Hiring a jeep without a driver in Ha Noi seems to cost about US$50 per day, plus all expenses. A driver is an extra $15 per day, and then you have to pay for all his food and accompodation and so on. These prices are particularly reasonable when split amongst five people, but amidst doubts about the sanity of driving 2,500km in Vietnam's famously dangerous roads and the inability to settle down for more than a couple days, we decided on the standard means of travel: Vietnam's equally famous Open Tour - a $21 bus ticket from Ha Noi to HCMC, allowing you to get off and back on at any major stop. This is a stupidly cheap ticket, and it apparently runs on the back of kickbacks and scams perpetrated on unwary tourists. The bus itself left Ha Noi on the 11th at about 2000, and to our great amusement, was formerly a Seoul City bus - stickers showing its route were still there, and there was a decal saying "Seoul Station -> Gwanghwamun" in Korean on the window. As we left, we were pumping to Vietnamese heartache rock, but it was mercifully killed in the name of sleep. The bus itself was full of foreign tourists - only two or three Vietnamese.
We decided to get off at Dong Hoi, a little-known place only just on the route, with a crazy scheme to buy a tarp and a grill and have us some beach campin'. After a cruel 10 hours, we rolled in a little after 0600 and got coffeed up on Ca Phe Phin, the amazingly strong Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk in. Ben and Ossie and I went off in search of a vehicle, without which we weren't sure how we'd find the beach or transport our gear. There are no cars available for rent in Dong Hoi, and I'm the only one who's ever ridden a motorbike, so we put the vehicle thing on hold for a while. Deb and Jen and I, while walking to the market, found that we were actually pretty close to a beach, and then at the market we found all the very things we needed to camp it up. We bought ten metres of tarp and a bunch of string, Ben had bought a cane knife with a hook on it in Ha Noi, some vegetables and fruit, a watermelon, a hunk of water buffalo which cost 52,000d, oil and chili sauce and five spice and limes and sugar which I thought was salt, a box of beer and some water, and off we went by taxi van to the beach.
By this time it was about 1100, and incredibly, painfully hot. We wandered along the coast a short way, and where the road turned inland, found a small pine forest out of sight on the road, sheltered, and right on a deserted white-sand beach. We boys set about turning tarp into tent while the womenfolk paddled in the water while pretending to chill the beer and water and keep the meat cool. The sun and heat was ferocious. Apparently this is an unseasonable heatwave; temperatures of 36 degrees in Ha Noi are strictly for the middle of summer. I'd also bought a couple blocks of ice, which we used to keep a few beers at a sensible temperature. After lunch and a swim, Ossie and I struck a deal with some locals a short way down the road, whereby we'd buy some beer and water off them, and get to borrow their chilly bin full of ice. The fire was hampered by lack of firewood (apparently not only whitey has this idea), and we made beef and vegetable kebabs, and grilled shrimp on a stick. After not sleeping on the bus and everything, Ben and Jen decided they wanted a hotel room, and Ossie slept out on the beach under a full moon, so Deb and I had the tent to ourselves - well, ourselves and 100,000,000 bugs.
It's now about 1000, and we're deciding whether to go next to the DMZ or carry on the whole way to Hue or Da Nang. The hotels and resorts across the road from us have been cranking the karaoke since about 0700, and it's already getting painfully hot again, but life on a beach is pretty good.