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September Festivals:
Nghinh Ong and Hot-Air Balloons

Nghinh Ong Phan Thiet
See more Nghinh Ong photos at our blog

21.08.12 Mui Ne will be hosting its first International Balloon Festival from August 29 - September 3. The government-sponsored event commemorations National Day on September 2, when Communist Hanoi first declared Independence. The festival will take place beside Sealinks Golf Course. We presume the festival is open to the public, but in the past most new government-organized festivals have been for VIPs only. The event is advertised to include hot-air balloons from 20 participating countries, with races, rides and shows each day.

Phan Thiet will be hosting its famous Nghinh Ong – Quan Thanh Festival from September 4-6. The festival occurs once every two years and blends traditions of local Vietnamese whale-worshipping cults and ethnic Chinese culture. Most festivities are held downtown in the vicinity of the central market. The first day usually includes dragon and lion dancing at the Quan Thanh temple. The second day normally features martial arts shows at various Chinese assembly halls around the market. Day 3 concludes with a grand parade around the city. More than 1000 participants march in costume, with lion and dragon dancing, traditional music, drama, stilt-walkers, martial arts, and concluding the largest Ky Lan dance in Southeast Asia. Visitors are advised to show up early each day (7am) so as not to miss the show (unless instructed otherwise). Find more information about the festival in our Culture Section and Festivals Page. Schedules often change without notice—check with your hotel for confirmation on times and places.

New Cultural Performances at Cham Towers

16.06.12 The local government has announced that beginning today, there will be daily performances at the Thap Po Sha Nu Cham Temple (towers). Performances will be held 6-8 times each day, for a duration of 45 minutes for each performance. The type of performance has not been specified, although we expect it will be some sort of costumed song-and-dance show. An outdoor performance area with covered roof has been constructed, at a stated cost of US$14,000, and apparently seats 200 guests. It's a rather ambitious new program, particularly to begin during the rainy season (low tourism season) but a welcome new attraction, presuming it gets off the ground.

Mui Ne: Explore Off The Beach

Mudskipper Fish in Phan Thiet, Vietnam
Dueling Mudskippers have a kissing fight in the shallows of the Phan Thiet River. At low tide the small fish crawl around on the shore and defend their mating territory on dry land.

06.06.12 Phan Thiet City's Ham Tien Ward, known to tourism as "Mui Ne," is well known for its vast, Saharan dunes and white, sandy beach, peppered with Saigon expats, wealthy Vietnamese, kiteboarding backpackers and herds of Russian tourists. There's no mystery why Mui Ne Beach (the traditional name of the beach itself is actually "Rang") has drawn so much attention. Mui Ne has the driest climate and the sunniest weather in the country—which not only draws lots of tourist but also generates strong afternoon winds as cool ocean air moves across the hot sands—creating perfect conditions for water sports. The ideal climate has made Mui Ne one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the country and sheltered it from the depressed world economy that has caused tourism slumps in other parts of Vietnam.

While the beach is certain splendid, the kiteboarding is heart-pounding, and watching Russians frolicking in their unusual beach attire can be amusing, these things have all distracted visitors from the treasures beyond the beach. Mui Ne's greatest assets include its culinary delights, ancient temples, ethnic minorities, historical monuments and other very literal "hidden gems."

It's easy to assume, as one stands along Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street and gazes from resort to resort, that the area is void of any indigenous culture. While tourism development has certainly pushed much of the original community to the periphery, numerous villages inhabited by a variety of ethnic minorities are located within one and a half hours drive from Mui Ne.

The 8th century Thap Poshanu Cham Towers in Phu Hai Ward overlook Phan Thiet City, serving both as a southern boundary marker for the ancient Champa kingdom, and a symbol of the modern local Cham community. These are not the only vestiges of the Champa Kingdom in the area however. Somewhere buried in the famous White Sand Dunes north of Mui Ne is a legendary temple that once stood on the shores of Bau Trang, or White Lake.

