Oh I do like to be beside the seaside.
Mui Ne is a small beach town about 24 kilometres east of Phan Thiet. By small I mean small. One long sandy road compromises the activity of this sleepy hub, openly inviting the work-weary to kick back and enjoy some well-deserved downtime.
While modest, Mui Ne’s size contributes to it’s appeal. There’s no rush to get anywhere or to see anything. It’s all there, just a short walk or cycle away should something take your fancy.
It’s a relatively quiet place that has a laid-back, breezy quality to it. Even in peak seasons you’ll see only a modest amount of tourists pottering about in their sunnies and sandals. Mui Ne’s residents are mostly compromised of hospilality workers, sleepy security guards, tour guides in their jeep-come-batmobiles, and fisher-folk. Wake up early enough and you can catch the townsfolk on their way to the dock.
A 5-6 hour bus ride from the buzzing action of Ho Chi Minh City, Mui Ne is an ideal place to leave your obligations behind and take a breather.
Mui Ne’s main draw is its quaint, peaceful little beach. The water is a gorgeous blue, beckoning you to either dive right in or sit and admire the waves from the comfort of a lounger and a beer.
Getting there can be a pain in the ass, though. Resorts and cafes have a monopoly on the sea view, lining up the entire beach one after the other. Here it’s a matter of choosing the best bar for your buck to access the beach from; or, if you’re feeling naughty, you could just walk through them.
There are no public lounge chairs or spots for visitors to simply walk from their hotel and pitch up for the day. Push comes to shove, bring a towel to sit on. Just watch out that the tide doesn’t come in!
The beach is also accessible from little alleyways the open from the main road – but these aren’t that obvious. A good amount of hotels have their own beachfront access too.
Walking along the beach, you’ll notice that it can get a little dirty. The odd beer bottle or cigarette butt sit strewn along the sand, tainting the experience. It’s by no means as bad as the cesspools of Vung Tau or Sihanoukville, but it’s important to be respectful and pick up trash when you can.
When not picking up plastic bags, Mui Ne’s beach is prime location to do one of my favourite activities; seashell collecting! This beach washes up some rad shells of varying shapes, colours and sizes. There’s nothing quite like waking up and spending a morning searching for a little treasure. Just make sure you get the good stuff before the local kids find them and try to sell them to you for $10 a piece.
Kitesurfing is the activity of choice for Mui Ne’s more gnarly dudes and dudettes. Mui Ne beach is considered an absoloute mecca for the sport, drawing in visitors keen to ride the wind. Having not tried it yet myself, I instead opted to observe the action from the comfort of Joe’s Cafe, sipping on my third (or fifth?) Pineapple Margarita.
The tide was in, and the beach was completely covered in water. No walking on the sand during these times. All activity huddled towards the beachfront bars and restaurants. All except for a few colourful kites dancing above the sea. Harnessing the power of the wind, kitesurfers ride the waves by standing on their boards, holding onto their kites and maneuvering accordingly. The thought of a stray gust blowing someone off course made me shudder. But my confidence was restored as these thrill-seekers jumped into the air, flipping and turning as if surfing the very wind itself.
Nguyen Dinh Chieu
Mui Ne’s main street, Nguyen Dinh Chieu, boasts its own beach-side vibe. Palm trees line the road, pockets of sand dust areas of the street, and seaside promenades feauture lovely views of the ocean.
Liesure is business on this street, and in its busiest quarter Nguyen Dinh Chieu offers a hodgepodge of hotels and hostels, trinket shacks, eateries and massage parlours. Some of these venues are locally owned, but a good few are the dream-children of solace-seeking expats. You won’t find yourself wanting for a good burger (Phat Burger on 253 Nguyen Dinh Chieu is a goddamn must). The more locally-inclined may however be drawn towards the seafood Quans set up along the seaside promenades – this is a fishing village after all.
Fortunately none of Mui Ne’s venues appear garish or seedy, which is a welcome change from Southeast Asia’s notorious sexpat spots. That said, you may get the occasional Xe Om driver offering you marijuana or ‘boom boom’.
Exploring the area
Should you wish to venture further than the sand and sea, Mui Ne hosts pockets of natural beauty that multiplies its charm.
