Mui Ne Fishing Market: a Fascinating Smelly Seafood Cemetery

Our second stop on the $5 Mui Ne Tour took us to a atrociously smelling but fascinating fishing market. Also known as the fishing village, many TripAdvisor reviews gave it low ratings due to it smelling bad and being covered with dead fish. Isn’t that what you’d expect to see (and smell) at a fish market?

Yes, it smelled horrible which was the reason we didn’t stay long. We didn’t even stay long enough to buy some fresh seafood although no one else on the tour seemed interested. I guess bleached, processed and wrapped in plastic fish is more appealing than fresh naturally smelling fish.

We had to step over dead crabs to take photos of the fishing boats, but despite the grossness, it was quite beautiful. These fishermen use large circular tubs as floating fish catching vessels. Some are tied to boats but others had their own oars. Some had separators and logs to sit on, which is pretty genius.

Basically, you fill these tubs with water once you are in the ocean and you place the caught fish inside to swim around your legs until you dock. You can leave your fish in the tub until you’re ready to move them into a selling tub.

If we had been alone, we probably would have spent more time there and done a little shopping. After five minutes you start to get used to the putrid smell anyway. But everyone was itching to leave so after just 10 minutes, we were off to the white sand dunes where we would ride an ATV for the first time!

 

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Don’t Ride Ostriches at the Fairy Stream – Mui Ne, Vietnam

The Fairy Stream is an incredibly unique place where a shallow river flows through sandy mountains, trailing red and yellow sand through the water. When you visit most rivers, you walk alongside their banks. At the Fairy Stream, you walk through the water and the warm mud feels amazing on your feet. Free foot spa? Hell yes!

Speaking of free, we read about a lot of people getting scammed into paying to enter the fairy stream. Don’t. It’s a free attraction without any particular entrance, so if anyone tries to get money out of you, tell them no. If you want to spend some money, there are plenty of stores alongside the river that sell snacks and souvenirs.

Soon after entering the stream, you’ll see advertisements for ostrich riding. We walked by the ostrich farm and took a peak at the poor birds. Although the signs only showed children riding them, I’m sure they’d let adults do it for the right price. Needless to say, please don’t ride the ostriches. They are already mistreated enough by being kept in tiny cages and grass-less fenced off areas. They don’t need people sitting on them and injuring them any further…

Sadly, these ostriches are not the only unhappy animals in the area. We passed a tiny resort style place offering food, massages and a free zoo. The zoo had animals in tiny cages without anything for them to eat or play with. The monkeys looked deprived and aggressive and the rest of the animals weren’t much better off.

The only thriving animals we saw here was a family of cows grazing on the riverside grass and peeing in the river. All urine is sterile, right? Sure, they looked a little thing, but the cows were roaming freely and enjoying nature. They were used to people so they let you get close and photograph them as long as you didn’t get too close, especially to the baby cow.

We also found a cute water snail and a saw a duck family swimming by. We took lots of photos and I got stink eye from the mother duck when I tried to film her babies up close. Oops.

We went on a very hot afternoon and it wasn’t too busy. We only had an hour to explore so we didn’t walk through the entire stream, that would probably have taken us two hours. We climbed the sandy hills, we rubbed mud all over us and we enjoyed the beautiful views. The entire area is red, yellow and orange, making it look more like Mars than Vietnam.

Watch our YouTube video to see the stream for yourself!

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The Best Tour of Mui Ne Costs Just $5

Mui Ne is a popular beach town swarming with mostly Vietnamese and Russian tourists. It’s only a five hour drive from Ho Chi Minh which makes it a great place to go for a weekend getaway. Since it was really hot and bug-full during the time we went, we did not enjoy much our stay… with the exception of the amazing the $5 tour.

After two days of failing to relax on the shade-less sweltering beach with more mosquitoes than grains of sand, we decided to kill some time by taking the tour. We had read a lot of negative reviews about these cheap tours where you are just dropped off at a place and picked up after some time, so we kept our expectations low.

