Refreshed from a day off we eagerly got back onto the saddle and continued our ride along the coast to Phan Thiet.
The road was gently undulating with wonderful views down to the ocean and along the pristine coastal environment. There were rolling dunes and forests and thickets of spiny bushes. However every 5 or 10 kilometres the beautiful views were interrupted by resorts jutting out of the landscape like advertising hoardings on a desert highway . Most of them being were as attractive as an advertising hoarding too. 8 to 10 stories with about as much architectural finesse as a 1960s modernist tower block in Glasgow.
The coastal environment is very fragile with a thin layer of vegetation covering an even thinner layer of soil. Even minor disturbances such as footprints can have a big impact upon it. Destroying the vegetation and exposing the soil to the elements. The wind then does the rest. Quickly stripping off the soil and much of the sand below. So you can imagine what damage a large scale construction project does. And that’s the least of the environmental impacts. The manicured lawns require huge amounts of water which as this is the driest region of vietnam is problematic. There is also a proliferation of golf courses springing up to service the wealthy patrons of the resorts. These too are an environmental disaster not only due to their water use but also large amounts of pesticides and fertilizers which are applied . When the natural vegetation is adapted to a nutrient depleted environment this allows other non-native species to florish
Some of the resorts even have the audacity to call themselves eco resorts when apart from the sign in the bathroom requesting you to reuse dead towels the only thing eco about them is that they occupy a site which was once a pristine ecological environment. There is no element of environmental design to minimise the water and energy used and waste created. Nor is there any attempt to blend in to the natural environment. Eco has now become a meaningless word which businesses throw up next to their name because it sounds good. In fact their customers have virtually no interaction with the natural environment having arrived in they air-conditioned cars they probably never set foot outside the resort during the whole time they are there perhaps not even stepping onto the beach preferring the cloistered confines of the resort pool . They may as well not bother traveling so far they could just as well stay in a 5 star hotel where they live which projects pictures of nature onto the window.
Of course you could argue that such resorts provide a valuable source of jobs. But most of the jobs are not far local people as they prefer skilled candidates who speak foreign languages and have the requisite training. The profits are also exported owned as they are by foreign businesses or at best those from Saigon or Hanoi. They further effect the local community as beaches which they have used for centuries are now closed. Available only for the select paying few.
But that grumble aside the road was on the whole beautiful with very little traffic and lots to see on either side. Towards the end of the afternoon we met the second bicycle tourer of the trip. Oihan is from Spain and his journey certainly puts our efforts to shame. He has been travelling for a year and a half and has covered around 39,000 km through North and South America and East Asia. He said he was now on his “way home” but that leg of his trip pretty much replicates the entirety of our trip!!! We shared some tales of the road and he kindly gave us some maps of China. It was getting dark so reluctantly we had to part as he had to find a spot for his tent and we needed to reach a guest house.
We found a wonderful place to stay in a small fishing village with some brand new bungalows on the beach with excellent facilities at the bargain price of 10 dollars. After quickly checking in we made our way to the beach for a refreshing dip in the ocean to wash off the dust from the road and revive our aching limbs. There is nothing much beach an ocean swim after a hard day cycling.
After our dip we went to explore beach. Our accommodation definitely was the pick of the bunch. Behind the little fishing boats pulled up on the shore was a strip of tatty guest houses add a few shops, further along the beachfront were shelters where locals come to drink and eat seafood. Once more we could see the impact climate change first hand. Many of the structures had sandbags piled up around them to protect them from the rising tide and erosion was a washing trees into the ocean. Rows of wooden stakes had been arranged across the seafront stopping the sand following them. Food options were rather limited to. Restricted only to a couple of wooden shacks along the main road we went to the more substantial one of the three and were surprised by quite how delicious simple fair was.
Next day was a continuation of the same but mid morning we encountered our first set of signs in Russian indicating we were nearing the tourist haven of Phan Thiết . As the morning progressed the resorts grew closer together. We also encountered a number of partially constructed and then abandoned places probably victims of the real estate and economic downturn of the past few years which has seen a good few fortunes lost.
Then after a spot of lunch in the city delicious bowl of fish cake soup we reached our destination for the day. The weekend destination of choice for western migrant workers living in Saigon (here is an interesting article about why we shouldn’t refer to ourselves as expats http://www.siliconafrica.com/dont-call-them-expats-they-are-immigrants-like-everyone-else/) who refer to it as Mui Ne whilst Vietnamese people call it Phan Thiet although strictly speaking it is between the two places. Personally I think it’s rather overrated. A 16km long strip of resorts running on the beach side of the single road with a line of nondescript restaurants, guest houses, shops and massage parlours along the other. There is no centre or heart and its largely filled with foreign tourists of various kinds. Lots of European package tourists, backpackers and flashpackers. The only Vietnamese faces you are likely to see are those serving you your drinks and food or selling you fruit on the streets or cosseted behind the tinted glass of the black SUVs and saloon cars that swish into the 5 star resorts. Although perhaps my opinion is coloured by my knowledge of climate change. If we are to have any chance of preserving a climate that is suitable for the continuation of human civilisation then this kind of tourism will have to stop and quickly. Flying 10,000km for a week or 10 days in the sun is simply not sustainable. Heck with a target of achieving zero emissions as soon as possible flying anywhere for a holiday is probably out of the question. And with emissions free flying not even a remote possibility in the foreseeable future all flying will have to end. Of course that doesn’t mean that all tourism will have to end. With railway networks spreading across the world and wind powered ships already designed if not in operation people will still be able to explore the world. They will just have to take slightly more time over it. And of course the bicycle is the ultimate nearly zero emission mode of transport!!!!
Although I have to say such thoughts were far from my mind as we found a room, and then spent half an hour trying to find the single public access road to the beach before flinging our tired bodies into the refreshing ocean.