Normally when you think of sand dunes, the Sahara or Namib desert come to mind. Lucky for you, you can spend your cash on a much cheaper flight ticket to Vietnam for a taste of the desert. And good dessert as well, but that’s a whole other blog.
Mui Ne is a beautiful fishing village down the south coast of Vietnam, and has two sets of giant sand dunes. Actually, there are sand dunes scattered throughout the whole region, making Mui Ne a rather colourful stop in your Vietnam itinerary. The two most impressive are the White and Red Sand Dunes.
How did they get there?
These charming geological oddities are not as rare as you might think. Sand dunes are present on shorelines where fine sediment is transported landward by a combination of high winds rushing to and from the ocean, and waves. Gentle waves transport sand onshore, and once deposited on the beach, the wind carries it away and forms the dunes. Over time, these dunes become steeper and larger in size, and when plants colonise these dunes, their roots and stems help to anchor the shifting sand. More and more sand will accumulate over time.
Sand dunes also form a natural barrier to destructive forces and are the first line of defence against coastal storms and beach erosion. They can absorb the impact of storms and prevent or delay the flooding of inland areas and damage to inland structures. Erosion of sand dunes due to human activity leaves shorelines vulnerable to damage from storms. Other than providing protection, sand dunes also provide habitat for fauna and flora, including rare endangered species.
White Sand Dunes of Mui Ne (Đồi Cát Trắng)
The White Dunes are the most popular attraction in Mui ne. It is just how you will imagine a desert to be — a vast expanse of pristine, barren land. The imposing dunes encapsulate the entire landscape, making you feel as if you are Laurence of Arabia, wandering through a desolate corner of the Sahara Desert.
For the complete experience, visit these dunes for the sunrise. The morning rays dance across the landscape, creating an awe-inspiring and extremely photogenic view. The sand is untouched at this early hour and welcomes your footsteps on its soft, cool surface. Take advantage of this — walk around, snap over a hundred pictures, and enjoy the several lakes and swamps found right in the middle of this sandy desert.
You can also hire a quad bike on arrival at the dunes. During the day, this experience is great fun as the dunes offer copious amounts of open space to let loose and go crazy. However, avoid the temptation at sunrise as the quad bikes are an ambiance-killer for those seeking a quiet sunrise. A dune buggy can be hired for 30 minutes for about VND$400,000V (USD$20.00), but the price can be bartered down a little. It certainly does save you from a tedious slog up and down.
If you have a little more cash on you – you can go on a hot air balloon tour over the dunes. Mui Ne is the only place in Vietnam that offers hot air balloon rides so if you would like to tick this off your bucket list, then you can book your tour via Vietnam Balloons.
The Red Sand Dunes (Đồi Hồng)
The Red Sand Dunes are the smaller of the two and located directly next to the main coastal road running out of Mui Ne. These dunes are of a rusty red/brown colour and are absolutely beautiful come sundown. The only downside is that it gets quite crowded due to the close proximity, late hours, and as most tours end here, people will spend more time than usual loitering about. Don’t let this dishearten you — you will still find a beautiful spot to yourself to watch the beautiful sunset over the rolling red hills. The amber sand radiates an intense fiery red, allowing you to capture dramatic moments on film. Don’t be afraid to stray away from the main crowd so you can get your images without other people in them.
Over here, the moment you park and make your way over to the dunes, you will find yourself chased by little children, no older than 13 years old, trying to get you to rent their sand boards for a few minutes so you can tumble down a hill or two. It will cost a measly dollar for a few rides down, and if you have no idea how to use it, they will teach you how. They will also laugh hysterically when you fall.
How to get to the dunes
You can easily do sunrise and sunset tours by bus or jeep. These can be arranged at your hotel reception and can be as cheap as USD$5.00. The sunset tour to the Red Sand Dunes usually come with a stopover at the Fairy Springs, an ankle-deep stream surrounded by Grand Canyon-esque landscape on either side. It’s fun to wade through barefoot for an hour or so. You can check out the tour offered by The Sinh Tourist. It will cost you USD$7.00 and your transport will be a new, clean, and air-conditioned bus.
44 Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, Mui Ne, Vietnam, + 84 62 384 7542
It will be an adventure to visit these places on your own on a rented motorcycle. A bike rental will cost you as little as USD$6.00 per day. To find the red dunes just follow the huge highway, Vo Nguyen Giap, that runs behind Mui Ne Beach. It will connect you to a large traffic circle, and the dunes are just off the roadside beyond this. The White Sand Dunes are a little less accessible and will take you about a 40-minute drive from the centre of Mui Ne. You will have to head east through Highway DT716 for 12 miles (20 kilometres). Follow the maps linked below.
If you wish to avoid the masses of tourists that flock to these sites early in the morning/late in the day, you can go to the dunes during the hours in between, but it would be an absolute inferno.