Joe from Joe's Garden Resort Mui Ne. Photo by Nick Ross

Joe Springer-Miller used to be well-known in Saigon — with a surname of such double-barrel uniqueness, you’re unlikely to be forgotten. A one-time corporate expat, a photographer and one of the forces behind Saigon Players, he then did what every happy-go-lucky man in the prime of his life just shouldn’t do. He fell in love.

 

The unfortunate recipient of his affection was a graceful lady called Thao, a District 9 dreamer who could at once be both full of joy and yet distracted and thoughtful.

 

The Vermont native she fell for was also a dreamer, and the couple quickly went head over high heels for each other. After an extended romance and an even longer extended marriage and honeymoon, they settled in Mui Ne to live, work and love by the sea. They went to live their dream.

 

That is how Joe's Cafe Mui Ne was born.

 

The pan-Asian salad at Joe's. Photo by Nick Ross 

Love Song

 

In real life, dreams are only a pale shade of themselves, and while at the start the couple gave themselves body and soul to their project, as time went by, the flair, creativity and passion had to be compromised. Life, that little 'ol devil kicked in, and the day to day troubles of running a business took over. Joe and Thao had to make their business work for them. They’ve done well.

 

Seven years later and the couple are a two-car family, have a four-year-old son and another child on the way. Yet, what dreams don’t tell you is that life isn’t made to be simple. The plight of the once bustling Mui Ne has become their challenge.

 

Much of the beachfront has eroded — there are times when the sand is non-existent. Places such as Mia Resort have found a way round this. Thanks to clever construction, they always have a beach. Joe is trying to follow suit. However, the appearance of too many businesses vying for a declining number of tourists has stretched many a resort, bar and restaurant to the limit. Joe’s is one of the few places that is busy even in the low season. Their nightly live music and international comfort food menu holds them in good stead. So does the lounge lizard-style atmosphere, the extensive wine selection and the feeling that you could be on a Thai island. You’re not — Vietnam doesn’t do Thai island-style holidays. But you could always pinch yourself and imagine.

 

Fancy a wrap? Photo by Nick Ross 

The ostrich steak. Photo by Nick Ross

 

Hotel Mui Ne

 

Four years ago another dream was fulfilled and Thao and Joe moved from their original, non-seafront location to one on the beach. With it came bungalows. Wooden, leave-thatched bungalows by the sea. They have since built and repaired, added greenery and a small swimming pool.

 

Yet their bungalows by the sea, no matter how relaxing and rustically well-appointed are no longer as busy as they once were. It’s the Mui Ne trend. The Russians are no longer there in their swarms, and many of the destination’s former customers have migrated elsewhere.

 

Joe, though is bullish. He believes. And he still has that ear-to-ear smile and a twinkle in his eye. Thao is the epitome of graceful charm.

 

For theirs is a love story that continues, and with a new baby soon due, it will move into its next phase. 

 

Joe’s Café and Garden Resort is at 86 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Ham Tien, Phan Thiet, Tel: (062) 384 7177 or online at joescafemuine.com

 

Steak sandy with home fries. Photo by Nick Ross

Lud Mendoza is one of the musicians who plays nightly at Joe's. Photo by Nick Ross

 

Nick Ross

Chief editor and co-founder of Word Vietnam, Nick Ross was born in the humble city of London before moving to the less humble climes of Vietnam. His wanderings have taken him to definitely not enough corners of the globe, but being a constant optimist, he still has hopes.

Website: twitter.com/nickrossvietnam

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