Our trip to Mui Ne started just as the one to the Mekong Delta: at the reception of the Bali B Hotel in Saigon. If fact, it was a journey to the northenmost parts of the country and Mui Ne was just the first stop. The travel agent at the hotel promised, that she would take us by taxi, surprise surprise >>for free<<, to the bus stop and she kept her word. When we arrived at the office of the Hanh Cafe travel agency, who organized the transfer, it turned out that the bus was not going to be on time, which became a rule later on. We took a photo of the bus schedule for other places where we wanted on hop in an off on our way (we then realized that it was the wrong side of the schedule as you can see).
The bus on its own was not the most comfortable place to sleep in, as all seats were suited for people 1.6 meter tall at the most (apart from two seats at the rear, which I found out as early as on our last journey to Hanoi). We were happy, though, that we already had our open date ticket and were lying safely inside of the bus which was supposed to drop us at the doorstep of the Backpackers Resort were we had already booked a dorm. None of it actually came true, as the driver was driving crazy, which made the feeling of safety evaporate soon, and we were dropped, just as everyone else, in the middle of the village and we had to find the hostel on our own.
Of the Backpackers Resort we can only speak in a positive way: we paid 5$ p.p. for a bed in a dorm for six people with a bathroom, with an acceptable standard and a direct access to the sea (in the picture you can see The Backpackers Village, which has a large pool instead of the beach, for the same price). We were awaited by the recepcionist until 2 AM, and we must say that the staff there was one of the nicest among all the places we have stayed at in Vietnam.
In the morning we woke up with no plans what to do next, so we went for a walk along the village, which is practically just one very, very long street. The temperature was almost unbearable, so we got refreshed with our favourite Saigon green. The buildings along the street were exclusively restaurants and hotels, almost all of them with Russian banners, for us utterly unreadable. At the reception, not only did they handle our laundry, but also they offered us a one day trip to the canyon, and to the red and white sand dunes of Mui Ne, for as little as 4$. We were promissed to go by an US Army Jeep, but it is highly unlikely that it would have inscriptions in the Russian alphabet, as you can see in the picture below, if you are all eyes. Nevertheless, I can tell you right now that it was worth it! One of the best trips in during our stay and definitely the cheapest one.
A you can partially see in the above picture, the vehicle could carry three people on the back couch, two on the seats in the trunk and two at front, counting the driver. We were surprised when, we set off just with the two of us and the driver. We didn’t go further than one hundred meters, when stopped in front of the Backpackers Village, which is kind of an extension 🙂 to the Backpacers Resort. There were 6 people more waiting at the entrance, and it seemed there would be no second car to take them. The driver convinced us, that four people will fit just as well as three on the back couch and he also put a small plastic chair between two front seats. He offered it, as well as the other front seat, to a couple, yet as the guy felt rather uneasy with his girlfriend sitting with the gear stick between her legs and the driver oparating on it, so they ended up sitting on one seat together during the whole way.
After a short while we arrived at the first stop, which was the canyon. I imagined it as a drying out narrow river bed with rock walls on both sides, but, although it was still called this way, the other wall was missing, but there were bushes and small huts in stead, and in one of these we got a coconut to drink. We took the above picture between some two rocks on the rocky side, just to make the story more plausible.
Still, the views were spectacular and walking in the stream was also very refreshing. We encountered some walking beef steaks which, made us feel a bit insecure but the they seemed to have no interest in human feed.
The second step was the fishing village, which was supposed to be picturesque, but it is so probably in the early morning when the sun rises above hundreds of boats coming back from night fishing. We did our best to take a nice picture, but it was rather disappointing and a bit smelly and littered.
The main point of the agenda were the white sand dunes. The way from the village was a bit lengthy, we were going around a construction site as there is a new road being built to enhance accesibility tourists. If the canyon was spectacular, well this was almost stunning. Yet just at the entrance we were reminded of rule number one of the Vietnamese tourism industry: >>western tourists shit gold<<. So we were offered a quad ride, 15USD for twenty minutes per person. Almost the price of our two day trip to the Mekong delta. We not very kindly refused and decided just to walk around. It seems to be nothing special, just tons of sand and, yes, probably you have better views of this kind in north Africa, but consider that the weather was far milder, you could just run around, jump and roll down, take pictures and all that without the feeling of standing in the middle of a huge frying pan. We were looking for relaxation in Vietnam, not sand, and we found both there. A long walk with nothing but desert in sight, in conjuction with a cool wind really lets one forget about everything else. In fact, maybe we were just lucky because the temperature in the morning was very high as it usually is so in Vietnam at this time of the year , perhaps it was so because of a rain comming.
There red dunes are , on the other hand, nothing special to be honest. They have a different colour, but they are also located along a road, much dirtier, flatter and not very interesting. Even the sand was rather sticky than soft and pleasant.
A friend recomended us to go to the Mr Crab restaurant once we get to Mui Ne. We cannot be certain if it was the Mr Crab he meant, as there were several places with this name, but the food was indeed exquisite. The fish with lemon straw, also recommended by the same friend, was even better than we expected, but what I liked most were the scallops with oil and garlic.
Everything was perfectly fresh, you could observe your food swimming alive in small polls before you ordered it, probably caught on the very same day. I didn’t manage to get an octopus though, and if I remember correctly, the last time I tried it in Vietnam was Can Tho at the very beginning. Moreover, it was not the last time, that I got squid instead, this time at aleast I was informed about the change in the order, but several times later the waiter probably assumed that I couldn’t tell the difference.
As for the drinks, you should never drink beer in Vietnam when you are in a restaurant. It might be cheaper than in the shops, but the variety of juices that are offered at a very low price, like half a dollar, freshly squeezed from fruit which is not commonly drunk in Europe, makes it a must to go for the healthier option. Juices are usually the only thing not served with ice, absolutely delicious: my first and second choice were dragon fruit with papaya, and passion fruit with mango.
All in all, you definitely need to go there when you are in Mui Ne, the terrace the food is served on was also quite charming, with a huge tree in the middle as if in the Tolkien’s books, and in addition with a view of the sea, so the cool breeze made us enjoy ourselves even more. The fly in the ointment was the price, which is several times higher than in the street. At least in comparison to central Europe, it was even more expensive than common dishes in an average restaurant in our city. The fish cost about ten dollars, and bear in mind that seafood is very common food and really nothing exotic in this part of the world. It was definitely worth it, though I could have twenty octopus shashliks for the same price on the Can Tho food market :).
We had a bus reverved to Da Lat at noon of the following way, but I thought we would miss it as we had to wait so long to get breakfast at the hostel restaurant, that we reached the bus stop one minute too late, so I went directly to the travel agency to ask I it was already gone. In the end, we spent fourty minutes waiting for the bus in an incredible heat, as it just happened to be late, after having left our breakfast half eaten. We got on hungry, and totally sweaty, but looking forward to see the mountains.