The wind gusts in from the east as we veer off the main road and onto the bumpy sand track that fronts the tumbledown beach at Phuoc Hai. Although just a few kilometres north of the busy stretch of sand at Long Hai, this is a place where tourism is as alien a concept as road or queue etiquette is to the Saigonese. On a sunny day, the place would probably carry a quotient of rustic charm, but the bruised early August skies, gun-metal coloured waves and the flotsam and jetsam being buffeted against the abandoned fishing boats by the wind imbue the scene with unmistakable melancholia.
Down by the ocean’s edge, a crew of sinewy guys are transporting heavy flagons of gasoline to a boat, which dances tantalisingly away from them as the surf crashes against the shore. The job looks as thankless as they come, but the men are in good spirits — their faces cracking into wide grins as we hone in on their labours.
“People are so much friendlier out here,” says Khoa, our photographer, as we get back on our bikes and prepare to continue our reconnaissance mission of the beaches north- east of Saigon, “so much more relaxed than in Saigon.”