The car that picked us up from our Long Son Campground Hostel was an old US military car. It was on time and it appeared to be just us on the tour. The first stop was the one we were most excited about, the Fairy Stream. Just as expected, our driver dropped us off by the entrance and told us to be back in an hour.

We left our shoes in a large pile near a lady selling souvenirs and food before stepping into the warm muddy water. It felt like we were at a foot spa! We spent an hour walking through the stream and the views were spectacular. It was such a unique magical place with cute cows grazing alongside the river.

There were some bad things too, like some trash in the water, signs for cruel ostrich riding and a tiny zoo that clearly didn’t care about the well being of it’s unhappy animals. Other than that and the lady that tried to cheat us by giving us the wrong change (very common in Vietnam unfortunately) it was a lot of fun and already worth the $5.

When we returned to our driver, he was relaxing and smoking with six new tourists who were joining us for the rest of the tour. Sure, we had to squeeze a bit to fit into the car, but at least we had company and the people were all chatty and fun! We started getting to know them on our way to our next stop, the fish market.

Maybe we should stop reading reviews of the places we plan on visiting, because people had some horrible things to say about the fish market. Someone referred to it as a seafood cemetery, which was a pretty accurate description… but aren’t all food markets seafood cemeteries? Anyway, we could smell it several minutes before we arrived.

The fishing market/village consisted of many stalls selling fish and a cool view of fishing boats in nearby waters. Yes, there were lots of dead crabs and fish all over the place too but there’s plenty of those in the super markets and in your sushi. It smelled quite horrible so we didn’t stay long, but I enjoyed spending those 10 minutes taking photos and videos, plus the place was pretty fascinating if you gave it a change.

Next we drove for a long time down winding roads with free roaming cows everywhere until we reached the white sand dunes. Here we could either walk or rent a ATV to explore the sand dunes. We started off walking but ended up running back and talking the ATV rental guy down to a price we liked. I’ll get into this in another post, but it was so much fun and definitely worth the money! We did almost die once… but it was all fine in the end.

After inhaling lots of sand we set off to the red sand dunes. We were tired so we just sat on the peak watching people take selfies and slide down in makeshift sleds rented by local children. We had already done some sand sledding in Inner Mongolia and didn’t need any more sand in our hair, eyes or ears. The sun was started to set so we had a beautiful view!

Once it was time to leave, we discovered that since everyone else was headed in the opposite direction, they would be taken by car and we had to wait for a friend of our driver to take us back on his motorcycle. Although we were assured that it was free, we still had our doubts and weren’t too happy with the arrangement.

The guy who picked us up was friendly and started talking to us about where we were from and how we like Vietnam. After asking us if we had children, he told us about his family and showed us two photos of his newborn son that were suspiciously in an otherwise empty album. We thought he was just making small talk until he arrived at our hostel and suddenly asked for money.

When we said that the guide told us it was free (and he paid the guy right in front of us) he said yes, it’s free, but give me money for my son. He pulled out his phone again to show us pictures and almost begged for the money. Unfortunately for him, we did not appreciate this and walked away with him yelling about his son.

The entire tour lasted about 4 hours and was a great way to see all the sights, meet fellow travelers and experience some truly unique places. If we had wanted to save money, we could have taken the buy everywhere (maybe not the white sand dunes, they were really far away). It was definitely worth the $5 to have a car take us everywhere. Make sure that you ask around to get the cheapest tour, we’ve read about people paying $5 for each individual stop, which wouldn’t have been worth it.

 

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Mui Ne, Vietnam: Is it Worth Visiting?

Making an itinerary for a three-week Vietnam trip solely based on online research is extremely difficult. Everyone has different suggestions and no one can seem to agree on the right amount of time to actually spend there. Some manage to see all the highlights in a week while others claim that even two months isn’t enough.

