Saturday, November 23, 2013

Traveling quickly for a bit. . .but a great day around Mui Ne

Written from My Tho (south of Ho Chi Minh City about 80 km), 23 November 2013, weather generally o'cast with breaks.  No rain where I was. . .and not too hot, pretty good traveling weather.  But that was today, and I wanted to talk about Phan Thiet and Mui Ne just a bit, so back to yesterday:

Yesterday was a full day on the road running back from Phan Thiet to Mui Ne and then on beyond on the not so new now coast road as far as the amazing fresh water lake in the sand dunes. . .and back again, so something over 100 km  to arrive at the same hotel room, but it was a pleasant place.  I was determined to find any active new construction (boats, not hotels) and I found hotels being built, not boats.  Sigh.  But the weather was truly lovely, puffy white clouds in a blue sky (okay, some of those clouds had lightning in them, but they didn't rain on us).   It made for pretty seascapes and bright colors on fishing boats.

Phan Thiet is a harbor town with a large and interesting fishing fleet and at least 3 boat yards that I've documented. . .and not a scrap of new construction in any of them, just lots of maintenance (a good thing by and large. . .maintenance).  It's the only big town or small city I can think of that Lonely Planet says to give a miss. . .kind of sad, the town is perfectly nice, though they have an odd idea about breakfast eggs.  I ask for a "banh my op la" which almost anywhere in Viet Nam will get you a fried (or scrambled) egg in a split baguette, with cucumber, pate, margarine, soy sauce, cilantro, grated daikon and/or carrot. . .you get the idea, a rich and varied breakfast treat. . .for about a dollar, or less.  In Phan Thiet the same request gets you two eggs frizzled on the bottom and raw on the top still in their little tin frying pan. . .and two baguettes to eat with them.  Oh. . .also a lot of salt.  I worked on that a little, and maybe they'll get the idea now.  Goodness.

But on to Mui ne. . .Mui Ne lies on a rocky peninsula sticking out from a long coastline of sand. It's a stunning location with a superb bay lying at the foot of the town.  The overlook with the paved stairs down to the beach (it's a long hike for an old guy) is probably the most famous "beach scene" in Viet Nam, a lovely bay, charming village and probably 300 fishing boats anchored at any given moment, all sorted by size and type ("don't you anchor that dragger here, this is a squid fisherman's block. . ".or some such).  Tourists line up 20 deep to photograph it.  You need to be there early on a slightly hazy morning to get the best photo though, not mid afternoon.  

It's almost 23 km from Phan Thiet to Mui Ne and essentially every inch of the way is white sand beach, covered in hotelsm, guest houses, restaurants and beauty parlors (with or without massages).  Some of the hotels and restaurants are very very up scale.  I saw one place with two golf courses bragging that they have rooms starting at $2,500,000 VND. . .about $125.  Starting!  And they were bragging!!  All the way down to places I've stayed for less than $10.  Quite a range.  Russian is the third language all along Mui Ne beach. . .Vietnamese first I think, then English. . .and close behind (based on signage anyway) Russian.  I think the letter "pi" from Greek is also the letter for "P" in Cyrillic. . .They way they spell pharmacy is suspicious. . .A"pi"teka. . ."Apothecary" pretty much. .

Mui Ne itself is still very much a Vietnamese town.  No tourist spots at all, only one guest house I've noticed (and it's NOT a tourist place), a really great bike mechanic's shop but the little horse simply isn't needing much since she got her new battery. . .I let them oil and adjust her chain. . .all that running the day before in gritty rain let it wear a bit, and she wanted to say hi to him anyway.  And there's lots of good street food and coffee, just nothing set up for tourists at all.  It shows real dedication I think.

