The train was a full hour late finally depositing us at the Thap Chan station in Phan Rang at 1:30 in the morning. Luckily Vietnam Surf Camping has a taxi waiting for us. It’s always a little discombobulating to arrive at night. We emerged from the taxi into the humid night air to be greeted by Juli and her partner Tony. They welcomed us into an open air concrete bunker lit by the glow from a glass doored refrigerator. Then led us across the sand to our giant tent. The canvas tent is set up on pallets, there is a foot bath with petals floating in the water at the door and a large vase with flowers set up inside. It was spotless and oven hot. Like being inside an actual oven. Immediately the kids were moaning and lolling about on the therma rests on the floor. I had a paper fan so I just fanned away until they fell asleep. We woke up with the heat and glare of the sun stifling the air from around us. It was beautiful emerging onto the grass, dodging a few lizards and wandering over to the concrete room. In the light of day it was much nicer – soaring roof, white walls and bleached wood picnic tables adorned with small planters of succulents. The walls were cut out leaving views of the water and the beach along with the covered outdoor patio – just a corrugated roof with hammocks hanging between the poles, a couple more picnic tables and silk lanterns waving. It was sweet and rustic and perfect. Except for the heat. Our first day was fun – Anderson kitesurfed and skim boarded – I painted and Sabine played with Vietnam Surf Camping owner, Juli. Juli is of indeterminate age – heavily tattooed and very very skinny with long hair and long bubblegum pink nails. She loved Sabine and played with her for hours. She confessed to me that she had a 12 year old son who lived in France. He chose to go there when he was five and would return in the summers. Her eyes filled with tears as she recounted how hard it is to be so far away from him but that she had to let him live his dream. There wasn’t enough wind for Chris to kite so he skim-boarded with Anderson. It was kind of a perfect day. No screaming for screens, no fighting just relaxed and fun. Enjoying each other’s company. In fact the train ride had been the same. I quietly congratulated us – we are finally hitting our stride – it was exactly how I dreamed the trip would be. The heat was crazy – literally everyone else at the “resort/campground” was passed out in hammocks and or whatever sliver of shade they could find.
As one tends to do with camping we went to bed early and rose with the sun. Chris woke up sick. Fever and blinding headache. Now the heat was really debilitating and halfway through the day I decided to move us to a hotel down the road with air conditioning. There we found ourselves in a dessert oasis. The landscape in this part of Vietnam reminds me of Palm Springs and the Coachella valley. Dessert, rocky, cactus and hot. Sorrento Beach Resort was well watered with a huge lawn to lay kites out on. There were flowering cacti, trailing bougainvillea and more giant beetles and geckos than ever before. At night the sky swooped with huge bats. The couple who own and run it are Australian expats – kitesurf instructors and all around lovely people. We seemed to be almost the only guests. With a smattering of folks popping in for drinks and dinner. Chris was done completely out for three days. The wind died and with Sabine’s foot unable to get wet or sandy it was a pretty lonely few days. Once again plunged into Anderson’s boredom and loneliness. Safe to say I felt pretty silly for allowing myself to be so smug only a few days before.
Chris is finally healthy or at least able to get up and walk around and with our Vietnam Visa expiring on April 28 we are back on the train – heading to Saigon/Ho Chi Min city. We will be staying with an old friend of Chris’s and his wife and baby. So far the train ride along the coast has been beautiful. The water brilliant blue and sparkling dotted with traditional blue and red fishing boats and big shipping vessels. Out the other side of the train window are huge sandy coloured boulders like in Joshua Tree National Park. Then fields of medusa topped dragon fruit trees, salt flats, rice paddies and solar farms. There is also fields of garbage – for a country consumed with their ancestors there seems to be little foresight or wondering how the piles of garbage will impact future generations. The sky is crystal and smog free and the light is intense. We have turned a little north and inland whipping through villages and towns peeking into peoples homes – darkened but open to the air and any little breeze generated by the train. The light shifts to warm peach and the fields spark with bright fires and black smoke. There are more motorcycles on the roads – people emerging from the shelter taken during the hottest part of the day.
I’m feeling a little nervous about staying with people – it has been so long that I feel like a hermit. How will I talk to anyone? I’m like a cave person. The last few days have been isolating to say the least. But I am excited to eat some real. Vietnamese food again – the Aussie resort was big on meat pies and soy sauce dowsed stirfries.
As we get closer to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh we mobilize the kids prepping them on big train stations and being aware and staying close to us. Both of our cell phone SIM cards have run out of coverage so if we get separated it won’t be a simple fix. We go over the plan. Then we gather everything and wait at the door of the train. Trains move quickly and if you miss your chance getting off you could get stuck on it. The train stops and we pile out. In our little formation we march forward and around the train yard, across the tracks through a wall of eight glass doors and security booths into …….. a small room lined with convenience shops, about 20 rows of stainless seating and that’s it. It’s not Grand Central or Union Station – it’s not even Spadina. Anderson is looking around for any action and eying us with a “is that all there is” look on his face and wondering why he ever listens to us. We get our phones figured out and grab a car to Steve’s. Blasting through the city, the streets chokes with scooters and people, karaoke bars, sidewalk restaurants and giant glittering malls. So many malls. We arrive at Steve’s – five high rise apartments with full retail on the main floors connected with walkways and underground tunnels. Once inside you don’t ever need to leave.