Day 3. There was so much left to do! But it was already time to drive home.
Today we were going to travel right. No bullshit. No waking up past noon and getting back to the city late. Your ass can only take so much sitting down on bumpy gravel roads.
Naturally we checked out of our hotel promptly at noon…then mixed up important directions like “north” and “south,” which set us on a course for Hanoi. After choking on smog and waterboarding ourselves in sweat-soaked cloth masks for an hour, Jade and I made it to Phan Thiet.
You’ll notice this is the city we were trying to leave.
Tough shit. The only way you leave Phan Thiet is in a box. That’s the slogan on their water tower, anyway.
At least it was time for lunch.
Now well and truly on the wrong side of noon, we did manage to get back on the right track.
Screw it—at this point we gave up on making it home in time for dinner. Coastal road it was.
We drove this road before when it was shrouded in darkness. Now we could see the fields and fields of dragon fruit, far as the eye could see.
Roadside carts with stacks on stacks of the oddly shaped miracle fruit were propped up like water stations in a marathon.
The other sight that left an impression on me was “holy shit, where were all of these nice beaches yesterday?”
The road from Phan Thiet to La Gi and beyond is barren compared to the hot mess in Mui Ne, but that just means the beaches are (relatively) cleaner and less crowded.
Vietnam’s boom and bust tourism industry was fully on display too. Sprawling, immaculate resorts line the ocean road. So too do the carcasses of failed ventures and the skeletons of unfinished hotels—out of money, their frames left standing in dusty, overgrown lots on wasted beachfront.
This road would be downright desolate in the low season. I imagine it as a tropical version of The Shining, with a sole family slowly going insane in an abandoned cabana.
Except at the end Jack Nicholson gets really bad sunburn instead of freezing to death.
The pothole-riddled roads took a toll on Jade’s bike, and we wound up coasting into some dusty shanty of a village—flanked on both sides by salt evaporation ponds—with the exhaust threatening to break free at any moment.
You know what that means.
I’ll have to break down the logic behind wearing winter clothes when the weather borders on lethally hot. For now suffice it to say when I removed my helmet, sweat dripped onto the ground. Surprisingly, it didn’t sizzle.
All the coffee I guzzled on this trip was fantastic. They weren’t using any cheap, burnt shit like some of the dives in the city.
The TV was on. I pretended to follow along with a Chinese movie dubbed into Vietnamese. It was either about Confucius and his followers or a kooky bachelor juggling three women set in Papa Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Hard to tell.
Hours later we were driving back through Ba Ria. The exhaust was jury-rigged with some metal twist ties and elbow grease but still holding up. We were blessed to hit both the traffic heading INTO Vung Tau two days ago and the traffic LEAVING the beach today.
Besides entering a sort of heat- and noise-induced stupor for most of the ride—and stopping once again for food and coffee in the least-relaxing hammocks in the world—only one interesting thing happened on Hell Highway Jr.
A fire sale on mangoes.
Mangoes are tricky. Vietnamese people eat the local variety two ways—unripe, green and sour, or yellow and sweet. You see both in the city, but there’s one problem.
Yellow mangoes are expensive to keep sitting around on the tree. Most of the yellows for sale in Saigon were picked and shipped green and allowed to ripen in the back of a truck. Nothing wrong with that per se, but they just don’t taste as good as the fruit picked right off the tree.
That’s what we had on our hands. The delivery truck we drifted up to might as well have been handing out free laptops. That’s how many people were gathered around. It was parked off the side of the road; the family came from the province, and they were savvy enough to know there was a bigger profit to be made here than on the congested slog into Saigon.
Well, that’s what happens when you sell delicious, fresh mangoes for less than 50 cents a pound—less than a half to a third of the cost in Saigon.
I think we bought four pounds. Only four. It was a dizzying whirlwind of activity—the scene in every movie about finance showing the madness of Wall Street, except we were selling and BUY BUY BUY-ing fruit. I didn’t think we could finish 4 pounds of mangoes before they went south. I also turned down cheap durian (DURIAN!) because we were overloaded already.
Of course the fruit was gone within 12 hours. I was filled with deep regret. Should have bought more stock.
Is it sad that buying mangoes was the highlight of my trip to Mui Ne?
I don’t think so. Mangoes are delicious.
Have you ever gone on a trip that was memorable for something you totally didn’t expect? Let me know!