Perhaps the most well-known of these is the Fairy Stream.
Situated a kilometre or so down Ngyuen Dinh Chieu, this experience is a walkway through light jungle, sand dunes and rock formations. Taking off your sandals, you’ll find yourself in ankle-deep cool running water, stepping onto soft red sand that’s like a cushion on your soles. In the heat of the Vietnamese sun it adds spring to your step, revitalising you into an exploratory stroll.
When you first arrive at the entrance to the spring, you’ll need to walk past a couple of convenience stores, accented by groups of Vietnamese drivers intensely conversing. You’ll walk past huge jars of fish sauce (Nuoc Mam, an essential part of many meals) fermenting in the sun. It smells pretty funky, but I didn’t seem to mind it as much as my friends did – it reminds me of Kraft Mac & Cheese. Shortly you’ll turn left onto the stream ‘entrance’, which is compromised of two small houses and a group of youths hanging around. They’ll most likely try to trick you into leaving your shoes behind for a small price; but just say no and carry your footwear with you. The official sign they leave up is questionable.
Once on track, it’s a matter of simply following the stream. You’ll walk past a mini zoo, ostrich riding and other tourist oddities. It can get a little rocky in patches, so watch your step. The further you go, the more the rock formations begin to take impressive shape. Towering above the beaten track, they stand following the ebb and flow of what would be the edges of this stream when it was once a river.
Following the stream, you’ll see a lot of gorgeous red sand. Climb up the sides and you can even walk along the stream via the adjacent sand dunes that surround it.
It’s said that at the end of the stream you’ll come across a little waterfall, where a magical fairy is said to live. Try as you might, the stream soon gets waist-deep and the bottom becomes tarnished with all sorts of trash. Unless you’re a budding Indiana Jones-type, it’s probably best to turn back here and leave the fairy to its own devices.
Fishing Village is a stop on most tours. While not really a village and more of a trash-filled bay, this name may just be a moniker for Mui Ne itself, milking its aspects to draw in the tourists.
The bay is below the main road, led down by a large, steep set of concrete steps. The view from the top is adequate enough for most visitors and is a welcome respite from the activity that other stops on the tours have you undergo.
You can watch fishing boats lying across the sea on the horizon, a snapshot of local life that will make you appreciate the hard-work and lifestyle that Mui Ne’s inhabitants embrace.
You’ll see in the above picture that some of the boats take an odd, circular shape equipped with oars and colourful flags. It’s a wonder how you can steer these without going round in circles. Catching the fishermen in action may help enlighten the question.
Another highlight of Mui Ne’s natural scenery are the White Sand Dunes, sitting 35km away along a beautiful ocean road. You can get here by jeep through various tours organised by hotels. You could even rent a motorbike for what would be an astounding ride.
This place is like a scene out of The Arabian Nights. Gorgeous white sand covers the area for miles, in dunes that curve, rise and dip in all sorts of angles. The wind is constantly whipping up the sand and moving it around, so that the dunes are never arranged the same way. Fluctuating little particles that change the face of a landscape. It really is a sight to behold; a pocket of desert by a sleepy Vietnamese beach town.
Visitors to the dunes are usually offered the chance to ride quad bikes, offered at the entrance by some enterprising locals. You could waste your money on what is essentially a frumpy four-wheeled motorbike while everyone else takes the dunes in at their own pace, but it’s up to you. Those who opt to walk can watch in amusement as the others get their vehicles stuck in the sand.
The thing about sand is that it’s not the easiest thing to walk on. With each step your feet sink a little, making the journey longer than it would be on solid ground. However, it’s still a great experience, and who doesn’t like the feeling of sand between their toes?
When there, you can turn the dunes into your very own playground. Trekking up slopes, running down at mach speed, sliding down slopes and ending up with two sandy bottoms. There are endless photo ops too, with many tourists running up to the highest peaks to catch the best views.
Be warned that on windy days this place can whip up little sandstorms that get the stuff everywhere. Sunglasses are a must, and wear clothes that you wouldn’t mind finding sand in weeks later.
Enjoy the place, but watch out. Even here, on the stellar dunes 35km away from Mui Ne village, on remote patches of desert, there will be a guy trying to sell you something. Oh, Vietnam.