Published: January 6th 2012October 31st 2011
So... we find ourselves in Saigon with nothing to do and more than a couple of months left on our visas. It was time to put into action something we’d been meaning to do for a while on this trip, find somewhere nice to settle down for a while, do nothing and just enjoy being a family with no work commitments to get in the way.
We weren’t sure where to go but after wandering around the city and being repeatedly bombarded by images of Phu Quoc in every travel agents window we thought it would be a shame to give it a miss. Lying planet also give it a stellar write up and I’ve also heard good things on forums so an easy booking with Air Mekong online later and we were all ready to go.
Phu Quoc lies in the Gulf of Thailand and is actually a lot closer to Cambodia, lying only 15km offshore. Vietnam’s ownership of the island is something that Cambodia are a little bitter about and maybe rightly so if everything I’d heard about the island is correct. From Saigon it’s a long painful bus ride followed by a boat ride that would
easily take all day but thankfully it only took us 40mins, which was barely enough time to enjoy the complementary Danish pastry provided on board.
We landed on the island to be greeted by grey skies and rain, lot and lots of rain, but we’re in the tropics and it was wet season so we couldn’t really complain... we figured it would stop sometime soon, the sun would come out and we could find our slice of island paradise for a couple of months. We were wrong, very wrong!
We found somewhere nice to stay a little south of the main town Duong Dong, slightly off the beach to keep costs down but only a couple of minutes walk away so we could enjoy when the weather improved.
To explore the island we rented a motorbike and we even bought helmets for the boys so that we could all hop on board and ride around on it. As far as I can tell helmets aren’t law for children as only adults ever seem to be wearing them, but we weren’t going to risk it and as they only cost 90,000 dong which is a little less than
£3 it’s hardly a big expenditure, bulky as they are they’ll also be a pretty cool souvenir for when they’re older.
Whenever I saw entire Vietnamese families riding around on one bike I always wondered how safe can it really be and how does the bike cope, but after a few moments driving I quickly realised it’s actually pretty good. I didn’t feel unsafe at all and we finally had a small piece of freedom, we could go wherever we liked whenever we liked. We had Nate standing between my legs holding onto the handlebars, Faye on the back and poor little Gabe sandwiched between the two of us with nothing better to look at than the back of my sweaty t-shirt. Of course they really loved it and whenever we left the room they grabbed their helmets so they could go riding.... Several times while driving they both did fall asleep, which really made us feel like a true Vietnamese family, Nate slumped at the front resting his head in the crook of my elbow and Gabe asleep in Faye’s arms, even like that it didn’t feel unsafe to all be on a bike, it’s just a shame
they wouldn’t let you do it in the UK, these things get way better miles to the gallon than a car.
I love rain in the tropics. Mostly you see a dark cloud, it covers the sun, heavy rain starts to fall and you duck for cover for a short while. As quickly as it came it’s gone and the sun is shining again. Our experience in Phu Quoc was nothing like that, it just rained and rained, maybe 90% of the time. Heavy rain, light rain, that annoying drizzle that just leaves you damp, we had it all. For the remaining 10% of the time it just looked like it was going to rain, with grey overcast skies which left the beaches not very appealing and a far cry from the images of paradise we saw in all the pictures. We tried not to let it stop us from enjoying ourselves, we rode around the island exploring as much as we could and as much as the roads would allow. Most of the roads we encountered weren’t sealed which would be fine when dry but in the wet just consist of potholes filled with muddy brown water
which left us covered from the knees down. We managed to get some short beach action in the south as we had a reprieve from the rain for a couple of hours and there was a secluded cove where the water was calm and clear, but of course it didn’t last and it wasn’t long till it was raining again.
After about a week we admitted to ourselves that it just wasn’t working. The constant rain was stopping us from enjoying ourselves and was starting to piss us off; we couldn’t plan to do anything as we didn’t know if we were in for light rain or torrential rain. When the rain got even slightly heavier than a drizzle, riding the bike was useless as safety aside we had to drive really slowly otherwise we got complaints from Nate in front that it was stinging his face. Sadly we admitted defeat and booked a flight back to Saigon for a couple of days later and actually started to smile for the first time in a few days.
The flight back was just as quick and uneventful as the flight there and we arrived in Saigon to blazing
sunshine and blue skies, thank you Saigon for warming our hearts when we were feeling a little low. We checked back into the hotel we’d left only 10 days earlier much to the owners surprise and were then left trying to figure out what the hell we were going to do.