Our 20-day trip seemed to be the ideal length but could have been better planned. The first thing we would have done differently is flying less. We should have flown into Ho Chi Minh and back out of Hanoi, plus taken the bus from Da Lat up to Hanoi (with a few stops along the way). The second big thing would have been cutting our time in Mui Ne and spending it in Hoi An instead.

We spent three days in Mui Ne because we wanted to relax on the beach. We didn’t know that it wouldn’t be possible to enjoy the beach because the water was shallow, it was too hot, there was zero shade on the beach and the sand flies are the devil’s spawn. It just wasn’t the right time of the year to be there.

In addition to the crazy heat and bugs, we didn’t like getting constantly harassed about buying stuff or given motorcycle rides. We couldn’t get a moment of peace outside our hostel. It was also quite hard to get around the city without a motorcycle, which is technically illegal for tourists and the police do give out fines in Mui Ne especially. There’s taxis that are overpriced and a cheap bus that’s too hot to wait for.

The one time we ventured out on our own to explore and look for rum to put in our coconuts, we found a market. Before I complain about the sanitary conditions, keep in mind that I live in China. Where children poop into egg cartons in the middle of aisles at food markets. This market still managed to shock me with it’s grossness…

Most of the food was displayed on towels on the ground. The ground was wet and sticky with blood and juices from fish, rotting fruit and who knows what else. Just outside the market we saw a woman with a motorcycle full of chickens (like 30.) Hung upside down by their feet, squawking in pain as she yanked their wings to rearrange them. I was still a meat eater at this point but was appalled by the unnecessary cruelty.

Not everything in Mui Ne is horrible. The hostel we stayed at, Long Son Mui Ne Campground was an awesome place perfect for both party people and families. They organized a tour to four of the cool sights in the city, which were also great.

The Fairy Stream looked like something from a beautiful alien planet. The other top places were the smelly but cool fisherman village and the sand dunes. But you can visit all of these places in just a few hours… so that’s why I would recommend only staying a maximum of 36 hours. This would also give you enough time to visit the Czech Restaurant.

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Our Stay at Long Son Mui Ne Campground

Mui Ne is a popular beach town located not far from Ho Chi Minh. It is a popular travel destination for local and foreign tourists alike, predominantly Russians. Many of the signs and restaurants have Russian translations and there’s even a restaurant that translates to “Fires of Moscow”.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to the restaurant although it was recommended to us because it didn’t seem to be open during our stay. We were fascinated by their snake vodka, but maybe it’s better that we didn’t end up costing some poor snake it’s life just to get drunk off it’s blood. Anywhooo…

We planned to spend three nights in Mui Ne at the Long Son Mui Ne Campground. When we naively booked our entire trip from China, I picked a tent overlooking the beach instead of a room. As soon as we arrived in Vietnam we called them to change to a room because of the crazy heat. It wasn’t a problem, but they only had a 12-bedroom dorm available.

It was a nice room and we loved everything about it except for one not so friendly roommate who went out of her way to make us feel uncomfortable. She didn’t even anyone eat in the room because it made her feel sick and she apparently had food poisoning that suspiciously came after a late night of drinking.

Unlike our unfriendly roommate, the staff was great and tried to get us involved in daily activities. We were not up for the drinking games but we did sign up for a ridiculously cheap $5 tour of all (four) attractions in the small city.

Along with a reasonably priced bar, there was a nice selection of food. They had Western options like burgers and salads, but also Vietnamese spring rolls, soups and baguette-style sandwiches. The bar was right by the beach with lots of seating with an ocean view. There were also swings on the beach and several reclining chairs for sunburning.

Sunburning, unfortunately, is not a typo. It was really hot, there were no umbrellas anywhere on the beach (not just on this beach, but the entire stretch of beach) plus the mosquitoes and sand flies were vicious. But that was not the hostels’ fault.

So basically, the hostel was great, cheap and friendly. We’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind dorm rooms or wants to sleep in a tent on the beach (who doesn’t if it’s cool enough?) But I definitely don’t recommend visiting Mui Ne in June – August or for a long period of time at any time of the year to be honest. There are much better beaches on Cat Ba island (Ha Long Bay).

