Saturday, 8 September 2012

A holiday in Mui Ne!

Natalie Beach Resort, where I am staying
I woke up to a bright warm morning on the beach front. The air was heavy with a salty taste and the sea was grey-blue. I joined some others from our group for the hotel breakfast while my two room mates headed elsewhere to eat. On the beach front, under a thatched roof amongst a patch of palm trees I had a tasty, sweet breakfast of a Vietnamese pineapple pancake with iced coffee. Around the table the others discussed the plan for the day, and I soon discovered that yesterday's wish would be granted- I would get to ride a motorbike!

Four bikes were hired for a 18km journey to a more pleasant beach up the coast, as the one at our resort was strewn with litter and no good for swimming or sunbathing. My driver was John, a fellow Englishman from Morecambe, who had studied in Newcastle and has lived in Saigon for the past eight years, where he has made his living as a furniture designer. He will be running the full half marathon tomorrow. The ride was good fun and I felt more comfortable on the bike than I'd expected to. John drove carefully and not too fast so I felt relatively safe. The view along the journey was very nice and I was sorry I couldn't get any pictures of the peachy red sand dunes and pretty scenes of fishing boats that we passed. Our destination was Jibes, a beach shop and restaurant with a beautiful beach front bar, where we had lunch. The place was very chilled, with almost no other people around besides staff. Several in the group had work to do so we relaxed around the table engaged in our own activities, and I wrote in my notebook. After lunch I went for a swim in the sea, which was a little chilly but refreshing.

The beach at Jibes
The afternoon was spent relaxing and drinking coffee. I chatted with Greg, a New Yorker who has lived in HCMC for six months working as a personal trainer and sports massage therapist, and Shoko, originally from Japan, who has lived here for a similar amount of time and works for the electronics company Sharp. I'm not sure of the exact relationships between everyone on this trip, but most that I have talked to have only lived in Vietnam for a few years at most, and as far as I know there is only one Vietnamese person of a group of around twenty-five. Greg and Shoko advised me about places to go out in the city. As I had already thought to be true, Greg told me that there are very few nightclubs in Ho Chi Minh City. Most are restaurants and bars with a small dancefloor that will put DJs on at night. Greg thought this was because establishments with large dancefloors are not allowed by the government, something else I will have to look into. I learned from Greg and Shoko that Apocalypse Now is the name of a trashy nightclub occupied mostly by Westerners on the top floor and  freelance prostitutes on the bottom floor and plays bad dance music, a bit like Oceana back in the UK! Shoko suggested that this would be a good place to visit as an experience for my blog, but not as somewhere to enjoy. A more attractive suggestion was Lush, a Vietnamese nightclub with a ladies' night on Tuesdays. Shoko also recommended visiting Bui Vien, a street full of cheap bars where locals sit outside on low seats and drink draught beers at 6,000d a pop (one penny!). I'm sure I'll soon be frequenting such areas.

L-R: Me, Shoko, Greg, Vincent, John, Daniel

It was about this time that I noticed the sunburn coming through on my legs from the short motorbike journey at midday. Two blocks of red appeared on each thigh with a sharp cut-off line from the point covered by my shorts. A rookie mistake; I sunburn very easily but always forget this fact on the first day of a trip, every time without fail (breaking the seal, John suggested). In this case, I had forgotten to bring suncream in my hurry to pack yesterday. I managed to buy some this morning but didn't have a chance to apply it before getting on the bike. It didn't even cross my mind that it would be a problem- the deception here is that although it is very warm, it is so humid that you don't feel the intensity of the sun on your skin, only the hot air enveloping you, and forget that your skin is burning. In Saigon the streets are shaded by buildings, but out here I will have to be a little wiser!

We stayed at Jibes until the sun began to set, the clouds over the sea turning to deep shades of blue. On the dark ride home we followed the newly-built track that we will be running along tomorrow. It's a hilly route, and so open that there will be no shade from the heat, which will be significant even at 7am when the race starts. Although my 5km is meagre next to the 21km some are doing, I think it will be challenging for me in this climate. I have no interest in being competitive, I'll take it easy and complete the course in my own time to avoid dehydration or heat stroke. I have been pre-warned by Jessica not too rush it. Before she left, she told me "Don't try to be number one. If you come back and say, 'Jessica, Jessica, I was number one!', I will not be happy." And I won't argue with that.

After returning to the hotel it was a quick turn around, as we had to get to the Sea Links hotel before registration for tomorrow's race closed. I handed over a hefty 580,000 dong to register for the 5km, and then the group went out for a pre-race meal at an Italian restaurant to stock up on carbs and salt, as personal trainer Greg had advised. It has been a lovely day and I feel so lucky to have had the chance to come here. It certainly feels like more like a holiday than challenging journalistic work! But the real work will start tomorrow, 7am from the Sea Links hotel...

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