First things first we had to organise something for Nate as he was about to celebrate his 3rd
birthday. We took a visit to Cholon, which is where Saigon’s Chinatown is and stocked up on toys for him, mostly the counterfeit ‘Bob the Builder’ variety which flash and blare out cheesy K-Pop when the heads are pressed, they are really bloody annoying but he really loves them and I suppose that’s what’s important. We played in the park all day and went to the bakery and got him own personal decorated cream cake to eat. We also visited the water puppets again as he enjoyed it so much last time and has been mentioning it daily ever since.
After it was all over we were still left wondering what we were going to do and where we were going to go and in the end settled for
Mui Ne, just up the coast from Saigon. We’d never been there before so it was somewhere new and I’d heard mostly good things about it so it seemed a good place to check out.
It was a 5 hour bus ride to Mui Ne which meant we were there by early afternoon and when we arrived the sun was shining so we were happy already, it didn’t take us long to find somewhere to stay and we were set to explore. It was actually a lot bigger than I imagined it was going to be, Mui Ne is actually a fishing village but the bit tourist’s are interested in is a very long strip of hotels and restaurants that stretch for about 13km south. Due to conditions in the area it’s a perfect place for kiteboarding and windsurfing which was evident as soon as we’d arrived as the sky was full of them.
Mui Ne was much more like how we imagined our time would be, it rained sometimes but always in the late afternoon and always only for an hour or two, we explored the strip by renting a motorbike, visited the fishing village to see
the myriad of boats and sat and watched the ladies on the shore shucking thousands of shellfish for the fish sauce the area is so famous for. We took a walk up the fairy spring, a clear stream that runs though some sand dunes but mostly we played, we painted, we ate and we wandered up and down the beach and swam in the sea.
After a couple of weeks it became clear that the boys were getting a little antsy and bored, so we moved, to the hotel next door. This simple change in scenery was all that was need to refresh their spirits and we continued on with our routine, after a while though it became obvious though that we were all starting to feel a little bored. It suddenly became very clear to us that we were at our happiest when we were moving. Sure, spending hours and hours on a bus/plane/train is no fun for anyone, especially when you’ve got two kids to entertain, but the refreshing change when we reach our destination makes up for it. We quickly decided that we weren’t going to spend two months doing nothing, and we should start making
plans to move on heading south to Australia. We’d also decided that this trip wasn’t going to run into 2 years+ like we’d originally planned, we always said that we’d keep going till we were fed up or broke and surprisingly, being broke hasn’t come first, we’re still happy travelling, but it is hard, hard work with kids, and we always had the thought in the back of our minds that when we went home we’ll go home with quite a bit of money left to spend on other things. With this in mind I booked us some flights to Bangkok from Saigon, a great place to start the journey south.
We ended up spending nearly a month in Mui Ne and honestly, we had a really great time but we had to get ready to head back to Saigon for a few days to pick up some last minute shopping while it’s still cheap. Before we left though we thought we really ought to break from the idleness and go see the sand dunes in the area, the sand dunes that dot every poster advertising Mui Ne as a destination to visit. Somehow it ended up being the
last day before we left. We chartered a Jeep, which took us straight to the white dunes first and if I’m honest I really wasn’t expecting much at all, I’m not sure why but I thought sand dunes in Vietnam can’t be that goodl but boy was I wrong. They were excellent. Sure there was loads of Vietnamese tearing around on ATV’s, but that’s where the annoyances stopped. They were huge, the sand was pale and powdery and it wasn’t very busy at all. There was next to no litter around too which is always a welcome break in Asia. Straight away Nate pointed out the largest dune he could see and shouted “I want to climb that mountain”, so with a lot of grumbles (mainly from Faye), we strolled up the dune. It was spectacular and the boys absolutely loved it.
After the white dunes we headed back to the red dunes (the sand is reddish) to watch the sunset. Again we were pleasantly surprised they were quite crowded but they were pretty spectacular, the sunset wasn’t the best we’ve seen, but you can’t blame the dunes for that. We had a really good time and I can
see why they’re advertised so heavily.
Another 5 hour bus ride and we were back in Saigon, we were happy with our decision to leave, but a little sad to be leaving Vietnam. After spending 3 months in the country this year we’ve really fallen in love with it and sadly have no idea when we’ll return. Still we have to keep moving onwards, more countries, more adventures.
There are more photos below