[Wanderlust Tips November 2019] One afternoon on our journey, we passed through an unexpected thunderstorm which hit the coastal area of Tuy Hoa City. The highway snaked through a small fishing village with colourful roofs and boats scattered across the beach. The speedometer ticked down gradually as I slowed down to admire the town and the sky after the rain. One side was crystal-clear blue sky, but the other was adorned with a myriad of colours as the sunset stretched across the horizon filtering through the windows of my car.
During our two-week adventure, we travelled almost 1500 kilometres. We realised that the most magnificent memories were, in fact, the most fleeting moments of the trip. For instance, capturing a stunning photo whilst driving through an unknown village at sunset.
A BRILLIANT BLEND OF BLUES
When I speak of the journey across Vietnam, people think of my trip as a once-in-a-lifetime experience to discover many special landmarks. However, our journey was not arduous or anything out of the ordinary. We simply enjoyed sitting in our familiar little car every day, listening to our favourite songs on the radio whilst soaking up the serene atmosphere and marvelling at the lush green scenery.
Following Highway 1A, we travelled along the central coast with many roads swooping down towards the sea. On the other side of the slope, we passed many well-known beaches on the tourist trail, for instance, Nhat Le, Lang Co, Non Nuoc, Vinh Hy, Bai Rang and Cam Ranh. Before departing, we were worried that we might get bored of long days just watching the sea as we travelled through popular destinations. However, I soon realised that I had been worrying unnecessarily because each destination has a unique beauty. The sea beheld an astonishing array of blues before the horizon.
The Da Nang Sea glistened under the iridescent sunlight. In the morning, a number of rays of dazzling sunshine danced gracefully on the water. The azure shade of blue rippled through the waves and broke against the shore of the Da Dia Rapids in Phu Yen a little like the shade of blue that children would use to paint the sky in their art classes. In Nha Trang, the sea appeared turquoise. My friend suggested that the magnificent colour was thanks to a unique layer of black sand reflecting the gentle sunlight on the Southern Central Coast. When leaving from a destination on our coastal journey, the thing that I was most excited about was not the delicious food or the next famous tourist destination but which shade of blue was hiding in the depths of the sea.
I once read a novel about a painter obsessed with barley fields in his hometown. Thus, all the paintings in his gallery focused on the fields adorned with barley in various environments. For instance, under the moon or the sun, in the heavy rain, during the harvest, when the rice begins flowering and the fields after the harvest. The splendid paintings placed next to each other created a seamless panoramic view of the field during the four seasons. Every stage of the day was reflected in his art. I felt nostalgia for the gallery when I compared the vision of the barley to my vision of the sea and its many shades of blue. My car would stand out against the different layers of blue in the picture. I had to admit that the azure of the ocean is the most beautiful colour that an artist can mix.
LESSER-KNOWN DESTINATIONS ON THE MAP
Not every famous destination offers an experience worthy of its fame. Contrastingly, there lies undiscovered beauty in lesser-known places and it amazes me that no one has yet discovered it. With the maps on our phones and satellite navigation in the car, our self-drive adventure took us through destinations that are hard to find on the pages of travel reviews. Self-drive adventures open up a world of opportunities that plane or train journeys cannot.
A few people have told me that the shortcut from Tuy Hoa City to Mang Lang Church takes the form of a beautiful road running through the vast casuarina forests. Just a few steps from the road, you could end up lost in surroundings that resemble Alice’s enchanting wonderland. Layer upon layer of dusty white sand and row upon row of casuarina trees towered into the sky. During the changing of the seasons, the trees are bare, creating a rather unique scene. We spent more time here than on the famous Da Dia Rapids and then traversed through the ancient trees, inhaled the pleasant smell of dry leaves and let the fine sand nestle between our toes.
On this pretty epic road, I experienced a big problem when my car hit a pothole and two tyres burst. It took three hours and a fair bit of courage to find a way to change the tyres in the middle of the road in the pitch black. We cracked jokes and told funny stories in an attempt to overcome our fears and pass the time. At least we could change the tyres whilst admiring the beautiful starry sky.
The casuarina forest in Phu Yen is truly beautiful, but the most alluring scenery throughout the journey is along the Dran Pass running from Dalat Plateau to Phan Thiet. If people think that it is difficult to seek out beautiful scenes like the European countryside in Vietnam, they have not driven through the Dran Pass during ripe persimmon harvest. In early October, Dalat is home to many ripe persimmons, so you can find an array of red persimmons everywhere. The garden persimmons are large and colourful standing out against the dark green foliage. The bunches of yellow-orange persimmons were dangling on top of mountainous slopes.