The Forest Restaurant was the first venue to capitalize on the wealth of Cham heritage in the area, offering nightly live music and dance shows with Cham performers. Now some resorts also offer similar shows. While Cham history and culture is an amazing treasure well worth the attention, it's surprising that the local hill tribes, particularly K'ho, Churu, and Jarai (all living in the foothills north of Phan Thiet) have been entirely overlooked.

Cham temples are not the only notable architecture in the area. Phan Thiet is home to the Van Thuy Thu Temple, devoted to a whale-worshipping cult followed by fisherman all along Vietnam's southern coast. Van Thuy Thu is the oldest remaining temple in the religion, built in 1762, and houses a whale skeleton measuring 22 meters long, along with more than 100 other whale and dolphin specimens worshipped by local fishermen.

Phan Thiet also has a few monuments with national political significance. Ho Chi Minh himself taught at the Duc Thanh School by the central market in 1910, before "finding the road to national salvation." Across the Ca Ty River, the Phan Thiet Water Tower, symbol of the city, was built by the "Red Prince" Souphanouvong of Laos in the 1930's. He later became the first president of Laos under the present communist government.

A true measure of a modern, thriving culture, however, is undoubtedly its food rather than historic architecture. Before the onslaught of tourism development, locals who didn't subsist on fishing instead raised goats. For that reason, goat hot pot (lau de), and even more delicious—grilled goat (de nuong) dipped in stinky tofu sauce, are local specialties. A number of restaurants serving these dished are located East of Rang Market in Mui Ne. Another local specialty, banh canh, is a tasty soup served with thick rice noodles bathed in a light broth and topped off with sliced, fried fish patties and boiled quail eggs. It's a dish normally sold on the curbsides of rural neighborhoods in the evenings.

Within Phan Thiet, it's no surprise that seafood is popular, particularly grilled clams with onions and pork rinds, grilled shrimp on skewers, and lau hai san (seafood hotpot). Tuyen Quang Street is national famous for its banh xeo restaurants, serving seafood pancakes in a tasty broth of nuoc cham. Phan Thiet is famous for its food products: dragon fruit, nuoc mam (fish sauce), and plentiful seafood.

Next time you come to Mui Ne, by all means—enjoy the glorious beach. But if you have some extra time to break away from the area's luxurious resorts, you'll discover why Mui Ne and the greater Phan Thiet city deserves to be included among Vietnam's truly great destinations.

American Democracy Activist Held Prisoner
by Communist Vietnam

American Pro-Democracy Activist and Vietnam Political Prisoner Nguyen Quoc Quan

Remembering Vietnam's religious and political prisoners on 'Liberation Day' (Ngay Giai Phong Viet Nam) on 30.04.12. American citizen and peaceful pro-democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Quan (pictured above) has been arrested by the Communist government and charged with 'terrorism.' Click here to read more.

Police Brutally Attack Villagers in Van Giang

3000 cong an, canh sat co dong, bo doi duoc huy dong den xa Xuan Quan, huyen Van Giang, tinh Hung Yen hom 24.04.2012 de cuong che 70 hecta dat xay dung khu do thi 'Ecopark'.

26.04.12 This is 'liberation'? On Tuesday, April 24 this week, THREE THOUSAND vietnamese police and soldiers attacked the villagers at Van Giang near Hanoi, using clubs, tear gas, flash-bang grenades and bullets. About 1000 villagers defended their property during the illegal government land-grab using sticks, rocks and Molotov Cocktails.

Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Ecopark, Van GiangThe Van Giang incident on Tuesday was part of an ongoing series of violent land grabs by the communist government. Van Giang is being reclaimed for a new 'EcoPark' property development, signed off by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (left). His daughter is said to be a big investor in the project.

Many Mui Ne residents will be reminded of a similar riot over police brutality in Mui Ne last year, when more than 1000 local residents attacked the police station with rocks and molotov cocktails and set several police vehicles on fire. More than 100 riot police were sent to quell the situation late in the evening, with tear gas and flash-bang grenades.

