From sleepy, surf town living to a shock of electric, buzzing city life infused with some of the most heavy history, Mui Ne and Ho Chi Minh marked the final chapter of our tour through Vietnam. To clarify, in no way are these two cities, or the experiences we had there, at all related. In fact, they are quite polar opposites. The laidback nature of Mui Ne had us transcending into utter serenity and inner peace, while our quick stopover in Ho Chi Minh City was Vietnam's way of saying, "Look at all this you have yet to see," and beckoning our eventual return. I can promise we will answer to the demands of those whispering spirits, for sure.
For now, let's relive the magic that was those final three days in Nam...
HOW WE DID IT
Mui Ne is a small coastal fishing village just outside the slightly larger city, Phan Thiet. We stayed in the Ham Thien area of Mui Ne, which if you've ever been to areas of Southern California like Encinitas, reminded me of that, in the way the town just stretched out along the quiet coastal highway, with surfers walking along one side of the road and tall palm trees hovering over them on the other side. We stayed at the Mui Ne Backpacker Village, which was in a perfect location for us to walk just about anywhere, or otherwise catch a quick cab wherever we needed to go. The hostel also had a great selection of popular local adventures, such as riding ATVs in the sand dunes, but we were hard pressed to find a good reason to leave the simply serene pool area at the hostel.
When we did leave, it was certainly well worth it. We started off a full day of pampering in Mui Ne with beachfront yoga at Joe's Barefoot Garden (one of the most idyllic yoga sessions I've ever had!) followed by massages at the Dream Spa right across the street. If you don't already know about getting massages in SE Asia, let me tell you, $6 will get you at least 45 minutes of serious kneading and relaxation. If you're willing to spend a little bit more than that, we did check out Nina Spa, which seemed pretty popular in the area, and the atmosphere looked unbelievably promising for therapeutic enlightenment! Following our massage, we had a delicious dinner at the Be Green Cafe, and then headed right down the block to the famous Joe's Cafe for some great love music in an eclectic, inviting environment. On our way home, we danced in the street under the full moon as a spontaneous rainstorm poured down on us and remembered that this is what is feels like to be alive.
Mui Ne seems to attract tourists who have a taste for adrenaline, with a variety of attractions from kitesurfing to off-roading in the sand dunes. With that comes the type of hostels and bars to appeal to those travelers. I would urge anyone who visits Mui Ne and Ham Thien to step outside those "comfort zones" and explore what local restaurants and shops have to offer. There are revered beach front seafood restaurants with some of the freshest fish in the region, as well as local cafes, like our personal favorite, Com Chay Vi Deu, which served incredibly delicious and refreshing dishes at astonishingly low prices. It's a small town so there's no excuse to not get on your little motor scooter and see it all.
HO CHI MINH CITY
HOW WE DID IT
With just a little over 12 hours to soak in as much as possible of Vietnam's most populous city, we had to hit the ground running as soon as we arrived. A huge thanks to strong Vietnamese coffee and the availability of Uber in this city for making it possible for us to knock off everything on our to do list!
The first destination was of course, the War Remnants Museum, something we had been looking forward to seeing the whole trip. I think the experience of seeing this museum entailed is pretty obvious, as well as the importance of visiting sites like this. As an American, it's disappointing to realize how little we know about the war, and I was so impressed by this museum for offering an exhibit that is so informative in a non-biased and respectful way. It's heavy, but it's imperative to learn about the past so that we can move forward, and no better place to come to terms with history than in the place where it all took place. For me, there were two major takeaways. One was the raw emotions and real tragedies that were conveyed through the outstanding photo collections at the museum. There were several exhibits from war photographers to Agent Orange victims (both Vietnamese and American), and each photo carried with it of course a thousand words that unveiled all the horrible truths about this horrific time. The other takeaway was reading facts and numbers about the war, and seeing how easily some leaders chose to fight fire with more fire. For me, trying to be louder or more assertive than another person in an argument is an instant indicator that something is wrong, and that's not the way to communicate a point, whatsoever. So to see the budget and astounding numbers of troops and weapons that were poured into this war... was pretty heartbreaking when the loss seemed clear from the start. If there's anything we can learn from the past, I think this approach is so crucial to the way we deal with those who don't share our same views or are considered "enemies," that acting out in a more violent way does not solve the true problem. Pardon the rant, but I think it's something worth noting.
After visiting the museum, we decompressed and reflected at a dreamy coffee shop around the corner called Milkbar. The cozy, inviting atmosphere could have kept us there all day, either swinging on the patio or curling up in the cushions in the attic. We enjoyed a mouthwatering M&M milkshake and a slice of heavenly Matcha tiramisu cake as we started to reminisce on our time in Vietnam and all the little things were grateful for experiencing along the way.
From there, we walked to work up an appetite for the final, most epic meal possible in honor of the past two weeks at a local gem called Cục Gạch Quán. This place is like, a pinnacle of Vietnamese dining. An 80 page menu offers traditional dishes from every region of the country, served up all natural, in a beautiful presentation, in a stunning atmosphere that celebrates everything it means to be Vietnamese. We picked several of the vegetable dishes, including one with homemade tofu that will forever live in my heart. A bit on the pricier side, but if there's any place to treat yourself to some fine dining during your travels in Nam, this is the place.
The rest of the night consisted of getting lost in the backpackers district where we were staying, and the surrounding areas. We meandered through the loud, chaotic alleyways of the city, popping out into streets with big flashing lights, blaring club music, and billowing smoke from hookah bars. This was our first taste of a true Asian metropolis and it was exhilarating. The night markets and the luxury fashion boutiques, the parks where flocks of kids were participating in rollerskating races, the electric billboard advertisements and of course, the considerable contrast of the city folk from the local, humble Vietnamese people we had only encountered before this.
It was a big and flashy to end our time in Vietnam, but also, a definitive decision moment for us to plan our eventual return :)
Next up, our final thoughts on Vietnam and our journey to Cambodia!