There’s salt in the air again, we can smell it. The seaside town of Mui Ne is a mark on the map for many travellers for beach time, sunshine and flash bars; for us though the primary function of this seaside oasis has nothing to do with sun or sand and everything to do with grease and grime. It’s time to get the oil changed in the bikes. As a testament to the mechanical fortitude of our machines they need oil changed every 200km; this is set to be a love hate relationship. We are however outlaying our first cash for our bikes so a commitment of sorts is being made and thus, the new additions to our families need names. For reasons that should be obvious two of the recently named wallabies get the mantle, Rob and Greg; based on rugby skill alone of course.
From the satellite resort section of the beach we pry ourselves free to venture the 7km into town to find our mechanic who will validate these new trysts, we’ll go soon we promise ourselves. If there was a travelling mode we would decry with venom before leaving on this adventure it would be exactly this: sitting by the pool doing nothing. Guiltily we give into the punishing day that was yesterday and soak up a little slice of much needed torpor we didn’t realise we needed. There’s a glorious beach just a minute or so walk away but it just seems too far, instead it’s off the deck chair and into town we go for jobs we must do in place of relaxation we want to do.
Past the glittering turquoise beach we splutter to town so sadly unable to conjure the time and space for carefree swimming in the ocean. Mui Ne is a coastal town for all money, small scale development crowds a main street only to ebb quickly to nothing just behind the one street that really matters. Street carts dot the occasional piece of blank space, guys on scooters offer rides incessantly, there’s fruit on mats in front of the market and a veil of hectic buzz replaces the usually languid shrug of a life at ease. There’s variations that Vietnam throws up but on many measures we aren’t as distant from the small beachside town feel we know from home.
We find our mechanic by chance more than anything as street numbers in Vietnam seem more like a lottery draw than any sequence of reason, 401 should be beside 35; makes total sense right? We win lotto though and find him smothered in grease and happy disposition, like the rest of this industrious culture he cheerily declares half an hour for two oil changes and changing the rear suspension on my bike. That was alarmingly easy. Main chore seemingly sorted it’s time for the serious business, market time for clothing that can keep out the sun followed by coffee and food. Who are we kidding, food and coffee come first.Beef noodle soup and pork and rice fit into a neat little food category of Vietnamese invention: a bit average by current standards but genuinely great food. Vietnamese food sets a high bar to fall from but nothing seems to tumble very far, we’re ready to throw it out there; Vietnam is very possibly the greatest food culture on earth. Coffee again is a dense chocolatey caffeine punch in the face that we’re already getting addicted to, all the energy we need for local market time. Long pants, gloves and face masks will hopefully mean no repeat of the lobsters in white boy clothing of yesterday, a long road sits before us and the sun is unlikely to shine any less as the days roll on.
After our scout around Mui Ne the few markers of difference we know from home seem even softer around the edges, hot bitumen scalds our rubber thongs as we walk on the road that has no footpath, a bag of fruit dangling from our hands. The world rushes by but not a care sticks to us in the quintessential beachside town too far away from home to feel this familiar. Back from the cheeriest mechanic ever Greg And Rob are in fine fettle again, Greg doesn’t even wobble all over the place at every bump anymore, I’m starting to feel like we might even have a chance of making it all the way to Hanoi. I can dare to dream.
From the dizzy heights of grand Angkor to the depths of despair of human making in the killing fields and the war remnants museum there’s been a heavy dose of high emotion lately, Asia just doesn’t do lethargic passé moments. We dip in the pool, have a beer earlier in the day than we should and chew the fat with a few other travellers in a picturesque coastal town in what would commonly be called the essential holiday experience. It’s a shift for us to see it that way. Riding high on a mixture of inspiration, outrage, romance, grandeur and sunburn Mui Ne delivers the slow down we didn’t even know we needed in a country that deals out a dream day when all it’s trying to do is slide you the joker in its pack.