In the interest of full disclosure, I should state that I have worked for many of Lonely Planet’s competitors. I have nothing directly to gain from commenting on their work, other than perhaps the future possibility of working with them, depending upon whether my review angers or pleases them.
The guidebook industry finds itself in a precarious situation. The large volume of free, up-to-the-minute information available on the web has taken an increasingly large bite out of the guidebook industry's profits every year. With the world economic crisis in 2008/2009, the tourism markets crashed in many countries. Guidebook publishers bore a considerable burden as prospective travelers decided to stay home this year and didn't buy as many guidebooks. Thus many publishers have had to figure out how to do more with less. For some this meant smaller, trimmed-down books, delayed new editions, or merely paying authors less (which is risky because it can mean lower-quality output).
I noted this week that the new edition of Lonely Planet Vietnam 2009 was now available, at least in theory. The new books have yet to make an appearance here in Mui Ne, so I decided to purchase the PDF version of the Central Vietnam chapter (which includes Mui Ne), and thus get a short preview of the new book.
I’ve mainly looked at the entries that fall under my own Binh Thuan Province. I have to state that I am rather disappointed with Lonely Planet’s revisions. The write-up for locations in my area, namely Phan Thiet and Mui Ne, are nearly the same as the previous edition, if not slightly trimmed down, though there are a number of new hotels and restaurants listed. This is in opposition to the massive boom in new development in the area since the last edition in 2007. Mui ne has become Vietnam’s largest resort area, now just as relevant to tourism as destinations like Nha Trang and Dalat. Yet LP has not treated the area in this regard.
Due to an email from one of the writers that happened to be widely circulated across Vietnam (the writer requested to meet with locals and expats who could offer tips), I happen to know that the writers were here in Vietnam in October and November of 2008. Therefore, I have made my comments in light of the fact that they rightly would not be aware of developments from December 2008 until the present.
Many thanks once again to LP’s recommendation of my website, www.muinebeach.net, in this new guidebook edition.
Unfortunately it is hard to offer a lot of compliments to this new edition because, as previously stated, there are no new significant additions, other than a few more hotels and resorts for Mui Ne. In fact the number of bars and nightlife options have been cut back, even though many more venues are now available.
CA NA AND VINH HAO
Ca Na and Vinh Hao are minor stopping points on Highway 1A between Mui Ne and Nha Trang. Even for Vietnamese these are fairly insignificant from a tourism perspective. As Lonely Planet decided to include them, they would have been better justified by also mentioning the marine reserve around nearby Hon Cau Island, with its Cham Fisherman’s Temple, as well as the nearby ancient Cham towers and Cham cemetery. As LP neglected to mention them, it really would have been better just to cut these two locations out and allow more space to Phan Thiet and Mui Ne.
As a side, while I have no evidence to refute LP’s claim that Cham princes hunted elephants, rhinos and tigers, I remain skeptical of this information.
Sights in Mui Ne
Fairy Springs: LP continues to make reference to rock formations, however there are none here (except for a small patch of rocks you climb over at the start)—everything else is merely tightly compressed sand.
Thap Po Shanu Cham Towers: These towers are from the 8th century, not the 9th, as stated by LP. Also, practically speaking, there are no opening hours for the towers (the times listed are merely when an attendant collects entrance fees—but there is no gate).
This is an interesting box, however one point is incorrect—the lizards caught by locals are not members of the gecko family. While it’s a nice entry, I can’t help but wonder why LP focused on this minor point, rather than something more poignant like the local whale cults or our magnificent festivals.
LP notes the erosion issues in Mui Ne, though incorrectly implies this is a problem for most of the beach. They also fail to mention this is a seasonal issue, and that the sand returns a few months later. Additionally, none of the resorts, to my knowledge, have used sand bags in the last 2-3 years, though some have built retention walls. One problem they should have mentioned but did not, is the crisis we currently have with pollution on the beach.
• LP failed to mention the new highway behind the beach (linking Mui Ne Village proper to Sea Links Golf Course), though this is not yet a crucial point.
• A fatal flaw: LP fails to mention that we have a train station in Phan Thiet, with direct-to-Saigon service—something that has been available since the end of 2005.
• LP’s travel times are wrong. For example, the travel time to Saigon is 5-6hrs, not 4. Likewise, the prices are a little over-inflated.
• LP recommends renting a motorbike in Mui Ne, but fails to mention that Mui Ne is one of the few places in Vietnam where police regularly confiscate motorbikes driven by foreigners without a Vietnam driver’s license.
Information and Maps
I’ve repeatedly sent Lonely Planet corrections, since the 2005 edition, but they have failed to correct several significant mistakes on the map.
• The Mui Ne map is not to scale. The Cham Towers should actually fall outside the bounds of the map. Phan Thiet is a few more kilometers farther than stated, and Highway 1A is about four times the distance written. Likewise, on the other end, the White Sand Dunes are about 30km away, not 5 (and the red sand dunes are less than 1km).
• In the middle of the map, a road leads off into the countryside, with a note stating it leads to a lake, 20km to the north. However, no such lake exists. In fact, this road leads out into the desert and isn’t advisable for tourists to head out here due to the lack of water or folks selling petrol.
• The sea is labeled the “South China Sea.” While in the grand scheme of things from a western perspective, this may be somewhat true, it would be more appropriate to give it the Vietnamese designation, the “Bay of Phan Thiet.”
