Friday, 11 November 2011

The Beaches of Vietnam

Vietnam might have been late to Southeast Asia's beach party, but it was worth the wait. The country boasts more than 3400Km of coast line, with infinite stretches of powdery sand, hidden coves, lovely lagoons, impossible boulder formations and tropical Islands ringed with yet more beaches. We visited two of them; Nah Trang and Muine. 

After Hue we headed to Hoi An, but due to non stop rain we decided to head further south after a day and sample some of the best beaches in Vietnam. Why not? First stop on 10th October was Nha Trang; the beach capital where we stayed until the 16th October. The setting is stunning and has a stretch of beach that spans over a mile in length that basically says; ''come and lay on me". So this is what we did for most of the week, sunbathe and relax. The sun shines bright and hot until about 4 o'clock when the rains comes in hard for a couple of hours, before subsiding again to better weather. There is a lot of good fresh seafood to eat here and the do it yourself BBQ is a great way to eat  out and its cheap.

The highlight for me however wasn't the beaches, it was meeting an American pilot named Terry who had served in Vietnam. He served two tours as a F4 Phantom Fighter pilot flying bombing missions over Hanoi and North Laos. He was based on an Aircraft Carrier out in the China Sea and would fly up to three sorties a day, which is around 12-14 hours flight time. He was fascinating to listen to, he had so many stories and he told them with passion and vivid detail. I asked him did the Ravens really exist? The Ravens were a top secret program that guided fighter pilots onto targets in Laos. Men who volunteered for the Ravens never existed on paper, they never even had a uniform because the Americans were fighting a secret war in Laos. They where famed for their courage and daredevil crazy flying and most of all for not living by the rules.  They flew all day in single engine planes sometimes as low as the tree line getting shot up  finding targets to hit. Terry looked at me with a smile and said sure they existed, and he told me many stories of flying over North Vietnam and receiving  radio calls from the Ravens asking him to hit targets in Laos "cleared in hot" was the code to strike. I asked him had he come close to being shot down and he said all the time from flak bursts. The closest he came was when one of his engines was shot through and he was losing fuel at such a rate he would not make it back to his carrier. He had to radio in a  KC-135s tanker plane and keep his Phantom linked up with the hose/drogue all the way to a base in Thailand. 

Nah Trang Beach
Great way to eat on the BBQ
After all that sun bathing we felt we needed to do some thing a little more active, a little more of a pulse raiser, something for the Adrenalin junkie; so after some deliberation we decided to go to a Health Spar and have a mud bath. Alright, its not even remotely active, but it was amazing, pure detox. We rented some mountain bikes and rode the 30 minute route to the Spar which is located up on the hill side. You start with a mud bath, floating in the mud, a feeling that is so soothing, letting all the minerals soak in. You then get out and let the mud go hard before getting a power shower and washing it all off. To finish you simply slide into a hot mineral bath and forget about the world, (a beer is optional but helps with the relaxation method).

