Tuesday, 7 October 2014

3D2N Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne -


I've been to Vietnam in 2012 December, where my friend and I traveled from Hanoi (North) all the way down to Ho Chi Minh (South) within 15 days, passing by many cities such as Hoi An, Cat Ba island, Hue, Dalat, Lang Biang and many more. 

This time during my recess week, I decided to do a short 3-day trip to Vietnam again because I seem to have developed a habit of needing to leave Singapore for a while once every few months. Me being a broke student will always be planning a budget getaway and Vietnam has never leave the list. The ticket to HCM was on sale so one more reason to go Vietnam (:

Currency: We changed about SGD$150 each person (2 person in total, my aunt and I) at Mustafa and the rate was around SGD1: VND 16,900. This rate was the lowest in recent months and could have been better if changed at Arcade, but really it's just $150, no point sweating over it.

Outbound flight: A Jetstar flight leaving Singapore at 7+am and reaching HCM at 8+am. The flight was around 2 hours but Vietnam time is 1 hour behind Singapore time so do take note of it. Something screwed up and we had to miss our flight, and spent additional 200 bucks catching the 1pm flight instead. So if this hiccup didnt happen, the trip could have been longer and also happier.

Inbound flight: Still a Jetstar flight leaving HCM at 940pm and reaching Singapore at 0030am (+1 day). So all in all, it was supposed to be a really FULL 3-day trip. 

Plan: Arrive in HCM and shop for a day. Take train to Phan Tiet the next morning and from there take cab to Mui Ne. There are direct bus (Check out Phuong Trang, heard that theirs are good and quite cheap) operating between HCM and Mui Ne, but I really dont like sleeper bus so it's a nono for me. At Mui Ne, visit the highlight attractions and then catch the train back to HCM on the last day, spent a few more hours there and head for the airport.

Arriving in HCMC

The Mekong River!
Rather unappealing from the sky...still it felt amazing seeing all my secondary geography knowledge of meandering river coming to life.

For my previous trip, HCM was my last stop and just like Hanoi, it is flooded with motorcycles throughout the day. There are some museums, post stations and churches to visit, but really I didn't like it at all. So my plan was have a day of shopping there and leave for the beautiful Mui Ne right away the next early morning. 

Leaving from airport to city: 
1) Taxi: After exiting the airport, turn left and ignore all the drivers and ushers in uniforms trying to get you onto their vehicles. Rmb ONLY take Mailinh or Vinasun taxi in Vietnam, because they use meter and are decently creditable. Both taxi companies are in green and white and the name is clearly displayed on their uniform and vehicles. You can spot them near the end as you continue to walk left from the exit. 

2) Public Bus: This is the local's option and is DIRT CHEAP LIKE OMG. You can either find these rather small white-and-blue buses waiting near the right of the exit, or if not, try walking to the domestic airport exit and they will be there. Take bus No.152 and the fare is -prepare yourself - VND 5000 each - THAT'S LIKE SGD$0.30! The driver gave us blue tickets while the local got white/pink tickets, so my guess is $0.30 is like Foreigner fare (get used to this, it is very common in Vietnam). If you are taking luggage like us, you have to pay for the luggage as well, so it's $0.60 per person. Still, it gave me huge cheap thrills just to think of it.

Accommodation in HCM:
As mentioned earlier, we were to catch an early train the next morning so the plan was to stay as close to the railway station as possible. However as we all know, train stations are usually located in the old part of the city and it is no exception for HCM.

After alighting at "Doi Dien 183 Nguyen Dinh Chieu" (which is the closest 152 bus stop to the train station), we managed to find a place called LamVien Hotel (try emailing them at lamvienhotelsaigon@gmail.com, I've no idea how to contact them as we happened to chance upon them). It was small but very clean and decent for a VND 300,000 (SGD18)  rate per room per night. 

The guy at the counter was very nice and helpful. It started pouring soon after we reached and we wanted to go to the train station to get the tickets for tomorrow. The rain was so heavy so I wondered if I could get the tickets through him instead. So after some back-and-fro conversations via Google Translator, he smiled, nodded and disappeared. Before we knew it, we were at the back of his motorbike in a huge raincoat heading to the train station. It was like 5 minutes away, but riding on a bike with no rear mirrors and weaving in and out of the Vietnam traffic was a whole new level for me.

This is the HCM traffic at freaking 530AM AM AM!
Just imagine what it is like at 530 PM!

Shopping in HCM:
Due to the hiccup in our flights as mentioned earlier on, we didn't get to go shopping as I've planned to. Nevertheless, if you head Southeast from the train station, there are the Saigon Square 1 and 2, which are supposed to be a shopping paradise.  

What is Vietnam with its street food~~~

We saw these Bak Zhang-lookalike stuff on the table and decided to try one. A local lady was eyeing me with curious eyes so I asked her if this is meat. She gave me a mysterious smile and answered, "the same". 

It was a moment of profound confusion for me. 
Nevertheless, I tried and omg no, I didn't like these things at all.

Leaving HCM:

For some unknown reason, the Saigon Train Station is not shown on Google Map, so please do note it down prior to leaving.

The address is: 1 Nguyen Thong Street, District 3, Ward 9, Ho Chi Minh City

The Saigon to Phan Tiet train was SPT2 and the first train leaves promptly at 640am everyday. (This is the return ticket from Phan Theit)

As you can see, the ticket clearly stated that this is a Foreigner Ticket and this is "Soft seat Air-con" so technically VND176,000 (SGD 10.50) should be the max that you are paying. 

Your ticket should look like this, and not the another type that's longer and brown in colour. Those are the same thing but just selling at VND200,000 instead. 

