Part 2 - Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne Distance: 245 km
As early as could be expected after the previous night’s ‘activities’ we packed our stuff and hit the road.
Jan offered to escort us out for the first 15km’s or so to at least make things a bit easier getting out of the city.
Being Sunday morning made no difference as the traffic was insane. However, after filling up with fuel and saying our goodbyes to Jan we left the highway and headed in the direction of Vung Tau where traffic thinned out and slowly buildings and sidewalks made way for rice paddies. Within an hour it became quite apparent that we might have set ourselves a too tall an order for day one. Going was excruciatingly slow with maximum speeds around 60 km/h and an average of less than 50km/h.
The quality of the road surface varies with some loose gravel and potholes added to the erratic driving style of locals. Rear-view mirrors are purely decorative and they clearly cannot distinguish left from right as the 20% who uses indicators usually does it incorrectly. The only certainty is that nothing is certain and absolutely anything can happen. It changes the game a bit when it dawns on you that ‘your’ side of the road doesn’t necessarily belong to you!
We tried to stick to the lesser roads and for most, it meant little traffic and beautiful scenery.
Around 2 pm we were starving and kept an eye open for a roadside eatery. On day one we learned another important lesson wrt Vietnam.
Your window of opportunity for finding food is rather limited once you leave the bigger towns and cities.
The Vietnamese are early risers and they get going around 05:30 in the mornings. This meant an early lunch from 11:30 to around 12:30 and early supper from 17:30 to 18:30. If you miss this time either you will find most places closed or you will have to accept the last scrapes of the pot (of whatever there is).
On this specific day, we found ourselves on a small winding road between aloe fields and rice paddies with nothing resembling food in sight. We finally spotted a place with a sign saying “Café” where a few people were sitting on tiny chairs drinking ice tea and stopped. We should have taken it as a bad sign when the proprietor indicated that they don’t usually serve food only drinks.
But we were desperate and they offered us some Banh Tet (for the record any place displaying a Café sign is for drinks only). Not knowing what Banh Tet is and being early on in our trip we still had an appetite for adventure so gave it a go. You may ask when seeing it for the first time “Is it a brick or perhaps doorstop wrapped in banana leaf?". The leaves encase sticky rice, in the centre of which there's mung bean paste and bits of pork and pork fat.
Apparently it’s quite a skill to make it in the desired shape and is considered a must-have food for Vietnamese Lunar New Year celebration. The banana leaves impart a tea-like aroma and flavour to the rice which becomes incredibly glutinous as a result of the 8-hour cooking process. Sounds delightful hey. Unfortunately, my palate was far from adjusted and I could barely nibble on a piece before giving up. Lisa was clearly a bit more hungry as she gave it a good shot. Yum.
It was getting very late and we cruised through the last major town of Phan Tiet just before 6 pm.
Minutes before sunset we stumbled into Mui Ne and set about finding a place to stay.
Mui Ne is a pretty cool place. It’s a nice beach town and a super popular spot for Kiteboarding and Windsurfing. However, it’s very much a resort-type town and extremely touristy. We looked at a few places but everything was full.
Lesson nr 2 for the day – if you know where you will be the next day pre-book your accommodation.
Not only does is save time not having to hunt around for something suitable but generally online offers are much better than walking in. There is also the added benefit of relying on reviews of past travellers.
Mui Ne Backpackers came to our rescue and we got a small but comfortable double room with en-suite for $32 (It was a rip-off by Vietnamese standards and by FAR the most we spent on accommodation for the duration of our trip but more on that later).
There are some really good eats along the main strip and with especially seafood freshly prepared at open-air restaurants along the beachfront.
The next day we spent around Mui Ne seeing some sights and relaxing on the beach.