I was expecting more development of my back mussels by this point in my trip. During my previous travels around Europe and New Zealand, I’d usually be walking considerable distances between bus stations, train stations and good hitching spots, but South East is very different in this regard. In a way, this trip has been the easiest one yet. With all buses I take, I tend to book them through my hotel for little or no extra cost then what you would pay at the station. The bus picks me up at my hotel and drops me close enough to the next one that I have rarely found myself walking with my heavy backpack on for more than half an hour every couple of days.
Leaving Da Lat was no exception. We were picked up only a few minutes late from our hotel and began the windy decent to our next destination. Our initial plan was to head directly to Saigon from Da Lat, but we figured that the ten days we had left before our flight would be a bit too long to spend in the large city and the outlaying Mekong Delta region, so we chose the beach town of Mui Ne as an appealing alternative.
The only other tourists on our bus were a disgruntled looking, anti-social Russian couple and a Swiss/Vietnamese girl. We didn’t talk to either of them, finding no interest in the old, stone faced Russians and being completely unaware of the other girl’s backpacker status until the very end of our bus ride.
When we pulled into the one road town, we were shocked at the amount of signs written in Russian. It seemed as though we had stumbled across Russia’s favorite resort town in Vietnam. The Swiss girl told us that there were plenty of different districts catering to a variety of nationalities; she had been here before. But when we got off our bus, we didn’t seem capable of finding any area that wasn’t specifically catering to any non-Russian speaking tourists, but one more language barrier didn’t make that big of a difference.
As I said before, Mui Ne has one main drag, which makes navigation a joke and orientation immediate. It seemed that we had passed all the hotels and resorts that were out of our price range. We were in a more practical and affordable area of town by the time we started our price comparison fueled by teamwork. Juli checked one resort for price and quality, I checked the other. I found that we only had to skip the first few before the price dropped from twenty dollars to fifteen. After eight or so comparisons, we found a nice twin bed room with a balcony and a pool situated on beach front property for about seven dollars each a night. The only thing that seemed to be wrong with the room was the air conditioner, leaking roughly a liter of water an hour down the wall and onto the floor, until we came to the realization that the window was open for our first twenty four hours of occupation. In short, there was really nothing wrong with the place.
Our first night we scored some sashimi at a restaurant opposite the beach. The food was good, but seemed a bit overpriced. After dinner, we found a stone table at one of the many seafood restaurants that all displayed multiple tanks of live fish in front of them. Having just eaten, we stuck to ordering alcohol instead. As I studied the menu, there was one item in the drinks section that peaked my attention. Some sort of local rum was only about 80,000 VND, about four dollars, for a bottle. How could this be? My curiosity lead me to order the damn thing, expecting a well priced flask. What we ended up with was 750 ml of watered down ethanol and sugar cane. We drank this poison straight. Shot after shot with minimal effect, it seemed time to head back to the hotel.
“One drink.” I made the argument back in our room. “I know the bar looks dumb, but one drink and either of us will have the freedom to leave.”
“One drink,” Juli said “then you can stay if you like, but I’ll probably be coming home.”
We went directly to “Sports Bar” across the street. Two drinks later we had found it difficult to meet anyone. Oddly, the first white bartenders that I had encountered on this trip spoke English as poorly as most Vietnamese. What sort of strange place was this? It wasn’t until we were in the reclining area that we noticed that none of the funky looking white people seemed to speak any English at all; we were clearly the only Westerners in an Russian only club. After a bit of trial and error and some serious happenstance, we managed to find one darling young Russian girl with impeccable English and a desire to use it.
Svetlana was critical of the scene, especially of the Russian rap battles taking place at the head of the dance floor with microphones that would eventually be turned down to inaudible levels. I spat out the typical backpacker conversation as quickly as I could race through it, stating the locations I’d been and the major details of stories that I had accumulated. She had never heard of Ha Long Bay, Hoi An or taken a sleeper bus. She had never done any of the typical things that any backpacker I had been encountering had done at all. Come to think of it, I had never met any Russians on this trip whatsoever, but here they were by the dozen in one isolated bar in Southern Vietnam. I learned later that the reason for this seemed to be the mass amounts of direct flights from Moscow to Nha Trang. I was in the equivalent of Russia’s Hawaii, somewhat budget for us and just below standard for their middle class.
Three more drinks later, and I had made a new friend for the evening. During a couple of my bathroom breaks, I found myself intoxicated enough to grab the microphone away from a slurring Russians butchering cliche beats and spit some of my own words to organized rhythm. My attempts left me with a feeling of success even though neither of the pretty girls in my company laid witness to these attempts… maybe in retrospect this could have been beneficial to my reputation.
Conversation continued and the night progressed. Two more drinks. For those keeping track, our one drink had multiplied like bunny rabbits even after Juli and I consumed the majority of our nail polish remover from the previous bar. There was nothing boring left to talk about. Our became absurd and irrational, even by travelers standards. At this point Juli exited the scene. Svetlana became more a bit more friendly with me shortly after, and for reasons beyond my control at the time I decided that it would be in my best interests to return to the hotel with impeccably inappropriate timing. This later became my first major regret of my trip thus far.
Back to my dark and quiet hotel room, Juli had fallen asleep, and I bit my fist as I fell into a sleep laden with a strange mixture of remorse, belonging and righteousness.