Never judge a book by its cover: Mui Ne, Vietnam

Beach, bikes and buses!  

Standard bus in Vietnam

The bus from Ho Chi Minh City was surprisingly Ok and allowed me to catch up with a little sleep. Having been unable to book online I tried my luck at the Mui Ne Backpackers Hostel but unfortunately they were full. Wandering the streets with a heavy backpack on in 30c heat isn’t fun so I settled for $10 room at Strawberry Guesthouse just across the road. I took a walk along the beach and found nothing but swanky resorts filled with Russian tourists and windsurfers. Not quite the relaxing haven I had imagined. 

Mui Ne, a Russian’s paradise

That evening I had dinner alone at a family-run restaurant called Lam Tong recommend in my Lonely Planet. Although nice, street food would have been far tastier, cheaper and more filling. Still hungry after my prawn fried noodles I got some peanut butter ice cream from Bellany on the way home which tasted like washing up liquid. The shops that line the main street are filled with touristy tack so I decided to head back and spend the evening sat in bed with some coconut candy I had bought in the Mekong Delta, catching up with friends and family back home. I hated this place I thought, nothing but touristy tack.

It’s amazing what you see at the side of the road

I woke unenthusiastic about the day ahead and regretting booking two nights at Mui Ne Backpackers as this meant I was to stay in the small coastal town another two days and not only that, the staff at the hostel seemed rude and snobby. To cheer myself up I hired a push bike and cycled along the coast to the local market for breakfast. It was here that I learnt that the strip of beach I was at wasn’t Mui Ne but the beach just south of the town catered to tourists.

Bustling local market

After a 40 minute cycle passing some stunning scenery I arrived at the bustling local market just before they were due to pack up for the day. I was the only westerner in sight and struggled to work my way under the low lying sheets that formed a roof. I don’t class myself as a particularly tall person but on this occassion I felt like a giant.

A very local breakfast

Holding my breath passing raw fish and meat covered in flies, I made my way around the market and picked up a savoury pork and shrimp pancake and a strange purple cake for breakfast. I sat down at a street side cafe and ordered the first of my daily iced black Vietnamese coffee (heaven on earth) and tucked in to my goods. The pancake was good but the shell of the shrimp not so and the pork, like most meat in Asia, contained more fat than flesh.

Sticky rice filled with bean curd

The cake was nice however and I later found out that it was in fact sticky rice filled with bean curd. I stayed put for a bit to write some postcards and before long a crowd had gathered around me. I’m not sure if it was the fact I was writing in English or the fact I was writing with my left hand but I was honoured to provide much amusement for all.

Beautiful sand dunes

Fuelled for the day ahead I cycled back into town for my tour of the sand dunes, which I had booked through the hostel. It was here I met Nicola, Amiee and Lisa, who unknown back then, were to become my travelling partners for the next couple of weeks. Part of the tour was a trip to the Fairy Stream which was a small stream with a slight resemblance to the Grand Canyon. It made a fantastic relaxing walk.

A lovely walk down the fairy stream

When we reached the white sands dunes, myself, Amiee and Nicola decided to go sand boarding on small plastic mats we rented from a local guy. Although fun, I only managed to go down twice as not only was the sand unbearably hot, it was such an effort to try and walk back up the dune barefooted. I also hit my head on my second go which proved two goes were just enough. Sand in places I never knew existed, I took a long hot (a blessing) shower before heading to dinner with my new friends.

Sand boarding – fun for about five seconds

We headed to kilometre 14 along the promenade to one of the many seafood restaurants looking out to sea. My grilled tuna fish was divine and just what I needed after a long day. After the girls had left to get an early night, I went out with with Ian, a guy Sam and I had met at the start of our trip in Chiang Mai as he happened to be in the same town. It was here I experienced Mui Ne’s not so amazing nightlife 

Grilled tuna by the sea

The girls left the next day but we planned to meet again in Nha Trang, a little up the coast. I had paid for one more night in Mui Ne and had no clue how to spend my day. I’m not a beach person and find it hard to relax and do nothing so my plan to spend the day asleep on a sun lounger at the hostel was never going to happen.

A walk along the beach

Thankfully the sun deck had wifi so I spent the day blogging and browsing the net. That evening I went to dinner with Pheobe who I had met in my tour of the Mekong Delta a few days previous. We were joined by a girl called Jamie and another guy Phoebe had met on the bus. Anyway, it turned out that Jamie had also planned to me Aimee, Lisa and Nicola in Nha Trang after meeting them in Ho Chi Min City – backpacking is an incredibly small world and I regularly pass the same people I’ve met previously in a completely different country. I suggested a restaurant called Thanh Oanh Bo Ke Quan at number 118 after reading a blog post about it online. The scallops, garlic veg and garlic fried rice we shared were sublime and reminded me why recommendations from a blogger are far better than a guidebook. A little hungover from the previous evening, I headed back to my dorm for an early night. 

Banh Mi aka Vietnamese sandwich

The next morning after a short walk along the beach I grabbed a Banh Mi filled with BBQ pork (the best I’ve had yet) for my afternoon bus. I also purchased some strange looking jelly-like balls from a lady sitting on the street. Thanks to Google I found out that these were actually glutinous rice balls topped with coconut and peanuts and were one of the best desserts I have come across since coming to Vietnam

Jelly-like balls with coconut and peanuts

I’ve got fairly accustomed to the Asian way of life after six weeks out here but still get nervous when my bus is over an hour and a half late. It was during this time of slight panic, I got talking to John and the staff at Mui Ne Backpackers who were actually very nice unlike my first impression. Nearly two hours late my bus finally arrived and I was greeted by many looks saying “I told you so”.

Beautiful fishing town of Mui Ne

Safely on the bus I thought back at my time in Mui Ne, a place I hated from the offset and grew to enjoy. Just like with the staff at the hostel, I was too quick to judge and if my time in Mui Ne has taught me one thing it is to never judge a place by first glance. Go and explore beyond the boundaries and immerse yourself in to local culture. 

Living life, loving travel,

H x


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