Our first bus in South East Asia created mixed expectations for the rest of the trip: it had AC and wifi, but it also abandoned us on the side of the road.. We went to the Mui Ne Bus office a little before 8am. We were given our bus tickets to go to Mui Ne and promised return tickets upon our arrival. Next we were rushed across the street to wait at an informal bus stop. Our crowd quickly grew to about twenty. Then a small 12 seater van pulled up, which we were told would take us to the main bus. Getting ourselves and our luggage (luckily we just had our day packs) turned into survival of the fittest and the smallest.
The van started down the streets of HCM and we prepared ourselves for a long journey with four people sandwiched into a space meant for two. But after a mere three blocks the van pulled into the bus terminal and we disembarked. This was the first indication that land transportation and logic don’t necessarily go hand in hand in South East Asia.
We were told to remove our shoes and board the bus. At which point we discovered it was a partial sleeper bus, meaning all the seats were at a 45 degree angle. We settled into our assigned bunk and started out of HCM. The bus driver and bus attendant promised our return tickets would be returned later on.
An hour and a half into the journey the bus stopped for a snack and bathroom break. Most of the bus companies have tendered an agreement with one of the highway rest stops, where they only stop there and (I assume) they receive some sort of kick back. The chosen stop was open air fruit and food market. Carly and I from breakfast decided to stay on the bus since we were unclear on how long the stop would be. Let me tell you, the stop was thirty minutes. I know this because the driver closed the doors and turned off the AC morphing the bus into an oven. I thought the 90 degree weather in HCM had prepared me for the heat of the trip, but on during that thirty minute waiting period I started to truly understand what people mean when they say “South East Asia sweat.”
Carly and I fell asleep, waking up just outside out Mui Ne. The bus had promised to drop us off at our guest house. The bus pulled up to what we knew was the general vicinity of our place and we shouted for it to stop (thanks google maps). We grabbed our bags and headed for the exit only to realize in some impressive feat of witchcraft both the bus attendant and the driver were entirely different people. Somehow in the time we slept the entire staff managed to change. The new guys were not party to our ticket situation and not willing to discuss it. Our questions were met with a chorus of “not our problem” and we were ushered off the bus still barefoot. The bus attendant gave us the companies business card and commanded “call them.” It inspired little faith that we would get tickets back to HCM.
Mui Ne is known for being a seaside town with a random collection of beautiful sand dunes, so after settling into our guest house we went to speak to the proprietor about arranging a tour and finding tickets back to HCM. She was incredibly kind and sympathetic to our bus situation, I got the impression that this wasn’t the first time that this issue had occurred. We gave her the name of the bus company we used and she called them for us, but they had no record of our tickets. So we gave her the company card which the bus attendant had given us. She pointed out, which we had failed to notice that the card corresponded with an entirely different bus company. She called the second bus company, found a record of our reservation, and confirmed the pick up time for the next day. As it turns out there are two companies that run daily trips to Mui Ne and we had ended up the wrong (and far less reliable) company. We booked a sunrise sand dune tour for the next day at 4 am and then headed into Mui Ne.
The second biggest attraction in Mui Ne is called the “Fairy Stream.” It is a stream which runs through a beautiful and striking rock formation, surrounded by smaller red sand dunes. We walked to the fairy stream, cutting through brush to the neck of the stream. There there was a collection of middle aged Vietnamese men and worn down Jeeps. For the less adventurous traveler, you can hire a jeep to take you the mile length of the stream. We were going to walk, but we stood on the bank of the stream perplexed. The rock structures obscured any opportunity to walk on solid land. We were wearing sneakers and walking in the clay red stream seemed like something the travel docs at Mt. Auburn Hospital would not have approved of. The Jeep drivers pointed to our feet and mimicked the motion of removing our shoes. We looked at each other, shrugged, and sunk our bare feet into the mud of the stream.
The landscape of the Fairy stream was incredibly beautiful and unlike anything I had seen before.
Covered in mud, we headed back to the guest house and showered. We had a light dinner of pho along the ocean and took to bed early to prepare for our sunrise sand dune tour.