Mui Ne was once a sleepy fishing town that few people had ever heard of. The solar eclipse of 1995 reversed all that; thousands of astronomers and curious tourists streamed in to observe the phenomenon. Since then, Mui Ne has undergone a major transformation, and is now one of Vietnam’s major tourist attractions.


What is it about Mui Ne that attracts people? In a nutshell: sun, sea, surf, sand dunes and seafood.


The 10-kilometre stretch of highway along the beachfront is now built-up with luxury resorts, hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops, mini-marts, beach bars, and nightclubs stacked side by side. It’s a dangerous stretch of road; taxis hurtle along with horns blaring and a casual disregard for pedestrians or fellow road users. An unfortunate feature of what is otherwise a chilled-out town.


The sand dunes are one of Mui Ne’s prime attractions. The white dunes are 45 minutes away from town. The ever-changing dunes are sculpted by the ocean winds, and put you in mind of the Sahara. You’ll hear cameras clicking away non-stop. You’ll be besieged by children pressing their plastic sleds on you — good value provided you bargain furiously, and great fun. You can also hire dune buggies or quad-bikes, and even go ostrich riding. At 20 minutes away from town, the red dunes are more accessible. They’re smaller than their white cousins, attract more visitors, and so are more prone to litter and pollution. But they are spectacular at sunset.


In a Ferment


Most visitors combine a visit to the dunes with a side trip to Fairy Stream. On the unfinished pathway to the stream you are assailed by the aroma of fish sauce fermenting in large clay pots — it’s one of Mui Ne’s specialities. The bed of the gently flowing stream is red mud, and the water itself is orangey-red from the clay and limestone particles that filter in from the surrounding slopes. If you wade the full two-kilometre length of the stream (it never gets more than knee-deep) you’ll encounter interesting rock formations and traverse a small canyon.


The sand dunes are a bit too far to reach by taxi, but there’s an inexhaustible supply of jeeps or moto-taxis ready to take you there. Be warned — plenty of people fall prey to the drivers’ tiresome scams. “No, I said fifty thousand, not fifteen thousand!” “The price I quoted is per head, not per trip.” “That was a little over 10 kilometres, so the price is doubled.” Wearying, I know, but you come across avaricious, scheming drivers in other countries as well.


For many years Mui Ne was a magnet for Russian travellers, so much so it became known as “the Russian village”. The Russian influx slowed to a trickle in late 2014 with the meltdown of the Russian rouble. There are still signs that Russian tourists once flooded the town; shop and restaurant signs and menus are in English and Russian, and among the staff of the hotels, restaurants and big stores there’s usually at least one Russian speaker on duty.


Surf’s Up


Mui Ne Beach and Suoi Nuoc to the north is a Mecca for water sports enthusiasts. Surf’s up from August to December, but that’s not to say the surfing is anything great — okay for learners, but not much more. No, wind surfing and kite-boarding are the attractions here. A strong cross-onshore wind creates the ideal conditions for them.


If you’ve never wind-surfed before, no worries, there are plenty of wind-surfing schools on hand. The 10km-long beach is lined with palm trees and blessed with blue skies much of the year round. The possibility of rain is minimal; Mui Ne gets just 50cm a year. Although the water is warm, it’s less than ideal for swimming. The waves can be unruly, and there’s often a strong rip-tide. It’s only in the very early morning or on the odd calm day that swimmers can do their thing without unduly worrying.


Mui Ne is 200km away from Ho Chi Minh City — four hours by bus. Or, you can take a train. Four trains a day depart from Saigon station bound for Mui Ne. They don’t go all the way though, only as far as Binh Thuan Station, 40km short of Mui Ne. To proceed from there you’ll need to take a taxi or bus.


Born in New Zealand, Don Wills lives in Vung Tau. He’s been writing his way around the region for decades

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