When making the trip by motorbike from Saigon to Hanoi, most people have about three weeks to a month. Anthony and I had a full two months to complete the adventure before we were scheduled to be in Hanoi to teach English. This has been ideal since I began as a terribly inexperienced motorbike driver, and have since only graduated to a somewhat inexperienced motorbike driver. We’ve been able to take our time and and stop in every major backpacker destination as well as several off the beaten path type places. The following are the first three beach stops on our trip as well as places to stay, where to eat, and things to do! Enjoy!
As we’ve mentioned before, Vung Tau was our first stop after leaving Saigon due to the fact that it wasn’t too far and kept us off of the notorious Highway 1 for our first leg on the bikes. This was very necessary because now that we’ve been on Highway 1 multiple times I know there is NO WAY I could have handled it the very first time I had to drive the bike alone. It also gave us a chance to see a city we normally would have skipped, and while we had no idea what to expect from Vung Tau, we were very pleasantly surprised. It’s a fairly large city on the beach that is a popular Vietnamese destination, but due to its proximity to Saigon it’s starting to cater towards expats and backpackers alike. If you have the time I would highly recommend stopping here and checking it out.
Where to Stay: Gecko Hostel—75 Tran Dong, Ward 3, Vung Tau
Average Price: $5 for a dorm bed and $16 for a double bed private
Anthony and I have raved about Gecko Hostel in several of our posts, but that’s because it honestly is that great. It’s a very new hostel (only a few months old), but Judi and Rose really know what they’re doing. The rooms are comfortable, spacious, and clean with great air con and plenty of security. There’s a great indoor courtyard common area as well as plenty of picnic tables out front for socializing. The hostel is located near plenty of great cheap local restaurants, and only a few minutes drive to the beach and other tourist sites around Vung Tau. As if these positives weren’t enough, the two women running it, Judi and Rose, are the NICEST people you will ever meet in your life. They both go out of their way to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves and never failed to give us a good recommendation whether it be for food or a good mechanic. Judi even stocked the fridge with beer when she was going to sleep one night so we could stay up and socialize (we kept track of how much we drank) even though she was going to bed. Since we’ve left Vung Tau she’s checked on us several times, and we still talk to her on a regular basis. You will seriously leave feeling like family. I could write a book of nice things about Gecko and the two amazing women behind it.
Where to Eat:
Com Huong Duong (Com Ma) located at 140-142 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street for Pork Ribs—Our first night in Vung Tau, Rose recommended we take a walk to this place for pork ribs and we were not disappointed! We ended up returning more times than I can count and left satisfied every time. Both the pork ribs with rice as well as boneless pork with rice (Com Tam) were amazing, but to be honest everything they had looked delicious. It’s a very popular place with locals and was always packed no matter the time of day.
Price: 35,000 VND for a huge portion of food
Bun Cha Ho Tay located at 32 Le Lai Street for Bun Cha—Judi recommended this particular place after we asked her if there was anywhere to try Pho nearby. Since Pho is more of a breakfast food and there wasn’t anywhere open at the time she suggested we try Bun Cha! Bun Cha is a soup with vermicelli noodles, Vietnamese meatballs, and pork belly. It was absolutely fantastic. It was one of those tiny places that only serves one thing so when you walk in they just put a plate on the table. No ordering necessary. A great no frills local joint with awesome food for less than $1!
Price: 20,000 VND
Things to Do:
Christ the King Statue—This is a site not to be missed while in Vung Tau. Anthony and I almost skipped it, but after a small issue with my motorbike we decided to stay another night at Gecko Hostel which gave us a chance to check it out. It’s over 800 steps to the top so make sure to go in the morning or an hour or so before it closes in the afternoon so you’re not climbing the steps in the midday heat. I was dreading the climb after our experience with Tiger Cave Temple in Krabi, Thailand, but was actually pleasantly surprised as these steps were much easier to ascend. At the top you’re rewarded with breathtaking views of the Vung Tau coastline as well as the massive statue which towers over its visitors. Unfortunately, Anthony and I went too late in the afternoon and didn’t get a chance to climb up into the arms of the statue, but to be honest the views from the top of the steps up the mountain were enough. And the best part is it’s free!! If you take a motorbike they ask for a small donation to park, but other than that it’s free of cost!
The beach—While Anthony and I didn’t actually spend any time on the beach while in Vung Tau we took several rides by the coast and stopped to walk along Back Beach for a bit. Vung Tau has three beaches: Front Beach, Back Beach, and Pineapple Beach. Most people end up at Back Beach due to the massive stretch of flat uninterrupted sand, and the fact that the water is much cleaner than Front Beach. Pineapple Beach is much smaller and fairly rocky, but still good for a nice swim!
