Also published in MB Life – Manila Bulletin’s Lifestyle Website
So you’ve done Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Hoi An. What’s next for Vietnam? Well, apparently there’s still a place waiting to be visited (and discovered) by travelers like you and me. It’s none other than the secret sand dunes of Mui Ne. No longer do you need head to the Middle East to fulfill your desert landscape dreams because this beach resort town, who actually has not one but two sand dunes, is easily accessible from the Ho Chi Minh City. In case you’re feeling a little adventurous and prefer the off-the-beaten-path, this guide is for you.
How to Get There
Mui Ne is around 4 to 5 hours from Ho Chi Minh City, and there are several ways to get there either by bus, train or even a private taxi.
Bus: The bus is probably the most popular option as they can drop you off directly in front of your hostel or hotel. We booked roundtrip tickets at Futa Bus (Phuong Trang) ticket office at District 1 in Ho Chi Minh upon reading multiple positive reviews from Tripadvisor. It cost VND 130,000 (~PhP 291.80/USD 6) per person per way and opted to travel 11:30 PM in a sleeper bus to save for one night of accommodation. In Vietnam, the ticket offices or travel agencies are the meet-up place, about a 30-minutes to 1-hour before your scheduled departure. Then, a shuttle van takes you to their respective bus stations, where in our case, was along the highway. Slippers were asked to be removed and a water bottle plus face wipes were given as part of the ticket. Be warned though as you have only 5 minutes to get off the bus!
Train: Another way is to take the train from Saigon Railway Station (District 3) to Phan Thiet Station. Two trains depart daily – one in the morning, the other in the afternoon. The downside is, from Phan Thiet, it’s 20km away from Mui Ne so you need to switch to a cab afterward.
Private Taxi: Just as how it’s possible to travel from Manila to Baguio City by taxi (yup, true story), so can you to Mui Ne. Be sure to approach reliable operators such as Vinasun and Mai Linh and ask for a quoted price. From multiple sources, a one-way trip can cost you VND 3,000,000 (~PhP 6,732/USD 132).
Where to Stay
There are plenty of backpacker hostels and boutique hotels in the area. Often making it to the list of best hostels are Mui Ne Backpacker Village, Ngoc Thuy Guesthouse, Source Kiteboarding/Lodge, and Mui Ne Xua Cafe Hostel, where we ended up for its rustic and relaxing vibe. The lodging cost us USD 7 per night (not bad!). Just be sure to always check for online reviews before deciding to book!
Where to Eat
Mui Ne is known for its fresh seafood, and there are countless of restaurants, eateries, and bars everywhere along the coast that serve tasty meals. Most, if not all, start opening in the late afternoon, which is why the city feels like a ghost town when we arrived that morning. One of the most famous ones is Mr. Crab – obvious choice because of the large crowds. Downside? Understaffed that left us more than an hour waiting for our food. With a little patience, it’s a bit worth it.
What to Do
Most accommodations can book a half-day tour (sunrise or sunset) for you going to the sand dunes and other areas like the Fairy Stream and Fishing Village. Our hostel booked for us for VND 158,000 (~PhP 354.65) which includes a van (or sometimes jeep) ride and a tour guide. Since we arrived at our hostel around 4am, we chose the sunset tour instead. Although, sadly, there was no sunset because of rainy weather (take a hint and plan a trip during sunnier days from December to April, and avoid wet months between May and November).
Explore the magical Fairy Stream of Mui Ne, a tucked away ankle-deep stream surrounded by “rock” or sand formations, plus lush greeneries in between. No real fairies here, but the stream, whose entrance is hidden behind an alley, lets you take on a nice relaxing stroll to appreciate the landscape and even some parts of the sand dunes surrounding it. Carry your shoes and put on a friendly face as you’ll see a vast number of travelers making their way in and out too. You’ll never know who you’ll meet back in town.
Mui Ne is best known for its fresh seafood too. And with a lot of open-air restaurants nearby, it’s a good opportunity to experience and appreciate where the local ingredients come from by making a quick stop at the Lai Chang Fishing Village. Make your way in the early morning to anticipate the local fishermen returning with massive hauls of the scallops, crabs, shrimps and even stingrays, and no questions asked, you’ll be excited about dinner soon!
White Sand Dunes
And now, the main reason for Mui Ne are the sand dunes. The first (and the biggest) is the White Sand Dunes. Here, you can rent an ATV that can take you to a great spot and the driver will come back to pick you up later during the day. A rental can cost around VND 220,000 per person (~PhP 500/USD 10) with a driver, and a little less if you’d like to do it on your own. If you’re thinking of the latter, I advise you better not as these unfamiliar terrains will do no good. We had one couple in the group who hit a bush and got theirs completely turned over. Fortunately, none was hurt. So don’t even bother trying!
Things to do: Take lots of photos – the perfect time to don a flowy dress – or try sand dune sledding ideally for the young at heart!
Red Sand Dunes
And last our stop was the smaller, yet equally beautiful Red Sand dunes. They say sunset is best viewed here; however, we arrived past it. As it was getting darker, we hurriedly scoured the scenery, took photos, and left.