Peter Cornish gives an honest glance at the quick beach-getaway town of Mui Ne, and finds Vietnam’s Number 1 camping ground.
If you fancy a quick, in-country getaway with some well-earned beach time, you’re probably packing your bags and heading to the resorts of Mui Ne. Depending on your budget, you’re either staying at the Phan Thiet end of the strip with the sun ripened, budgie smuggling, package-break tourists, or down towards the village itself with the budget traveller and those who want to escape the crowds. Whichever your choice, the beach ain’t much to write home about.
A lot has changed in Mui Ne since it first came to the notice of the world during the 1995 solar eclipse. Back then it was little more than a single dirt track, lined with palm trees and wooden shacks with their corrugated iron roofs. Accommodation choices were limited to huts or bungalows, there were no scooters for hire and little in the way of bars and restaurants.
The strip’s reputation grew as it attracted the attention of kite surfers drawn to some of the best winds in the world. As more people ventured off the beaten track in search of virgin sands, the once sleepy stretch of coast slowly succumbed to the blight of commercialization. Investors spent millions developing resorts, entrepreneurs increased the variety of bars and restaurants on offer and Ivan and Ivonka realized they could catch cheap flights for a week in the sun. The place is so crowded now you can hardly make out the beach from the hotels that line it.
Few of us venture much further than the strip itself, perhaps a trip to the sand dunes or a paddle up the increasingly polluted Fairy Stream, maybe even a drive into Phan Thiet for an attempt at shopping. But most tend to stay around the hustle and bustle of local bars and restaurants and grab what beach time they can. But just a few kilometers up the coast there’s a beach that puts Ham Tien to shame and with a resort that caters for the meagerest of budgets.
Long Son Mui Ne, campground, restaurant and beach club is located just a short bus ride from the village of Mui Ne, 15 kms up the coast on the expansive and secluded Suoi Nouc Beach. Facing east, this as yet undeveloped stretch of beach is perfectly situated for catching sunrises and sunsets and its seclusion provides weary travelers with a break from the hustle and bustle of the main tourist spots up and down the coast.
With an uncluttered beach that escapes much of the flotsam and jetsam that plagues Mui Ne’s strip, the windy season offers an excellent down shore breeze that attracts kits and windsurfers keen to avoid the overly crowded waves down the coast. And only twenty minutes by public bus from town, it’s easily and cheaply accessible.
Suoi Nouc Beach remains undiscovered by many. The strip itself is a ghost town of partially finished and abandoned resorts, brought about by the 2011 downturn in the economy and government instruction to cease work on uncompleted resorts. Long Son Mui Ne Exotic Restaurant & Resort started life offering traditional Vietnamese cuisine to tourists, along with the opportunity to watch performances of classical Vietnamese opera and water puppetry.
The resort proved popular with Vietnamese guests but failed to attract foreign tourists. Realizing they had a prime location of over 160 meters of sea front property, the owners were keen to exploit this by targeting budget travellers, tempted by cheap prices, seclusion and a beach with nobody else on it. The answer has become Vietnam’s Number 1 camping ground.
Officially opened in 2011, Long Son Mui Ne offers a resort feel at backpacker prices. An array of accommodation includes ready pitched tents in their lush gardens or on the sandy beach itself. Also offer is a choice of dorms, air conditioned or not, as well as outside double dorms and bungalows. Guests are welcome to pitch their own tents, or just sling a hammock between two palm trees.
Tents are single or double and come equipped with ground mats and pillows. The dorms sleep between 12 to 14 people and face straight onto the beach, perfect for watching the sun rise and enjoying the cool, early morning ocean breeze. A stroll through the tranquil gardens with koi ponds, palm trees and lush shrubs takes guests out of the accommodation area in to the communal space that occupies much of the resort.
The vibe is a mix of chill and party with daily events geared towards the wants of guests staying there at any particular time. The resort hosts regular parties, often themed, that attract revelers from both Mui Ne and Saigon, especially for their Friday promotions that offers tents for just $1 a night (normal dorms $3, air con dorms $5). Combining this offer with daily happy hours from 7-9pm and drinks from just $1, this is a place for the budget minded to stop worrying about the bank balance and kick back and enjoy.
Saturday night entertainment includes a $5 pub crawl along the Mui Ne strip with further promotions for party goers at each bar or club they visit. A private jeep is on hand to take guests back and forth along the coast if the fun gets too much, but with an early morning dip in the sea to wash away the morning-after hangover, Sunday promises to be another day of easy, unstressed relaxation.
Other activities on offer during the week include a Wednesday movie night with beer and popcorn for just $1, or Poker Night on Tuesday, again at just $1 in the pot (winner takes all!). Other activities and facilities on offer include volleyball and football tournaments, a large, communal chill-out lounge with a book exchange area, board games and beanbags as well as a well-stocked bar and a restaurant popular with Vietnamese visitors as well as passing travellers.
The staff are friendly and welcoming, mostly travelers doing the South East Asian circuit who decided to stop and chill for a while, enjoy the vibe and save some cash for their next adventure. They are happy to share their experiences and offer advice, as well as book bus reservations or tours of local sites.
Whilst camping on a secluded beach is not everyone’s idea of a relaxing location, if you’re in need of a bit of downtime, on a budget, and want to escape Saigon for a few days, this is certainly an option worth considering.