*Note* There are several other tourist sites in Vung Tau as well as lots of fun bars to try out, but we didn’t get to do everything! We always like to leave ourselves a reason to go back!
Where to Stay: Mui Ne Backpacker Village—137 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Ham Tien, Mui Ne, Vietnam
Average Price: $7 for a dorm bed, $20 for a double bed private
Mui Ne Backpacker Village is literally a resort for backpackers. Anthony and I stayed in a private that was clean and comfortable with a nice modern en suite and TV! The air con is turned off from 9 am to 5 pm (trust me you’ll want to be by the pool anyway), but was ice cold at night. Our friends staying in the dorms confirmed they were very nice and clean as well although the bathrooms are shared in standard hostel fashion. The hostel complex is built around a beautiful infinity pool, gorgeous green grass for lounging, and a great bar/restaurant area. Happy hour starts at 11 am everyday and lasts until the bar closes, and the restaurant serves food until 11 pm. The food is a little pricier than some of the local places nearby, but it’s delicious and if you don’t mind paying a little more for convenience it’s totally worth it. Every afternoon at 4 pm there is a volleyball game (the winners are rewarded with free shots), and there are nightly activities including beer pong and flip cup. The owner, John, is a very friendly guy from Australia who is always around making sure everyone is having a good time and his wife (didn’t catch her name) is a lovely Vietnamese woman who is just as friendly as her husband. There’s a pool table, ping pong table, and giant flat screen TV where they’re always playing important sporting events. The vibe is amazing, and it’s overall just a great place to stay and meet tons of other backpackers. Definitely a party atmosphere, but the bar closes between midnight and 1 am so it’s easy to get a goodnight’s sleep if you want. If you’re brave enough make sure to take hand grenade challenge and get your country on the chalkboard!!
Where to Eat:
To be honest, Anthony and I ate almost every meal at the Mui Ne Backpacker Village. The food was just so good, and while it was a bit more expensive than what you might find along the road, it was worth it just for the convenience. I walked down the road to a mini mart a few times and never really saw anything that caught my eye along the main street, but we didn’t try too hard. We only had one dinner outside of the hostel at a place that was located right next door!
El Latino: Conveniently located right next to the Mui Ne Backpacker Village, El Latino was recommended to us by several of our friends so we decided to give it a try. The menu is a little expensive for backpacker standards, but since it’s not local food that’s to be expected. That being said, they run tons of specials everyday so there’s always some way to get a discount whether it’s on food, drinks, or both! We each had a delicious passion fruit mojito and chicken fajitas (with guacamole!), and were very happy with the quality, and service. Not the cheapest place, but still delicious and a nice break from Vietnamese food!
What to Do:
The Sand Dunes: Besides the beach, there is really only one reason to stop in Mui Ne: The Red and White Sand Dunes. We did a tour through Mui Ne Backpacker Village that included both dunes as well as the Fairy Stream, and a local fishing village. I will say that the Fairy Stream and Fishing Village were kind of filler stops and even if we just went to the sand dunes I would have been totally content, but four stops sounds better than two so I understand why they throw them in there. That being said, our tour was only $5 for FOUR stops with transportation included for the entire thing. If you find yourself in Mui Ne and don’t end up at the Backpacker Village I would recommend still booking your tour through them as it’s the cheapest around by far. We had several people on our tour who weren’t staying there and they told us the price was less than half of what their hotels/hostels were asking. The dunes themselves are absolutely stunning and so. much. fun. The white sand dunes were particularly stunning, and it felt like you were somewhere in the desert, not Vietnam. You can rent ATVs at the white dunes, but you’re definitely better off skipping this as it’s really expensive (400,000 VND for 30 minutes) and the quads themselves tend to either break down or aren’t strong enough to climb the dunes. We hiked to the top ourselves and it was awesome and worth it. The red dunes weren’t quite as picturesque as the white dunes, but they were still really fun to see and had great views from the top. They’re pretty overrun with people and there was a decent bit of trash scattered around, but they’re still not to be missed. A great tour overall!
*PRO-TIP* If you’re motorbiking Vietnam DO NOT try to visit the dunes on your own with your bike. The police in Mui Ne are notorious for catching foreigners on bikes, and purposely set up road blocks around the dunes in order to catch unsuspecting backpackers. Usually in Vietnam you can easily bribe a traffic officer with only a couple hundred thousand dong(~$10), but in Mui Ne they often demand at least a million and sometimes more. It’s not worth the risk, and the white dunes are quite far from the center of Mui Ne. Do yourself a favor and spend the $5 on the jeep tour. You’ll have peace of mind and won’t end up potentially having to pay some corrupt traffic officer three days worth of your backpacking budget.
