the sea before the road turns inland. For the first time, I’m finding mile markers on the side of the road and it helps ease some of the “am I still on track?” questions. Half of the signs mention towns that aren’t even on the map, so I’m still confused much of the time.

After only sixty kilometers of riding, the engine starts to roar and clatter again and I immediately pull over, thinking I’ll have to tighten the bolt. I’m too late — the bolt is gone again. Coasting into what I think is a repair shop, I hop off, then realize that it’s just a general store selling inner tubes and assorted household wares. I go to climb back on the bike, but the owner insists on looking at the problem.

I hear the Vietnamese equivalent of “uh, oh”, and look down to see a large crack in the bolt hole.

He and his partner try threading in a new bolt, but can’t get it started, so they pull the top of the exhaust off to get a better look. I hear the Vietnamese equivalent of “uh, oh”, and look down to see a large crack in the bolt hole. No wonder the bolt kept falling out.

 

Broke down on the way to Mui Ne, Vietnam.

I immediately envision packing the bike up and shipping it home early, and ask them to just button everything up so I can limp it to the next town. The owner shakes his head no and motions for me to wait, as his partner rides off on a scooter. He returns with a helicoil kit and sets to tapping the bolt hole.

While they work on the bike, the grandmother of the household brings out two small boys to say hello to the foreigner. They’re both around three or four years old and are more than a little terrified of me. I finally get smiles out of them but it takes a lot of clowning around on my part.

Within thirty minutes or so, they’ve got the helicoil insert installed and a new bolt in place. The engine sounds great. I try to pay for their help but the owner refuses to take any money. I nearly shake his hand off thanking him, then climb back on.

Up the road, I pass through a small town and I’m nearly bowled over by the stench.

Up the road, I pass through a small town and I’m nearly bowled over by the stench. It reeks of rotten fish and the smell just gets stronger as I roll along. My eyes are starting to water when I realize that I’m following behind a motorbike with at least a hundred pounds of raw squid packed into baskets. After I pass him, I take a deep breath and all is well.

I’ve been lucky so far with navigation — every town of any size has a roundabout as you enter and I just take the turn that leads to towards the coast. At La Gi, however, this leads me into the heart of the town, into a maze of twisting roads packed with traffic and early morning business. I’m lost within minutes.

It takes me a good half hour to find my way back to the roundabout and ask for directions. I have to make a connection in the nearby town of Ham Tan and if I get the wrong road, I’ll end up on a big highway that runs inland instead of along the coast. The road turns away from the coast and all of the signs refer to the nearby town of Ke Ga, which isn’t on the map at all, so I spend the next half hour worrying that I’m headed in the wrong direction.

But the road turns eventually and the coast finally appears. I spot a light house that is marked on the map and realize that I’m still on course and am well over halfway to Mui Ne. Spotting a roadside cafe, I stop to rest my butt and have a drink. It’s a small, open-air spot in the middle of nowhere with just a few plastic tables. The owner, Nyugen, runs it with his wife and his sassy teenage daughter.

 

Stopping for a rest on the way to Mui Ne

They’re enthralled by the map and the guidebook and I spend a pleasant hour sitting there, trying to carry on a conversation without a common language. Nyugen shows me his home town of Haiphong on the map, in the north near Halong Bay, then insists that I take his cell number. I tell him I’ll call him from Haiphong — it’ll be a very awkward conversation since we can’t understand each other. Regardless, I’m charmed by the thought.

His wife borrows my sunscreen and jokingly tries to pocket it. Like many women in Asia, she’s concerned about getting too dark. In the west, a tan is a sign of health and hints at a wealth of leisure time. Here, it implies that you work in the fields, so women will go to great lengths to avoid the sun. I had a Thai friend explain that there is a lot of discrimination — if two women apply for a job, the lighter-skinned one will usually get the gig.

They try to convince me to stay the night in a nearby hotel so I can watch the World Cup with them, but I insist on leaving. Rain clouds are building on the horizon and I’d like to arrive in Mui Ne before they do. It’s pretty much a straight shot from here and the miles fly by. I’m surrounded by sand dunes and wispy trees, with occasional views of pounding surf.

I’d been concerned about getting lost in Phan Thiet, the largest city on the route, but I find convenient signs directing me to Mui Ne and pass through without a hitch. A few kilometers onward, I come across a fancy brew haus and stop for lunch and a beer. They brew a dark bock beer that’s pretty tasty and is a nice change from the standard Asian beers. I try the smoked pork and it’s tasty but greasy.

 

The rain almost catches me in Mui Ne

Moving on, I think I have another ten kilometers to go, but start recognizing hotel and restaurant names from the guidebook — I’m in Mui Ne already. The clouds are darkening and closing in, so I take the first hotel I can afford and end up with a lovely bungalow twenty feet from the beach for $10 a night. There’s just enough time to unpack the bike and walk to the beachfront bar when the rain starts.

As I drink a beer and check my email, I realize that it’s taken me 8 hours to go less than 200 kilometers. Vietnam is suddenly looking like a very big place.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Lily June 20, 2010 at 2:39 pm

Sounds like a perfect day – you must be relieved to get the occasional day when there are no heart stopping dramas to deal with! This is such great blog for us travel hungry souls out here in work land – I could imagine myself doing the trip from your description (except I have never ever been on a bike! haha)!
Your interactions with locals are so interesting, scary, hilarious or just helpful & friendly but never boring! Good luck with the rest of the coast road!

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wes June 20, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Yeah, it was a good one. The crazy days make for good tales, but they can be very exhausting ;) Thanks for the positive feedback!

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TR June 21, 2010 at 4:39 am

Averaging 25 km/hr means you drive like a grandma, eh? . . . lol. Seriously, though, I’m glad to hear you are having a good time . . .

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wes June 21, 2010 at 6:22 am

Thanks, bro. The bike tops out at about 60kph, which is fast as you’d want to go anyways. So far, it’s repairs and getting lost that are killing my average speed ;)

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Neale November 8, 2010 at 7:42 am

25 – 30 kph is about what I’m averaging on extended trips, still cant figure it out as I’m rarely below 60kph, tops of 60kph? thats pretty rough I’m easily able to do 90 on a Honda Wave 110
Neale recently posted..4 Months and all is looking wellMy Profile

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Nomadic Chick June 21, 2010 at 1:12 pm

Going from point A to B is chock full of adventure. I’m glued to every single post. Keep em’ up!
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog ..Canadian Gear List =-.

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wes June 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm

This one wasn’t as adventured-filled as others. It was a nice change ;)

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Abhi June 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Great post! Very interesting! :)

p.s. My google reader wasn’t picking up the rss feed properly.. repeating some of the lines/paragraphs. I wonder where’s the issue.
.-= Abhi´s last blog ..Survival tip: How to bargain while traveling in India? =-.

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wes June 23, 2010 at 8:13 am

Thanks for pointing that out. I’m still trying to figure out how to avoid the doubles — those are callouts that I use to break up the text. They look fine on the site, but in the feed, they show up as doubles.

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