1. Meet your jeep driver at any of the one hundred tourist kiosks where you booked your trip. (I love how easy they make it! Walk two steps and you have another chance to purchase any permutation of tourist transport and packages!) In the case of Mui Ne, your driver will speak ABSOLUTELY no English, but will know exactly how to take you and for how long.
2. The Fairy Stream!
After a fifteen minute drive, follow your driver’s pointing finger to a tiny dusty path into the woods. Make a wrong turn and end up in a garbage and chicken-filled backyard where you are run out by a vicious barking dog.
Find the true path, and burst out upon a pretty brown stream. Get confused about where to go. The little Vietnamese boy crouching by the stream screams, “GUIDE! GUIDE! GUIDE!” “Oh, you want to be our guide?” you ask. “GUIDE! GUIDE!” he responds, as that’s the only English he knows. Though he is cute, decide that your dollar is more educationally spent elsewhere.
Suddenly realize that you’re supposed to get IN the stream and WALK UP IT to a destination unknown! Ooo, exciting. Slip those sandals off and start walking down the river against the current. It’s really shallow! Mostly. Encounter a pack of giggling Japanese tourists and say “HELLO!”
Then you arrive: blazing red cliffs against emerald green trees and a blue, blue sky. Nearly faint from beauty and sun exposure. Climb the cliff and take photos!
Your driver will pull to the side of the road on a mountain overlook atop a fishing town teeming with activity. Hundreds of colorful boats stretch into the distance along the sun-sparkled sea. Up and down the slope to the ocean, women carry baskets and enact their daily tasks. Little children weave gleefully around them. Vow to eat some good seafood tonight to honor the work of this town.
4. The White Sand Dunes!
The drive is long, but WOW. Creamy slopes of moon white undulate above a bright blue, lily-pad speckled lake. The joyful green trees wave from the sides of the dunes. And what’s this? Hoards of kids selling plastic sheets with rope handles… to sled down the dunes! One dollar seems worth it.
A spunky Vietnamese boy trots along by your side up and down the exhausting dunes until you reach the top of the highest, and then he shows you how to slide. Pile, pile, pile sand on top of the laid-flat plastic, sit cross-legged, hold the handle, lean back, and– PUSH! That little boy launches you DOOOOOWWWWNNN the soft powder mountain! Whheeeee!!!!!
For the last twenty feet, fall off the plastic sheet and slide down on your stomach, filling every crevasse of your clothing and body with sand.
Do it again! Acknowledge that the walk back up the dune is a better workout than six hours on an elliptical machine.
At some point, a really rude Irish tourist will take the little boy and throw him into the algae-choked lake. Comfort the crying boy and threaten to beat up the copper-haired brute.
5. The random red canyon.
The Jeep pulls up next to a pretty red canyon that stretches into the distance. Ask the driver, “What is this called?” He replies: “Yes.” Politely re-try the question: “No, what is the name?” He resolutely replies: “Yes,” and points down the canyon. Hike it, enjoy it, photograph it, and head back to the jeep.
6. The Red Sand Dunes for Sunset!
Exactly fifteen minutes before sunset (your driver is a pro!) arrive at the lovely red sand dunes, which you will scale scale scale until you nestle with tourist from China, Australia, and Japan atop the highest point, and watch as the giant golden sun makes its way downward… and… into the clouds.
“Nono,” you hear a Canadian voice arguing, “That sled ride does NOT cost more than 50,000 Dong ($3), which I already gave you! “NO!” shrieks the little boy, “200,000 Dong!! You gimmie now!” “No,” says the Canadian, plopping into the sand next to you resolutely.
“F*** YOU!!!” the boy screams, hurling a handful of sand. You and all the other tourists collectively gasp, “OOHHH!!!”
“Wow,” says the Canadian, “I’ve never been sworn at so much in so little time!”
“Ha,” you laugh, “Clearly you’ve never been a teacher.”
You are utterly exhausted, but feel thrilled to have seen what you saw and done what you did today. As you bump along, recall one more jewel that occurred this afternoon. In a stretch of highway high above an ocean vista, your Jeep abruptly stopped. Why? A herd of cows was sauntering down the road!!!
Conclude: Laziness does have its place, but so does: sand in your ears, sore gluteus maximus muscles, a deep dark tan, two hundred great new photos, and fantastic, hilarious memories.