We spent a lot of time inside reading and relaxing, trying to ignore the guest that shall not be named. It’s very unlike us because we’re always on the go doing stuff. It was a nice break from an otherwise hectic trip, but 36 hours would have been more than enough in the boiling, bug infested city. At least they sold cheap Tiger Balm that I had to rub on several dozen bites.

LongSon MuiNe Campground is one of the cheapest options in Mui Ne, has a great selection of well-priced food and drinks and the $5 tour made all the less appealing things worth it. You can read more about our Mui Ne experience in my upcoming posts! You can see the hostel for yourself in my YouTube video here.

 

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Taking a Sleeper Bus from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne

The easiest way to city-hop through Vietnam is by bus. Flying is not only more expensive, but the airports can be chaotic and there’s a higher change of delays than taking a bus. When I planned my trip, I read a lot about public buses. The repeating words mentioned in reviews included unreliable, uncomfortable and broke down on the way which didn’t sound too promising.

More research suggested taking a “private VIP” bus which was advertised as comfy, timely yet quite cheap. Yolo. I booked three buses for two people between Ho Chi Minh and Mui Ne, Mui Ne and Da Lat, and finally Da Lat and Ho Chi Minh for less than $45 total. There were many companies to chose from, but I went with Vietnam Bus Tickets.

I remember being confused by the term “sleeper berth” because I didn’t actually know what sleeper buses were. I pictured comfy seats that reclined a little for comfortable sleeping. What I wasn’t expecting was two floors of horizontal seats that recline into seats! Or being asked to take my shoes off before getting on the bus…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The meeting point was described as a “cafe” but it was more of a sitting area with a much needed fan blowing down on the seats. We got there very early and managed to catch an earlier bus to Mui Ne! The bus came on time and we were loaded on quickly in a friendly manner that didn’t make us feel like cattle.

Fast forward to comfortable seats (I got the top floor by a window, which offered a great view.) There was free water, a clean blanket, functional lights, a fan on the wall panel and curtains in case the view got in the way of snoozing. Everything was perfect and the four hour bus ride extremely comfortable. We even got to see some great views from the window as we approached Mui Ne.

We were so happy with this experience and were glad that our next two rides would be the same. Or so we thought… but I’ll get into those painful details another time.

You can see our experience for yourself by watching my YouTube video of our bus journeys.

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Best Breakfast in Ho Chi Minh: Cơm Chay Mani

It’s hard to pick a place for breakfast in Ho Chi Minh because the choices are pretty much endless. Luckily, we were recommended a cheap place that supposedly served delicious breakfast. What we didn’t know until we arrived, was that it was vegan.

Life is a funny thing. One day you’re disappointed that there’s no bacon for breakfast and a month later you stop eating bacon completely (along with all meat, eggs and dairy for that matter). But I’ll explain all that another time. Plus, just because I don’t eat it doesn’t mean I won’t write about it!

Anyway, Cơm Chay Mani or Mani for short, blew us away as soon as we walked through the door. First of all, the staff here are incredibly attentive and friendly. The owner was in that day and he did everything he could to welcome us from the get-go. Then we saw the menu…

Although we came for a special breakfast deal that offered an unbelievable price for a choice of appetizer, soup and main course, my eyes immediately dropped to spring rolls. Dangerously cheap and with a nice variety of three different kinds, I decided to get one order (two rolls) of each. It cost a little more than the breakfast and I wasn’t sure that six spring rolls would fill me up, but I couldn’t resist.

The rolls came out two at a time. Two sets were fresh, the one other fried.  Two had the typical sauce and one (the fresh mushroom one) came with a sauce made in heaven. I started by eating one of each to decide which one I liked the most to save for last because I’m weird like that.

This was a mistake because I needed help finishing because I got so full! But there was still room to spoon out the otherworldly sauce with my fingers until the bowl was clean. I guess I have a separate sauce stomach next to my dessert (and sushi) stomachs. The spring rolls were so good that we order three more sets to go to eat while we were on the bus to Mui Ne.

