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Mui Ne - the Sahara of Vietnam. We arrived in the evening and the next day we took a tour to visit the sand dunes. Before hitting the dunes themselves we were taken on a walk to visit a waterfall. Although the waterfall was not much to write home about, the walk itself was. Rather than taking atraditional track or path, we were led through the river itself. It was awesome, especially all the sand formations that had been carved out by the water. On the way back it started to absolutely tip it down, and we felt as if we were in our own Vietnam War film (with the help of a little imagination, and self-made sound effects).
Next stop was the dunes. We are not talking a few tiny sand dunes as you would see in Cleethorpes, but rather the full on desert experience. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but it is probably the nearest we will get to it without actually visiting Africa.
It was beautiful. Then, just to ruin the peace and tranquility, a couple of local lads offered us plastic trays to go body boarding down the sand dunes - how could we say no?! It was great fun. I completely wiped out on my first go and rolled most of the way down with my tray trailing behind me. James and I had a race which he won (obviously - J). We then discovered a lake next to the dunes. As it was now raining it was a great way to wash off the sand. James then had a great idea of body boarding down the dune into the lake. An accident waiting to happen, so we all watched in anticipation and he raced down the dune and...........stopped 1 metre from the edge of the water - hilarious! His further attempts were more successful, so much so that Becks and Dimphy joined in - girl power!
The next day we got up at the crack of dawn to watch the sun rise over the yellow sand dunes - beautiful. Check out the pictures. Can you tell what word we spelt?
We left Mui Ne for Dalat, the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Here we climbed Lang Bian Mountain (not too stressful, only an hour or so) but great views. Afterwards we found lunch at a great stop that did a superb pork dinner and the best Lemon Merange pie I have ever tasted - yummy (Pam is happy)!
As the Central Highlands are supposed to be beautiful we decide to hire a car and a guide for a couple of days to see the countryside. The first day we visit a coffee plantation. Did you know Vietnam is a large exporter of coffee and grows a lot of Mocha beans? They do have great coffee. We then saw a mushroom farm, where all the mushrooms were growing in long bags hanging from the ceiling - madness. This was followed by the silkworm factory where we saw them make silk clothes starting from the actual worm. The poor silk worm is quite happily cocooned in his ball of silk until he is nuked in boiling water to get his silk bundle off him to start weaving. Do not think they have got animal rights in Vietnam. Being the strong animal rights activist that I am, I bought a couple of silk scarfs - at 3 dollars a piece who could refuse!
We drove through lots more stunning countryside to the minority village at Lak Lake. We stayed the night to 'live like the locals'. We arrived and Becks, Dimphy, Steve and Ade took a tour around the lake by elephant. Unfortunately they did not have enough elephants so James and I took a dug out canoe on the lake for a sunset paddle - lovely. That night we were cooked a delicious meal by the village, which we ate sitting on the wooden floor (bit sore) of our digs for the night. This was a hut on stilts, which was cool. I do think we had the poshest hut in the village, and there were not any cattle sleeping underneath ours, so it probably was not totally authentic, but it was close enough and good fun. The next day we were up at dawn to visit the farming village across the lake. The kids there were really cute and the local lads working were so muscley and lean they make us all look so lazy and overweight (speak for yourself - J). Ah well, let us eat some more and move on! We then spent the rest of the next day travelling to our next destination - Nha Trang.
The purpose for hitting Nha Trang was to go diving. James, Ade, Dimphy and Steve all went for a dive the following morning. I had only just got rid of my ear infection and did not want to risk it. Therefore Becks and I did the girlie thing and went for an outdoor mudbath and spa - it is a hard life, this travelling.
At some stage we realised that we had about 5 days until our visas ran out and we were a million miles from the nearest visa extension city. Due to this slight oversight we left Nha Trang sooner than planned and spent 18 hours on 2 buses trying to get to Hanoi in the North.
We stopped over in Hue enroute, where we spent less than 24 hours, but we did manage to get in a riverboat tour of the main temples (oh no not more temples). The highlight of the day was Becks and I making a jail break from the boat in search of food. Unfortunately we exceeded our allotted 10 minute shore time and the boat started to leave without us. Fortunately, James, knowing me so well, had foreseen this event, and was already off the boat, not that this stopped the boat from trying to leave. It took the rest of the group onboard to get the boat to turn around for us. James, in the meantime, found us and we pegged it back to the harbour. We hopped back on the boat, whilst being threatened by the crew that they would fine us for the delay. If that was the highlight of the trip, you can tell it was crap!
We finally arrived in Hanoi the next day. The city of DVD player rentals, a great restaurant called Lay Bac 135 and Laser Quest. Yes, it was probably the dullest city ever. This view was not improved either by our first experience of the city involving the local taxi service. The coach was too big to make it into the Old Quarter where we wished to stay, so the company organised for a taxi to take us to our desired destination. However, in usual fashion, the driver took us to a hotel of his choosing to earn his commission. To our credit we did take a look at the rooms, but they were not particularly brilliant, and the location was not ideal either, once we had convinced the owner to show us where we were on the map. Therefore we opted to hail down a couple of cabs on the street to take us to our original choice. Before the taxis drove off there was an exchange between the drivers and the thwarted hotel owner, and we heard the number 6 come up (all in Vietnamese), which just so happened to be the cost of the room (dollars) that had been offered to us. We had already asked the taxis to go on a meter to keep the cost down (or so we thought). The drivers preceded to take us on an unofficial tour of the city, miles from where we wanted to go, until the meter had clocked up 6 dollar's worth of charges. The stupid thing was that we had a map in front of us and we told him that we knew he was extracting the urine, and threatened not to pay at all, which always does the trick. Not being too happy at having been literally taken for a ride, we refused to pay the meter fare of 6 dollars and offered the still generous amount of 1 dollar. Now this is not a lot of money that we are talking about here, but it does start to become a matter of principal, as far too often we are seen as walking ATMs, plus we had just completed a 12 hour overnight bus journey and it was 6 in the morning, so we were not in the best of moods in any case.
The drivers were not too happy about us refusing to pay the extortionate prices and decided to lock our bags in the car until we coughed up. Lots of argueing followed. Pam, being the ever-efficient project manager, tracked down the Vietnamese owner of our desired hotel to aid us in our hour of need. For once, he came through and backed us up, telling the thieving, cowboy drivers point blank that they were trying it on, had been caught out and should except the 1 dollar that we had offered. Job jobbed! A win for the Westerners; score is now curently 1:56. The come-back has started!
To repay the owner for his kindness we took a look at he rooms and decided that they were not for us (another rubbish recommendation from the Lonely Planet) and went to look elsewhere. Not content in just walking away, Pam took offence at his 8-foot illuminated sign, donned her rucksack and swatted the sign to the floor like a marked mosquito, with a vengeance that I have never seen before, smashing every single light bulb inside. Not content with this wantan damage, Pam ensured that the sign also took out the table standing behind it that had quite obviously been in his family for generations; it was not even any good for fire wood. By the time Pam had finished, it looked like the scene out of an Arnie film. Feeling bad about her behaviour, Pam made amends by turning high heel and running for the hills - all class that girl!
We planned to leave Hanoi to venture down to Halong Bay, but had to wait for our visa extensions to be completed. However, during this time, a typhoon hit the area we were heading for so our trip was delayed by a couple of days. But every cloud has a silver lining, and with the extra time I got to talk to Sarah on her wedding day (still cannot believe we missed it) and I had two silk suits made. Finally, after a week, the weather cleared. We rearranged our trip to Halong Bay for a later date and left Hanoi heading for Sapa, the Scottish Highlands of Vietnam.