Mr. Mui Ne

TN News

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 Adam Bray at the Cham ruins he discovered in August 2009.

Before coming to Vietnam, Adam Bray worked with bonobos at a lab in Georgia.

In 2003, he visited the country and something stuck with him.

Two years later, Bray returned to Vietnam and plunged, head first, into the culture. For six months, he decided he'd live like a local.

"I slept on the floor on bamboo mats with no bed," he says. "I pumped water from a well or collected rain water to take a bath or water my garden. Sometimes I had rats, bats and venomous snakes in my house. Other times I had no water because the well was dry. Most of the time I had no electricity. No hot water. No phone. No running water. No refrigerator. No TV."

The project wasn't easy, but Bray was overwhelmed with the generosity of the people. When he got sick, people took care of him. When he was hungry, people invited him into their home to eat.

Belonging to Binh Thuan

"At the beginning I never planned to stay," Bray said. "But I came to Mui Ne and I fell in love with Vietnam - and more specifically Binh Thuan Province. I also felt like Binh Thuan Province had the most interesting culture and history of any province in Vietnam."

He became fluent in Vietnamese and launched a local website, muinebeach.net, chronicling accidents, crimes and the area's under-appreciated wonders.

Rather than providing promotional info on cheesy resorts and nightlife, Bray advised visitors to visit responsibly and explore the area's rich cultural past. He championed Phan Thiet's precious wildlife and natural areas.

Before long, Bray was considered an expert on Vietnam. He began to study Cham and Khmer and explored the province's ethnic minority communities.

He's contributed to 20 guide books on Vietnam and Cambodia.

"Bray is valuable to Vietnam and he adds incredible value to the Mui Ne tourism industry," said Lizette Crabtree, the GM of the Mui Ne Sailing Club.

Cham champion

In August 2009, Bray got word of newly discovered Cham ruins somewhere along on the road between Phan Thiet and Da Lat.

After a thorough internet search turned up nothing, Bray and a friend got on a motorbike and began scouring the countryside. They spent days stopping in at local villages and asking about the ruins.

No one knew anything about them.

Then one late afternoon, while wandering through mountains and farmland, Bray spotted a brick wall peeking out from a mass of shrubbery.

"It was covered in trees and vines so it was impossible to see until I climbed inside the holes of the brick wall," he recalled. "I was worried about the snakes and scorpions - I saw both in the temple ruins, under the vines."

The ruins Bray climbed into weren't the one's he'd heard about. Instead, Bray and his friend had discovered two ancient structures, all by themselves.

Sadly, the government was not interested in excavating the site. According to Bray, Cham culture and history are under-appreciated. The grandeur of their kingdom once rivaled Angkor.

"We see a tiny fraction of their ancient architecture in the brick temples that still survive"”but there was so much more," he laments. "Much of it has been destroyed, but there are still many temple ruins hidden in the countryside that researchers still don't know about."

A local

After just eight years in Vietnam, Bray is hoping that the government will one day grant him a resident card.

"I speak Vietnamese more often than I get to speak English," he says. In many ways Phan Thiet has come to be home for the man who would not reveal his age.

He has emerged as something of a local watchdog, sounding off on his website when locals begin driving quads through Mui Ne's back dunes or shopkeepers start chaining monkeys to the front of their businesses to attract customers.

Despite his scrutiny, Bray continues to be amazed by the little things in Vietnam.

"I was recently invited to eat with one family recently who was so poor that they could not afford to buy any meat or fish," he said. "They only had a little rice, herbs and fish sauce. Yet they were so kind that they shared with me what little they had to eat."

For Bray, Phan Thiet is home.

"Maybe this sounds strange because I am American," he said. "But I have lived here longer than any other city in my life."

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