Next stop of my backpacking tour of South East Asia: Mui Ne, Vietnam. I wanted to come because I’d read about beautiful beaches and a relaxed atmosphere and, I’ll take relaxing on the beach (in January, no less) any day. Nha Trang also has amazing beaches, I hear, but I’m not super into the “Let’s get black out drunk every night!!” scene so I plan to skip it for the casual atmosphere of Mui Ne instead. I booked my (very expensive–stupid Tet!!) bus ticket in HCMC and prepared for the five hour ride to Mui Ne.
I should have known better. Why would I think that it would actually only take five hours? I was in Cambodia for two and a half months and I haven’t figured out yet that nothing is ever on time? In any case, it took eight hours to get to Mui Ne, in the end. It didn’t derail my plans but it would have been nice to know.
Naturally, my first task was to find somewhere to sleep. I checked a couple places but they were either too expensive or full. I walked past a sign advertising $8 rooms but kept walking because I read that I could get cheaper elsewhere. What I didn’t realize was how spread out Mui Ne is–it’s only one street but it stretches for about eight kilometers–so I started to get tired of walking around in the hot sun with all my belongings on my back. That’s why I agreed to stay in a room that looks like it was a closet and only had a sheet for a door.
I walked down the strip for awhile, trying to find a cool cafe to hang out in, people watch and write. I noticed lots of people–rich looking people–and resort after resort after resort. All of a sudden, I didn’t feel like I belonged; it felt too rich for me.
I’d been told that Nha Trang attracts a lot of Russians looking to escape the cold (but not the vodka) of Mother Russia. I’d also heard it’s a little bit similar in Mui Ne but quieter, which is what drew me in. To my surprise, most everyone here is Russian, with a small number of Chinese tourists. The only Vietnamese people here work selling things to tourists and, my Gaga, the prices reflect that. In HCMC, I paid 6000 dong (about 30 cents) for 1.5L of water. In Mui Ne, these same bottles are 46 000 dong ($2.30)!!
As I like to do, I started to walk, I saw all the fresh seafood restaurants setting up tanks to hold various fish, crabs and squid for eager customers to pick out for dinner and, of course, I found a stand that makes homemade soy milk and can blend it into all kinds of smoothies. I spent my afternoon soaking up the free wifi and drinking delicious soy milk until it got windy and I felt the need to move on to dinner.
Again, I walked for a long way. I saw many more Russians going window shopping at the street side markets, I had the vendors call to me in Russian, I booked my bus ticket to Dalat and stopped for spring rolls. I was trying to find a restaurant that looked like it was full of travellers so I could meet friends but, the best I could find was a bunch of old Russian people in places that I certainly could not afford.
It was still early after I finished dinner so I continued walking, hoping to see some places to hang out the next day. I came across the sign advertising $8 rooms again and decided to check it out, because it was the same price as much current place and probably had a door. By some luck, they had one room available for the next night. This was Green Coconut Resort–although everything around here is a resort so I’m not even sure what the definition of “resort” is anymore–and, apparently has it’s own beach that I, unfortunately, didn’t have time to enjoy.
The best part was one particular staff member there. H speaks good English and, after the room booking business was sorted out, he started asking about where I’m from, what brought me to Vietnam and similar questions. I got a coconut and told him that I had nothing better to do and asked if he’d like to sit and talk for awhile. He was very excited about that and we ended up chatting behind the hotel while he ate his dinner of fish, cabbage soup and rice.
He told me that his family has always been poor so he’s been in Mui Ne most of his life, only travelling to HCMC for exams, even though he wanted to go there for university. Because his family doesn’t have much money, he chose, instead, to attend Phan Thiet University, located just outside of Mui Ne where he graduated with a degree in business administration. Now, he works for the hotel but has big dreams of travelling around Vietnam and moving to Canada or Europe to get a better job and support his family.
After talking for awhile, I asked if he’d have time to have lunch with me the next day so he could show me where to get the best Vietnamese around here. He agreed and said that he would ask his aunt, who is a chef, if she could make us some food. Well, lunch turned into planning a whole afternoon where we planned to have lunch a the market in Phan Thiet, go get some coffee and maybe see some more tourist-y spots.
Now, I definitely realized that this could be an elaborate scam but my gut told me that it was okay but, just in case, though I had my army knife close at hand the whole time. I also told myself that, if he demanded money at the end of the day, I wouldn’t give him any, since this was not the type of arrangement we’d agreed upon.
