Hi folks! Welcome to week two. I’m currently finishing this up at 6:58 EST, a full two minutes before I’m supposed to have it in. Why so down to the wire? Well, it’s been sort of a crazy week here in New York City. I don’t know if you read the news much or care about what goes on here (I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t), but we’ve been having a bit of weather these days. Yeah sure, you’ve got the monsoon-like rain showers that flood the streets. But at least you can get from place to place if you own a couple of nice boots. Try having to shovel your boss’s car out of a prison of snow, and then drive halfway across the city on slushy, slippery roads, only to find that the street you need to get down hasn’t been cleared yet.
Anyway, it’s hardly an excuse I suppose. Mostly it’s just difficult to condense thousands of pictures down to nine or ten at a time. Not only that, but because there are simply too many places and pictures to separate neatly into ten weeks, a lot of times I’ll have to try and reduce a number of places into one post. This may vary from two cities in the same region (as in Nepal’s Kathmandu and Pokhara) or in the case of this week’s installment, two similar spots that exist in the same category.
Today we’ll be exploring the beaches and coasts of Vietnam. Long has Vietnam remained a second- or third-tier beach destination, with nearby Thailand and Bali taking most of the spotlight in international travel magazines. And yet there is really no reason for this. Okay, so Vietnam doesn’t have full-moon parties, nor is there exceptional surfing locations to be found. But maybe that’s a good thing.
While Vietnam still lacks many of the beach experiences that bring tourists to Southeast Asia, the flip side is that much of its coast is still relatively undeveloped in comparison to its neighbors. And for those of us that enjoy coastal areas less for the potential to drink rum out of buckets while dancing to dubstep or for the ability to locate a 7-11 nearby, and more for the beauty of the places themselves, this can be a huge relief.
Just a 5-hour air-conditioned bus ride from Saigon, Mui Ne is one of the most popular destinations for both tourists and expats alike looking to get out of the smoggy, muggy, crowded hustle and bustle of city life.
But far from being just another strip of tacky beach resorts – mind you, Mui Ne certainly has that, at the very least – the area offers a wide range of incredible sights and activities. Whether it’s wandering across the desert-like red sand dunes of Doi Cat or sliding down them on corrugated plastic sheets, walking barefoot through freshwater streams in the open jungle, or simply taking a motorcycle ride along the coast, stopping at fishing villages along the way to sample the day’s catch, there’s many memorable experiences that can nicely complement a few days of lounging on the beach under an umbrella.
And for those who still need a bit of hedonism in their beach vacation, there’s still plenty of bucket drinks to sample in a myriad of bars and night clubs dotting the beach. But don’t expect to find the party of the century. For now they remain mostly mellow, free from the onslaught of gap year kids looking to Southeast Asia for the best way to end up on CNN or Nancy Grace (mass alcohol poisoning or kidnapping are the current stalwarts I believe).
Located at the very bottom of Vietnam, just off the coast that borders nearby Cambodia, lies the island of Phu Quoc. The history of the island is one of a sleepy backwater port that, because of its strategic closeness to both countries, was continually occupied, captured, and recaptured with little fanfare over the last century. Now the island is booming, mostly due to its massive fish sauce and black pepper output, and the recent development of pearl farming off the coast.
Tourism development has taken a while to catch on, and one can only hope that it remains that way. Much of the coast is still made up of untouched, pristine beaches, with the interior comprised of small dirt motorbike paths that cut through the dense forest. One can easily spend a full day just circumnavigating the 130km road around the island, and another zig-zagging through the interior. And don’t worry if you get lost, just keep driving in one direction and you’ll be bound to hit one coast or the other within an hour.
And for those that like a little bit of adventure, Phu Quoc is becoming quite known for its excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities. Hiring a boat for the day to explore nearby islands and coves is as simple as heading down to the port town of An Thoi at the bottom of the island and finding a captain that will take you. Sometimes you can come across some real salty dogs, who will take you to floating villages and secluded diving spots that no one else knows about. But as Phu Quoc becomes more developed, I expect that a lot of these small-fry fishing boats will be knocked out of competition by the larger resort packaged tours. So enjoy it while it lasts.