TWO MONTHS IN THE VIETNAMESE VILLAGE Mũi Né WITH THE SCENT OF…BORSCHT
There are places on this Earth that just pull you in and leave you wondering how you ever ended up in them in the first place, but pull you in they do.
And for seemingly no apparent reason you lose all sense of time and space and enter a sort of twilight zone in which you watch yourself settling in a small village called Mũi Né, immediately falling in love with its every tiny detail, and completely disregarding things that would have normally made you cringe if not run for your life.
It happened last year, on the fourth week of my travels through Asia, while standing at the reception desk of the Mũi Né Hills Guest House. We extended our trip an extra two weeks then glanced at each other, Ksenia and I, and without words it became clear that we’re staying in this Vietnamese fishing village on the South China Sea.
Mũi Né is an odd mixture of Russian surfers and kitesurfers, post-Soviet babushkas, and genuine Vietnamese village flair. Admittedly, it sounds and is a bit horrifying. But you can just as easily let it all go and go about your own business, doing exactly as you please. For instance, we chose to avoid just about every toursty spot and to stick around the locals, the Russian hippies, and the random passers-by, all of whom took an instantaneous likeing to us.
It’s still sufficiently inexpensive, but already there are signs of organized tourism, which makes things like extending one’s visa, withdrawing cash, or exchanging currency relatively painless.
At the same time, you can skirt the accoutrements of civilization altogether by living somewhere up in the hills and spend your time kiting, surfing, driving your moped down to the market for fresh produce, and writing that novel in your spare time.
That’s more or less the lifestyle we settled into from the time of our arrival in Mũi Né. Which, I figure, is what makes it so appealing – total chill-out plus the availability of adventure at a moment’s notice. And all without breaking your budget.
I firmly believe that everything is what you make of it. A lot of people criticise Mũi Né for its excessive Russification. Whereas I think it’s full of awesome Russian-speaking guys and girls who are great to hang out with and chat with becaause they’re all busy with their own thing, working on their own ideas for life, traveling. Living the dream.
The loveliest thing about Vietnam, as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that tourism hasn’t ruined it yet. Which makes you feel like a welcome guest wherever you go and differentiates Vietnam from the rest of Asia. Make no mistake, I’m not saying you won’t be had at the first opportunity, which is why you should keep your wits and common sense about you at all times, but at the very least swindling tourists hasn’t yet turned into a national sport here as it has in Thailand for instance..
But back to Mũi Né.
It’s got everything you need. If you aren’t finicky.
You can either eat at a proper restaurant, or at a genuine local eatery, on a plastic chair stuck in the sand from a bowl that had just been washed in front of you a minute earlier.
You can live in a simple resort for $20 a day, or in a hotel with a panoramic view of the village for $45 a day.
You can rent a house for $200 a month. Whereas $500 a month will buy you a house complete with a maid and a private cook.
Yoga will run you from 3 to 11 US dollars per lesson depending on “fresh” a tourist you are. Massage will run you about $20 an hour.
You can get around on taxi (which is quite cheap) or moped. Or you can walk. We did. There’s also a bus that goes around town about which any of the aforementioned babushkas can advise you should you only inquire.
If you feel like “getting lost” for a bit but wish to stay comfortable, Mũi Né is the perfect spot. On the one hand, you can live on a mountaintop in restive solitude and, on the other hand, the minute you feel like being entertained, you will be. There are even a couple of joints where you can go listen to electonic music, played by visiting DJ-surfers, of whom there’s hardly ever a scarcity.
If anyone had told me all this prior to my arrival in this tiny Vietnamese fishing village located a mere 3 hours’ drive from Ho Chi Minh City, I don’t think I would have really gotten the picture. Let alone decided to stay there two months. Which, incidentally, is why I took these pictures.
Now, a year later, I’m looking at them and realizing that I miss this beach, I miss the waves breaking against the walls of the hotels, and I miss the people, each of whom has left an indelible imprint on my life.
I really hope to be back, before rampant tourism overtakes this dreamy fishing village that smells of sea and salt and the occasional fish sauce.