Sunday – Tuesday, Mui Ne
Because of my prejudice against high tourist destinations, I had to practice having a beginner’s mind about Mui Ne. This small town sits on a peninsula that reaches into Vietnam’s East Sea (aka South China Sea) and marks one end of a bay that provides beautiful beaches to dozens and dozens of resort hotels and all their attending restaurants and shops. This strip is accessed by a single coastal road between water and red desert sand dunes that stretches for at least 10 km (6 miles)–which is the farthest I traveled on our bike. The farther I went, the more polished and grand the accommodations seemed. This stretch of beach draws thousands of foreign tourists–many from Russia (think Cancun for United States)–and signs were often in four languages: Vietnamese, Russian, Chinese, & English. Foreign food also is available–one can get Doner Kebap and french fries, hamburgers and German style soup, plenty of options to satisfy many different palates from many different places. In fact, one of the first things we noticed upon approaching this strip was the predominance of white foreigners riding motorcycles; nearly half of the traffic fit that description. This was also the first place I’d seen graffiti–a decidedly western urban feature, which made me wonder if it came from foreigners or locals influenced by this cosmopolitan culture.
We also saw several other cycle tourists, and were able to have dinner with one German woman who was finishing up a 3-year world tour by bicycle. Heike was enthusiastic and kind, and had made it 5km that day before she scoped an empty hut that looked perfect for her tent and decided to stop (our kind of cycle tourist!). She was journaling by the ocean when I approached her. I asked her what made her decide to travel the world by bicycle. “On my bike I am totally free,” was her response. She was looking forward to the next chapter in her life, which would be pursuing training in photojournalism. Along with all the foreigners, we noticed as we were approaching town that the price of a drinkable coconut was 30,000 VND, three times the typical going rate in Vietnam (10,000 VND or $0.50 USD). This worried us because we like fruit and because we planned to stay in Mui Ne for several days in order to go kiteboarding.
Mui Ne is the kiteboarding capitol of Vietnam. It’s long arcing beach accepts side-on prevailing winds during the winter season that typically thermal in the afternoon at around 20 knots (or 25 mph). There are dozens of kite schools, and on a windy day the sky on the south end of the beach fills with kites. We were here to kite. Our first full day we decided to head down to Vietnam Kiteboarding School (VKS), which was recommended to us by our new California friend Joseph. VKS had a cool and friendly vibe, with a cafe style bar area that opened to the beach. We sat and had coffees while we waited for the afternoon winds. I pumped up the 13m, but this week the forecast was down, and all I managed was to stay upwind and do a couple of back rolls before packing it up. One of the features of Mui Ne’s bay is deeper water, so hydrofoiling is possible here. Along with that comes a bit of an intimidating shore break and a choppier surface. I enjoyed the warm deep water and the smooth sand, which allowed me to forgo the booties.
The next day was a little better, and we set up a short walk around the corner from our hotel. Again the 13m was our choice, and riding was pretty good for about an hour. But the wind was gradually shifting farther north, which meant slightly off-shore where we were, causing it to be ‘funny’ by the beach. Kallie came in happy but nervous about jelly fish, thinking the occasional floating plastic bag might have stingers attached. The following day back at VKS we waited for wind for two hours before I finally gave it a shot, but I couldn’t stay upwind, and the wind forecast for the rest of the week had tanked. We bought some fruit (thankfully quite reasonable on the Mui Ne strip) and once again began a discussion about chasing the wind.