In the video above, a mob of policemen descend upon a Viet Cong 'Marty' Cemetery in Van Giang on Tuesday and beat an local resident during the attack. A second video on Youtube raised questions of whether the police might have beaten him to death. Read more on our blog.

Whales, Embezzlement, Marxist-Leninism, Death & Balloons

22.03.12 A 15-meter-long sperm whale skeleton has been assembled and preserved at Van An Thanh whale temple on Binh Thuan's Phu Quy Island. The project cost US$86,000 and was conducted by researchers at Nha Trang's Institute of Oceanography. Its unclear why assembling a pile of old bones on a metal frame would cost as much as the total yearly salary of 70 island residents, but at that cost it must be a spectacular presentation.

The former head of Binh Thuan Tourism, Vu Van Chap, was arrested on 9 March in Ho Chi Minh with more than US$100 million worth of fake Euro bank notes. Mr. Vu Van Chap is also accused of stealing government funds and selling fake land certificates and company stocks. Mr. Vu Van Chap follows in a long line of government officials who, only upon retirement (and loss of favour with the Communist Party), suddenly become recognized as criminals.

Binh Thuan Province's Party Chief of Propaganda (yes, they really do self-identify, without cracking up) recently returned from the 4th National Conference in Hanoi and told local papers, upon his return:

"The hostile reactionary forces frantically, fiercely oppose the [Communist] Party and our country. With all their tricks, these forces want to eliminate the socialist regime in Vietnam, remove the leadership of the Communist Party, remove Marxist-Leninism and Ho Chi Minh..."

Apparently he's a hard-core Commie. And we are not frantic.

On 16 March a Taiwanese woman was tragically run over by a dump truck in Binh Thuan Province. Our condolences to her family. The most reassuring thing we can say is that local dump trucks are very big and very heavy and she most certainly died instantly. You'd hope that dump-trucks rarely run over people here but actually its quite common, and messy.

The Vietnam National Administration of Tourism recently announced the First Binh Thuan International Balloon Festival, and will occur 26 April to 1 May. The event, which will have recorded music but live singers, will commemorate May Day (the Communist Labour holiday of 1 May), and Liberation Day, which is the day the Communists invaded and conquered Saigon. Phan Thiet fell to the Communists on the 19th as well so the government is getting an authentic Communist karaoke threesome at a real budget price. With all the hotels and resorts throwing in free beer, there won't be a single policeman sleeping at home all week.

The occasion is actually not the first hot-air balloon festival planned by the government here, and we are sure it will not be the last to come and go without any evidence of its passing whatsoever--except for the policemen carying crates of beer out the front entrances of all the hotels. They don't need any balloons for that.

25.03.12 Update: The Balloon Festival has been moved to the September 2 national holiday.

C2Sky Brings KTA Back to Mui Ne

KTA C2Sky Mui Ne

Round two of the Asian Kiteboard Championship tour sees the KTA return to Mui Ne Vietnam for its third season from the 15th – 19th February 2012.

15.02.12 The Kiteboard Tour Asia (KTA) is pleased to announce the second round of the 2012 KTA Asia Kiteboard Tour, which features the C2Sky Freestyle Raid and Asian Old Skool Championships being held in Mui Ne Vietnam. The Vietnamese crescent beach is well known for its great winds and is becoming a South East Asian mecca for kitesurfing and kiteboarding and has super conditions to stage the event.

This is a tour stop with a completely different flavour. Normally the KTA combines the Asian freestyle championship tour with kite racing but to take advantage of the conditions offered by the location in Vietnam this event will instead feature the big air jumping skills and 'airstyle' mastery of the Old Skool riding style that is one of the most spectacular competitions from the kiteboarding roster.

Jeff Newell - C2Sky: "C2Sky as one of Mui Ne's oldest and most established kite center's is all about unity and is proud to be have a major supportive role in bringing the KTA back to Vietnam and giving a chance for home grown local talent to be in the spotlight.