Isaac’s breakfast was great too. I took bites of everything and was shocked at how amazing vegan food was. Several flavors tasted exactly like meaty dishes. Except they were much healthier and packed with plant-based protein.

So to summarize, Mani is amazing and I would like to recommend it to all vegans, vegetarians, meat-eaters and aliens alike. The staff was great, the food was great, the prices were great and absolutely everything about it was great. Except that there isn’t one in every city of every country on every continent. Life’s not fair.

If you visit, which you most definitely should, make sure to bring cash. They didn’t accept cards so the owner had to point us towards an ATM that wasn’t too far. Check it out and let me know what you think!

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Draft Beers & Ciders at BiaCraft Artisan Ales in Ho Chi Minh

On our booze-full first day in Vietnam we visited several bars in Ho Chi Minh. The one with the greatest selection of draft drinks was definitely BiaCraft! The perfectly air-conditioned space had simple decorations and a mouth-watering menu.

Picking a drink was absolutely excruciating. Did I want the beer with a dank hop aroma, strong in citrus with tropical grapefruit & passion fruit? Or maybe the cider with a modern spin on classic cider with pure, apple-y goodness? These are just two choices out of… several dozen maybe? It was awful.

We ended up each getting two or three different drinks each and we took sips to taste as much as possible. Every sip I took was even better than the last. Isn’t it just horrible when you can’t even decide which drink you like the most?! The prices are steep by Vietnamese standards but cheap compared to drink in the Western Europe or the USA.

So, to summarize, the drinks were all too good, with way too many choices at too much of a reasonable price. It’s like they were trying to get us to stay there all day and get drunk. How despicable.

I’m totally kidding of course. The place was amazing, the drinks were amazing and the staff was great. We asked if we could keep a few coasters and they brought us a bunch of brand new ones to take home free-of-charge. We’ll definitely come here again next time we’re in Vietnam. I can’t say I’m looking forward to scrutinizing over all the choices, but it was worth it. Plus, whatever you get, it’ll taste absolutely perfect.

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Czech Beer & Food in Vietnam: Hao Vien Brauhaus

Vietnam and the Czech Republic don’t seem to have anything in common, right? Wrong. Although one is in Asia and the other is in Europe, plus the fact that language, food, culture and everything else is night and day. They actually have some common history. Plus, the largest minority living in the Czech Republic after Slovaks and Ukrainians , it’s Vietnamese!

I’m not a history buff, but I can summarize the basics for you. During the dark years of Communism in the Czech Republic, many Vietnamese were brought in as guest workers. Just like the Turks in Germany, they never left and started families all over the country. One of these Vietnamese people who spent a lot of time in the Czech Republic returned to Vietnam and decided to bring a bit of home with him.

Hao Vien Brauhaus was an instant hit and there are now four in Vietnam. They are decorated in Czech newspapers, street signs, typical Czech art and most importantly, lots of Pilsner Urquel paraphernalia. The menu has lots of Vietnamese food in addition to most of the Czech classics that cost no more than the same dishes in Prague!

I skipped the goulash and knedliky (dumplings) and went straight for my all time favorite: fried cheese with homemade tartar sauce! Obviously, I also ordered one beer. At least the first time around in Ho Chi Minh. We went back to a sister location in Hanoi and ordered more fried cheese, several beers and even shots of Becherovka.

Czechs are known for having the best beer in the world, so I would definitely recommend that you visit Hao Vien Brauhaus while you’re in Vietnam. You can find one in Ho Chi Minh, another in Mui Ne and two in Hanoi!

If you’re a fan of all things high-tech, there is another perk to these restaurants: Japanese toilets. In case you have no idea what I’m taking about, read my blog post about the beauty of Japanese toilets. Just to summarize, they have heated seats, dozens of buttons with various functions (including several bidet options) and music for shy pee-ers. If you live in China, like we do, you’re probably crying with envy right now.

