May 2, 2011

Riding Sand Dunes and Ostriches in Mui Ne

Our first stop on our 'Open Tour' ticket was Mui Ne, about 200km and a 5hr journey northeast of HCMC on the South China Sea.  The Lonely Planet's review of it said that it was 'arguably the best all-around beach in Vietnam'.  Yet the few people we met who had visited Mui Ne said that it was only a worthwhile stop if you were into windsurfing as it is always windy there.  In any case, with a write-up like that and given how much we love beaches we had to see for ourselves.  And were we ever glad we did.

We hired a scooter for the 2.5 days that we spent there and soon discovered that there was a variety of things to do once you got outside of the 'strip'.  The strip itself, where all of the hotels and resorts were, was a strange place partly due to the fact that a lot of the signage was written in Russian!  Like in Bali and Cambodia, it seems that the Russians are diversifying their investments and looking to SEA for new opportunities in hotel and resort development.  As well, largest group of tourists in Mui Ne seemed to be either Russian or Chinese and many menus were written in 4 languages--English, Vietnamese, Russian and Chinese.  

The landscape of this area is also extremely unique, with the sea on one side, and large sand dunes on the other.  This was another reason we wanted to come to Mui Ne--to toboggan down the sand dunes.  On our second day there, we took the scooter out to the 'red' dunes which were located about 6km northeast. The local kids there were happy to supply you with a sheet of fiberglass toboggan (like a 'crazy carpet' used in the snow)  for about .70 cents/15,000d per sheet for unlimited riding.  They even showed us to the best spot to ride down and even 'prepared' it for us.  Sliding down was one thing, but walking back up in the heat and with the wind, the excursion lost its novelty after about 3 rides each!  At the end of it, we were thoroughly covered in fine sand, even tasting it in our mouths!  Nevertheless it was an interesting experience and the views were terrific.

The toboggan

Maddy having a go
On our way back from the dunes, we stopped in at the 'Fairy Stream'.  We took our shoes off and waded in a shallow running spring fed stream of clear water surrounded by beautiful green grassy banks.  Soon the landscape changed again, and a wall of white basalt and red clay rose up on one side of us.  Curious rock formations here earned it the name of 'Fairy Stream'.  Following it further along, we stopped for a refreshing coconut each and then some lunch of some soup noodles.  The stream ended at a small waterfall.  We ended up spending about 2.5hrs here.

Some of the 'curious rock formations'.

We have found people in SEA to be very 'entrepreneurial'---they find the opportunity to make money where ever they see it.  And in this canyon it was not exception.  Besides the woman selling coconuts and drinks, the woman set up shop to sell soup noodles, and the people offering to 'check' your shoes at the beginning of the stream, along the way someone had set up an 'ostrich riding' business.  At first we balked at this, but then curiosity got the better of us and we took a look.  For $1.50 US/30,000d a ride for adults and $1/20,000d for kids, it was too unique an experience to miss out.  Although in some parts of the world they actually race ostriches, we weren't sure where else  we were going to get a chance to ride one let alone at these prices!  Jim and the girls each bravely had a turn (mom was the official photographer) and reported that it was smoother than riding a horse!

A few kilometere north of the strip lay the actual town of Mui Ne, which is a fishing village and that's where we headed to spend our third morning.  It was a hub of maritime activity--people gutting fish, cleaning boats, repairing nets and the smell of the sea everywhere.  Hundreds of colourful wooden fishing boats moored in the harbour by day, and by night their lights lit up the sea in the distance.  We also saw our first round Vietnamese dinghy up close--it looked like a cereal bowl!  In the harbour, they were used to ferry fishermen out to their boats, but fishermen also used them to fish closer to shore or to check their nets.  Most were made from a woven technique with bamboo (?) and sealed on the bottom with mud (?).  Some were made from fiberglass.  They came in various sizes and had a single orr attached and they rowed in a 'stirring' fashion.  They were very interesting and they were surprisingly quick.

Gutting fish

The highlight of Mui Ne for us was probably our accommodation though--often where you stay can make or break your experience.  On the recommendation of the moto driver who picked us up when we arrived, we found one of the most beautiful rooms so far on our trip.  We had bright airy room on the second floor with a queen size and a large single bed and a view of the pool below us and the sea just beyond that.  Huge sliding glass doors gave us an expansive view right from our bed and the sound of the waves lulled us to sleep.  The staff were really friendly too.  All this for just $22US per night.  The hotel was called 'Sea of Memory' and it certainly was memorable. 

That's our room--second floor, middle building.

Breakfast with a view.

While we are not sure that it lives up to Lonely Planet's declaration of it being 'the beach to be (in Vietnam)', Mui Ne certainly has a lot to offer.  Most people either hired bicycles to explore or took a jeep tour (they didn't actually go on the dunes though), but we found hiring a scooter was a really good way for us to get around, especially as we were staying on the quieter end of the strip.  And having a pool at your hotel there is a 'must' to soak away the sand and dust from the road and the dunes.  It didn't really feel like you were in Vietnam, but some very unique scenery and experiences are nevertheless on offer.  We had a great time in Mui Ne, and bid our room with a view farewell as we head for the hills of the Central Highlands.


  1. Is your wife taking all the the pictures? Fantastic!
    We've been in Vietnam for almost 4 years now and to tell you honestly, we haven't explored Mui Ne yet. I super like your post!

  2. thanks for the comment tara--yes, I (wife) and taking the pics :) We quite liked Mui Ne--the 'real Mui Ne' not the touristy part, but we didn't even swim in the ocean while there!

  3. I can't believe how gorgeous your pictures are! And ostrich riding? How awesome! My kids would LOVE that. We were just in the Mojave desert in Nevada a few weeks ago and the kids loved sliding down the sand dunes there.

  4. Great blog and pics and posts. Wife, 5yr old daughter and I are spending 3 weeks in Vietnam next spring, so your posts are of immense value to me.

    You say you rented a scooter here? How did that work for 4 of you? How did your kids ride on a scooter, they look fairly young? I had pretty much ruled out scooters as an option but...


  5. Thanks for your comment Brian. Our eldest is 5yrs also, and the youngest was 4yrs at the time we were in Vietnam. They loved riding on the scooter--we usually had 1 in front, then driver (my hubby), then another kid sandwiched in the middle, then me at the back. Worked very well and was an excellent was to see the sights independently--highly recommend it. In Mui Ne, they even had helmuts for the kids, which was rare. Check out our photos on our fb page "Images of Vietnam'--i think there is one of us on the motorbike. Have fun in Vietnam--it's a fun place for families.