• A small point, but our main post office is not in Mui Ne Village proper, as listed. Instead, it is located near the Ham Tien (Rang) market in the middle of the beach. The main provincial post office is located in Phan Thiet, near the Central market.
LP got the windy season wrong. They write that it’s August to December, but it’s actually the winter—roughly November through March or even later. Likewise, they got the rainy season wrong, which actually starts as early as May and goes as late as November (most of the time) rather than June through September.
A telling mistake is the listing for the closed outfit “Airwaves” at the sailing Club. Airwave closed prior to the last guidebook edition, but since the writers have not visited the Sailing Club, they were apparently unaware. The new establishment operating at the Sailing Club is called “Storm,” run by the very capable Scott Soothill.
Activities: Major Omissions
At the end of last summer, Sea Links Golf Course, the largest development Binh Thuan Province has yet seen, had its soft opening, well before the LP writers began their research. Additionally, Sea Links happily provided tours of the grounds to interested parties long before that. The omission of Sea Links is really an inexcusable error as it has helped to redefine Mui Ne as not just a water sports destination, but now a major golf destination. Its influence has lead to 3 new mini golf courses already, and at least one more proposed 18-hole course further down the beach.
As Vietnam’s Number One resort destination, it is mystifying why LP would neglect to list a single Spa, with so many up and down the beach now. This is another inexcusable error.
• We’ve actually dropped our own listing of Hai Yen Guesthouse, so the web address (on our website) listed by LP is incorrect.
• Kim Hong sold Vietnam-Austria House to new owners, so the email address listed by LP is no longer correct. They imply the pool is somehow new, but it’s always been there.
• Wind Champ Resort just lost its kiteboarding center (mentioned by LP), though Wax bar remains.
• The reference to Mellow being on the “wrong (nonbeach) side of town” is a bit unfair and misleading. It would have been better to simply state it’s across the street from the beach, and thus doesn’t have its own beachfront.
• Bon Bien resort has been around for the two previous editions of the book, so it is not actually a new resort, as stated.
• LP incorrectly tells readers to ignore the name “Victory Phan Thiet Beach Resort” because “it’s not really in Phan Thiet” (implying that the area LP refers to as “Mui ne” is somehow not part of Phan Thiet). However, this is untrue, as all of the accommodations listed are located in Wards of Phan Thiet City.
• LP incorrectly lists Pandanus as “further afield” from Mui Ne. In Fact, this is the only resort listed by LP that is technically located in Mui Ne Village. All other resorts (with the exception of the next resort I’ll discuss) are actually located in the Wards of Ham Tien and Phu Hai, not Mui Ne Village.
• LP incorrectly lists Princess d’Annam resort under Mui Ne, in the further afield section. In fact, it is located within the confined of Phan Thiet City (and more than 1hr from Mui Ne), albeit about 30km south of downtown.
• One can only wonder what the writers were thinking when they designated Hoa Vien Brauhaus as a Lonely Planet favorite. Good draft beers and a great view it does have, but it is also notorious for bad food and even worse service. It would have been an appropriate bar recommendation, but not as a dining venue.
• On the other end of bad decision-making is LP’s choice to list Shree Ganesh at the end in the “other category.” This member of Vietnam’s renowned Omar’s Indian restaurant chain is arguably one of the best dining options on the beach. It should have made the top of the list.
• Other slighted favorites overlooked by LP include: The Forest Restaurant, Coco Beach’s Champa, Sailing Club’s Sandals, and Joe’s Café.
Though untrue, LP persists in yet another edition, to state the French colonists lived in segregated neighborhoods along the North Bank of the Ca Ty River, and Malays, Indonesians and other Asians lived on the Southern Bank. The truth is that colonials lived on both sides of the river, as well as other parts of the area, and Phan Thiet has never had any Indonesian or Malay communities.
Getting Around & Information
• The website address for Binh Thuan Tourist is incorrect. However, I’m not going to post the correction here, as they have had a habit of plagiarizing my work in the past—so I don’t feel they deserve the extra web traffic!
• Again, LP fails to mention that Phan Thiet has its own train station with direct-to-Saigon service.
Sights: Major Omissions
• LP fails to mention the Van Thuy Tu whale temple, one of the provinces most significant attractions, as well as numerous other ancient temples and Chinese assembly halls.
• There’s no mention of the Phan Thiet Water Tower, a symbol of both the city and the province, which was built by the infamous Red Prince of Laos.
• LP overlooks the Ho Chi Minh Museum and memorial school where the big man himself lived and taught local students. While a humble place, it nonetheless is a major pilgrimage for the politically-devoted.
• Then there is Khe Ga Island Lighthouse, perhaps the most scenic of all Phan Thiet attractions. As LP mentions Princess d’Annam, which is located there, it is inexplicable why LP would neglect it.
• Of course there are lots of other great sights further afield, but those a trade secrets, so I won’t mention them here…
Ta Cu Mountain
LP overlooks the fact that the old pagoda here was torn down in 2007 and a new pagoda built in its place during 2008/2009. Thus the 1861 construction date is no longer correct.
…Lets rework the whole section for the next edition. Plan a section more like Dalat or Nha Trang in size. Add a map for Phan Thiet. Give this place the focus it deserves!