Monday, July 29, 2013


So, we've been away from Vietnam for a couple of months now, but there's a lot we never wrote about.  Here is one such amazing tidbit...

Today I will write of a legendary discovery.  The founding of a location that will forever be remembered with reverence in the annuls of history for the Da Nang Super Friends Group.  The place I speak of is known as "The Secret Beach".  In the whispered tall-tales shared in Da Nang taverns, you might hear of it. An idyllic paradise populated by merfolk and wish-granting porpoises.  The tales you hear are... a bit exaggerated, but the place is epic nonetheless.  Here's how we found it.

On one of our standard Sunday motorbike rides to Son Tra Mountain, Risa and I caught a glimpse of what looked to be a beautiful, unspoiled beach lying in a small cove on the eastern slope of the mountain.  The road was separated by the beach by several hundred meters of densely forested mountain slope and there seemed to be no way to get to it.  It soon left our minds as we continued our drive... but not completely.  The next time we went to Son Tra, I (Mike) was determined to explore some of the untried roads on the mountain to see if we could come closer to the elusive beach.  We tried many roads - all of which either went the wrong way, or came to dead-ends.  We began to drive home, discouraged.  That is, until we ran into an American guy who was exploring the mountain himself and had also pondered the problem of reaching that very same beach!  We decided to look together. 

I suggested that we try one particular road that appeared to have ended in a dead end, but that I thought we hadn't given a fair try.  So, we proceeded to said road.  At the end, we did indeed find a dead end, however, it was a dead end with a fair number of motorbikes parked at it.  This piqued our interest, and we climbed off our bikes to investigate.  There was a small house with some Vietnamese dudes (and a good number of dogs - all well-behaved, thank goodness) at the end of the road where the bikes were parked.  With a short game of communication-charades and some poorly pronounced Vietnamese basics, we were able to determine that we could walk down a small path in the forest nearby to "go swimming".  We were pumped, and we went to check it out. 

The path was narrow and steep but not unmanageable, and at the end... the treasured beach opened before us in all its glory!  Rocky outcroppings on either side, creating a crescent cove with a small section of sandy beach in the middle, and plenty of shaded areas under the nearby jungle.  It was better than I had imagined... and worse at the same time. 

On one hand, it was absolutely gorgeous.  A paradise not unlike what you might see in a pirate movie.  Plentiful sealife - including sea-urchins, sea-slugs, fish, hermit crabs, and starfish.  Rocks jutting out of the water to climb on and even jump off of.  Interesting shells and bits of coral everywhere to occupy hours of scavenging.

On the other hand... it wasn't as "secret" as its name suggests.  The place was obviously frequented often by the Vietnamese - a fact which was painfully obvious by the fact that some of the more prime shaded areas were spotted with garbage and the remains of picnics.  Nothing hurt my soul more than seeing all the trash that the Vietnamese had left behind on this paradise, but... I realize that the culture doesn't have the same values as ours (for the most part).  Outdoor recreation, as well as environmentalism, are very new to their culture.

Soon enough we brought our friends there and it became a favorite place for all. We also started a tradition of gathering up as much trash as we could each time we visited, and carting it to the top where the Vietnamese guys who watched the bikes would take it off our hands.

Pardon me if I wax philosophical for a moment, but I really must express how I feel about this place.  In the end, I can't really express why it became so important to me. We swam, we gathered shells, we played with hermit crabs... but it was more than that.  The place took on special significance because we FOUND it.  We hunted it out and found our own little secret paradise - and a paradise it was.  We did our best to improve it and protect it, and I think we were all benefitted thereby.  Even now, I wear a bracelet that bears one of the pieces of coral found on the beach.  Risa made it - it's wonderful.  Every time I look at it, I long for the sun - the sound of waves - the sand under my toes - and the discovery of secret beauty. 

Sadly - I don't think it will be there when we eventually visit Da Nang again.  The last time we visited the secret beach, we met a Vietnamese man who said he owned the place and was planning to turn it into a private camping getaway.  It would be the perfect place for that.  Anyway - I'm just glad we got to enjoy a piece of it while it was still available!  I get the feeling that places like that in the world are in short supply, and we were lucky to find one. 

Random Awesome Things

This blog post is a collection of a few random, amazing things we've encountered in Vietnam that we (for the most part) have no photographic evidence of.  For this reason, they must be recorded in order that we don't forget them.