Find out more about Hao Vien Brauhaus on their official website!

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A (Non) Touristy Day in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

How to spend a (non) touristy day in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam!

Our first stop on our 20-day trip to Vietnam was Ho Chi Minh City. Most tourists in Vietnam start in the south and city-hop north, or vice versa. Unfortunately because of poor planning we were starting south, going halfway up, then returning south before flying north… JUST to fly back south before leaving Vietnam. It may have been cheap, but SO not ideal.

Anyway, Ho Chi Minh is great and there’s lots to see, but 20 days is barely enough to even scratch Vietnam’s surface. This means that we only had around 36 hours to see the city. Luckily, we had a great local guide: our American friend who we met several years ago in Prague (confusing, I know). She met up with us early in the morning with her boyfriend and two motorcycles in tow. We were in for quite the ride!

If you’ve never been in Vietnam, then it might be hard for you to understand what it’s like to race through the city on two wheels. Here’s a 90 second unedited video to give you a taste. Like Chinese bikers, people in Vietnam aren’t scared to go full speed, but unlike in China, they wear helmets. Every single person wears a helmet! This was quite the culture shock.

Riding on the back of a motorcycle was exciting (albeit terrifying). We whizzed past countless constructions while our friend explained that the metro is in the process of being built plus sidewalks are being renovated. We also zoomed across beautiful bridges, past tiny Vietnamese houses and even a pink European style church!

First things first: a phở breakfast. There were several different kinds, and we went with rare beef. There were plenty of fresh herbs, limes and sauces to season the already perfectly-tasting noodle soup. I’ve eaten phở all over the world, but nothing can compare to the real thing.

Next up was a fabric’s market that made me drool with a desire to craft ALL THE THINGS. We walked through the aisles with our jaws on the ground and didn’t close our mouths until mangosteens were shoved in them. In case you ‘re as clueless about mangosteens as I was, it’s a tomato shaped fruit with a hard pink shell with white lychee-textured sweetness on the inside. Delicious. And incredibly messy…

After that scrumptious snack came a scary-sounding desert: weasel poop coffee with typical Vietnamese condensed milk. It’s considered the most expensive coffee in the world and it does not, I repeat, does not taste like poop! Give it a try. It’s perfectly clean, safe, yummy and surprisingly strong.

Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better, we were whisked off to a Czech restaurant. After living in Prague for 20 years, I wasn’t overly excited about “knockoff” Czech beer. I could not have been more wrong. Our pint of pilsner beer and traditional fried cheese made us feel back at home and we made mental notes to visit the one in Hanoi once we were there. But you can read more about that later.

It was a hot day and the beer didn’t quite quench our thirst. So naturally, we moved on to a pub with dozens of draft beers and ciders. The selection was amazing and I would have stayed there all day if it weren’t for the words “coconuts by the river.” Another wind-through-the-hair ride later and we were relaxing by the river drinking fresh coconuts that cost less than a bottle of water in China. Perfection!

We couldn’t have been happier about our deliciously relaxed day, but Angela wanted to knock it out of the park (more like universe). Sushi. Our second-to-last stop was a food street where we ate ALL the sushi. It was the first time that I ever tried sea-grapes that look like seaweed caviar but are 100% vegan.

Finally, the sun was setting and were were full of all our favorite foods. We drove into a more traditional area, pulled up a few tiny plastic stools and ordered a bucket of beer. The price for eight bottles of beer in a bucket full of ice? Less than $10. The elderly man trying to say hello from a nearby table and toasting us? Priceless.

Okay I lied, we stopped at one last place on our way to our hostel. A cute pub with an old cutesy VW minibus as the bar and I had my favorite cocktail: a white Russian. We sipped and thought about our day. It wasn’t a typical sightseeing day but we saw what locals and expats do for fun. Plus we got many mini history lessons from the back of the motorcycle.

Thank you so much Angela, for our first and best day in Vietnam! Here’s the video version of this amazing day.

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