Archive for April, 2012

Pointless Mui Ne.

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Give Mui Ne a skip unless you are willing to drop 50-100USD for a room.  The budget traveler hostels were located strategically distant from the beach and the town center.  The locals aren’t very friendly and the costs were higher in the “western” restaurant places even away from the resorts.  Big bottles of water were 10k and fresh fruit juices from 10-20k; don’t forget to bargain.  Try the dragon fruit juice or if you want something more refreshing, ask for lemon juice; they will add a little sugar so it’s like fresh lemonade.  Do visit Nha Trang and perhaps Danang or Dalat; don’t waste time in Mui Ne.  Shuttle onward to Saigon.

The 10 dollar hostel of choice this time was the “1 and 10” hotel.  Decent price and amenities but not close to town.  The boss is quite inhospitable and rude unless you are Russian; the people that frequent his restaurant daily.  Strangely, beginning in Hoi An Russian script became more obvious in restaurant menus and street signs.  Mui Ne features restaurants with Russian and Vietnamese only menus.  Becky, our Australian companion, opted for the 3.5 dollar dorm room which featured mosquito nets and hard mats on the floor; each mat had a fan.  

There were multitudes of “stuff” to do in the form of windsurfing, surfing, diving, and tours of small towns.  The quality of these tours seemed comparable to what could be experienced in other beach towns in Vietnam but in Mui Ne, the price seemed doubled or tripled.  With Becky, we tried the “sand dunes” tour for 6 bucks.  The tour wasn’t much of a “tour” and it was basically transportation.  The guide firstly dropped us at the white dunes and said “be back in an hour” and that’s about as tour-y as it gets.  The view was very much desert like and it was a trial to climb in shoes.  The red dunes offer dune surfing/sliding opportunities for those inclined.  The final stop is a fishing village for photo ops.  There wasn’t much there and the bus stops beside the road for a few  minutes.  It may be the best option for traveling around Mui Ne in that these places are quite far from the town.  

Give up on any hopes of fresh seafood in Mui Ne unless you are willing to shell out the cash for it.  You can catch a local bus from Mui Ne to a town in the Siagon direction called Phan Thiet.  You can conveniently get off the bus (12k for fast bus and 4k for slow) in front of a large supermarket and shop for cheaper water and food items before going to eat.  Ask around for a place called Tu Ninh from the locals and they will point you in the right direction for some good seafood at half the prices of in Mui Ne town; still not budget pricing, though.  

Check out the local restaurant 291 about a 10-15 minute walk away from the Sinh Tourist office out of town on the left if you want good, clean budget fare.  A rice plate with pork or a good sized bowl of noodles will cost only 15k; they also offer quail eggs.  The boss lady was kind and will bargain with you politely.  

Again, Mui Ne is not the plethora of interest and leisure that has been painted in travel guides and blogs.  Rampant development and the inclusion of high-range resorts and restaurants has left the place with an eerie, blatant disparity in social classes; on the right, 5-star hotels beach-side, hovels selling ice cream to the left.  Perhaps, renting a motorbike or bicycle would allow an even clearer portrait of the sad reality residing in Mui Ne.  During our final night outing, walking for a juice and ice cream, we were met with a series of odd incidents.  An apparent, chain-smoking lady of the night helped us purchase juice and brought it to us at our street side table like a waitress.  We noticed several such women and with other Russian women dressed similarly resting with locals on hammocks at other shops.  As we walked back, street-side motorbike drivers jeered threateningly and as many parties were underway in darkened “bars” on both sides of the street.  Mui Ne has a black side:  something repugnant is occurring under the facade of respite.  Whatever the unmentionable acts underway, I’m ecstatically bumping towards Vietnam’s last stop.  Saigon.  


Sunrise over Nha Trang

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

I lost my beloved Nokia e72 on the bus from Nha Trang to Mui Ne. If you want to contact me, there’s always email.

Nha Trang is a worthy destination to visit and the overnight bus trip from Hoi An seemed less painful on arrival.  The road smoothed onto a seaside route where you could see locals swimming and exercising along the beach.  It’s advisable to do as they do:  go drop your baggage at whichever hostel and as quickly as possible get out to the beach.  The sun is fully capable of scalding your skin after 9 am, so the earlier you hit the water, the better.  Afternoon swimming was disappointing as the upper foot or so of water felt like lukewarm tea and it was also insidiously polluted with all sorts of rubbish – plastic bags, bottles and so on.  The sunrise over the beach, which was about a 2 minute walk from most of the budget places, was stunning and the water refreshingly cool.

We found the “Saint Paul” hotel off Huong Vong road and got the typical 10 dollar rate after the promise of staying 2 nights.  Directly across from the nook the hotel was a street food area that had good breakfast noodles and coffee; noodles 10k and coffee 8k.  Make sure to bargain as they will offer you the price of 20k for each.  Baguettes filled with meat and veggies also can be scored for 10k.  The room was acceptable, but make sure AC is included as well as hot water and TV.  It is interesting that Nat Geo channel and HBO are standard for budget rooms in Vietnam.

The food situation was a little disappointing other than breakfast.  The main street that leads to the beach is saturated with mid-range “western” restaurants and inauthentic Vietnamese fare.  We tried “The Lantern Restaurant” (knock off of the eponymous Australian place), and were disappointed by the food quality.  Portions were unequal the price range and the flavor was simply mediocre.  We ate rice, spring rolls, chicken curry and the local style seafood pancake.  Be sure to ask for rice paper to roll veggies and the pancake in; that at least gives it some savory flavors dipped in soy sauce. Lonely planet fails again.

