Our family – Jan, myself and five-year-old Matilda – was long overdue for a short holiday at the beach. The plan was simple: book four nights in the off-season at the Sunsea Resort in Phan Thiet/Mui Ne, Wednesday to Sunday, and take the train from Ho Chi Minh City (the most hassle-free, comfortable and quickest way to get there). What could go wrong?
I tried to book train tickets online but the options were confusing. There were several websites with different trains, different schedules and prices, and click-throughs that didn’t seem to work. I knew there was one train a day in each direction, and I just wanted three simple soft seats on the standard train for the four-hour trip. Why was that so difficult
On Monday morning I went to the ticketing office at Ga Sai Gon (which would have to be one of the world’s most cunningly hidden central train stations), took a number and awaited my turn.
“Seats to Phan Thiet on Wednesday are no problem,” said the lady behind the counter in impeccable English, “but we only have two tickets for Sunday return. We have plenty of seats on Saturday.”
Oh dear! I should have realised that August may be the off-season for foreigners, but it’s also the Vietnamese school-holiday season when HCMC locals descend en masse onto the lovely beach between Phan Thiet and Mui Ne during the weekends. An expat in Phan Thiet told me later that it’s wise to book train tickets to/from Phan Thiet one month ahead during the school holidays.
So, we had to return on Saturday, which meant three rather than four nights at Sunsea. That was not the end of the world of course, but still a bit of a disappointment.
Fortunately Sunsea Resort itself was far from disappointing. I had already investigated it during an earlier visit to the area, and knew to expect a recently renovated, wonderfully quiet resort with tasteful stonework imported from Italy. I admired the round, private cottages near the beach that were works of art, incorporating beautiful, local timbers and furniture custom-made to follow the curves of the rooms.
The Pool View Rooms at Sunsea Resort face the ‘inner’ pool
Instead of a private cottage, however, we booked a more affordable Pool View Double Room for $80 a night including service charge, taxes and breakfast. There was no extra charge for our daughter because she was still under six years old.
The room exceeded our expectations. It was tastefully appointed with all the mod cons (although the DVD player refused to accept our Europe-coded DVDs), and the “Pool View” moniker lived up to its name – we could walk straight into the pool from the private patio.
Sunsea Resort’s infinity pool at the beach, with the bar and Sukhothai restaurant to the left
Matilda could not have been happier. We kept an eye on her from the comfortable couch on the patio where we caught up with a few books we hadn’t got round to reading. Bliss!
Sunsea has a beautiful infinity pool at the beach as well, next to its beachfront bar and Sukhothai restaurant, which serves a range of Vietnamese and Western dishes as well as excellent Thai specialities (the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Sukhothai in central Thailand was the capital of the first kingdom of Siam back in the 13th century). The restaurant would have to be one of the most pleasant spots along the beach strip for breakfast in the gentle, morning breeze. Lunch is on offer as well, and coloured lighting creates a magical and stylish ambience for the evening meal.
The Phan Thiet-Mui Ne beach is quiet in the off-season, especially during the week. In the high season (roughly from October to April), it’s a mecca for kitesurfers and windsurfers when scores of them catch the consistent breeze. Some resorts – including Sunsea – have high poles on the beach to keep the kitesurfers at a distance for safety reasons.
In August, however, you don’t see any of them. There’s the odd wave-surfer and jet-skier, and a few people try and fly recreational kites in the fickle breeze until the afternoon showers set in. Perfect for rest and relaxation, in other words.
Sorting the catch on the beach at Mui Ne fishing village.
There are, of course, other attractions in the area – see here.
If there was a downside to staying during the week in the off-season, it was the fact that Matilda had no-one of her age to play with. This changed on Friday when families with kids began to arrive from HCMC, but unfortunately we had to return to HCMC on Saturday morning.
So, if you plan to follow our example with a child in tow, book your weekend train tickets a month in advance!