Banh Mi, Pho and Raw veggies made up all my taste of Vietnam 

The train ride was about 4 hours and these dragonfruit plantations were the highlight of the ride. 

Once reached Phan Thiet, take Mailinh or Vinasun taxi out to Mui Ne. There are public buses but I heard they are very inconsistent and some drivers do not allow foreigners to board the bus. Annoying much, but I guess it's not worthwhile testing out.


Accommodation: Prior to our arrival, we booked a room at a small hotel called Mui Ne Hills Hotel (69 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, Ham Tien Ward, Phan Thiet City) for VND253,000 (SGD15.30) per room per night. You can check out their website at www.muinehills.com or book via www.booking.com.

The things to note about this place:

  1. Its name on Booking.com was Mui Ne Hills Budget Hotel, but on the road sign it was Mui Ne Hills Breeze Hotel. 
  2. It was around 20min away from Phan Thiet (fare around VND200,000 or SGD 12 plus) and technically NOT in Mui Ne town, but it is along the stretch of resorts along the coastline. 
  3. When the driver pulled over at a little alley and asked you to walk 300m inwards to the hotel, don't be surprised. You'll get disappointed while you are walking there, but trust me the hotel is REALLY worthwhile.

The hotel has a separate bar / restaurant and pool about 10 plus meters away from the room building. All hotel guests has 20% off the total bill. It was basically set on a mini sand dune and overlooking the sea. We paid VDN400,000 (SGD 24 plus) for the meal in total, though the food was quite okay but the ambiance was really good, so it made up for cost.

Our room had MEGA HIGH ceiling while I TOTALLY LOVEXXXXXX omg.

And it overlooked the DEEPBLUEBLUESEA :)

The only drawback was that the room was quite badly lit at night. It was annoying at first, but it also allowed us to sleep better.


As the map shows, the three must-see attractions are all along the same direction with the White Sand Dunes at the furthest end. So my decision was to visit it first, followed by the Red Sand Dunes and Fairy Stream the next day. 

Actually the reason was more of me wanting to see the White Sand Dunes the MOST hahah. 

We made our way there via a 7-SEATER TAXI which was a WRONGWRONGWRONG decision.

It cost us SGD70 in total, which made it the MOST EXPENSIVE taxi ride in my whole 22 years of life. For give justice, it was a 40km to and fro (so 80km in total) and the driver waited for us at the attraction when we went to play. 

  1. I wanted to rent a scooter from the hotel, which cost USD8 for a day. Dirt Cheap I know, and speaking from past experience, riding scooter along the scenic coastline could easily be one of best my memories of a place. But my aunt didn't want to risk being sun-burnt so yea, hello ridiculously expensive taxi ride.
  2. If you are riding a scooter, be mindful that the journey to the place is almost straight road all the way. A very easy ride with nice view EXCEPT for the last 5km, which was on an unpaved and dusty road. 
  3. Alternatively, you could book a tour directly from the hotel that covers the above 3 mentioned locations + the Mui Ne fishing village for USD10 per person. The trip would last about 4-5 hours and you could choose the 4am (crazy I know, but it was supposed to catch the sunrise) or the 1pm slot. 

It sounded fantastic but our concern was maybe the time allowed at each location would be very limited, and the last thing we wanted was to be limited by time on a holiday. But still, either option was a WAAAAAAY smarter option than the taxi ride. 

Check out the directions to these places here.

Now everybody, 
the highlight and the main purpose of our entire trip.

Still breathtaking looking at this majestic scenery


The sand dunes are located RIGHT beside the sea and there are lotus pond near the entrance. We rode the ATV for 30min, which cost VND400,000 (SGD 25). Quite costly according to Vietnam standard but the view and experience was super worth it. If you have time, please go explore around the area by yourselves, just bring enough food, water, sunblocks and don't lose your way in the dunes. 

I love it there. 

We then went back to our hotel and caught the sunset at the main beach, which was within 10min walk from the hotel. 

What is holiday without a day at the beach 

The next day we were supposed to go check out Red Sand Dunes and the Fairy Stream, but we were too tired somehow and after judging their pictures from Google, we decided that there's no way they could ever beat the White Sand Dunes.

So we had a looooonnng sleep and went to the beach again.

One thing to note is that ALL the major resorts took monopoly over the area of beach in front of their hotel, so that only left the public with a very little stretch before the waters. 

We asked the hotel staffs if we could rent their chairs, since it seemed they had very little customers themselves. They wanted to charge us VND30,000 for an hour and we agreed. Halfway we were sharing our fruits with them and they were sharing about their kitesurfing equipment. When we wanted to pay them as we were leaving, they just smiled and said there's no need to.

Smiles and sharing of food can go a long way on many occasions.

And on a side note, I love flowers :)

And Vietnamese coffee

And it was time to go back.

So same thing, cab to Phan Thiet, train back to HCM, and lastly flight back to Singapore. (Reminder: the train leaves at 1:40 sharp and please purchase the tickets prior to the day itself. I bought mine right away when I first arrived to Phan Thiet earlier on.)

We arrived at HCM train station around 5pm and after our last pho and coffee, we made our way to the airport for around VND200,000+ (SGD 12+) for a 20min ride, reaching around 730pm. It was slightly earlier than the check-in time (our flight was at 940pm), but HCM really irked us - its traffic, outlook and all - so we really wanted to just get away from it.

For the whole trip I finished spending the $150 that I've changed and if it's not for the ridiculous $70 taxi ride, this 3D2N Vietnam trip could easily be around $100 instead (excluding air tickets). And for this amount to witness the scenery that we've seen, it was nothing more I could ask for. 

Goodbye Vietnam, till we meet again.