Did you know there were sand dunes in Vietnam? Neither did we!
We were pretty spoilt with the unbelievable sand dunes we got to experience in Namibia during our Africa Overland Tour in 2016, and as well as our Sahara desert experience in Morocco and Huacahina in Peru, but when we discovered Vietnam had some of their own, we were intrigued, so we made our way north to the beachside town of Mui Ne.
Mui Ne is a small resort town that runs 15 kilometres along Vietnam’s southern coast. The town is becoming popular with Russian tourists and more and more beachfront resorts are opening up. Aside from the sand dunes, Mui Ne is one of the windiest places in Vietnam, therefore, windsurfing is a popular sport bringing hoards of enthusiastic windsurfers throughout the year.
You’ve made it to Mui Ne (or you’re considering it!) and you’re unsure of the best way to visit the dunes? We’re here to tell you everything you need to know. It’s fairly straightforward and we’ll start with this:
Do you prefer to see the sunrise or the sunset? Sunrise *cough cough*.
I know the sound of an alarm at 4:00 am doesn’t sound so appealing to most but there are certain landscapes that call for the early morning and this is one of them. The sand is more untouched, it’s more peaceful as there are fewer people (believe it or not) and the heat hasn’t quite struck.
All tours that go to the sand dunes visit the same 4 sites (outlined below) and depending on if you visit at sunset or sunrise, the order does change. The sites can be reached via motorbike, jeep, taxi or bus with many tour offices making these bookings.
We took the jeep and really enjoyed the open back and flowing fresh air. We took the bus back (not by choice) and it was quite bumpy due to the crappy suspension on the bus.
The only downside with the tours, they’re rather rushed… 30 minutes here, 45 minutes there but at the end of the day, how long do you really need to spend at some sand dunes?
- Bus (from Mui Ne Hills hotel only): 90,000 VND ($3 USD) plus small entry fees to the fairy stream of 10,000 VND ($0.40 USD) for entry.
- Jeep: 130,000 VND ($6 USD) all included.
- Taxi: We don’t recommend this option and don’t have a ballpark figure to suggest, however, it is possible, just make sure you negotiate prior and have them wait for you at each stop.
- Self-Rental Motorbike: 100,000 VND ($5 USD) plus 10,000 VND ($0.40 USD) for entry to the Fairy Stream. See note below.
We’ve been told the police love to nail tourists in this area driving without an international driver’s license if you’re on a motorbike. Not always, but they are there and will stop you and you may have to pay a fee which could change between 100,000 VND or considerably higher depending on the person who caught you. If you do ride a bike, don’t take your whole wallet and show them how much you have, keep no more than 200,000 in easy reach, hand it over and move on.
1/ White Sand Dunes (Doi Cat Trang)
Our first stop was the white sand dunes but due to some miscommunication with our booking, our jeep driver was 40 minutes late & we missed the beginning of the sunrise. Ohh that extra sleep would have been delightful. Due to our late arrival, we climbed 3/4 of the way up the dunes and flew the drone to get the view from the top (we’re becoming so lazy now!). We blame the driver!
Regardless, the dunes were pretty cool. Long rolling hills of untouched sand as far as our eyes could see but nothing like Africa or Morocco!
Note: If you’re flying a drone. Listen when it tells you the battery is low. Jacob waited a little too long and the drone emergency landed itself on the sand dunes and we had to try and figure out where it was before an ATV or Jeep went flying over it! Thank goodness we got it back.
You also have the option to hire a dune buggy for 400,000 VND ($20 USD) which we think kind of tainted the peaceful atmosphere. If you do rent them, try and bargain the price down.
2/ Fishing Village
Fishing villages immediately call for nose blockage and whilst that was still necessary, we thoroughly enjoyed standing there admiring the chaos that was going on. There were hundreds of people, all seemingly with a purpose, and a lot were women. In fact, it was about 80% women. They were sorting the fish, carrying them from the typical circular boats & hustlin’!
3/ Red Sand Dunes (Doi Hong)
The red sand dunes were a bright red/brown colour, but were terribly crowded and felt a little less authentic. Locals sat on the edge selling all sorts of breakfast dishes and kids chased you nagging you to rent their mats to slide down the dunes which barely work unless you’re a kid. These dunes weren’t as steep as the white dunes and were easy enough to walk up (yup we walked these and then flew the drone). Try head for the ones the furthest away to get a little bit of scenery without the herds of people in it too.
3/ Fairy Stream
The fairy stream is a peaceful stream of water that runs alongside impressive rock and sand formations. The colour, formed by clay and limestone particles is a vivid red, mixed with pale white sand which ultimately forms a soft red creek. On one side you have the rock and sand formations and the other, lush bamboo forests and with the occasional grazing cow.
For the most part, the stream is ankle deep so you will have to remove your shoes at the entrance. The water as you walk along the stream is shallow but can be slippery at times, with hidden holes.
I’m not entirely sure where the name “Fairy Stream” came from but it made it feel somewhat magical to stroll through. Perhaps there were some fairies hiding up in the rocks up there.
The Logistical Stuff
How to get to Mui Ne Hills
The easiest way to reach Mui Ne Hills is by bus. The closest airport is Ho Chi Minh City. Don’t be alarmed when the bus companies try and fit an unusual amount of people in one bus. Just when we thought it was full, we picked up more people, with more bags and one poor girl had to sit on some ridiculous makeshift seat for the entire journey. It was squeaking & bouncing up and down the entire 5 hours (excuse the photo quality but this just had to be shared)
From Ho Chi Minh City, the trip will take about 5 hours with stops in between, potentially quicker if you have a crazy driver. Many bus companies run this trip but the two most recommend are Phuong Trang (Futa Bus) and The Sinh Tourist with one ticket costing 130,000 VND ($6 USD). Tickets can be bought online prior and we recommend at least one day in advance. Note: When booking with The Sinh Tourist, Ho Chi Minh City is “Sai Gon”
From Da Lat, the trip will take 4 hours and cost 120,000 VDN ($5 USD). Dalat is the adventure capital of Vietnam with many tours such as canyoning, mountain biking, hiking & white water rafting.
Where to stay in Mui Ne
Mui Ne is a small beachside town and navigating your way around is fairly easy as there’s only one main street! As the years go on, many new beachfront resorts are popping up but there are many other smaller hostels/hotels scattered throughout. There is one particular “resort” that catches the eye of every backpacker; Mui Ne Hills Budget.
How does $12 USD a night/private room or $5 USD/dorm with access to 3 rooftop pools sound? Fairly good to me! Although some may perceive this as a party hostel, there’s different room types and plenty of lounge chairs/areas to relax away from any partying. One of the best value hotels we’ve ever stayed in.
How long to stay
We don’t recommend any more than 2 nights. You could easily stay one night, see the dunes for sunrise and carry on that same day to either Da Lat (4 hours north) or Ho Chi Minh City (5 hours south). If you’re staying at Mui Ne Hills, the rooftop pool is really nice to spend your time relaxing/partying.
Are the dunes worth the stop?
We may be a little biased based on our past desert & sand dune experiences but honestly, they were a little underwhelming. Put it this way, if you have the time, yes, make the stop, but if you’re pressed for time, don’t stress about not stopping. It’s not Vietnam’s most talked about tourist attraction.
Married Days Survived: 825