If you’re vacationing in Saigon and you have 24 hours to spare, you can explore a bit of the southern Vietnamese countryside by taking an overnight trip to Mui Ne. In contrast to the busy streets and tall buildings of Saigon, Mui Ne’s seaside location offers a more laid back atmosphere for tourists looking to escape the city for a little relaxation and sightseeing.
HOW TO GET THERE
With your starting point in Saigon, the most convenient way to get to Mui Ne is by bus. (The route involving a train ride is a bit complicated and not really recommended for first-time tourists.) The one-way aircon bus fare from Saigon to Mui Ne is around USD 7, which lasts approximately 5 hours long and with one stopover. The top bus lines typically depart Saigon at around 7:30 am, 2:30 pm and 8:00 pm (night bus).
According to tourist feedback, the top 3 bus lines that offer the best services going to Mui Ne are (1) Phuong Trang, (2) Sinh Tourist (formerly Sinh Cafe) and (3) Tam Hanh. As I said in a previous entry, I initially intended to ride with Phuong Trang but ran out of seats for the 7:30 am trip. So I rode with Sinh Tourist instead and I found the service to be quite good. In particular, I liked the way the conductor asked each passenger where they would be staying in at Mui Ne so that everyone can be dropped off exactly in front of their hotel/resort/lodging house.
Both Phuong Trang’s and Sinh Cafe’s ticket offices in Saigon are located at De Tham street in District 1. They’re almost right beside each other so you can just hop over to the other one if one of them has run out of the seats for a particular trip. As for Tam Hanh, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to locate their ticket office so I could not really give any personal feedback regarding it.
Anyway, if you take the 7:30 am trip, you’re bound to arrive at Mui Ne at around 1 pm, at which point you’d need to check in right away at your lodging house (and probably have a quick lunch too) in order to have more time touring. Speaking of lodging houses…
WHERE TO STAY
This involves a lot of internet research. Compared to Saigon and Siem Reap, Mui Ne is relatively unknown so online information, while not scarce, can nevertheless be hard to find if you don’t know where to look. Not many Filipinos have gone to Mui Ne and even fewer have blogged about it, so Philippine-based online forums aren’t much help. Once again though, TripAdvisor can be helpful in lead generation.
I also came across this site and this site, which you might want to check out and explore as they have a lot of useful information regarding Mui Ne, including a detailed map on the location of hotels, resorts and guesthouses. A map is important because around 95% of lodging houses are located along Nguyen Dinh Chieu road, so it allows you to visualize the location of each in relation to all the others.
There are a number of factors to be considered in choosing a place to stay in Mui Ne, but the two foremost are: (1) cost; and (2) location, i.e. if the lodging house is a beach front or not. As far as cost is concerned, do take note that the rates also get adjusted depending on whether it’s on or off peak tourist season. So while USD 30 per night might be a bit pricey for the budget traveler during off peak, the same rate is actually considered “cheap” during peak the season. And as a general rule, beach-side accommodations cost more than those located inland.
Now, if you’re just staying overnight as I’m suggesting, then you certainly won’t have time to do some beach bumming. You can cut costs by just opting to stay at a non-beachfront lodging house. I highly recommend Ever Green Guesthouse. Their rooms are spacious, have a modern design, and includes a bathroom and wide screen cable TV. At the time I stayed with them, I paid the peak rate of USD 25 for one night. It includes free breakfast and the use of the guesthouse pool. The couple who own/manage the place, Ken and Monik, were very kind and accommodating and they really made me feel at home, and this complements well their already excellent facilities. You can make inquiries on rates and other details at firstname.lastname@example.org .
(UPDATE: I came across some information that Ever Green is currently closed and not accepting any bookings. But you can go ahead and inquire in case they open again sometime in the future.)
Another lodging house located inland is the Mui Ne Hills Guesthouse. Although I haven’t had the chance to stay there or even just visit the place, it nevertheless is highly recommended in various travel rating sites, and they were quite helpful when I was making inquiries. They quoted me rates that were a bit higher than Ever Green so I chose the latter. But I promised to put in a good word for them when I have the chance, and I guess this is it. You can email them for inquiries at email@example.com .
