by aengelson | January 2nd, 2012
This past week, over the winter holiday, we escaped from the Hanoi gloom to Saigon and Mui Ne.
To view photos from our trip, click on any picture in this post, or click on this link.
Saigon was warm and chaotic as usual, and this time we stayed at the An An Hotel, a nice mid-range hotel on Bui Vien street, in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City’s backpacker ghetto. It was educational for the girls to see the flip-flop-clad-masses hefting their fake North Face packs amid the scents of patchouli, beer, and sweat. We did not get tattoos. I did, however buy some flip flops. Matilda bought fake Ray Bans.
After a night in Saigon, it was on the bus for Mui Ne, a city four to five hours to the
west east. The bus ride was long, but we had our destination to look forward to: the windswept beaches of Mui Ne. Once a little backwater, the place is now a throbbing resort favored by Saigon residents and Russians. Lots of Russians. I’m pretty sure “mui ne” is Russian for sunburn.
Luckily, our place for three nights was away from the main strip and the hordes of beer-bellied and high-heeled Russian package tourists. We stayed at the Hoang Kim Golden Resort, although “resort” is pushing it a bit far (which was fine by us). We had a two-bed bungalow in a basic air-con room situated next to a lush garden. The small pool was a hop, skip and a jump away. And the beach, too. Although at high tide, the waves crashed against the hotel bulkhead, so walking and swimming was a strictly low-tide activity. The hotel was basic, but friendly and the breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu quite good. And the Saigon Beers were always cold, which enhanced the 3-day lounging experience.
When we weren’t reading, swimming, napping, surfing the wifi, or playing new Christmas Nintendo DS games, we actually did leave the hotel occasionally. We dragged ourselves down the street in the evening and discovered a place called La Taverna, which served up some awesome thin-crust pizzas, tasty salads and a luscious tiramisu. We liked the place so much, the next night we went there again. The gnocchi al pesto was superb, and the chocolate mousse was more than palatable. Washed down with a lot of cheap red wine, the meals we had at this friendly French-owned place were a pleasant surprise. The third night we tried the highly-recommended seafood restaurant Lam Tong, but although the meal was cheap, the seafood was a little disappointing.
After a couple days of la dolce far niente, we decided to get out and see the one popular attraction in Mui Ne: the sand dunes. We hired a jeep and were soon bouncing down the road out of town. Despite what the guidebooks say, you don’t really need a jeep to see the dunes. There’s about a 1/2 kilometer stretch of rough road prior to the parking lot, but that could easily be navigated by a Honda Wave motorbike or acar. But the jeep was a fun new experience for the kids, anyway.
The dunes are impressive. It’s not the Sahara or Namibia, but the dunes are big enough to give you a good English Patient or Lawrence of Arabia experience for an hour or so. The blowing sand is merciless, however–and the girls quickly decided they hated it. (And granted, we let them wear shorts, which in hindsight was a significant oversight!) We found shelter in a grove of pines, and from there the girls could climb and slide down the lee side of a dune, sandblast-free. Sledding in Vietnam, just in time for the holidays! Joanie and I hiked up one tall windswept dune and got our requisite desert pics. The tour was supposed to take us to a couple other locations, but when the driver just headed straight back to the hotel, we didn’t complain. More beer and swimming time.
Wind is a constant in Mui Ne, and that’s why it’s a mecca for kite-surfers. From our hotel, we could see swarms of surfers off in the distance–at least a hundred in the air, by Joanie’s count. The last full day of our stay, we went south and watched a few of them do their stuff, using the brisk wind to cruise out into the waves, and then cresting a curl, popping into the sky like champagne corks. It looked like a blast, but considering my kite flying episodes usually end in crashes, tangled lines and cursing like a sailor, I think perhaps I’ll pass on kite-surfing lessons.
The ride back to Saigon was uneventful–well, except for the small strategic error of arriving in the city on New Year’s Eve. Because of the swarms of motorbikes and stand-still traffic, a four-hour trip swelled to more like seven. And when we were within walking distance from our hotel, we were kept on the crawling bus for nearly an hour because the luggage compartment couldn’t be opened until we got to the bus-parking zone. Ooof. Still, it was fun to be in HCMC for the new year, and the girls stayed up until midnight for the first time, watching the crowds of twenty-something revelers down below partying like it was 1999.
A nice escape, and now back to good old gloomy Hanoi and its incessant drizzle. But Tet is just around the corner, and that’s another excuse for an escape–this time back to one of our favorites, Hoi An.