On Friday I lose my traveller cool. Not only do I have a raging case of PMT (never conducive to zen-like behaviour) but I also find out that I can’t take the train to my next destination: Mui Ne, a small resort on the coast some 300km north of HCMC. I have to climb back on the wretched bus, which then takes seven hours for a four hour journey.
We have a driver so laid back the bus doesn’t hit above 50km an hour for the entire seven hours and the traffic coming out of HCMC makes the M25 look like a peaceful country lane. We sit and splutter and stutter for minute after minute, hour after hour, and my mood goes from bored to impatient to frustrated to raging.
Finally we arrive. I have a list of requirements: beach side bungalow, air conditioned, no more than $15, must have wifi, preferably a garden and a pool. An older gentleman on a scooter says he knows just the place. I vow not to like it as I break my earlier vow and jump on the back (the traffic here is non-existent).
But in fact he delivers me to the perfect spot. I take one look at the room and begin to relax. I’m in my bikini within five minutes and in the sea within six. A few minutes later and I’m the master of zen again.
Frankly who wouldn’t be? Mui Ne is a sweep of beach some 10 miles long. Low rise bungalows (ranging from budget to swish) stretch along the shore, hidden by palm trees and gardens. There are beachside bars and restaurants and, thanks to daily on shore breezes, a whole community of buff kite surfers who’ve taken up residence. There’s one peaceful road running the length of the resort with more bars and restaurants stretched along it.
A local community of fishermen still use the beach and you can see their round boats bobbing around in the sea day and night. It’s the low season and it seems to me to be the perfect time to visit – enough people about to have a bit of a vibe but plenty of rooms and virtually no one on the beach.
I plan to stay for two days but end up staying four. I swim in the sea before eating breakfast at a beachside cafe. Then I lie under the shade of a palm tree, reading and dipping into the sea whenever I get too hot. The water is refreshing but warm enough that you can float in it till your fingers and toes are white and totally wrinkled. That’s pretty much my day, with the odd break for a little more eating and drinking.
I meet a fruit seller on the beach who tempts me with fresh pineapple and lychees. It’s 35C and though there’s a cool breeze the sun is beating down. She doesn’t seem to mind. She’s wearing two hats (a large cloth one covered by the traditional Vietnamese conical design), a face mask, two long sleeved blouses covered by a jumper and a coat (she proudly counts the layers out for me ‘one, two, three, four), trousers and flip flops with socks. ‘The sun is too hot for skin,’ she tells me; staying pale is preferable to staying cool.
One night I hook up with Lucy, an Irish engineer, and her Aussie boyfriend Todd. We drink beer by the beach (Todd setting a fearsome pace) and then wander along the strip drinking beers in any bar we fancy. We fuel up at La Luna, an Italian restaurant that delivers deliciously authentic wood-fired pizzas and then catch a cab to Samarra, a five star beachside club complete with tented white spaces in which to recline and a shimmering light show. We drink watermelon martinis and dance on the sand before walking home back along the beach.
Mui Ne feels like a tropical Ibiza at about a tenth of the price but if you fancy a visit come soon. The Russians have already discovered the resort (thanks to long links with communist Vietnam) and there are already plenty of upmarket restaurants and clubs (including a black and white vodka and sushi bar called Snow). The laid back surfer vibe might not be here for much longer.