We signed-up for a jeep tour to the sand dunes, the fairy stream, the fishing village, and the red canyon with Hahn Travels. The name sounded familiar and it had a nice desk in one of the nicer hotels lining the road. We thought it was a safe choice. We paid $15 each but were told that if 2 other people joined us, then we would be refunded $5 each. We also bought our Open Tour tickets from them for the ride back to Saigon.
At about 2 pm, we headed to our first stop, the Fairy Stream. There were two others with us — Swedish teens who were traveling for 3 months before going back home to start university. The head trail to the stream was a mere 20 minutes along the main road. The air was pungent with nuoc mam , the Vietnamese fish sauce. We took a path that led us past some fish sauce vats exposed to the sun. I’ve always loved fish sauce but the air was just too pungent with the smell. We reached the start of the stream where a woman told us to take off our footwear and leave them with her. Sensing that she wasn’t gonna watch them for free, we opted to carry them with us.
The stream was mildy interesting. We waded through the ankle length muddy water and sometimes, to move faster, we took to the banks. Some sand formations and dunes made the scenery interesting. It kinda reminded me of the trails at Pinatubo which is infinitely more picturesque. We turned back at about half an hour later as the scenery didn’t seem to hold much promise of changing. The kid who was tagging along with us insisted to Francis that he gets paid. I told him to just give him D1,000 to shut him up. But the kid was asking for D10,000. “Why!” He kept yelling at Francis as we made our way back to the jeep. He even threatened Francis. “You know bullet? You want bullet?” which scared him a bit. I was kidding Francis that the kid probably figured that he was a faggot and could easily be scared. Well, it was a fairy stream after all and there didn’t seem to be any fairies around except the 2 of us.
Our elderly driver was gone and in his place was a much younger guy who seemed to speak better English. We stopped along the main road to view the boats docked at the shore. I thought we were really going to the fishing village, but what we got was a viewpoint. I saw some steps going down to the boats though but the others didn’t seem to be interested. There were hundreds of boats docked and there were even round ones. I wonder how they’re able to navigate them? On the way home, I did see one guy rowing a round boat and he seemed to be having one helluva difficult time.
The drive to the yellow sand dunes brought us past some very dramatic scenery. Leaving the fishing village, the highway hugged the coast where waves lashed against the shore. The coastline was beautiful and a few islands could be seen from the road. Several minutes later, sea gave way to barren land filled with shrubs. A cemetery with colored tombs added to the desolation of the landscape. Those of us whose image of Vietnam is that or lush rice fields and paddies were in for a big surprise as laid out before us was what seemed like the Mojave desert. Indeed, it reminded me of the stretch of scenery from Nevada to California. An interesting thing I noticed was apart from what seemed to be a cemetery, I also saw single tombs spread around the area. There also didn’t seem to be much houses in the area. a few minutes later, the Yellow Sand Dunes loomed before us and on its base was a pretty lake with lotus flowers. We rented
plastic mats for sand sledding from the kids for D20,000 each. I wanted to return mine and just share with Francis. But the kid apparently knew what “share” meant as he shouted , “No sharing!” I can’t believe I heeded him. We walked through a pine forest then emerged to the gleaming sands. There was no there but us though I saw a couple of jeeps parked at the embankment near the lake. The last time I saw sand dunes was the one at Ilocos Norte. I was still a kid then and the wind was blowing so hard and sand was flying everywhere, I could hardly make it out. The Yellow Dunes were absolutely breathtaking! The dunes were postcard perfect. We were lucky that no one had arrive there so we had the place to ourselves for gorgeous photographs. It felt just like being in the Sahara minus the camels and the cactus. We hiked up a bit to get to some dunes that were steep enough for sledding. Unfortunately, it didn’t really work. I managed to push myself off and slide down a bit. The two Swedes were sorely disappointed. On our way back to the jeep, we passed by a crowd heading to the dunes.
Back on the road, we stopped at the Red Canyon. It wasn’t really a canyon but looked more like an eroded embankment of red clay cut by water passing through. We were told by the guy at Hahn Cafe that due to government activity, people couldn’t walk through the canyon but only take pictures. But we managed to go down and the driver didn’t stop us anyway. It wasn’t really much and the walls were carved with graffiti from all the tourists who have been there. A little rain, if it does rain in Mui Ne, would easily erase all the graffiti.
We arrived at the Red Sand Dunes, which was by the road back at about 4:30. We have signed up for a sunset tour but with the sun still so high up and the time still so early, unless we were willing to wait for an hour and a half, it didn’t seem we were gonna get any sunset at the dunes. There were more people here taking pictures and more kids peddling the slides. The dunes were also spread out enormously but not as picturesque as the Yellow Dunes. Perhaps it would be really lovely at sunset. Not wanting to wait so much, we decided to just head back home.
We managed to get our $10 back, though the guy at the counter didn’t seem to be too happy about it and refunded us with dong. The two Swedes who paid $12 and were expecting a better tour with an English-language guide weren’t as lucky. We left them grumbling at the guy who sold us the open tour tickets. “It’s not worth it. At Saigon, we paid $6 that had a bus, lunch… ” We saw them again along the street and they told us they couldn’t get any refund as they didn’t buy an open bus ticket which we did. I told them that the bus ticket had nothing to do with the tour rate as when we were arranging the cost of the tour, we hadn’t even bought the ticket and yet and our agreement was with the number of people joining us at the jeep. “I am so angry,” said the older one. “Well, we live and learn,” I told them.
Lesson for the day: don’t believe what tour companies always tell you and scout around first for the real price. A better deal is to actually hire a moto for the day and just go on your own.