I met him after I checked into my new, clean, air conditioned room (with a door!) where he handed me a helmet, which threw me off because I’m so used to not wearing anything in Cambodia, and I got on the back of his moto. As we drove to Phan Thiet, we chatted about life in Canada versus Vietnam, my friends, and the fact that I have a boyfriend in Canada (hey b-friend!!).
We arrived at the market in Phan Thiet in the early afternoon but, most markets close by this time since most people do their food shopping in the morning. We drifted around anyway, looking at the abundance of fruit, including yellow-fleshed watermelons–what!?!–and live chickens and ducks for sale.
I said when I first arrived in Cambodia that markets were overwhelming to me and this is still true but to a lesser degree. There’s always so much to look at, many different smells and usually people yelling at you. We saw the live seafood, pigs feet and pork floss for sale and I finally found out what happens to the live ducks and chickens I always see at the market. I always assumed that you could buy one and they’d butcher it in front of you but, I learned that this is not the case when I saw a woman holding a live duck…in a plastic bag. If I lived here, I’d buy so many ducks and chickens so I could have a happy little farm where they could just hang out. Sort of like Joey and Chandler but with several Chick’s and Duck’s.
I’d asked H to show me the best of Vietnamese food and he said we would eat lunch at the market, because that’s where the best food is. He was extremely disappointed when I told him that I’m a vegetarian and tried very, very, VERY hard to convince me to eat meat, just for one day. When I didn’t budge on the issue, he asked around and found out about a vegetarian food stall at the bigger market in Phan Thiet.
We drove over and waded through the food, poultry and flower (it’s Tet in a few days so there are flowers absolutely EVERYWHERE) stands, wove through the clothing stands, asked a couple people and found the vegetarian stand. I never would have guessed it was vegetarian, though, because their mock meats looked incredibly realistic, including fake “bones” in some of it. Now I know what to look for, though: com chay! It turned out to be an incredible and filling meal for only $2.25!
I hadn’t tried Vietnamese coffee yet, despite already being in Vietnam for four days (GASP!!) so I asked him if he knew of a good coffee shop nearby. He took us to one that was really nice and quiet, where we ended up staying for a couple hours.
We talked for a long time, I got a Vietnamese lesson (greetings and numbers–very important!), he looked through all of my pictures from my travels so far and tried to convince me to stay in Vietnam for a long time, just like I did in Cambodia. Hopefully one day!
He then was very interested in hearing about my boyfriend; what he does, if he’s good-looking (as if I would date some uggo–puh-leez) and then made it very clear that, if I didn’t have a boyfriend, he would make me his girlfriend. It was funny, especially when he tried to hold my hand, saying that “it’s what friends do in Vietnam”–I didn’t believe that for a second. He also got away with kissing my hand because somebody told him that that’s what they do in Europe and was quite apologetic when I told him we don’t do that in Canada. After that, I sat on my hand.
The reason for this blatant flirting with a less-than-single woman is because he thinks that Vietnamese women are very beautiful but they’re too passive for his liking–he wants a North American or European girlfriend because they’re “strong”, like me. Well, I couldn’t help being a little bit flattered!
After finishing our drinks at the cafe, we headed a long way to some beach that he told me about that was the most beautiful beach, called Tien Thanh. We drove for about an hour through a secluded stretch of forest punctuated by the odd resort, that seemed to cater to more unsmiling Russians. It was incredible and much better than the sand dunes of Mui Ne.
We finally reached the beach and it was amazing. There was nobody else there, just the South China Sea and some friendly crabs. We walked up the beach, I took pictures of the rolling sea, got my feet wet (fun fact: it was my first time actually being in the ocean!) and enjoyed the peacefulness of it all.
Then H started trying to hold my hand again as we walked down the beach. I didn’t think he would hurt me or anything but I felt the need to make it perfectly clear that we were just friends and that I didn’t want to hold his hand. He got the message then and we were able to enjoy the waves and see some big crabs scuttling across the sand before getting back on his moto and heading back to my resort in Mui Ne.
All in all, Mui Ne was not what I expected it to be and I don’t have any desire to return but, my day with H, despite all the moves he put on me, was the best I’ve had in Vietnam yet. Hopefully there’s much more to come!
That’s all for now, good Internets. Happy Tet!!