The ride out of Saigon and Mũi Né
The time has finally arrived to embark on one of journeys that had me most excited for this trip through Asia: the motorbike ride from Saigon to Hanoi. I’ve bought my bike, taken a practice run through the Mekong Delta, spent my final days in Saigon, and now our bags are packed and we’re ready to go!
We gathered outside our hostel, the Vietnam Inn Saigon, with the awesome staff for our final, somewhat bittersweet goodbyes. They joked around, telling us to make sure we manage to make it out of the city. Apparently not long ago, a group tried to leave but couldn’t find their way out and just ended up giving up and returned, settling instead on one more night at the hostel and tried again in the morning. We all had a last laugh and we rolled out… in what we thought was the right direction. Turns out getting out of Saigon really is more confusing than you might think. Apparently some motorbike shops, as a courtesy after buying, will even offer to show you the way out so all you have to do is follow.
After some frustrating wrong turns on the highway, one of which actually led to Arjun taking a spill on the shoulder, we finally had the right direction leading us out of the city. The right direction, that is, had we been driving a car… Apparently motorbikes were not allowed on the highway that we ended up on and we were escorted to a side road at a toll booth by an angry Vietnamese man. We had to ride that side road all the way to QL52, which eventually turned into QL1A, which took us to Mũi Né. Lesson learned: Saigon to Mũi Né: start on QL52! Google Maps doesn’t know where motorbikes can’t go.
I could feel by then that we were both a little disheartened with the trip. Having already successfully completed a couple through the Mekong Delta and down to Cambodia, I kept my morals up, knowing that things did not usually turn out like this and they were bound to get better. This having been Arjun’s first taste of Vietnamese motorbike action however, and having already bailed once and struggle with directions, was giving him some second thoughts on the whole idea.
We stopped for a coffee, regrouped, and I urged him to put a hoodie on top of his tank. I know that riding in a hoodie is counter intuitive under the Vietnamese sun but, as I already learned the hard way, you have to protect yourself from it. No amount of sunscreen can defend you from hours of that blazing sun. Worst part is, the wind keeps you cool, so you don’t realize how bad you’re burning until it’s too late and you’ve lobstered up. The worst part of hitting the road for me is strapping your luggage to your bike rack, which we had to undo to reach his hoodie, but it was well worth it.
It may have been the hoodie, which cooled him off, or it may have been that we were just then hitting Vietnam’s scenic roads and leaving the sprawl lingering from Saigon, probably a mix of both, but he later said that that moment was a turning point in the ride. From there on in, we were surrounded by interesting, arid mountains, the weather had cooled, and we had both caffeined up on the side of the road. We were zooming past towns before we knew it.
Almost as if to apologize for a rough start, the highway took us down another wrong turn, but this time to something truly intriguing: an old, abandoned amusement park. It really freaked us out in a way that a horror movie does: you were surprised, shocked, even scared, but you would totally go to another one should it present itself.
The rest of the way to Mũi Né was a piece of cake and it flew by on well lit, well paved roads. The entire section of the city of Phan Thiet, where Mũi Né is located, after QL1A enters it is vibrant and worth exploring.
Once we finally arrived, we quickly found some bungalows to house us for our two day stay. We saw that, despite the recent developments, largely involving Russian hotels, it should still be easy to find something for under $16 for a 2 or 3 person room. We settled in at the Hong Di Bungalows for $15/day and spent the night recovering from the ride and the weekend in Saigon by watching the waves crash on the beachfront property.
The city is best known for its amazing kite surfing and we tried to see if we could get in on a piece of the action. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. We only had two days, which was just enough for the introductory course, which didn’t seem worth the cost if we’d have to leave right after and never get a chance to put our new skills to the test. Looks like I’ll have to add Mũi Né to my official list of cities that I need to return to, along with Chiang Mai and Ha Tien, and plan to stay at least a week.
We still had a great time exploring the beaches all day and they lived up to the hype. It was sunny and warm and perfect for relaxing, reading, chatting, and catching up on work so, from a blogging perspective, it was pretty uneventful. It let us recharge our batteries and carry on two days later to Dalat, but not before one of the best mornings of the trip so far at the sand dunes!
That’s right, Mũi Né has sand dunes. We made sure to wake up very early on our last day as we were heading to Dalat and see the sun rise on these beautiful mounds. It required a 4:30 am wake up so we could hit the road by 5. Sunrise was at 6 and we were determined to catch it. We even planned ahead and bought canned coffee and crackers the night before so we could eat while waking up.
We strapped the bags on the bikes and we were off again. We started at dark and could slowly see the light brushing up against the sky as we made our journey down the road. It was a wonderful sight.
We arrived just in time to rent an ATV and go up. This experience made everything worth it. I didn’t even know Vietnam had a desert before coming here, it’s amazing what you discover while traveling. I remember going to some sand dunes with my parents as a child but I was too young to gain an appreciation for them then. They really are beautiful and it’s an unique feeling to walk, run and tumble through them. We frolicked around as much as we could before it was time to really head for Dalat.
On our way out, we passed a group trying to do some epic head stands and we decided drive over and help them out. The sand actually cradles your body very well so yoga and head stands are quite a bit easier and less daunting, with a soft surface to tumble on. With a little help, we got them up and they in turn gave us a great Dalat hostel recommendation which turned out great! We now had an actual destination, and we were off!