Needless to say, it would be much more convenient for you if you make lodging reservations beforehand. If, however, you somehow arrive at Mui Ne without having made prior arrangements, you can be assured that the bus company will nevertheless make an effort to find you lodgings on the spot. However, you have a lot less control over the price and the quality of the accommodations that would be offered to you, and by which point you would no longer have any choice but to accept. (So really, just make it easy on yourself and go do your homework beforehand.)
So you’re in Mui Ne, you’ve already checked in, had lunch and you’re itching to explore its natural attractions. How do you go about it?
There are 2 ways, basically. The first is for you to join a group tour. Your lodging house can arrange this for you as they most certainly would have connections with various tour providers in the area. You can even arrange this directly with Sinh Tourist. The good thing about joining a group tour is that it doesn’t cost as much at USD 5 per person, and you will be picked up by the aircon tour bus at wherever you’re staying at and dropped off there too after the tour is over. The drawback is that the tour would be rigidly organized to follow a set itinerary, so there is almost no room for flexibility.
OR you could tour Mui Ne easy rider style. The term “easy rider” pertains to motorcycle drivers who offer individual tourists tours of the Vietnamese countryside. These tours typically last for a few days (a real road trip) and is a great way to explore Vietnam in a more intimate manner as it involves more direct interactions with country folk and can take one to places not found in tourist guidebooks.
Easy rider tours within Mui Ne are typically priced at USD 8 – USD 10 for an entire afternoon’s worth of touring. If one opts for a whole day tour, then the fee is simply doubled. I availed myself of the services of Mr. Binh, whose contact information I posted at the Tour Guides page. He speaks passable English and has a nice Harley Davidson-type motorcycle with a back rest, therefore allowing me to take pictures using both hands while riding, and not to mention being a lot more comfortable than the typical motorcycle riding experience. I was also provided a protective helmet. For more reading on the places that Mr. Binh took me to in Mui ne, click here.
If you haven’t purchased return tickets to Saigon for the next day, Mr. Binh (and probably any other easy rider) can bring you to a bus ticket office prior to taking you back to your lodging house at the conclusion of the tour.
WHERE/WHAT TO EAT
All that touring for the entire afternoon is bound to work up a huge hunger in anyone. Fortunately, the entire stretch of Nguyen Dinh Chieu road is lined with as many restaurants as there are lodging houses. It honestly took me more than half an hour of walking along the road and checking out the restaurants before I was able to pick one where I thought it would be nice to have dinner in. On both sides of the road, waiters would try to attract the attention of passersby to their menu display in an effort to have them dine at their restaurant.
Since Mui Ne is an area with a very high concentration of western tourists (including a LOT of Russians), most restaurants offer western food. But many of them also offer traditional Vietnamese food alongside the western menu. USD 7 is already enough to buy yourself a filling meal with drink. I recommend that you dine al fresco as the area is quite cool at night, benefited by light breezes.
Depending on the ticket you purchased, you’ll be leaving Mui Ne for Saigon the next day either at around 9:00 am or 1:30 pm and will be picked up by the bus at your lodging house. Be reminded that in the case of Sinh Tourist, their buses arrive exactly on time (something that might be surprising for Filipinos.) So for example, if you were told that you’d be picked up at 9:14 am, you can be sure that the bus will arrive within that small 60-second window between 9:13 am and 9:15 am. So better be prepared and already checked out 10 minutes before the appointed time to ensure that you won’t waste the other passengers’ time.
As before, you can ask more specific questions through the comments section below.
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This entry is part of the Vietnam-Cambodia series dated November 27 – December 3, 2011:
1. Preview: Contrasting Motorcycle Scenes in Vietnam
2. Preview: Temple-hunting in Cambodia
3. Suggested 7-day Itinerary for Vietnam and Cambodia
4. Budget Estimate for a 7-day Vietnam-Cambodia Tour
5. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 1 – Arrival in Saigon, Cu Chi Tunnels, City Tour
6. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 2 & 3 – A 13-hour bus ride, Angkor Wat at Dawn
7. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 3 – All-day Temple-hopping in Siem Reap
8. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 4 – Beng Mealea and Koh Ker
9. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 5 & 6 – Two bus rides to Mui Ne
10. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 6 – Mui Ne’s Natural Attractions
11. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 7 – Last-minute tour of Saigon
12. Vietnam-Cambodia Travel Tips
13. The 24-hour Mui Ne Travel Guide