There’s no sign at Joe’s cafe in Mui Ne suggesting you take off your shoes but within 20 minutes of getting there we were all shoe-free. We had already encountered the Vietnamese custom – much like the Canadian one – of taking your shoes off when entering a home and so I only barely noticed when Joe’s wife Thao removed hers while showing us the room. I followed suit out of respect and the boys did too.
And then they never put them on again.
Ok, there were a few times – if I forced them or we were leaving the hotel – but they got it long before I did: Shoes are for other places – at Joe’s they just insert another unnecessary step between toes under sheets and toes in the sand.
Even Joe goes barefoot most of the time. Raised in Vermont, he found himself first in Japan teaching English for years and eventually in Vietnam. Thao is Vietnamese but from Saigon so both are newcomers to Mui Ne. And though they ran a local cafe hotspot in the area for three years, that 24 hr/7 days a week lifestyle gave way to a new one when they had their son Mason three months ago and took over a beautiful garden resort a few miles up the road.
We found Joe on a chance. My cousin Dex taught in Japan with him and when I mentioned I was going to ‘nam he sent Joe a Facebook message to do the intros. At the time we had no intention of visiting Mui Ne but never one to turn down the chance to connect in real life we decided to stop in. Despite the unannounced arrival the couple welcomed us with open arms and even stole a day out of their busy schedule to take us to the local hot springs. But mostly what we did and loved at Joe’s was watching the beach in front of the property.
There’s a chaos to the waters here. No rules on who can use it when and so at any given time you can see kiteboaters, fishermen and jet skiers battling for terrain while swimmers stick close to shore and hope for the best.
The beach itself has a momentum. Starting in the early morning with a quiet calm, rising to full peak by mid-afternoon and slowing again into the evening. It is at any time the preferred spot of sunbathers and castle builders. My three guys among them.
By day 2 I have left my shoes just outside our loft villa door too. I get it. This is a place where restraining footwear has no place. And once you let go of the shoes, rest and relaxation come so quickly. Thanks Joe and Thao. We needed that.