A blend of chaos and charm

A blend of chaos and charm

A trip to Ho Chi Minh and Mui Ne allows for both urban exploration and coastal adventures

A blend of chaos and charm
Centara Mirage Resort Mui Ne. VietJet Air

Embarking on a journey through Vietnam, one may find the allure of cities like Hanoi, Sapa, Hue and Da Nang. However, the southern gem of Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon has been an unsung hero in recent years. Despite being Vietnam's largest city and a nexus of culture, history, and commerce, it seems the city has been overshadowed. Our insightful guide Yuu pondered: "Perhaps familiarity with the city has bred a desire for new horizons or maybe Ho Chi Minh hasn't been given the tourism spotlight it deserves."

November, with its cooler weather, proved to be an ideal time for my four-day tryst with Vietnam. It was a brief yet enchanting sojourn that I wholeheartedly recommend, especially for those seeking a quick international getaway. A mere 90-minute flight from Bangkok, similar to Phuket, facilitated by the impeccable organisation of VietJet Air, unfolded the beauty and allure of our neighbouring country.

Much like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City pulsates with a vivacious energy and a captivating blend of chaos and charm. As a sprawling metropolis, it provides a tapestry of local markets, soaring skyscrapers, elegant French colonial landmarks, and, of course, a gastronomic journey through delectable Vietnamese cuisine.

The Tan Son Nhat International Airport, just 7km from the city centre, served as our gateway. A taxi, the most convenient option, whisked us away to our abode in the heart of Saigon. While buses are available, its leisurely pace may deter eager travellers. For those exploring Vietnam extensively, a scenic train journey along the coastal route, with stops in Hanoi, Hue, and Da Nang, is an alternative. However, for the discerning tourist, navigating the city's bustling streets can be achieved through the Grab app, a reliable companion for seamless transportation.

Home Saigon Restaurant in Ho Chi Minh. Tatat Bunnag

Our journey unfurled as our tour bus made a stop at the Home Saigon Restaurant, an authentic Vietnamese haven, before embarking on a four-hour odyssey along the Eastern coast to Mui Ne. As a coastal town adorned with palm-lined beaches and renowned for its unique character, Mui Ne beckoned with promises of sandy expanses. It is known locally as the Sahara of Vietnam. Somwang, another local tour guide, likened the red and white sand dunes to a desert oasis which set the stage for a mesmerising sunrise the following morning.

Our haven for the next two days, the Centara Mirage Resort Mui Ne, soon emerged on the horizon. It is a sprawling, playground-themed resort nestled along the beachfront of Hon Rom Bay. Opening its doors in 2021 under Centara Resorts & Hotels, this expansive retreat, boasting 984 rooms and pool villas, unfolds amidst flower gardens and tranquil coastlines. My accommodation, a Villa One Bedroom Private Pool, exuded a vibrant atmosphere with Mediterranean-style decor. It was spacious enough for up to three adults. Catering to families, the resort brims with amenities, including bowling lanes, arcades, karaoke rooms, and a waterpark featuring a lazy river, splash pad, water play area and cliff jumping pool.

The subsequent dawn revealed the ethereal beauty of Mui Ne's white sand dunes, a spectacle enhanced by a sunrise tour. Picture awakening to a cool breeze as nature orchestrates a symphony of colours across golden sands. But an adventurer doesn't stop there. The locals also let us explore fun activities of the dunes in a number of ways, such as taking exhilarating rides down the dunes on a quad bike where you can navigate the rugged terrain and feel the power beneath you. You can feel the adrenaline rush as you slide down the slopes carving your way. It's a thrilling experience that will make you feel like a kid again.

Directions to the Fairy Stream trail. Tatat Bunnag

Post-lunch at the Cay Bang restaurant, a local-style eatery by the seaside, we embarked on a short hike through Fairy Stream Mui Ne, a hidden gem offering a captivating journey into nature's wonderland. The Fairy Stream, with a mere 5,000 dong (7 baht) admission fee, unveiled a scenic hiking trail alongside a turquoise stream bordered by striking red rock formations and lush greenery. It was a visual feast, and a respite from the urban hustle. Concluding the day with an evening stroll along the resort and a sunset view by the swimming pool, I ascended the 92m tall Faro Observation Deck, offering a panoramic vista of Mui Ne Bay.

The morning sun heralded our return to Ho Chi Minh City, with our final night beckoning at Le Méridien Saigon. Nestled along the Saigon River, the hotel showcased a breathtaking view of Bason Bridge. Embracing art and local talent, the hotel exudes a boutique feel, with each floor presenting a creative view of the city. The 343 contemporary rooms, including 27 suites, adorned with ample workspaces and ergonomic seating, showcased panoramic views of vibrant Ho Chi Minh City.

One of the highlights at Le Méridien Saigon is the fact that the hotel often hosts drag queen shows especially ones from Thailand at their vibe-dining bar Barson. The hotel manager claimed that the hotel was one of the first few places in Vietnam to openly support the LGBTI community. Located in District One, the hotel offeres centrality to the business district and proximity to key tourist attractions, including the famous Cafe Apartment in Nguyen Hue. A 15-minute stroll led to iconic landmarks like Notre Dame Cathedral, Ben Thanh Market, Opera House, Reunification Palace, and malls such as Takashimaya and the Vincom Centre. For those with time to spare, delving into the city's history through the Cu Chi Tunnels, War Remnants Museum, Jade Emperor Pagoda, and Independence Palace offers enriching experiences.

In the embrace of Ho Chi Minh City's dynamic rhythm, our Vietnam tour unfurled a tapestry of diverse landscapes and cultural gems. From the vibrant chaos of Saigon to the serene beauty of Mui Ne, each stop on our journey painted a vivid picture of Vietnam's multifaceted charm. As the sun set over the cityscape, I reflected on the whirlwind adventure -- a symphony of flavours, sights, and sounds that left an indelible mark on my soul. Vietnam, with its warm hospitality and captivating allure, had woven a travel tale that transcended the ordinary.

A quad bike. Tatat Bunnag

A sunset by a swimming pool. Tatat Bunnag

The Faro Cafe. Tatat Bunnag

Le Méridien Saigon Hotel. Tatat Bunnag

The Cafe Apartment in Ho Chi Minh. Tatat Bunnag

Bowling lanes at Centara Mirage Resort Mui Ne. Tatat Bunnag

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