Adventures of a Female Solo Backpacker
Vietnam is a beautiful country. With its long geographic structure, many different types of landscapes are available to the wanderer.
Having lived in Saigon for a year, I taught myself how to ride a scooter as it is the most convenient means of transportation. With a bit of practice, fast reflexes and confidence, I was driving around like a local.
It had always been a dream of mine to travel from north to south Vietnam on a motorbike. I thought I would take a small step and go on a short trip first. Mui Ne is over 300 km one way from Saigon. While Saigon is a pretty popping city with a rich nightlife, I missed coastal views of beaches and the smell of seawater. It had been a cool minute since I’ve dipped my feet into the wet sand, so I decided to set off on my road trip.
I woke up at 8 am, packed a 30L backpack with a week's worth of clothes and filled up the gas tank.
Google maps told me it would only take 3 hours to get there from my location. Well… I know to always add a bit of extra time when I’m in Vietnam. The traffic here can get… hectic.
Being on the road, there is a saying in Vietnamese that translates to “directions in Vietnam are by word of mouth”. In Vietnam, it is not uncommon for people to ask strangers for directions. In fact, they do it all the time. I’ve asked a stranger on the street how to get to St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi and he gave me directions for a couple of blocks and then told me to ask another person, essentially creating a chain of asking strangers for directions block by block until I got to my destination. They’ll say something to the likes of “Go straight until you see a gas station, then you’ll turn right. After that, you drive for a couple of minutes, and then ask another person for further directions”. This is just how people in Vietnam get around. Sometimes, a person will pull up next to you at a red light and ask for directions while on their motorbike before the light turns green.
Road tripping hundreds of kilometres in Vietnam by motorbike isn’t very common amongst locals. The locals preferred mode of transportation for long distances is typically by bus. So you could imagine the stares and looks I got when I asked locals in Saigon which road to take to get to Mui Ne. Many people just told me to take the bus and that I shouldn’t be driving there via bike. After asking over five different locals, I realized that Google Maps was going to be my navigator.
About two hours into my ride, it started to rain. Just my luck. I have driven in the rain before, but not for longer than half an hour. The roads were slippery and I had to learn how to drive in rain on a bike pretty quickly. It rained for more than 3 hours straight and I learned how to brake properly on a bike in the rain; not abruptly, but rather with short jerks, otherwise, a sudden brake would lock my wheel and cause me to slip. Thankfully I never had to experience that fall.
A few hours pass and the scenery changed from a busy city to quiet country to straight-up just mountains and highway. I drove past large dragonfruit farms and learned very quickly that dragonfruit was grown in the Phan Thiet region. After over six hours on my bike with little to no rest, I start to see what seems like a city. More bikes are on the road, stores visible and I even see a popular supermarket in Vietnam, Co-op Mart. It was time for my first meal of the day, at 4:20 pm in Phan Thiet.
After resting for a bit, I got back on my bike and drove another 20 minutes into Mui Ne. The ride to my hostel is accompanied by incredible coastal views of the beach and strong waves. I feel the strong winds of Mui Ne, which comes as no surprise as it is a popular destination for kite surfing. I breathe in the salt scented air and I stop to take a photo. The trip was worth every second just for that view.
After staring at the ocean for 15 minutes, I drive to my hostel, park my bike and check-in. The clerk asks me if I’m interested in any of the tours available in Mui Ne. Mui Ne is famous for kite surfing because of its strong winds, the fairy stream and sand dunes. There was a tour that included a stop at the color fishing boats of Mui Ne, both the white and red sand dunes and access to the fairy stream all for 100, 000 dong, which is less than five U.S. dollars (August 2018) for a half-day tour. "Yes, yes, yes", I said.
I woke up the next day and was picked up in what looked like an old beat-up Jeep without doors and blaring techno music with three strangers in the back. After driving for a couple of minutes, I was dropped off at the fairy stream and told to meet back at the entrance in 30 minutes. There was a place for guests to put their shoes and then walk barefoot down the rocks and into the soft stream.
The stream was gorgeous, water flowed through my toes and a red landscape stood in front of me. I was really tempted to rub some of the red clay on my face to give myself an impromptu face mask, but I didn’t. After walking a bit, I saw a local give some tourists a green flower he picked from the side. “Oh my god, a four-leaf clover!” I heard one of the tourists say. I look over and I realize that they are all four-leaf clovers.
After spending about 45 minutes are the fairy stream, I was picked up by a different car and driven to the white sand dunes.
Arriving at the white sand dunes, several ATV’s were waiting for us. I got really excited because I had never ridden one before, let alone on a sand dune. I, alongside three other tourists, was charged 350, 000 dong (~15 USD) for a roundtrip up the dune on an ATV and back down on a Jeep. Now I understood why the tour I booked at the hotel was so cheap… It was because you have to pay for everything else. We paid the fee, although I’m pretty sure that we could have bargained them down quite a bit. The drive up was short but very sweet. Luckily I brought a scarf with me to cover half my face from all the sand. When we got to the top, I was very pleasantly surprised by the view. The fact that Vietnam has sand dunes this large and this beautiful shocked me. It was an incredible sight and I highly recommend this spot. It was absolutely breathtaking.
After spending 30-40 mins on the sand dunes, we were driven back. Then we were dropped off at the red sand dunes which was much quieter with no ATVs in sight. Definitely more tourist and family-friendly. There were local women renting off sheets of plastic so people could slide down the sand dunes. I passed on it but it was about 50, 000 dong (~2 USD) to rent one.
Then we were driven to our last destination: the fishing village in Mui Ne. The shore was lined with many colorful fishing boats and fisherman selling their latest catch that day.
Afterwards, I was dropped off at my hostel. The tour lasted about 5 hours and was worth every second. It was a very inexpensive and convenient way for me to hit all the main points of attraction in Mui Ne. For those wondering if tours in Vietnam are worth it, I would say this inexpensive half-day tour in Mui Ne was definitely worth it.
I ended up spending about a week in Mui Ne, visiting local bars, restaurants and visiting a friend in Phan Thiet. She took me to what would be my favorite coffee shop. If you haven’t tried Egg Coffee and you are in Phan Thiet, Ong Ba Bich Cafe is a cozy little coffee shop run by a girl from Hanoi. She makes egg coffee, egg beer… you name it, she will make an egg version of it and it is absolutely fantastic.
Overall, this solo bike trip to Mui Ne was a 10/10 for me. Despite the rain, it was sunny the rest of the trip, the tour was incredibly affordable and offered amazing sights and views. I got to try the freshest dragonfruit and chill by the coziest coffee shop in Phan Thiet.
As a 5’1 Asian female solo backpacking Vietnam, there was never a moment when I felt unsafe. The locals are incredibly helpful and hostel workers speak great English and are more than willing to help any travelers. I highly recommend this trip for anyone who wants to go on a short getaway from Saigon to a cozy city with beautiful coast views and amazing food and people.
Check out Nina's podcast Pass the Poutine : Conversations from an Asian-Canadian perspective. Episodes include Asian Superstitions & Mental Health, Bisexuality & Being Indian Canadian, Viet Food is Pho King Good. Find Pass the Poutine on Spotify and iTunes