Floating in a mud bath
After having such a lovely and relaxing day, I never expected what was to happen next on the ride home, something that shocked me to the core. We left the Spar at about 5pm and went home the way we came, over the bridge that crosses the sea. As we approached the start of the bridge, the weather changed dramatically. I noticed the wind increasing significantly, and an ominous black cloud that filled the sky was sweeping over us, engulfing us on the bridge. A typhoon was coming in fast. My only concern was to get off the bridge quickly and safely and take some shelter. The bridge is the main road in and out of Nah Trang, always busy but even busier now, as its rush hour. The traffic is horrendous, think the M6 full of mopeds all overtaking and undertaking at speed with the sound of their horns constantly piercing you ear drums. As we neared the middle of the bridge, we became more exposed and the rain slammed into our faces as we tried to keep control of our bikes. It had started the thunder and lightening now to make matters worse and I became a little concerned as it felt as if we weren't making any head way as the wind and rain was so strong now. Suddenly I heard a sharp noise from behind. As I looked I saw the body of a man flying off his moped and thrown through the air just past Laura and past me to my left. He was thrown like a rag doll, spinning in the air and smashing the floor before hitting his head on the bridge post on the outside lane at such a force his helmet flew off his head and into the air. I watched in horror a young lad lying motionless in the road. My first reaction was he is dead, no one can survive that. It was surreal. By now the weather had deteriorated even further, it felt dark and the rain was really intense; we were totally exposed to the elements. I pulled my bike up and turned around to try and help somehow, but I felt like I was in dream, you know the feeling; everything is moving in slow motion, you try to run but its like running through quick sand. The traffic was jammed, many were honking their horns and it seemed that many were impatiently trying to drive around the victim. It was a crazy scene. As I approached the man, he still hadn't moved and I was accepting that he was dead. It sounds mad, but as I looked at him I was frantically trying to remember my first aid training, my ABC's and I couldn't. Then like a miracle he lifted his head up and he reminded me of a boxer who had been knocked out, his senses completely served, but he was alive. When I got to him he was trying to get up; myself and a local man got him of the road and sat him down, but he kept trying to get up and I remember looking at his face and seeing the 1000 yard stare into nowhere. He was totally gone. A couple of other people had now approached the scene trying to help. One woman who spoke English asked how she could help. I asked her to ring an ambulance and told her to tell the ambulance that he has server head injures. I quickly got of the road as by now it was getting very dangerous, the weather was terrible. Me and Laura picked our bikes up and walked with them on the pavement, shook up. Then if that wasn't enough for my nerves a bolt of lightening struck the floor about 30 meters away from us. BANG!!! The sound was like a thousand shot guns going off at once. I then looked up to find I was walking under the biggest  trees in Vietnam. I just thought this is it, its the end, it's Apocalypse Now, am gonna get finished off by a bolt of lightening. 

Set on a seductive swath of sand, Mui Ne is an absolute charmer with swaying palms and towering sand dunes pummeling waves and winds that is home to the kite surfers. The sea is filled with kite surfers and it is a site to marvel at, like poetry in motion. This place has a remarkable vibe, chilled surfer feel that blends action and inertia to perfection. This is my favourite place in Vietnam.

Mui Ne: Notice the kite surfers in the background

We  arrived on this little piece of paradise on the 17th October and stayed for five days until the 21st October. Mui Ne is beautiful and is my favorite place in Vietnam. Its the home of kite surfing and attracts the more adventurous spirit. There is a great chilled out vibe and everyone is only concerned with having a good time. The Beach is amazing and was a stone throw away from our Guest House. The wind is powerful in the afternoon which is really refreshing when you sitting in the blazing sun all day.

I wanted to have a go of kite surfing but it is very expensive, (around $500-700 for lessons and equipment). However I was in for a bit of luck. I met an old friend named 'Jacko' from Nah Trang  and he had promised he would teach me free of charge. Jacko is the ultimate adrenaline junkie  from Australia, long hair, broken arm and crazy. Kite Surfing is one of the hardest sports and takes time and dedication to be able to control the wind and surf. I had a couple of lessons getting used to the the kite and using it to harness the wind. I thought I was doing well and ready for the next step; 'body dragging' in the sea. So picture this; I am on the beach with a $2000 kite bringing the kite from different positions, thinking I am in total control, I've cracked it. When all of a sudden I dip the kit a little to much catch the wind and I take off for a little ride. The power is amazing and I almost take off. Jacko manages to hook on to my harness just in time and I land his kite on top of a beach shack. Perfect landing but the end of my kite surfing days.

Me and the 15m Kite
Mui Ne is also famous for its beautiful sand dunes that range from red, gold and pure white.  The vast white sand dunes look like the Arabian Desert and it stretches for miles creating a surreal atmosphere. Here you can watch sun set, ride Quads or body sledge down the huge slopes. We rented a sledge and after ten minutes of trying to do it Laura showed  us all how its down when she dived head first onto the sledge and down one of the steep slopes. Just sitting and looking at such a beautiful landscape and watching the light glimmer on all those strange ever changing sand formations was awe inspiring.

Sledging on the dunes

At Sunset-Look what I can do!!!

 Freedom and simple beauty is too good to pass up


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