1.  BUGS!!!  -  We have found some amazing bugs here.

For one, a GIANT Rhinoceros Beetle.  It was when me (Mike) and our friends out here went river rafting in the mountains.  Don't worry - I'll get to that later in this post. Anyway - the beetle was huge, and you could pick it up by the horn and it would go all frozen... it was amazing.  I had pics, but my phone got stolen.  So did the pics.

Another - when we went to Ba Na Hills, we found a giant pill-bug the size of my thumb.  It was awesome!  Though, when we first approached it, it curled up into a tight, cherry-sized ball, and didn't really come out again.  The camera was out of batteries. :(

Another - when we went to Sapa, I attracted SEVERAL beetles.  One, I named "The Millionaire" - it was bright, shiny gold and blue.  And I mean GOLD. It was awesome.  Another, I named "The Regular" - he clung to my pants while walking the trails.  Every time I picked him up and let him go - he flew a circle around me and landed on my pants again.  He probably thought I was a flower, on account of my excessive beauty and sweet aroma. Ha ha.  We also found a big black beetle near the lake that we named "The Tank".  Big, solid, constantly crawling over everything.  He was awesome.  I do have a picture of him below.

2.  GOATS!!! - yes, you heard right.  Goats.

I didn't think Vietnam had "mountain goats" per se, but whether they were some guy's herd, or naturally occurring, it doesn't really matter.  When me and Xavier were Kayaking from Cat Ba Island during our Ha Long Bay tour, we saw a herd of goats literally climbing a cliff.  I would not have believed it if I didn't see it.  In Xavier's words:  "God, I'd like to report a bug..." Ha ha ha.  It defied gravity - an experienced rock-climber would have had a tough time with it.  They literally scaled a rock wall with little or no hand-holds.  I was amazed.


A bunch of expats around Da Nang decided to go on a river-rafting trip in the mountains near Ba Na Hills.  There's a company up there that runs a section of river. I was expecting it to be tame - more like a mild "float" down the river... I was quite wrong.  Basically, like most "rivers" in the mountains of Vietnam, it was more of a narrow bob-sled track peppered with boulders all around.  It was nuts.  We had no paddles, they just set us loose and we bounced, rocked, and careened our way down the narrow deluge. Maxi was my partner, and I think we were too heavy for their 2-man rafts.  At one point in the river, there was a nasty drop-off and we totally flipped over.  I rammed my shin against a rock and it bled like a... well, let's not go there. :)  Anyway - it's finally healing, but it was nasty.  It shook me up too because, unlike rafting in the US, there were no professionals present.  If someone had broken a leg or something (which was entirely possible) they would have been SCREWED.  The "guides" didn't know anything about first aid, and they were too scrawny to carry a fat westerner down to the lodge.  After hurting my leg, I was very hesitant to get back in the raft, but - there was really no other good way down. Luckily there were no more drop-offs.

When all is said and done, it was a really fun trip and I'm glad I did it.  Plus, chicks dig scars and I'll have a good one from it... problem is, the only chick I care to impress now is Risa, and she thinks I'm an idiot for going. Ha ha ha.

4. Swimming at Bac Ma National Park.  So - there is a national park near Lang Co (which is near Da Nang of course), and one day (while Miranda was here), we drove several hours by motorbike to go to a "waterfall" that we heard about to go swimming.  It was a long, hot, death-defying trip - passing trucks nearly clipped my bike / knees SEVERAL times - but when we first got there... well, it wasn't really a waterfall. :)

In standard Vietnam style, what they called a "waterfall" was actually a semi-dammed-up area of river that people go swimming in.  That said - it was freakin' awesome!  A super beautiful stretch of river coming out of a canyon covered in mist... with deep amazing pools of crystal clear water.  Woo!  And friends of course. :)  Observe the pictures.

I should also mention that Miranda wasn't confident on a motorbike (and we weren't very confident of her either... ha ha ha) - so she rode on the back of my bike.  I felt SUPER bad about it - the ride was really long, and her tailbone barely survived. If it DID survive. It was worth it in the end though and everyone had a good time.

5.  ... I can't remember anything else that would fit nicely in this post.  Maybe I'll update it later if I remember more.  Until then - peace out!