Toby Braeuer - Old Skool competitor: "With the current type of technically scored freestyle riding the sport has lost some of its big attraction for spectators and media which are key for any event, but with the Asian Old Skool Championship it can finally be demonstrated again. It's what kiteboarding is about: a show on the water!

It's the KTA tour stop with a big difference. There are no major sponsors for this one but everyone has agreed that the competition level in Vietnam is so exciting that we are holding it anyway. So this one is home grown, funded and delivered by not only the KTA but also by the riders, hangers on, local supporters and key to the whole event our local organisers and hosts in Mui Ne - C2Sky!

So it's back to the origins of the KTA, grassroots energy and lots of progression….. This round of the Asian Tour will be all about competitors making the best use of the high wind and swell conditions of Mui Ne. No course racing this time as the Asian Course Race Championships are coming up in March in Thailand and the Mui Ne conditions do not offer the best for the racers, but for the big air guys flying high and the freestylers this spot is heaven!

As the event title suggests it's a freestyle raid on Vietnam, with new school freestyle being the main world ranking event, but also this time the tour will feature both Old Skool and Big Air, so a major feast whether you are a competitor or spectator as you witness the first ever Asian Old Skool Championships.

Click here for more on Kiteboarding and Windsurfing in Mui Ne.

Tourism Crisis in Russia & Vietnam as Lanta Bankrupts

01.02.12 This week Russia's Lanta-Tur, together with Vietnam branch, Lanta-Viet, suddenly went bankrupt, leaving their Russian customers stranded across Vietnam with no way to continue on their tours or even fly home.

Lanta-Tur is one of Russia's largest overseas tour operators, with 6000 agencies across Russia. Their subsidiary is also the largest Russian-based tour company operating in Vietnam.

This week threats and violence erupted as local contractors, partners and even Russian tourists tried to hold Lanta guides hostage and force them to continue the tour or help them go home.

It was reported that even some hotels and local contractors were keeping tourists captive to force them to pay the bills left unpaid by Lanta-Viet.

The Russian Consulate will be hosting a meeting tomorrow (February 2) at Bamboo Village Resort in Mui Ne, together with local hotels, tourism agencies and the provincial government to discuss how Lanta's debts will be addressed and how the Russian tourists might be released and evacuated to their country. According to reports, some hotels have lost more than US$100,000 each due to the debts incurred by Lanta-Vietnam.

Meanwhile, both the Russian and Vietnam governments have recommended that Lanta's guides evacuate Vietnam immediately in order to ensure their safety.

The situation is a major blow to south-central Vietnam, who's primary tourism base originates in Russia. The collapse of Lanta could strongly effect tourism in Saigon, Vung Tau, Dalat, Nha Trang, but most of all Mui Ne. Quite frankly, the incident underscores the very stupid mistake many, including the Vietnam government specifically, have made by putting all their eggs in the Russian basket. However, the situation will have a serious impact for many countries where Russians make up a large tourism demographic.

Two Senior Police Found Dead

07.01.02 Friday morning the bodies of two high-level officers were found after an apparent drowning. Major General Phan Van Dong, vice chief inspector of the Ministry of Public Security, and Senior Lieutenant Colonel le Van Thang, vice chief inspector from An Giang Province. According to official government reports, the two went swimming at 5:00am and were carried away by a strong current. The bodies were later found at approximately 8:30am. They were taking part in a two-day national conference at a small beach hotel in remote Suoi Nuoc Beach, north of Mui Ne. It has not been disclosed whether the two men had been drinking or if others at the conference were swimming at the time the men drowned. Local residents report that there were no strong waves on the beach that morning.

New Species of Gecko Identified
in Binh Thuan, Vietnam

Bray's Champa Gecko 2009 Vietnam

15.12.11 In June of 2009 I encountered a large and unusual gecko species living in Thap Po Dam, a small Cham temple complex in eastern Binh Thuan province. I documented the species in my blog and named it Bray's Champa Gecko or Gekko champai (also see another photo here). The find was also mentioned later in Insight Guide Step by Step Vietnam 2011.

