After Adam left, I trudged through the next few days with little enthusiasm for traveling on my own. I made a valiant attempt at exploring a new place solo when I made the journey to Ba Na Mountain, which is outside of Danang.
I had intended to stay in Danang for an evening in order to take some time to decide what to do next. I had read about several options in my guidebook. However, when I arrived in Danang and located my chosen hotel, I discovered that it was closed and under-construction. At the very same moment, a motorbike taxi driver had spotted me and quickly pulled up beside me. “Motorbike? Where are you going?” Hmmmm, I thought to myself, Where am I going? I took the two events combined as a sign that I wasn’t meant to stay in Danang for the evening. And, I suddenly heard myself blurt out, “Ba Na Mountain.”
My experience at Ba Na Mountain was definitely an adventure, but more appropriately classified as a misadventure. It is an old French Hill Station at 1485m above sea level and was used by the French as an escape from the summer heat. The Lonely Planet guidebook says, “Rain usually falls in the section between 700m and 1200m above sea level, but around the hill station itself, the sky is usually clear, the view is spectacular, and the air is fresh and cool.” There is no mention of there being an off-season and, unbeknownst to me, that’s exactly what time of year it was. I would discover that during the off-season, it is often rainy and consumed in dense fog, especially at the top around the hill station itself.
From the base of the mountain, the climb up is so steep and windy that it requires the hiring of a local, who has the skills and a high-powered motorbike, to complete the journey to the hill station. Initially, I thought that I had chosen well. As we ascended, I could see more and more into the valley below and the view was spectacular. But the higher we got, the colder and foggier it got and the less I could see. By the time we arrived at the only hotel, I could barely see five feet in front of me. In addition, I was informed (through mime since no one spoke English) that I was the one and only guest. I pondered the situation. I had chosen poorly.
I was determined to be just as content traveling solo as I was with Adam. I considered what I would’ve done if someone else were with me and I knew that I had to embrace the entire experience by staying for at least one evening. I arranged for the driver to pick me up the next morning at 8am and braced myself for a long, cold, damp evening of being with…me.
I was assigned a room, where I quickly put on a few more layers before heading out to explore. There were stone walkways and staircases surrounding the area, which combined with the approaching nightfall, fog and quiet, created a pretty eerie atmosphere. The first thing I came upon was a monkey in a cage. Well, at least I’m not the only guest, I thought. I continued down a staircase and ended up in a large walled-in open area. In the center sat a stone Buddha, 24-meters high and, even though it was engulfed by fog, it still impressed upon me feelings of awe and wonder. It was amazingly peaceful and I couldn’t help but to feel like I was in some kind of magical, fairytale land. I continued on down more stone staircases and walkways that led through the forest and around the mountaintop until I was too scared to go any further. At which point, I decided to head back to the hotel.
Once I was back to the safety of my room, I assured myself that I had made the most of the experience; I had done my best and now it was time to buckle-down until morning. It was probably around 4pm when I crawled beneath the covers, fully-clothed, with You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers. I was prepared to read until it was a reasonable enough time to go to sleep.
Three hours and a hundred or so pages later, there was a knock at my door. It was the old man from reception. He was smiling and excited. He gestured for me to follow him. I quickly put on my shoes and he led me to another room. With a wide grin, he pointed at a German couple that was being shown the room, “Frien,” he said. He was so happy for me that I couldn’t help but to smile and I cannot deny that I did feel a bit of relief at the sight of them.
We introduced ourselves and I went along with them as they were being shown the more expensive rooms available. They were on a prepaid tour and it was those rooms which were included. We walked to another building that was across the courtyard. When we initially saw the room, it appeared as though it was so clean that the floors and staircases gleamed. But as we stepped into it, we realized that it was actually covered in a centimeter of water. The air was so filled with moisture that a layer of condensation had formed, covering every surface. Neither the German couple nor I let on that the accommodations were a bit under par. Suffice it to say, they elected to stay in the building where my room was located.
Later that evening, we laughed together at the absurdity of the entire situation. The Vietnamese had so proudly taken us to the "more expensive" building and had been quite surprised that the couple didn’t choose to stay there. We chatted through the evening, swapping travel stories. They had booked the trip in Germany as a full tour and Ba Na Mountain was part of the itinerary. They just assumed that since they only had a few short weeks, that a professional, Vietnamese tour company would be their best bet as far as making the most of their trip and getting to the best places, easily. It was a fair assumption, but then again, welcome to Vietnam.
Then it was my turn and the woman asked me how I had come to Ba Na Mountain. I told her that I had read about it in my guidebook and, in my experience, hill stations are usually quite pleasant and beautiful. She asked me how I had gotten to the top, and I told her that I had taken a motorbike. A look of astonishment came over her face as she proceeded to express how brave she thought I was for coming on my own. How much of a difference is there between brave and stupid? I wondered.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes and wished each other happy and safe travels. I hopped on the back of my driver’s bike, glad that I had survived the night at Ba Na and looking forward to returning to Danang and civilization.
I guess not all coincidences are signs, but I’m gonna keep looking out for them anyway.
8 years ago