Driving through the bends on the Dran Pass, I saw a small colourful house enclosed with white wooden fences. In the garden, there was an old persimmon tree laden with ripe fruits. Under the golden sunshine of the highlands, I could almost taste the sweetness of the fruits in the persimmon garden. There is a roadside station in the middle of the Dran Pass offering picture-perfect views overlooking the charming valley. From here, you can indulge in the fresh Dalat air and be invited by the host to eat ripe and fragrant persimmons before travelling to Phan Rang – the land of sunshine and winds. I said to my friends that driving through this pass was dangerous and we could easily be distracted not only because of the hair-raising bends but also because of the charming mountainous scenery.
The Dran Pass follows the Ngoan Muc Pass – its name bears a close resemblance to its shape. The pass is truly a great challenge for drivers because it is home to countless terrifying bends. The lush green pine forests also lay at both sides of the mountain. If you have an excellent observation ability, you could explore the endlessly magnificent beauty of the Dran and Ngoan Muc Passes when travelling to Dalat by bus. However, these “hidden gems” are not always easy to find. We were fortunate to find another exhilarating destination, which is not well known on the tourist trail while wandering around the Western rivers.
Hong Ngu Town is located a stone’s throw from Chau Doc City which is famous for Ba Chua Xu Temple and the unique fermented fish stalls. Passing the So Thuong River, we saw the beautiful town of Hong Ngu before our eyes and then immersed ourselves in the buzzing atmosphere. Located close to Hong Ngu market, there is a crowded neighbourhood. At the end of the afternoon, the market is bustling with long lines of street vendors selling fragrant food. A wide array of street food was on offer, spread out on the street stalls, for instance, salted chilli bread, grilled rice paper, skewered chicken wings and legs, roasted duck, roasted pork, rice vermicelli served with fermented fish, Pha Lau and grilled fish.
There was a joyful atmosphere with laughter buzzing from every corner as traders and shoppers went about their business. The gentle smiles of Western women and the pungent smell of delicious local delicacies are just two reasons why I adored this land. Wandering along the vibrant streets, savouring street food and watching the hectic surrounding environment made me realise the exquisite beauty of Hong Ngu. Sometimes you can find joy in the simplest of things and the most ordinary goings-on can easily captivate you.
FOND MEMORIES OF OUR TRIP
At a coffee shop in District 1, Saigon, we enjoyed a relaxing moment together whilst reminiscing about our journey. My friend said we should camp by the sea one night, take a photo of the beautiful milky way, spend two days trekking, take a boat to the island, drive at night and continue to have many more amazing adventures.
Everything we mentioned is worth trying, but no one can tell you which moment is the most valuable. Every road passing by the window of the car is unique. Each natural masterpiece we catch a glimpse of is beautiful in its own right. For instance, the shimmering silver sea stretching to the horizon, the long rows of towering trees forming a dark-green dome, the ancient tower silhouetted by a spectacular sunset, the houses with sloping roofs and climbing roses nestled amidst the pine hill, an impromptu thunderstorm or the deserted fields at night. Who dares to say that each of these things is not miraculous wonders.
PRIOR TO DEPARTURE
>> Check your car thoroughly, change the oil, adjust the tyre pressure, update the map system, check the lights and petrol gauge, install the Black Box and sensors and check the spare tyres.
>> Plan your itinerary thoroughly, be aware of the distance between locations to arrange travel and rest times appropriately.
>> Divide the driving shifts fairly.
>> Prepare some snacks and coffee to have in the car.
>> Be sure to take medication if you suffer from motion sickness.
>> Pack cold food and instant noodles in case the local cuisine does not match your taste.
>> Search in advance and save phone numbers of rescue teams and repair-shops on long routes far away from residential areas.
DURING THE JOURNEY
>> Only drive a maximum of 400km/day to have time to visit, rest and recover.
>> Limit driving in the evening because there are many potholes which are very hard to see and can cause tyres to pop.
>> The navigation map always shows the shortest and fastest route. However, some detours are close to the coast with beautiful panoramic views. You should check every route in advance for the best option.
>> The warning signs of the speed-limited routes set on the car are not 100% accurate. Pay close attention and follow the signs on the roads.
>> Combine discovery and relaxation to ensure that you are healthy for the duration of the trip.
>> Look up the road penalties nationwide at website vr.org.vn by vehicle registration number.
>> For the return journey, you can send your cars via railways or container trucks. In spite of the high cost, this means of transportation saves a lot of time after a long trip.
Khiet | Wanderlust Tips