Where to Stay: iHome—31/E2 Biet Thu Street, Nha Trang, Nha Trang, Vietnam
Average Price: $6 for a dorm bed, no privates
iHome was a great hostel located in the large coastal city of Nha Trang. Like Mui Ne Backpacker Village it has a very social vibe, and at this point we’d been traveling with the same group of people for a few stops so it was fun to continue the party at such a great hostel. There are no privates available at iHome, but the dorms are comfortable and clean with bathrooms in each dorm rather than shared ones for the entire floor. The rooms are pretty basic, but there are lockers and air con as well as fans. Again it’s not the type of place where you want to spend a ton of time in your room anyway. They have a secure garage around the corner for everyone traveling by motorbike, and a luggage room with a shower for people who are taking the night bus and have the day to kill in Nha Trang. The roof top bar area has beautiful views, and the free breakfast is absolutely amazing. Between that and unlimited free beer from 6-7 every day you absolutely get your moneys worth. We ordered dinner here several times, which is very reasonably priced and delicious, and the drinks are strong and ice cold. The staff goes out of their way to keep the vibe fun by getting drinking games going, playing great songs on the guitar, and whipping out the beer funnel. For the record, if one of the bartenders challenges you to funnel beer faster than him, he will beat you. It’s part of the fun, but just know you’re going to lose. I’m not totally convinced he’s human. We didn’t check it out, but they also offer a pool table and movie room! The best (or worst depending on how you look at it) part about iHome is that they give everyone “resort cards” so you don’t have to pay for anything until you check out. It’s nice not having to whip out cash every five minutes, but those iHome buckets will add up!
Where to Eat:
iHome: Like Mui Ne Backpacker Village, the food at iHome is delicious and convenient. When you’re in the middle of a heated game of kings on the roof top bar the last thing you want to do is leave to find food, and the people at iHome know that. Again you pay a premium because it’s a hostel, but the portions are great and the food is awesome! Do yourself a favor and try at least one meal while you’re there. I highly recommend the fish and chips, and I get amazing fish and chips back home in Boston so I promise you, it’s good.
Banh Mi Cart: Unfortunately this was the only place Anthony and I ate besides iHome and I don’t have an exact address. There was a banh mi cart located past the Why Not Bar on the same side of the street with amazing banh mi for 30,000 VND. The little old lady running the cart recognized us each time we came back and even braided my hair into a bun on the top of my head when I accidentally told her I was very hot instead of saying her banh mis were very good (my Vietnamese needs work). Her cart is the located on the corner after Why Not Bar if you’re coming from iHome, and since Why Not Bar is where everyone ends up after the bar closes at iHome you should be able to find her pretty easily!
What to Do:
The Beach: Nha Trang has a massive stretch of uninterrupted coastline that’s perfect for sunbathing and swimming. The beach is clean, the water is crystal clear and cool, and there are almost no waves so it’s very easy to have a nice relaxing swim. Nha Trang is a HUGELY popular Russian destination (seriously…signs and menus are even printed in Russian) so the beach is very busy and can be crowded, but it’s pretty easy to find space to yourself if you head away from the main strip. You can rent day loungers and umbrellas or just bring a towel and spread out yourself! There’s no beach fee so it’s a great free activity!
The Mud Baths: Anthony and I didn’t do this, but our friends Sarah and Jake went and said they were really fun and worth the splurge! You can arrange a tour at iHome very easily!
Vinpearl Land Amusement Park: This water park was located on an island in the harbor of Nha Trang, and while it was out of our budget (600,000 VND) our friends Hayden, Ryan, and Ben made the trip and said it was a blast. If you’re tired of the beach, and mud baths aren’t your thing they said the money was well worth it and there’s enough there for a full day of activities!
So there you have it! Our first three beach stops in Vietnam and a few suggestions for anyone planning on stopping in any of them! All three are along the southern coast of Vietnam, and while different, they each have quite a bit to offer backpackers and traditional vacationers alike! Vung Tau is an amazing traditional Vietnamese stop with tons of culture and great sites, Mui Ne has the amazing sand dunes, and Nha Trang is flashy and wild with an excellent coastline. If you have the time definitely check out all three, but if you only have to choose one you won’t be disappointed no matter what your choice!! Just remember to always have an open mind, and never let someone else’s opinion of a place sway your decision to go there! Life is what you make it!