How does one start a phượt, an extended motorbike road trip? They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We’re not walking, per se, but on leaving Saigon, we decided our first stepping stone would be Phan Thiết.
It’s a solid 200 kilometer drive, which is the rough limit we’re setting for a single day’s drive. It also holds some significance for us since it was our destination for our first short vacation together, almost two years ago. In fact, we checked into the same beachside hostel. Mũi Né, the easternmost ward of the Phan Thiết area, is a hotspot for backpackers, and is a popular location for surfing and windsurfing. Some hostel beds can come as cheap as a dollar per night. We opted for a slightly more expensive tent on the beach. It was a great view to wake up to.
Any cursory google search on Mũi Né will turn up not only the beaches, but the sand dunes – a remarkable sight in a place as wet and tropical as Vietnam. Anyone driving the main road through town will pass the primary red dunes. A stop there will see you beset by women offering a plastic sheet to use as a sled (for a price, of course). The slide is fun, but will also leave you with plenty of warm sand in your clothes. Just as exciting, especially for folks like us, are the photography opportunities. I’ll let them speak for themselves.
Like many big tourist destinations in Vietnam, Phan Thiết is a town of extremes. You’ll see huge, expensive resorts, and some restaurants and shops will overcharge for subpar products. But just as often, especially if you get off the main road, you’ll stumble upon fantastic food for pennies on the resort dollar. Wandering through the little fishing village on the west side of Mũi Né’s peninsula, we made one such discovery. At the water’s edge a few women sold freshly caught seafood and were happy to cook it up for a minor added charge. We picked out an Spiny lobster (a first for both of us), and some huge sea snails. A meal that might have cost $35 or more at a nice seafood restaurant here in Vietnam (thus why we’ve never tried lobster before). Instead, we paid a hair over $8 for this luxury meal, and had a great view of the harbor all the while. The hostess told us she often sees tourists stop at the seawall above for photos, but only Vietnamese people actually walk down the stairs for her food.
We learn the lesson over and over: follow the locals.
Since this was our second time to Mũi Né, we noticed one unfortunate change: the beach, on our first trip, was very clean (perhaps the cleanest we’ve seen anywhere in Vietnam). This time, though there wasn’t as much trash as shows up in many places, it was still hard to escape the plastic. Vietnam is sadly ranked as one of the five top polluters of the ocean, and it shows along the entire coast. Come to enjoy the beach, but please pack your garbage out!
Our stay in Phan Thiết was brief, but we have a lot yet to see! Next up: the tiny, out-of-the-way town of Vĩnh Hy. Onward!