Chaotic cities and „The Beach“-type islands – Vietnam has many faces and one of them has only recently been revealed. You’ll find the windiest beaches in Asia here. Rob Kidnie guides you through Vietnam.
Incessant rattling. There is smoke everywhere and hardly enough air to breathe. Scooters buzz around the streets like angry wasps. Normal, western congestion looks different, more orderly. I am in a country where the majority of the 80 Million inhabitants have a soft spot for souped up two wheelers. It’s simply loud, dusty and extremely sticky. It’s hard to imagine a more isolated spot than the South China Sea (also called „East Sea“in Vietnam).
This chaos is the reason that I spend most of my time at the coastal resort of Mui Ne, where I operate a kite surf school. In contrast to the traffic chaos-ridden cities Vietnam, it is truly idyllic. The kiting, in the windiest city in Asia, is also excellent. Mui Ne is reached via Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon. From the big city, located in the extreme south, it is a 220 km coastal ride north, either with a taxi for a 100 US Dollar or with the favored adventure tour. I usually spend the first night in Ho Chi Minh City, go shopping and surprise myself with the latest culinary delight. The next day I board the 5 US Dollar Bus for Mui Ne. Whilst it may sound like chaos it is the ideal solution for Vietnam. The bus routes are well developed and run all along the 3000km coastline.
It wasn’t always like this. Even 10 years ago Vietnam didn’t feature on a destination list for most tourists. This had a lot to do with the American war, which lasted into the 70’s and claimed more than 3 million lives. The entire country lay in ruin. Even Mui Ne, up to 10 years ago, was a tiny little fishing village. Tourism has been on the increase in the last couple of years starting with back packers and budget travelers. Then the strong wind and warm water brought the kiters to the coasts. There are now even package holiday tourists that stay for two weeks in modern Hotels. Notwithstanding the golf courses and 5 star accommodation Mui Ne has been able to keep a lot of its original charm. Best example: the cost of basic accommodation has remained at 6 US Dollar.
As in the past, one road leads into the town. As soon as the sun sets, numerous non-descript huts turn into little fish restaurants with the typical white furniture in front of the door. The ordering process is undertaken with illustrated cards which indicate the ridiculously low prices. The local cuisine alone is worth the trip. For those who prefer western cuisine, the new town center has restaurants that cater for them.
The best time to travel to South Vietnam is the dry season from November to April. You should be able to be spend 5 days in the week on the water. If the wind gods are gracious you’ll be spending the entire week on the water, with different wind direction and lots of variety. It can get a little crowded in December and January, with more than 100 kiters in the bay. The wind starts blowing at 10 knots in the morning and reaches its peak in the afternoon when the sand has been heated up by the sun. 20 to 25 knots is the norm in Mui Ne. The ideal kite size for an average-weight rider is a 9sqm with a twin tip and 7sqm with a directional.
A kite quiver would be very useful if you’re going to explore the coast. The remaining months are all kiteable but the weather can turn quickly. In June the wind turns to the south and the waves are noticeably smoother and more lined up – but it could be flat for weeks. August and September are the worst months – or one should rather say the wettest months.
The heavy shore break and the strong, constant wind make the conditions raw and challenging. Choppy water is also not uncommon in this part of the South China Sea. The washing machine conditions in the shore break remind me of my youth in Australia – and removing sand from all parts of my body during the summer. Once you’ve acclimatized Mui Ne is suitable for kiters of all levels. I often tell my students: „if you can kite here you can kite anywhere“. The easiest approach is to body drag through the shore break and then leisurely get on your board.
For the adventurous who like to search for new spots, Vietnam’s 3000 km coastline holds a lot of gems. „Surf Beach“is situated a mere 15 minutes, by scooter, to the north. Here you’ll be greeted with an empty beach and a side-onshore wind. There are waves here – sometimes up to double overhead. Between October and January numerous Typhoons from China and the Philippines make an appearance. This is when it gets heavy and the onshore wind makes the conditions challenging.
Recently a few friends of mine discovered a new breach in the North; where (at one spot) absolutely flat water meets waves. They were unfortunately arrested on their first trip as the spot is situated near army barracks. Fortunately that is history and nowadays there are even organized tours – at the cost of a small donation to the government. The wind, at 30 knots +, is even better than at Mui Ne. The only downside: there is no place to hide from the constant wind and sweltering sun. This is ideal for a couple of days, but it can get a bit extreme after a while. In Mui Ne there is talk of a kite camp being setup there.
A lot of people underestimate the small islands in South Vietnam. One of them, Phu Quoy, can be reached, without much hassle, with a ferry. The trip takes 5 hours and costs 4 US Dollar. It starts in Phan Theit City, 20 km south of Mui Ne. A real adventure, in Asian terms and not western standards, is guaranteed – an extraordinary cultural experience! Chickens and other livestock are regulars amongst those travelling. Friends of mine spent three months on Phu Quoy thanks to the constant 40 knot wind. The turquoise blue lagoon and insane waves on the reef were reminiscent of a scene from „The Beach“. The only problem: You are exposed to the whims of the sea. Last year a storm kept me on the island for two weeks because the ferries can’t operate with 50 knot winds. It wouldn’t have been too bad if my smallest kite wasn’t a 9sqm: I had to shorten my lines to 15 meters.
Another kiting stronghold is starting to be established in the shabby oil metropolis Vung Tau where the wind is usually only strong enough for a 11sqm or 13sqm – a couple of Russian owned kite schools have been established. The Russian oil workers look forward to the weekend to blow off some steam on the beaches. „Nha Trang“and „Hoi An“are both very similar – with regards to the wind conditions but also with the level of crowding.
Vietnam is a god send for us kiters. But typical of a region in this stage of development the action is concentrated in one area – and in this case that area is Mui Ne. This is typical when a country is first being explored by kiters. The spot potential in Vietnam is huge. Passionate explorers will find the gems off the beaten path. You’ll definitely hear the cacophony of sound from the scooters when you first land in Ho Chi Minh City.
For more information about Rob Kidnie´s kite school in Mui Ne check: www.kite-n-surf.com
Infos for Backpackers
Five things you have to do in Vietnam when you need a rest from kiting and have the will to travel
Mekong Delta: get a coffee at the Floating Market
Saigon: experience a true traffic jam
Hanoi: visit the mausoleum, where "Uncle Ho" was laid to rest
Sapa: see where the rice comes from
Halong Bay: enjoy the fantastic landsape
Life is a journey. Kiteboarding has taken us to the best spots on the planet and allowed us to get to know the local kiters from all corners of the globe. At the same time we have been able to delve into the technology behind the products that we use on a daily basis and catch a glimpse behind the scenes of the kite industry. There are many interesting characters behind the products and it became clear to us, that CORE is not only made up of a team from the Fehmarn Island but instead is made up of people from the world’s beaches. Therefore we became a part of something much bigger.
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