Mui Ne is the adrenalin capital of southern Vietnam. There’s no scuba diving or snorkelling to speak of, but when Nha Trang and Hoi An get the rains, Mui Ne gets the waves: Says Lonely Planet, before going on to describe a beautiful beach that has maintained much of its charm. When we were there, however, only the closed kitesurfing shops hinted at Mui Ne’s adventure hungry nature. Out of the surf season, Mui Ne is still firmly on the backpacker trail, and I’m here to ask one question: why?
Mui Ne was our first stop as we began heading north from Ho Chi Minh City. The bus pulled in fairly late in the evening next to a rather dark and dodgy looking alley. The bus attendant assured us this was where we needed to go to reach our hotel. So, obediently, we stepped off the bus into the night.
As we bravely walked the dark alley and allowed it to lead us up the hill, past broken walls and rundown buildings. Then, at the top of the hill, we caught a glimpse of our hotel. The accommodation in Mui Ne is incredibly cheap, and when we entered our room we were amazed by what $12/night could get you. The room was shiny and clean, with a new air-con unit and flat screen TV (which we never turned on). It was late, so we got some shut-eye, ready to have a look around the next day.
Our first stop was the beach. Having read endless accounts of Mui Ne beach being one of the most beautiful in Vietnam we were keen to take a walk in the water and relax on the sand. We did neither. The beach was disappointingly small and had an interesting aroma. It seemed dirty and uninviting. It seems the once beautiful beach sprawling from miles has given way to coastal erosion and resort developments.
The big out-of-surf-season draw here is the sand dunes. We booked a tour with the Mui Ne Backpackers Resort, located next to the popular Joe’s Bar, who hire Jeeps every day to take both hostel guests and other tourists on the trip. The Backpackers had the cheapest tour in town, and from what we could tell, were offering the exact same thing.
We arrived the next day and climbed into our Jeep. The first stop on the tour was the Fairy Spring. The driver pulled into the side of the road, pointed down a path and told us to be back in an hour. We made our way down to the stream and waded our way against the current. It had precisely half of its description on offer, that being that it was a stream. A small and brown stream. There are some lovely rock formations to admire as you walk, and we were lucky enough to see a sizable snake slither off into the bushes as we approached – is lucky the right word? About 15 minutes into the walk we saw the sign we had been waiting for – ostrich riding. Neither of us had any intention of having a try, because although they are huge birds we weren’t convinced anyone over the age of 12 should really be sitting on them. I was excited to see them, though, and you’re able to get a pretty close look which is cool. There were some people having a ride: it looked pretty boring, even if you would rack up a bunch of FaceBook points.
Soon, the rocks lining the stream gave way to huge red sand dunes. We climbed our way to the top of the first and looked out across the rest of the stream, and the people walking up it, and coming back again. Unfortunately, we noticed the time and decided to make our way back to the Jeep. I say unfortunately because, until this point, the stream had been, well, just a stream. There was nothing too exciting or beautiful about it. Some of the guys in our Jeep had made it farther than us, and said it became more impressive, though.
Then in was on to the white sand dunes. The dunes are simply incredible, they stretch on as far as you can see, being molded into new peaks and troughs by the constant wind. We hired a sheet of plastic from one of the many children offering them, and headed as high as we could. Sand sledging is huge amounts of fun – pick one of the steep slopes (and I really mean the steep ones), fold the front up, cross your legs and lean back for more speed. The more gentle slopes won’t get you moving, at all. Trying to climb back to the top after your ride down is a bit of a work out, but worth it. Quad bikes are also available to hire, they looked great fun, but got stuck in the sand quite often.
We then headed to the red dunes for sunset. The difference between the two was incredible. Whilst the white dunes had been relatively clean and hassle free, we were stormed by locals selling all sorts from purses to water before we had even stopped at the red dunes. As you push your way free of the crowds and onto the dunes you meet a sad reality. What was surely once a breathtaking view across a sea of red sand was now a sea of litter. After seeing how well the white dunes have been cared for, it’s hard to understand why the red ones have been so neglected.
Mui Ne itself is one 10km long road. Along it, you will see endless resorts catering to Russians enjoying their summer holidays, restaurants catering them when they want to leave their hotel and smaller bars and cheaper eats. A cheap cocktail is never too far away. The town has a strange uncertain feeling, never quite sure if it’s catering to cash-rich holiday makers, or cash-poor backpackers. This has resulted in a lot of beautiful restaurants that we couldn’t afford to even look at, never mind eat at, and less swanky looking restaurants that are still a little on the pricey side.
One night we decided to go down and enjoy a cheap cocktail by the sea at sunset. Many of the bars and restaurants have sea views, and even position some tables and chairs at the top of the wave breaker so you can get a better view. As the light began to fade, and I was on my second (read fourth) mojito, I noticed something moving out of the corner of my eye. When I looked there was nothing. I drained my mojito and ordered another. On my way back I noticed the movement again under the table, but when I got closer it was gone again. I put it down to the fading lights and my third (read fifth) mojito. The next time I caught a flash of movement, though, the skittish thing hadn’t run away. A not-so-little rat was sat staring right at me! And then ran past and down the path! That’s right, this little walkway is a rat highway. I’d tell you which bar we were in, but it makes no difference. The rodents were everywhere, and may account for my not feeling so well the next day.
We had a great time in Mui Ne, drinking terrible mojitos by the sea. That being said, I won’t be in any rush to return there. The beach was such a disappointment and there wasn’t really much else to do. Unless you are planning to go there for the surf, I would plan a one day trip there to see the sand dunes as you travel between Ho Cho Minh City and Nah Trang, anything longer is a little pointless. Have you been to Mui Ne? What did you think?