When you think of deserts, the first things that come to mind are the famous Arabian deserts that have given us so many childhood classics, and the sprawling Sahara, a vast, uncompromising chunk of sand famed for being the largest hot desert in the world, encompassing millions of square kilometers. On the contrary, when you think of Vietnam, your thoughts take you into the densest of rainforests, and the famous or infamous (depending on whose side you’re on) Guerilla Warfare tactics that took advantage of this very ecosystem, that even the mighty United States of America couldn’t lay a finger on. Never in your wildest imagination would you merge the two pictures that I’ve just painted in your brain, but what if I told you that you actually can?
A 5 hour drive from the Cu-Chi tunnels of Saigon, the epicentre of the Vietnamese war and Vietnam’s secret weapon lies the coastal town of Mui Ne. A fishing hotspot on the South China sea, this little town has become a popular tourist destination for the local residents of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City. Now you’d think this is the case because it is a coastal town and visitors want to relish a nice relaxing sunbath on the beach, but that’s where Mui Ne leaves you stumped and bewildered as to why this place is not a popular global tourism spot. A few miles away from the beach, you will find a dune duo on either side of the road, a patch of red sand dunes, and a much wider spread of white sand dunes. A sight so surreal it is enough to give you the desert feels you crave.
Getting to Mui Ne is not too difficult, as there are plenty of tours in Saigon that will organize a one/two day trip to the town, and that is what we opted for. A day trip of course would be in line with my adaptation of the Pareto principle (Hello economists) for travelers, involving 80% travel and 20% of the place itself, so it really depends on how much time one wants to spend at the place to relax.
Stopping at the beach upon entering the region, a refreshing coconut-full of juice had us all pumped up for what was to come during the rest of the day. And fast forward another half an hour, all of us were being taken into the midst of the white sand dunes, a thrilling ride in an open jeep, almost like a roller-coaster. Once there, there is a plethora of options to do, you can quad-bike through the desert, or learn sandboarding. Needless to say, the view in all four directions is absolutely spell-binding, with an endless spread of pure white sand until all that can be seen is the horizon. And then the inevitable happened. Someone was bound to lose something in the desert, and on this occasion it was a poor chap’s newly bought iPhone. Frolicking in a desert seems great fun, until you lose something of course. A frantic search for the phone was a losing battle, not the first one lost by a foreigner in Vietnam, but at the same time it made me realise where all the tales of the Treasure Under The Desert come from, and who knows what one could stumble upon during his/her foray through a desert, and who knows what and how much of it lies beneath the widespread dunes of sand, displaced and replenished by the steadily flowing winds across this stretch of barren land. Adding to the beauty of this wonderful landscape, was an oasis bang in the middle of it all, large enough to even take up the option of paddle-boating if one wished to.
But that’s not all that makes Mui Ne so underrated. The town itself is a quintessential fishing market, with the hustle and bustle of buyers flocking by to acquire the local catch, almost like a group of seagulls would to feast upon their prey, and an astounding amount of boats in the sea, which tells us that the town’s main economy is still its fisheries, despite the fact that the popularity of the dunes and the town itself has resulted in an upturn of the local tourism business, with emerging hotels aplenty, making it an easy destination to spend a weekend at. But even though me saying this is getting more and more redundant with each passing sentence, that’s not all that Mui Ne has to offer!
What remained to be seen, was what the locals call Suoi Tien, which translates to Fairy Stream. A quiet foot-deep stream takes you on a walk through the wilderness, with jungle trees and red canyon cliffs surrounding you from the sides, and while it may seem a little unappealing at the starting point, it gets better as you keep walking through, and finally reach the canyons, where you cannot help but stop to click a few pictures.
A complete package. An assorted set of a beach, a desert, a red rock canyon and a fishing village all in one. And yet it is one that is overlooked or even unheard of by the average tourist, a fact that I simply cannot fathom, as it can undisputedly add value to your Vietnam trip, and leave you with experiences that you will not forget, all in the same place. And as our time came to finally bid adieu to this place, we could not help ourselves but stand by the waterfront and watch the sun go down, as we headed on back to Ho Chi Minh City for the rest of our trip. Remember the name, Mui Ne.