I left Saigon at 8:30 P.M. on a tourist bus bound for Mui Ne, to meet a friend at a resort. The trip took about five hours, not a bad experience. Since it was a night trip, many passengers nodded off to sleep a couple of hours into the journey. The vehicle was a big tourist-type bus that looked new. It was cool, everyone was mostly quiet. I guess the only thing I regret about that bus trip was not being able to see the scenery clearly because it lay under the cover of the dark of night. That, and the fact that the young Vietnamese lady sitting next to me was practically lying across me as she slumbered. She looked so tired, I let her be.
I couldn’t sleep, so I amused myself with the freebies that came with my bus fare: a bottle of mineral water, a packet of crackers and a face towel! All free! If I remember correctly, my ticket cost less than 90,000 VND (about $6.00) – not a bad deal. I could hear other tourists (most of them Westerners) murmuring in the darkness, laughing softly now and then.
Bus Stops Too Soon
About four and a half hours into the trip, the bus stopped by a small restaurant – I assumed it was for a break. Then I heard the bus driver’s assistant calling out “Mui Ne! Mui Ne!” Were we in Mui Ne already? Where were the resorts and the beaches? More importantly, why wasn’t anyone preparing to get off the bus?
Thankfully, my seatmate was awake. I asked if we were in Mui Ne, she told me we were close, this was where those going to Mui Ne were to transfer to another vehicle to be taken to their location. I wasn’t aware of this; I didn’t even know this bus was ultimately going to Nha Trang, another four hours away. I knew I had purchased a bus ticket to Mui Ne at the Sinh Café Travel Agency in Saigon’s Pham Ngu Lao area. I was told before boarding that the large vehicle purring benevolently on the street was my bus, that I would be dropped off at my resort.
The Second Bus
I was feeling a bit apprehensive at that point; was I the only one going to Mui Ne among all the other passengers? Another tourist got up, reached for his bags in the overhead compartment and descended the bus. “Thank God,” I breathed. I said good-bye to my seatmate and followed suit. My large backpack was retrieved from within the belly of the bus and placed in a van. I was instructed to sit in the front passenger seat, while my fellow traveler sat behind me. We engaged in small talk while waiting for our driver, who was finishing his cigarette and what I assumed to be coffee or tea. He turned out to be an Australian (the other tourist, not the driver). We talked about our home countries, what we were doing in Vietnam, stuff like that. This aspect of traveling – meeting people from other places and learning from them – is something that I wouldn’t mind getting used to.
Finally, the driver got in and we were off. There were four of us in the van: the Australian and I, the driver and the Vietnamese man who loaded our stuff into the vehicle. The van didn’t have air conditioning, I didn’t mind since the night air was cool (at the close of January 2007). My eyes drank in the sights as we sped past them; everything was quiet, the streets were empty, the whole area seemed to be asleep. We crossed a small bridge, I saw open water for the first time and became aware of a pungent, salty smell. It actually assaulted my nostrils. Fish sauce! But my sensibilities weren’t offended. That was the moment when I realized I was really in Mui Ne.
Change of Scenery
The scenery outside my window changed: now it showed resort after resort, behind and beside each other. The miles seemed to fly, still no end to the resorts. The driver and his colleague broke the silence with their sudden chattering. He stopped, made a U-turn and picked up speed. Apparently, we had passed either my or the Australian's destination. After a few minutes, we stopped in front of a posh-looking establishment. My Australian companion grabbed his things, wished me a safe and happy journey and got out of the van. I wanted to cry out after him, “No, don’t leave me alone!” But that would’ve been silly. I took note of the name of his resort and the adjoining establishments.
Apprehension Sets In
The door slammed shut, the vehicle slipped into the street again. After a few minutes, I ventured to ask the driver how long it would take for us to reach my resort. He said, “Near, near." That's what I thought he said. But after a few minutes more of silent travel and with no signs of slowing down, my feeling of concern grew into something akin to paranoia. That’s not to say these two men ever acted inappropriately, or made me uncomfortable. Imagine my situation at the time: a woman traveling alone in an unknown place, in a vehicle with two strangers at one o’clock in the morning, with no idea of the exact location of her destination. I was fairly certain I would start hyperventilating if they didn’t bring me to where I was supposed to be and soon!
I caught glimpses of the moonlit sea in between the resorts, framed by the palm trees. The sight of it, coupled with the salty breeze, did little to relieve my anxiety. I was tired, having spent the whole day walking the streets of Saigon and undergoing a fairly lengthy bus ride after that. Factor in the nervousness I was feeling at the moment. You can probably picture the basket case I was close to becoming!
The driver suddenly stopped the van, backed up and gestured eloquently at a sign right behind us. There it was – my resort! I could’ve hugged and kissed him and his companion at that moment, but I was overcome with mixed feelings: relief at finally reaching my resort, guilt at ever thinking I could come to harm in their company. They wished me well and thanked me most graciously before I got out of the vehicle.
It was a few minutes past 1:00 A.M. The gates to the resort were closed, everything was dark. I knew my friend would be staying up late to wait for me, but everything was deathly still, there didn’t seem to be anybody around.
Before thinking “What the heck do I do now?”, a young man appeared from within the resort. Wearing a big smile on his face, he opened the small gate and bid me welcome. I asked for my friend. He cheerfully told me I was expected, then gestured for me to enter. Seeing my friend emerge from the shadows after a long day, an almost pathetic feeling of gladness and relief washed over me.
I had finally arrived.