Planning to travel to Mui Ne? Here’s a recommendation for you. It’s no secret that I choose my itineraries based on the dishes I will be able to sample on the road. I chose Vietnam as a country largely because of food. So when I read Jodi Ettenberg’s ode to a certain Mui Ne soup, we decided to extend our Saigon to Hanoi train trip by a slightly complicated additional stop (Mui Ne is not on the main rail line). The fact that Mui Ne was supposed to boast some of Vietnam’s most beautiful beaches was an additional factor we weren’t exactly opposed to. So after a week in the hustle and bustle of Saigon, a few days of relaxing on the beach and eating soup sounded like a great idea to me.
Mui Ne was welcoming, from the first second. As we walked out of the Binh Thuan train station after our train ride from Saigon, this tiny dog came stumbling up the stairs to welcome us as if we were some long lost friends he had been waiting for. Wagging his tail like crazy, he drew figures of eight around our feet until we finally gave in to our Western traveler worries (what if he has rabies?) and started petting him. We’d find out over the next few days that the rest of Mui Ne – not counting the hordes of tourists in the resort strip – was just as friendly, from our guesthouse hosts to the locals frequenting the food stalls we stumbled upon to the fishermen that were all happy to find a strong helper (my boyfriend) lending them a hand in lifting their boats in and out of the water.
Every evening, we would take a long walk along the beach and watch the sun go down. On our way back, we would look for food. We learned on the first night that the westernised restaurants catering to the mostly Russian tourists weren’t really our thing, so finding something on TripAdvisor wasn’t going to be an option. Instead, we tried to go for dinner early (well, compared to the Spanish dinner times I’m used to at least) and base our dinner spots on where we could find the most locals.
One evening, we found an outdoor restaurant packed with Vietnamese families all having a hotpot at their table and cooking their dinner right there on the spot. We stood outside for a few minutes trying to figure out how it worked, when a father of a family of five motioned us to the table next to them and showed us what they were eating – delicious looking beef & noodle hotpot. He helped us order the same dish and no more than five minutes later, were able to join the crowd of at-the-table cooking diners.
The next evening, we decided to go for what we like to call the Asian “food court” experience, finding a street corner housing multiple street food stalls and just eating whatever seems most popular. We often discover amazing food this way. This time, we ended up eating some kind of indescribable salad out of plastic bags at a stand that was incredibly popular with Vietnamese teenagers. Two women sat at a tiny table preparing the meals: One was pulling ingredients out of a basket, cutting up herbs and rice paper with scissors directly into the plastic bags that served as dishes, while the other one mixed various spices and sauces into a dressing to pour on top.
Our bags contained a whole lot of thin dry rice paper, a bunch of Vietnamese herbs, a couple of hard boiled quail eggs, a few condiments and a light chilli dressing. I kept on waiting for the dressing to somehow soften the rice paper and make it more interesting, but that didn’t really happen… so while I really wanted this random meal out of a plastic bag to be a winner (like our crabs out of a plastic bag in Kep, Cambodia)… it just wasn’t. So I did what any good South East Asia traveler does – I grabbed the biggest mango smoothie I could find for dessert to fix me up! (Note: I’ve since googled the salad and think it must have been a very dry, basic version of Bánh Tráng Trộn)
Considering the not so impressive salad in a bag, I decided it was time to go hunt down the famous taxi stand soup the next night. I knew it used to be next to a restaurant called Tutti Frutti, and I also knew from comments on Jodi’s blog that Tutti Frutti no longer existed so it wasn’t a landmark to go by. But I’m a bit of geek, so I did my research, and managed to find the coordinates of where Tutti Frutti used to be thanks to Google Maps and my Vietnamese 3G plan. So off we were for a long walk just as the sun was setting, following my phone, to find a tiny soup stand that would hopefully be surrounded by lots of taxi drivers.
We found the ex-Tutti Frutti spot, but couldn’t see any popular food stands around. Taking a closer look around the area, we discovered a small stand that looked pretty abandoned – no taxis anywhere. There was a woman making what looked like soup however. As we were starving after a long day of walking – we’d covered over 20km that day – we decided to chance it, and asked for two plates of whatever it was that she had in her big pot hidden behind her stand. Jackpot! Would you look at this soup?
She put two bowls of soup in front of us that just screamed perfection. Thick rice noodles in a dark red broth with big chunks of meat that was so tender it fell apart when we picked it up with our chopsticks. The soup’s broth was a rich beef and lemongrass broth, with just enough kick to it to make it interesting without being outrageously spicy (that’s what the additional chillies are for, I guess – I must confess I mainly used them for decoration). It was deliciously rich. Sweet, salty, sour and spicy all at once; and with the big chunks of meat and masses of noodles, it was a really filling meal as well.
As we were happily slurping up our soup, more customers started dropping in to pick up soup to take home, and later on a few taxi drivers stopped by as well. But we didn’t really get the full taxi driver experience until the next night, when we decided we had to go back as we’d been raving about that soup all day. This time, we went a bit later, and found this scene at the soup stand.
Taxis lined up on both sides of the road, parked in the sand, and in between palm trees – anywhere they could find a spot. Turns out we’d just come for soup too early the previous day. This picture, taken at 7.15pm local time, shows taxi driver soup prime time. We barely found a spot that night, but the nice soup lady’s husband recognised us as returning customers and helped us find two spots amidst the chaos, provided us with iced green tea and helped us order. Tonight’s soup was a sort of Pho Bo, but there was also chicken and rice. Definitely great food – but my favourite remains her Bun Bo Hué.
The moral of this story? When looking for food, follow taxi drivers, not teenagers. Especially when you travel to Mui Ne.
Where to stay in Mui Ne
We stayed at Nhat Quang Family Guesthouse, a real family business run by a lovely Vietnamese family who were not only happy for us to reserve a room via email, but also gave us tips on how to travel to Mui Ne and arranged for the son of the family to pick us up at the Binh Thuan train station and drop us off there again five days later. They also cooked a lovely a la carte breakfast every morning (fruit pancakes were my favorite!), sometimes adding a small portion of whatever they were cooking for the family lunch to our order to let us sample different Vietnamese dishes off the menu. And while I mainly enjoyed this place for its lovely garden and the location right on the beach, if you’re even the least bit sporty, you’ll love the fact that there’s a beach volleyball net and windsurfing right outside the guesthouse. While we were there, there was someone living there long term renting out surf boards and giving lessons.
How to travel to Mui Ne
Check out my Saigon to Mui Ne train trip post for tips on how to travel to Mui Ne. It’s easy to get there from Saigon, both by train and by bus – I recommend the train… I’m not very keen on Vietnamese bus drivers!
Where to eat in Mui Ne
The taxi driver soup stand, obviously! We found the lovely soup lady on Nguyen Dinh Chieu street, next to Bo Ke Lucky Restaurant (which is Nguyen Dinh Chieu 126). There was some construction going on in that area in 2014, so she may have moved! Maybe ask a taxi driver if you can’t find her… If you have a newer address, please share it in the comments.