Ho Chi Minh City is a potpourri of scooters, smog and sweaty people. Vietnam was never on my list of destinations but 58 dollar return flights and the possibility of sandboarding changes one’s mind pretty fast.
I can’t recall how I chanced upon Mui Ne. There wasn’t much information about the place but photos were promising. There were sand dunes; it’s completely unexpected in the middle of Vietnam in a beach area that’s slowly getting recognized as an alternative surfing spot to the more popular Indonesian islands. We stayed at Mui Ne Hills, a cheap resort inland from the main tourist stretch.
We had a bungalow for $30 a night with breakfast included. Our rooms weren’t air-conditioned but we’re easily bribed by the recliners and a pool at our doorstep.The place was built up recently and there was but one or two other travelers during our stay so we had the luxury of space. It must have been a slow period for tourism.
The roads in Mui Ne seem straightforward enough (and awfully quiet during our time there). We hired a driver and a jeep for the day and sat docile at the back. There are two main areas of sand dunes, differentiated by color. The white dunes had finer sand and with a slight breeze going on, anything we left on the ground would be buried in minutes. We somehow got duped into paying too much for a sand buggy and a piece of cardboard to slide down dunes with. Staring down a 10m steep slope while perched precariously on a sheet of cardboard is pretty intimidating in retrospect but before you can even start thinking about sand in your underwear, you’d probably already be midway down and spinning out of control with a dust cloud in your wake.
The red dunes are supposedly a great spot to catch the sunset but the clouds were in the way during our visit. The sand at these dunes felt denser and almost liquid, like a scratchy version of quicksand. We spent a lot of time running up and down the slopes just to feel our feet go ‘plop’ with each step.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Mui Ne is how there’s a sight to behold around every corner. A short distance away lies a fishing village and further along, Fairy Springs, a muddy creek with towering rock formations on one side and palm trees on the other. Our driver stopped us along a main road, gestured for us to go forth in a general direction while he socialised at a rest stop. It was a familiar ritual it seems. At designated ‘tourist stops’, there were hammocks set up and friendly (local) company to keep a game of cards going.
While the men had their fun and games, we trotted on in the direction we were pointed in. This must also be the area where the fishing folk retire for the day with their catch. The paths were littered with small, semi-dried fish and the air smelled heavily of salt. On the other side of the fences were baskets filled with fish, in the midst of the salting-and-drying process. Further along the path, some child touts would offer their assistance in exchange for a few thousand dong. We’d hold on to our own shoes which were by then studded with various fish bits.
For about a kilometer, we waded around in ankle-deep water, alone in the middle of nowhere. The scenery wouldn’t be out of place in a reality TV show, yet the atmosphere was serene. We’d stop to look at mudpools or rocks carved by the passage of time and water.
Green vegetation does bring out the bluest skies.
We weren’t early enough to catch the fishermen out at sea but we caught the aftermath of them stitching up their damaged nets and preparing straw cages for the next workday. Perhaps, a peek into their resting boats is more interesting than watching splotches of color in the distance.
Prior to this, I’ve never really wondered where Dragon Fruit came from. I guess I had just assumed they grew on trees. If you’ve never had a dragon fruit in your life, they’re one of the weirdest fruit you’d find. They’ve fleshy pink skin with leaves poking out of them like some unfortunate bearded creature and on the inside they’re white or deep maroon, juicy and with seeds like a kiwi fruit. Their appearance now makes more sense knowing that they’re some sort of desert (and dessert) fruit that grow on cacti.
We did end up spending some days in Ho Chi Minh City, mostly watching the world go by from the inside of a Trung Nguyen cafe while sipping a rich cup of artificial poop coffee.
If there’s anything that can make life better, it’s a good cup of coffee.