Leaving Saigon was the biggest pain in the ass, and as much as I enjoyed the city I was happy to get out of there and enjoy some more rural areas. If you can drive in Saigon, you can drive anywhere in the world. Seriously. It’s absolute chaos. Green and red lights mean nothing, one ways mean nothing, pretty much every traffic law you’ve been conditioned to follow doesn’t exist. This we’ve learned is more or less everywhere in Vietnam, but Saigon especially is bad. Luckily there was a back road we found leading out of the city thanks to Vietnam Coracle, and it only took about 20 minutes to leave, despite Breada’s mild panic attack mid left hand turn. We paid 8,000 Dong aka less than 40 cents for both our bikes and us for a short ferry ride which led us outside of the chaos of Saigon and into a much more enjoyable area to ride.
The Cat Lai Ferry
We have 2 months to go from Saigon to Hanoi, which is more than double what most people have, so we have plenty of time to explore the country. Our first stop was Vung Tau, a small beach town southeast of Saigon and mostly frequented by Vietnamese tourists. As far as backpackers go, it’s off the beaten path unless you’re motorbiking and make it your first stop on your way up the coast, or your last stop before Saigon. There was just one hostel in the entire town, Gecko Hostel, and it ended up being one of our favorite hostels in all of our travels. We showed up around 9 at night in the rain, drenched from head to toe and desperate for a place to sleep. Judi, the owner, was one of the nicest people we met in Vietnam, which is really saying something because everyone we met has been so kind and generous. She brought us directly to a room, gave us each a nice cold glass of water, and told us to come back downstairs when we were ready to check in. When we had some bike issues, she personally led us to the mechanic and translated everything for us and made sure we got a fair price for the repairs. She cooked a local dinner one night and offered to share, and even cut 3 mangos off the tree outside of the hostel for snacks for the road. If you ever make it to Vung Tau, I highly recommend Gecko Hostel.
Anthony, Breada, Rose, Judi, and Ben. Photo Credit to Konner.
One of the other highlights of Vung Tau was meeting two of the fellow backpackers in the hostel, Ben aka “Dingo” from Australia and Konner from Utah. We hung out with them the couple nights we were there and they too were making the same trip as us, just at a much faster pace. The morning we had left they were already out so we didn’t get to say goodbye, but things like that happen in your travels. You meet for a few hours or a few days, share some good times, and part ways. We call them our “five hour friends”, based on the term used in the backpacking documentary “A Map for Saturday”.
Kids love to stare and wave at us.
Our next leg of our journey was the 177km ride to Mui Ne, a beach town famous for their white and red sand dunes, as well as notorious for wicked corrupt cops. Cops in Vietnam in general are known to be corrupt, but it’s especially bad in Mui Ne. You would be shocked what 200,000 Dong ($9.10) can get you, which is to say out of pretty much anything. Technically you need a Vietnamese motorbike license to drive in Vietnam, which is impossible to get for a foreigner. Having an International Driving Permit (IDP) is better, but if you’re not a licensed motorbike rider back home it really is no good. Most cops will demand a “fine” aka bribe in order to let you go. However, in Mui Ne they are known for demanding massive bribes, upwards of $50-100 USD, and even confiscating your bike if you don’t pay. Needless to say we were a little nervous riding into town, but after doing research online (thank you to all the FB backpacking groups!) we knew where they posted up and it wouldn’t be along our route into town. Thats not to say, however, we wouldn’t see other traffic cops along the way, so we donned our sunglasses and our face masks and made ourselves look as much like locals as possible. This is where riding the Honda Wave instead of the Win comes in handy. With any luck, by the time they realize we’re foreigners and not locals, we’ll already have rode by and they won’t follow and just wait for their next victim. Luckily, we weren’t bothered by any of the patrols we drove passed, but at one point I thought Breada was getting pulled over behind me, till I realized the cop flagged down the truck just behind her. Whew! Close call.
Breada posing for a scenic shot!
We decided to take the slower, more scenic route to Mui Ne since we have no shortage of time and we’d rather go a little slower and enjoy the views than be stuck on a highway with nothing but trucks and busses flying by at breakneck speeds, pushing us off onto the shoulder. We hugged the ocean most of the way, stopping for pictures and to stretch our legs every now and again. We were about 3/4 of the way through the ride when all of a sudden the skies opened and it started to pour. Not only that, but it was getting dark soon so we scrambled to find a place to stay for the night. We found a place online about 20km away in Phan Thiet, the town just south of Mui Ne, and trucked along in the pouring rain for the next 40 minutes or so.
One of the many beautiful stops along the way.
We only spent a night in Phan Thiet, and we didn’t go anywhere but the guesthouse and the restaurant across the street for food and drinks. The only English the owner of the guesthouse knew was “cheap beer!”, which was just fine by us. And they were cheap, just 8,500 Dong (38 cents) for a good sized Saigon Special, my favorite beer so far in Vietnam.
We left the next morning and set off for the short 10 mile trip up the road to Mui Ne. We didn’t have a place booked yet, but we found somewhere online that looked pretty good and we figured we would go there, cut out the middle-man, and book directly through the hostel to get a better rate. Fortunately for us, we got lost. One of those happy accidents Breada mentioned in her last post, because guess who pulls up next to us while we’re on the side of the road looking at our maps? Konner! Him and Dingo had left a little before us the day before and already had a place booked so he led the way and thank god we found him, because the place they were staying at was a backpacker oasis. There was a beautiful infinity pool, a bar with cheap drinks, and a restaurant with good food that was cheaper than anything else nearby. Luckily they had a private room available which we immediately accepted, dropped our bags, and reunited over a beer with Dingo and bought Konner a drink. A thank you for finding us and bringing us to paradise.
Mui Ne Backpacker Village
At that point they went from our five hour friends to our five day friends. Just when you think you’ll never see someone again they pop right back up. Thats how traveling works sometimes, and especially in Vietnam where everyone is either going South to North or vice versa.
There’s always at least one cow on the side of the road.
So there’s part 2 for ya! A chaotic city, the cheapest ferry in my life, the nicest hostel owner I’ve ever met, and yet another happy accident. By this point we’ve only been on the bikes less than a week, and we’re already having the experience of a lifetime, even if we do get rained on at least once a day.