“There’s a magic in Mui Ne,” says expat Karen Davies. “You can’t put your finger on it and no one knows what it is, but it’s there.”
When I met them, 59-year-old Karen and her husband, Sam, 57, were relaxing in The Bay, their cheerful bar, restaurant, and guesthouse, right across the street from a beautiful stretch of south-central Vietnam‘s Mui Ne beach.
“The first time we came here, we fell in love with the place,” says Sam. “There’s something about it that kept drawing us back—the local culture, the beautiful people.
“We’d been to Mui Ne four times and knew that this is where we wanted to live,” he says. “Three years ago, we came specifically to Mui Ne for a month to make sure that it fit all our criteria. We wanted a beach, an incredible climate, a developed infrastructure, and a village atmosphere, but wanted all the facilities like good medical care and shopping nearby. It was on that trip that we said to each other, ‘This is the right place.'”
Before starting their business, the couple took a year to revel in their good life. “When we first arrived, we had to unwind and let our hair down,” says Karen. “We felt like we were on a vacation, spending every day at the beach, eating every meal out, and partying six nights a week. We found that the expat network is supportive but not too big, and everyone knew everyone else. But we eventually decided that it was time to involve ourselves in something more.”
“We didn’t come here with the idea of having a business,” she says. “We felt we were too young to retire but we’d both been busy for so long. We were bored sitting on the beach every day, so we figured that we’d end up working for someone else or for ourselves. We already knew this building, and from a business point of view, it was the right business to buy. So we spent 10 weeks renovating it. Since we opened up about two years ago, we’ve loved every minute of it. Sam loves the bar. It’s social, with people drifting in and out, and we know most of them now. It’s great fun.”
Even though their funky restaurant and its welcoming bar is the first thing you see when you go to The Bay, Karen says that she wanted the building for its guesthouse. “We have eight rooms for rent here. December through April are the busiest months, then it slows down. It’s extremely rare that we don’t have at least one room booked, though. We do almost all of our booking through Airbnb, Booking.com, and our own website. We didn’t particularly want the restaurant, but we decided that if we had a limited popular menu, Sam could deal with it, though the café and the pub are now the parts of the business that Sam enjoys the most.”
It’s easy to live well in Vietnam on a small budget, and often, smaller towns like Mui Ne offer the best value. Karen says that they’re living comfortably on $600 to $700 a month. “We’re living a totally different lifestyle than back home and we spend our money on different things,” she says. “Then, we’d only eat out once or twice a week; here, we go out every day.”
Eating out can often cost less than cooking at home, especially if you love Vietnamese food. “We always eat Vietnamese. I like the lemongrass chili chicken at Lam Tong—we’ve been going there three or four times a week for years and a meal for two never costs more than $5 or so,” says Karen. “The little place up the road has the best beef noodle soup that I’ve ever had, and it’s only $1.27. There are so many local restaurants. The locals have karaoke every night. They’ll sit on little plastic stools, eat, and have a few beers. We enjoy living like that, too.”
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