Get your visa and go… to Ninh Thuan, Vietnam

Part 8: Nam Cuong

Located 44 km South of Vinh Hy bay, and approximate 8 km Southeast of Phan Rang city, deep in the towns of Cham people, Nam Cuong sand hill is a less known tourist attraction. To get to Nam Cuong, we had to go through kilometers of unpaved, holed roads in the Cham town, the area featured by tiny houses and asparagus gardens. That was the first time I saw the asparagus plants, and I immediately understood why in Vietnamese it was called “western bamboo”. Those fragile plants resembled the bamboo tree, and the asparagus sprung up from the ground looked just like bamboo shoots.

When we arrived around 4 pm, the best time to visit, only three of us were there. The large sand hill, slightly damp after the rain at noon, was unspoiled by any footprints, just waves of honey sand going on till the eyes could see.

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Huy prepared for each of us a piece of plastic board to slide down the hill. Funny how we seemed to all revert back to a time in the past, when modern theme parks were only a dream and kids had to make the best of out their everyday item – a grapefruit could be the most expensive football (rest-of-the-world football), or rolling down this natural, free sand hill could be the most fun activity in the afternoon after study. Years later, after we tried our best to provide our kids with better toys and entertainment facilities, we turned back to the old but gold fun, kids and adults alike. Maybe its simplicity appeals to us of all ages.

Just like how my mom and my aunt, around 60, laughed so care-freely when they slid down the slope of the sand hill, even fell out of the board head-down when they reached the bottom. Their clothes stained of damp sand that wouldn’t come out, but they didn’t care.

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“This is so much fun.” – My aunt shouted with a broad smile. – “I had been to sand hills twice before, both times in Binh Thuan, but I never tried any activities there.”

And my aunt was 63.

“This is actually a more suitable weather to enjoy the sand hill.” – Huy told us as he held my mom’s hand and dragged her up the hill again. – “If the sand was dry, walking on it would be much more tiring since your feet would sink down more. And the wind would blow the sand into your eyes and mouth. Only good thing about dry sand is it would not stick to your clothes.”

After three rounds of sliding down and walking up, I couldn’t catch my breath. 5 years of sitting in an office without regular exercises had reduced my physical ability from I-could-run-for-30-minutes-on-the-treadmill to 500-meter-run-would-be-too-much.

“Let’s just take pictures now.” – I panted.

Huy was an awesome photographer, and like all other professional ones, he didn’t ask us to pose for his shots. He bent down, lay down on the sand, ran ahead of us, circled the hill to capture smooth surface of sand and us at the same time. He did everything to capture the best scenes “for his documentation”.

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“Many photographers of Ninh Thuan won national prizes thanks to this sand hill.” – Huy said, his eyes looking all over the vast area and the cloudy sky.

“Sometimes I saw photos of Khmer women with a vase on their head walking in the sand…” – I asked.

“Those are staged.” – Huy immediately understood what I wanted to ask. – “Who would dress like that wandering in this sand hill? Even those lambs walking the sand hill are also staged.”

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A problem occurred when we got back to the car and tried to leave – it was stuck in the sand. The car revved a few times, but couldn’t escape the hole made from its own weight.

Just a few minutes later, three men, skinny and tanned as usual, came with wooden boards and shovels. They leveled the sand and placed the board to create a firm surface for the car to roll ahead. After a few minutes of shouting, running, and sweating, the car finally burst ahead.

“Mister!” – Huy shouted, running after the men who helped us, motioning his hand toward his rear pocket where men usually kept their wallet. Seeing what that gesture meant, they all shook their head from afar and continued walking, their skinny figure against the twilight.

“Those are all Cham.” – Huy said, with no clear purpose but we all knew what he meant.

In this materialistic world, where any act of kindness usually hides an implicit request for material compensation, only those living far away from the hassle of city life could be willing to help others without being asked and without any intentions.

Just like how Huy, despite being a businessman, refused my tip of only 10 bucks when we finished the most informative, exciting, and amazing day tour I’d ever had in my whole life with the most understanding and caring tour guide I could ever hope for.

“Keep it, for dinner.” – Huy said, something I as the one giving tip should have said instead. – “Just take care of yourself and your two ladies.”

As we bid farewell, I could only hope his father would get well, or at least had the most painless death for a cancer patient.

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