Mui Ne thrives despite economic slowdown

In a surprising bit of good news, Mui Ne seems to be doing better than ever this year in terms of tourist numbers, with a 50% increase in visitors in March compared to 2008, with over 500,000 visitors to the area in the first 3 months of this year.

This rise highlights the growing popularity of this beach destination, which now houses a massive 70 2 to 5 star resorts, though some of the rise has been attributed to local tourists who have decided to save money and not travel overseas. Price cuts by many of the major hotels and resorts have had a considerable impact too.

Development of the resort is continuing too, with 18 projects currently underway. The report in Thanh Nien quotes a local people's committee member stating that projects that are environmentally friendly will be given a priority which is great to hear; Mui Ne has undoubtedly grown dramatically since I started visiting some years ago, yet at the same time has managed to remain attractive with the majority of developments being low rise and surrounded by gardens and so hidden from view when on the beach.

Can Tho

    Can Tho is the biggest and most prosperous of the cities in the Mekong Delta; its central location has made it a major trading post in the region, attracting farmers from across the delta to come and sell their crops or trade for supplies.

    The rivers and waterways of the delta have long acted as canals enabling farmers to cover long distances to get a better price for their produce, and in turn Can Tho has become a relatively wealthy city, with clean, smart streets and a good number of shops.

    Nowadays Can Tho is a great place to experience a Vietnamese floating market, as every morning at 5am boats arrive from around the provinces to sell the fruits of their labour. Some boats are houseboats - merchants who buy in one place and sell in another - while others are simple crafts who will have left home long before dawn to trade directly and get a better price for their goods.

    Every day the traders will be different and so some mornings the market will be much busier than others . The floating market is some way out of town, but trips to visit it can be organised with any of the ladies who approach you while walking alongside the river in the main town of Can Tho.

    This waterfront is a great place to pass the time with a sweet little park by the side of the river, and a number of great restaurants in old villas and shopfronts. There is also a beautiful pagoda built by the
    Chinese merchantmen who have long lived in the city.

    Can Tho can be reached by bus from Ho Chi Minh City (around 4hrs) or by speedboat - around 2hrs, with one departure a day. Victoria Hotels also offer upmarket speedboat services through the area, though you may pay a premium to do so. Due to its central location connections from Can Tho are great, with buses and boats heading to most destinations around the Mekong Delta.

    Phu Quoc

      Phu Quoc is an island off the coast of Cambodia in the gulf of Thailand that became part of Vietnam while the French administrated the region and has remained so ever since. It is very close to Cambodia - you can see the mainland from the North West of the island - but can be reached by fast boat in around 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 hours from the towns of Ha Tien and Rach Gia in the Mekong Delta, or by plane from Saigon (1hr).

      Due to the political sensitivity of the island it was largely dominated by the military for much of recent history and has only in the past decade or so begun to develop. As a result the majority of roads are unpaved and most of the island is covered in lush forest. As we write the island remains a tranquil paradise, with just a smattering of hotels and resorts and many beautiful, quiet beaches that look out onto the calm glassy waters of the gulf of Thailand.

      So far development on the island has been slow due to the cost of shipping materials to the island and the small airstrip limiting the size of plane that can land - and so the number of visitors that can fly to the island (for this reason you should always book your trip to Phu Quoc well in advance!).

      Taxis in Saigon - How to avoid being taken for a ride

      VinaTaxiTaxis are a surprisingly cheap way to get around the major cities in Vietnam - and if need be, its event not too prohibitive to take a taxi between cities. In Saigon the crowded streets and haphazard construction can make walking a very hot and tiring exercise so it can be quite a relief to hop into a nice cool taxi when you are starting to wear out.

      In general cross city taxi travel in Ho Chi Minh City between major tourist sights can be achieved for $1-2, occasionally up to $5 or $6 if you need to travel a particularly long way - for instance from downtown Dong Khoi area up to Chinatown. The vast majority of taxi drivers are very courteous, helpful and safe drivers, if a little too fond of their horns at times, so you should feel free to relax and enjoy the scenery as you drive.

      That being said, taxis are not closely regulated and if you do not travel with a trusted brand you may find the meter has been fiddled and you are paying over the odds. The government have recently been holding a crackdown on dodgy taxis at the airport in o Chi Minh City which appears to have been quite successful, but it seems little is being done to put a stop to overcharging in private taxis in town.

      Back in Saigon

      After a very hectic January and February with work, friends and family visiting, little adventures and lots of travelling I'm back in Saigon and its about time I started posting again!

      On the road I've been writing up lots more destination guides, articles and taking a lot of video so there should be a lot of interesting pieces coming up, I just need time to dig out the photos and upload the articles.

      I'm also working on the Saigon Cyclo Challenge for , which will be held on March 7th at the Taipei International School in Phu My Hung - just two weeks from now.

      It's a great, manic day out with live music, food and drink, crazy cyclo races and most importantly plenty of funds raised for charity. I urge you all to come along and see for yourself - and perhaps put in a team next year?

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