Five hours south of Nha Trang lies the quiet beach town of Mui Ne. The main attraction is the sand dunes located just outside of town. They’re quite an anomaly amongst the lush landscape of Vietnam, but certainly not as magnificent as the Sahara or Arabian deserts. We opted for a sunrise jeep tour as the best way to see them. We were picked up at 4:30am and driven about 45 minutes to the White Sand dunes first. The sky started to change colors as we approached and we were at the top of the dunes by 5:30am, when it finally broke the horizon. There were two wedding parties in the distance taking photos with the natural backdrop. Children tried to rent their slides to tourists, but it was far too early for us to be racing downhill. To the west was an oasis that glistened with the rising sun. Although these dunes aren’t very large, we were both captivated by the sights and colors. Any event involving a beautiful sunrise with an even more beautiful lady is certain to be impressive.
From there, we drove back towards town to see the Red Sand dunes. Although still nice, they weren’t quite as grand as the White Sand dunes. By this time, the sun was heating up the ground and the children were in full-force for sled rentals. Because it was closer to the main road and more accessible by foot, there was trash scattered in the sand, which was disappointing. I’m sure if they charged a small entrance fee they could maintain the site better.
After the Red Sand dunes we visited a fishing village. By then it was only 7:30am and the fishermen were still collecting the day’s catch. We strolled down the beach to see baskets of fish and crabs. Seafood doesn’t get any fresher than that!
Finally, we stopped at the Fairy Stream, our favorite. This gentle stream flows ankle-deep through beautiful red and white rock formations. We carried our shoes and waded through the water for about 20 minutes in, then 20 minutes back. The rocks were a smaller version of the hoodoos we saw in the Canadian Rockies. It also reminded me the landscape in Arizona and Utah.
Despite the action-packed morning, we were back at the hotel by 9:30am. We had a great place to stay right on the beach with a pool and lounge chairs. The beach in Mui Ne isn’t too appealing since it can get quite rough and there’s lots of garbage that has washed ashore. Many hotels have built right up to within 10 feet of high tide and offer pools with an ocean breeze for a swimming alternative. Our spacious room was on the 3rd floor with A/C, flat-screen TV, and a view of the ocean for a steep $15/night! (Is there a font for sarcasm?) Due to the relaxing atmosphere and lack of street vendors we stayed 4 nights before continuing southwest to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
HCMC is the former capital of South Vietnam and political puppet of the US during the Vietnam War. Its liberation in 1975 marked the end of a brutal period for the Vietnamese. Today it is fully developed to the point of 5-star hotels and designer clothing shops. However, the main attractions for tourists revolve the recent period of conflict.
We first visited the War Remnants Museum. The exhibitions portray the struggle of the Vietnamese people to stand as an independent nation without foreign control. The decade-long Vietnam War (or American War, as it’s known here) was filled with atrocities of violence and crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, the museum only shows one side of the conflict and emphasizes the brutality of American forces and the global support for the US to exit SE Asia. The excessive use of Agent Orange was also an entire exhibit with horrific images of the affected people and landscape.
I know that it has been recognized by many Americans and top-ranking officials (soldiers included) that it was a mistake for us to be there, but I couldn’t help thinking that, in the end, the Vietnamese won. Despite the brutality they endured, they still must have inflicted much greater suffering on the American troops to win. Many lives were lost on both sides of the battle, but this museum only chose to show one side. I guess we’re not the only ones exposed to a biased view of history. I left feeling like the villain for being American and expected someone to throw rotten tomatoes at me when we walked out. (somehow they’d know Gabriella is Canadian)
Aside from the depressing museum, we visited the Reunification Palace. The palace is an impressive architectural structure that’s a total throwback to the 1960’s. It was the headquarters of the South Vietnamese, ally to the US during the war. It was pretty cool to see the war rooms and map rooms in the heavily-reinforced basement where important decisions were made regarding their strategy. When a North Vietnam tank rolled through the gate and onto the lawn, Saigon was essentially liberated and the war was over. Today, it is a tourist attraction showing the opulence of the imperial government decades ago.
Overall, we had an enjoyable three and a half weeks exploring Vietnam. We spent a little more money than we were used to, but it was still cheap by Western standards. The food was delicious when we could find a vegetarian option, but found most dishes included beef or pork. The people were always willing to help, although it got a bit annoying when they offered unsolicited help. Everyone’s just trying to make a living. I thought it might be weird as an American in Vietnam, but there are no hard feelings and there’s nothing to worry about, especially after 40 years. In the end, they won the war and are a freer nation now more than ever. I can’t say it’s my favorite country we’ve been to so far, but it’s certainly not the worst!
Up next: Cambodia!