They call the terrain "sand dunes", which I suppose is strictly correct. . .they were probably placed by wind action after the sea ground up whatever to make so much sand, but now the "dunes" are a bit more like "hills", with quite a lot of cactus and scrub brush to anchor the sand most places, and very little in the way of migrating dunes, certainly nothing like the Sahara.  It's a dramatic and pretty scenery though, with the bright red and very white sands (the dunes are either red or white. . .don't ask, I've no idea yet).

But I didn't start this to write about scenery. . .I have a new boat to show off.  You've perhaps heard me complaining that people are building fiberglass tubs to replace the round, woven bamboo boats on the coast and at Mui Ne last year I saw the first DIESEL POWERED ROUND FIBERGLASS TUBS.  I was offended.  I admit they work amazingly well, they just look awful and they'll last a long time and desecrate the beaches and be abominations. . .but otherwise they're fine I guess.  Obviously they suit a lot of the fishermen.  Well.  This year we have a new variation on that theme and. . .this is painful to admit. . .I like them.  These are essentially the same sort of thing, a fiberglass tub, BUT it's different.  Sort of.  I mean, it's a boat, not just a tub.  It has a bow and a stern and sometimes a proper skeg for its stern tube and a nice (usually but not always) traditional wooden rudder.  Yes, I admit it's a little short. . .9'6" to be precise. . .and a little broad in the beam. . .7'3" and it's pretty deep for its length (as is the 8' diameter typical plastic round tub), 41" deep forward, 31" amidships, 39" aft. . .that's really a lovely sort of sheer line. . .well, compared to a flat round tub.  Anyway, I think they're cute.  I usually prefer Pretty, but in the absence of pretty. . .cute will do.

So here are a few photos at random from around Mui Ne and Phan Thiet.
This is the only boatyard I've found in Viet Nam that I CANNOT get into.  There is absolutely no obvious land access.  I suppose somebody's back door must open onto the work area, but there's no sign on the front door, and there's no opening in the solid wall of houses and gates for 500 meters.  Probably nothing I wanted to see anyway and the grapes are no doubt sour too.

Looking back across the bay toward the tourist side.  This is a very shallow, shelving edge of the bay out by the point, in constant use for cleaning bottoms and doing quick work on propellers and rudders.  Some day it will be a superfund site, with tons of TBT and Lead and Copper.  For now, thank goodness, it's just a good place for a fisherman to take care of his boat.  Red sand dune in the far distance.

This isn't top of the line by any means, only 2 swimming pools and no golf course.  But it's kind of photogenic.  Sort of.

A good look at a big sand dune down the coast a ways.  Cactus, scrub brush, and a gorgeous beach for miles.  This is along the "new" coast road beyond Mui Ne to the North, where they've only had six years or so to build hotels, so it's still fairly wild.  The first time I rode this stretch it wasn't open to the public yet.  I picked up the man who had been painting the centerline stripe, complete with his bucket and brush and hauled him back to the construction camp.  I had white paint on my black saddle for weeks after that.  

It isn't so much that life in paradise is awful, she was just really peeved at her older brother and her mom.

There she is, the Better Tub-Boat (or is it Boat-tub).  Not all of them have proper eyes though, this one is well within tolerances to be called a TRADITIONAL Tub.  er.  boat.  
So here's a tiny part of the fleet of tubs. . .nice ones I insist. . .good traditional running gear (well, the rudder hanging is a bit odd) and great traditional paint (note the entirely correct traditional art work on the anchor fairlead forward (uh, that's to the left, the end without a propeller)

A nice busy boat yard (you can drive right to this one, it's just inside the breakwater (on the north bank, opposite the fish market wharf) at Phan Thiet.  There are hundreds of boats in the harbor, so this place is always busy, but nothing new building.  Actually the boat on the left is getting a new cabin and already has most of a new stern. . .that almost counts as new work!

And these are Linh and Mai (on the left).  Two of the sweetest little beggars I've ever met.  Someone has taught them how to ask for money ten different ways, and to keep at it until your tourist drops.  I'm a tough nut, but this one was hard.

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