Mui Ne Dunes
For our second day trip out of Saigon, we went about 4 hours north to a beach town called Mui Ne. The town is famous for the windswept beaches that make it a haven for kite surfers from around the world. However, the main draw are the giant red and white sand dunes that push right up to the edge of the ocean .
Mui Ne is essentially a tourist town with countless hotels and resorts spread across the main seaside road. Although the hotels right on the beach can be extravagantly expensive, the ones directly across the street are cheap.We showed up with no plans or reservations and quickly found a nice hotel with all the basic amenities for about $15. After finding the hotel, our next task was finding a driver to take us out to the dunes. Hired jeeps are available for four hours through agents all over town, and after some shopping around we booked one for about $11 per person. However, this was after our own hotel tried to rip us off on a driver, which taught us a lesson we’ve seen over and over again on our travels: always shop around and never trust the first price you hear. Even if it’s from someone you think you can trust.
Our first stop was at a place called Fairy Stream. I want you to imagine what a place called Fairy Stream should look like. Now think of the exact opposite, and that’s where we were. We waded into the ankle-deep water at the entrance of the stream to find garbage piled up on the banks and a horrible smell everywhere. I could just imagine the little parasites and bacteria burrowing into our feet with every step.
In fact, there were some weird, alien larvae stuck on the rocks and floating with the current that we tried to avoid
To make matters worse, there was some strange type of animal pooh everywhere. After walking about a hundred yards downstream, we found the culprit; an ostrich. Some local kids had managed to procure a full grown ostrich and were offering tourists rides. As soon as we made eye contact with them they yelled “no problem, no problem!” as if reading our expressions of “you gotta be kidding me.” As we watched some British girls go for a flailing ride, we lamented the plight of poor Mr.Ostrich and continued on down the stream.
Fortunately, the scenery improved as we walked on. Rock formations and small dunes of soft white and orange sand formed a miniature canyon along the stream. In the end, the stream was interesting, but not really worth the trouble.
The white dunes were our next stop as we made the long drive further up Mui Ne’s main coastal highway. Once we got away from the resorts and tourist hotels we realized what a special place it was. It looked like the Australian outback with orange dirt, cactus and scrub brush everywhere. Small cattle farms were spaced miles apart and their livestock roamed freely along the edges and sometimes right down the middle of the highway. Wind from the ocean constantly blasted sand across the road, making it completely disappear in some places.
Before the dunes, we stopped at a small fishing village where the fisherman bob around the bay in what looked like large bamboo bowls. It was amazing to see desert cattle farms and fishing villages, seemingly two different worlds, separated only by a thin road.
The giant, undulating white dunes were on the edge of a lake surrounded by pine trees. The ocean shimmered only a couple of miles away, just over the horizon. The entire scene looked like a mirage. Our driver hurriedly dropped us off and told us we had about 20 minutes if we wanted to make it to the red dunes in time for sunset. As we rushed over we noticed some more young, local entrepreneurs charging tourists $20 for about 15 minutes use of 4-wheeler to zip up the dunes. Extortion or not, I guess it’s better than ostrich rides.
We clambered in the soft sand up the nearest dune, which had a steep drop off right into the edge of the lake. The wind was even stronger up here and blasted us with stinging sand, but it made for some great pictures.
We arrived at the red dunes just as the sun was setting. These were much more crowded as people waited for the perfect moment to take pictures or slid down the dunes in sheets of plastic they rented from kids. When the sun hit the horizon, the view was otherworldly.
By the end of the day, we were completed encrusted with sand, but happy for having the experience. Mui Ne showed us so much more than we expected.