People seem very trusting here, so it was that yesterday we paid 3 men $5 each and took liberty of their 110cc Honda Wave scooters for the day, on the promise "we see you here, 5pm." Having filled them with petrol from a man with a hand pump ($2 per tank) we had our first experience of 'Nam roads, a slightly nervous Rosie on the back of mine, and a Dave being brave and going it alone.
After a shaky first few minutes and some heavy bus traffic I got the hang of things, my gear changes (automatic clutch) became less jerky and the ride got really fun! We headed out of Mui Ne, our destination the white sand dunes, 33km away. We passed for a while through small villages interspersed with coast line, then eventually headed inland and up some wide steep roads, who's long straights and banked corners allowed me to see how much I could push the scooter. It maxed out around 80km/h, and could corner near to that although the front rattled menacingly. On open roads with no enforced limit I'd have loved to be on my SV650 but in a t-shirt, trousers, gloves and small hard hat I felt sufficiently endangered on the scooter.
After close to an hour on the road we pulled off onto a dirt/sand track, which provided a new experience. Shortly down the track we encountered a herd of buffalo, with the others pulling back I decided to ride close and let them pass around us; they rewarded us by mostly ignoring us, and two found our presence so boring they decided to try mating whilst on the move.
Some minor skids on deeper sand later we arrived at the dunes. After rehydrating we had our first sand dune experience, ostrich riding. The birds looked rather cheerful for all they had to have a human sit on them and be run around an enclosure. The ride was surprisingly smooth and they accelerate quickly, though I did think it could have been longer and worried that maybe the birds didn't get much free roam - such is unfortunately the way of things here.
The next activity on the itinery was sand boarding, and we paid a small fee to some kids for use of the large bendy sheets of plastic they carried (with handles on one end) and trekked into the dunes themselves. It was at this point that we felt transported from the slightly mroe familiar Vietnamese outback to the deserts of Egypt, or somewhere similarly far flung - look out into the dunes and you could be anywhere. Photos, the obligatory "these aren't the Droids you're looking for" and an entertaining scene as Dave chased a wind-caught 20,000vnd note ($1) quickly ensued. Sadly the sand boarding was a bit of a let down; whilst it was hot it was also humid, and beneath the top inch or less of powder sand the stuff was thicker and damp, still wet from the torrential rains of two days previous (which should in fact be daily at this time of the year). Having trekked to some steeper dunes and still been unsuccesful we returned, though took a brief detour round the lake for some photos before getting back on the bikes.
The ride back was more fun than the ride there; no worry of missing our way, and I decided to push the scooter to its limit, leaving a good 5 minute gap before the others caught us up after a downhill twisty section - once again I longed for my Suzuki! After returning later and hungrier than planned we visited a small sea front cafe, proudly displaying today's catch in little pools outside, fresh as you can get. We decided to go for more traditional Vietnamese villager food though, ordering noodles with strips of fried beef and soy sauce; I tried iced white coffee, Vietnamese style, which has since been a daily drink with breakfast, and may well return to England with me.
Whilst the others returned to the hotel I took advantage of the 30 minutes left on the scooter hire and rode out of Mui Ne to the south, visiting the more ordered beach front and taking some photos of the coast as sunset began. In the evening we visited a local restaurant where, in a twist of irony, I ordered BBQ ostrich kebabs; following this we visited a beach club with its own swimming pool, wonderfully lit with changing colours, then an Australian expat's bar where I managed to sample an Ozzie stout, and play a quick game of fusball (2-3).
I write this as we're preparing to take our 5 hour coach up to the larger beach town of Nha Trang, via what appears to be a rather weird sort of sleeper bus; see you 150 miles further north! (updated 9/08/12)