This 'new' species is similar to Gekko grossmanni, though much more brown in color with distinctive rusty-orange colored eyes. The size is a little smaller than the giant powder-blue Tokay Geckos common around the province. The body is covered in dark brown and light grey spots. There are 6-9 groupings of white and brown spots along the side of the spine from the nape to the caudal peduncle, forming lines encircling the torso.

I was surprised to hear that Ngo Van Tri, Office Technology and Environmental Management, Institute of Tropical Biology (Institute of Science and Technology of Vietnam) and Dr. Tony Gamble, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, University of Minnesota, also published a 'discovery' of the same species in May of 2011. They refer to the news species as Ca Na Stone Gecko - Gekko canaensis, obviously unaware of my previous finding. My only response is, better luck next time gents!

Illegal Fishing Nets Post Safety Threat to Tourists


26.10.11 Some resorts in Mui Ne are complaining of illegal fishing close to the shore. According to management, the fishing nets compromise the safety of tourist by being within 100ft of the water's edge, right in front of the major established hotels. The nets are extended 50ft from surface to bottom and run for over 1000 meters. The fishing is for small baby prawns which fishermen are capturing using mosquito net sized netting. The prawns are then sold to farms where they can be cultivated. The nets are left in the area for four to six months at a time.

Last year there were reportedly two near-drownings when kiteboarders became entangled within the nets. Within the first five days of the start of the season witnesses have noted at least six entanglements of tourists, each requiring a rescue. These have happened in light wind with little swell. Serious accidents are expected once the wind picks up. All of the watersports outfit up and down the beach are concerned for the safety of tourists. Some have expressed serious implications for the tourist industry if something is not done about the nets.

National Day Reminder from Our Dear Leaders

River Crab, Phan Thiet, Vietnam

The Best and the Brightest01.09.11 This is a reminder for resorts, hotels, restaurants and local businesses. Many of you have received your banners and flags that you are required to voluntarily hang in your properties for Vietnam National Day. This propaganda is your opportunity to show your devotion to the communist party and your affection for the dearly departed messiah of national salvation. Please remember that while these obligatory banners are optional, the fees business must pay for not participating are mandatory.

The local police will also be collecting donations for the orphans and poor funds, as is customary on all national holidays. Remember, nothing says 'I love orphans' more than men in green and tan uniforms carrying crates of Tiger and Heineken out the front gate of your resort. This year bottles of Saigon Beer will no longer be accepted… because it's too difficult for the orphans to re-crate the empty bottles.

Additionally, the Phan Thiet City Tax Office would like to announce that they will be accepting Hennssey on behalf of the orphans. Likewise, the City Health Inspectors, Department of Waterworks and those guys who inspect your restaurant pantry to make sure you have those little government stickers on your jars of peanut butter and cans of tuna--and give you outrageous fines if you don't--all three departments have come together to become drop-off sites for bottles of Baileys and Gordon's London Dry; both orphan favourites.

Emperor Palpatine, Sith LordBusinesses unable to voluntarily comply with the above suggested donations should gift cash to the orphans, care of the local police department. As with Tet, its best to present the money in envelopes, though for practicality, little red ones aren't needed—anything in the drawer will do. Remember, whisper, bow and pass with palms down. Currency is preferred in US Dollars. The Dong is dropping and as we all know, our orphans are frugal. No receipts will be provided for your donations. The orphans don't read or write good.

From all of us and your big brother, we hope you have a happy National Day.

Top left: The best and the brightest. Bottom right: Emperor Palpatine, Sith Lord.

Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite

Bed Bugs Vietnam Government Hotels

21.08.11 Known is Vietnamese as con rep, the bed bug has become an international epidemic both afflicting and being spread by tourists. While Internationally-managed resorts, boutique hotels & family-run establishments tend to do a better job of fending them off, Vietnam's low-standard government-owned hotel chains (such as Vietsovpetro, Petrovietnam and Saigontourist) are a point of concern in the possibility of encountering these real-life monsters. Read our story on bed bugs to educate yourself about this problem before you check in.

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