We were also ripped off in the Duy Phauoc (cafe – Nuoc Giai Khat – Sinh To) restaurant located on 99C Nguyen Thien Thuat road; a place that appears to be some local eatery.  The food was apathetically cooked and served seemingly with spite as it was basically flung onto the table.  Fried rice, burnt fish, a plate of stir-fried vegetables and 2 beers set us back more than the cost of our room for a night.  Make sure you avoid this place altogether and the adjacent “local places” probably offer the same experience. Be wary of any “local” place that has an English menu as the prices won’t be any cheaper than the Western places across the street.

Beer being a constant experience in Vietnam, Nha Trang has a local brewery with its own drafts. It isn’t cheap for a pint, but if you are ill with all the light, watery beer, they feature a dark lager which is nearly worth the 75k (ouch).  The pilsner was a bit too fruity as the hops concentration was off.  It’s upscale.  The Booze Cruise bar, located on the main drag, seems a local favorite for decadent drunkenness.

The second night, we found a small alley street food vendor that had some sort of seafood congee/soup that was unbelievably filling and delicious and quite a bargain at 10k a bowl.  They also had fresh scallops and snails for cut-rate pricing and ate to be quite full for 70k without beer.  For unsubstantiated reasons, the nice guy was trying to pass off 333 brand beer for 12k a can; so we politely refused.

Try and do the “4 island tour” if it fits into your schedule.  It’s basically 3 islands, though, as it stopped in the middle of a bay somewhere for swimming.  Be damn sure to bring sunblock and water as the midday sun is unforgiving.  The tour’s first hour (costs between 5-7 dollars depending on who you ask) is wasted at some aquarium that is not included in the price of the tour (50k).  I was told by some of the other members that it was not worth it.  You have the option of sitting for an hour and waiting which can give you a chance to meet the other smarter members of your group.  The second stop was along some island that you can do some free diving or snorkeling.  It wasn’t fantastic for diving, but there was plenty of coral and multicolored fish to see.

The third stop is “happy hour” as the tour leaders form together for a ridiculous band act playing some popular songs from different countries.  I was asked to sing the still-popular-in-Asia Backstreet Boys; I could merely hum the tune.  The boat then stopped in the bay for a “water bar” where one of the guys goes out on a raft and offers free shooters to those that swim out to him.  The final stop was some island that costs 20k to visit.  There was a beach and places to rest with pricey food items and beer.  It’s good fun and at least lunch was included.

Nha Trang is worth a day or two.

The road so far…

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

In case you didn’t feel like showing up, here’s a quick look at where we have been geographically. It starts with the red dot in the far upper, right corner and moves South. The net is slow as death so it’s difficult to upload pictures. Holiday in Cambodia…

Beers in Hoi An.

Thursday, April 19th, 2012
An Hoi Island.

A view from the old city across the water.

Hoi An has potential. Our final day was spent drinking draft beer for 3000vnd a glass and eating a wonderfully crunchy rice cake snack that paired excellently. You could rent a bike for less than a dollar (18k or 20k) or a motorbike and ride to the beach. With a bit of research and some local experience, you could probably get fresh seafood reasonably. Be wary, though; there are dozens of so-called “seafood restaurants” all along the An Bang beach stretch that offer only burgers. We opted to ride back into town and check out one of the hot pot places along the road. It turned out to be half as cheap for the same stuff in town; I have got to learn Vietnamese. We got a plate of steamed Okra, some stir-fried silk worms and other snacks for laughably low prices.

Overall, Hoi An also nearly falls into the category of tourist-trap. It reminds me of Yangshou, Guilin when I first arrived in China in 2003. Local prices are set for tourists, and with a bit of know how, you can overcome the prejudice. Unfortunately, Hoi An is apparently a Mecca for elderly European couples and Australian families. These two demographics spend much time messing about with the “tailors” that weave “speciality” Vietnamese clothing. When I bought my overcoats in Sichuan province nearly 10 years ago for half the price the Vietnamese want for a shirt, I was thinking it was an investment. Man, was I ever right. Yes, you can own a cheap, tailored shirt; can’t you get the same back home for a similar price? Check cloth quality. These fine peoples also never consider the costs of items in local currency. Sure, it IS cheaper than back home when you convert values, but is it really worth it? Would you pay the equivalent to 3 dollars for a bottle of water when the local price is less than 1 (5000vnd which is 25c). How about 5 dollars for french fries and a coffee? It’s cheaper in McDonald’s.

Food prices are ridiculously inflated due to the tourist trade. We found Cafe 43 on one of the side roads which had comparatively decent prices to other restaurants in town. The “white rose” (shrimp dumplings) cost around 30k here as compared to 50k or 60k elsewhere.

Silk worms.

Don't be too shocked; I've also eaten this in China a few times.

Local iced coffee is under 15k and tasty with a tamarind and vanilla aftertaste. They have the awesome Biere Larue for 10k and draft beer for 3k. We stayed in the Dai Long hotel on the main drag for 14 dollars; a room without a window is available for 12 and they have one with no AC for 10. Opt for the 12 dollar.

As for the sights, if you have visited other Asian “old cities” there isn’t much to see. The 16th century Japanese covered bridge spans a jump-able creek with a sentry to ask to view your ticket. A make-shift foot bridge was constructed to completely restrict non-ticket holders from crossing the bridge; kind of ridiculous.  There are several “old houses” (200 years at most) available for tour. Ticket offices sell 55000vnd passes for viewing 5 sites – not really worth it as most of the houses are reconstructed facsimiles.