Beaches and Sand Dunes

Tamara and I spend our morning searching for a good spot to lay on the beach. Mui Ne has like 20 kilometres of beach, but in the morning the tide is high and there isn’t much exposed sand. We buy half a kilo of bananas and a mangosteen for 20,000 dong ($1) and find an empty, stick covered patch of sand to lay in. So far, I don’t understand the hype about Mui Ne. We have plans to see the sand dunes later, so I hope those will at least be a little more interesting. I’m all for beaches, but I don’t really see the point in laying on a mediocre beach in Vietnam when there’s so much other cool stuff to do!

It’s 83% humidity in today. That’s almost all the humidity. I even find it hard to put on sunscreen because I’m so perma-sweaty and my hands are always covered in sand. I’m such a mess of a person.

We’ve booked an afternoon trip, I don’t want to call it a tour, to check out something called the fairy stream, a floating market, and the sand dunes for sunset. It was only $6, so how bad could it be? You may recall I said the exact same thing last time I booked a tour for $5, which ended up being $10… but this time I’ve confirmed that there are no extra charges besides a 10,000 dong ($0.50) fee to the dunes. I’m really really really hoping for the best here. We don’t have a ton of time in Mui Ne, and wanted to make sure we made the most of it. If I could confidently drive a motorcycle, I’d do all these things myself….but I can’t. It’s on my bucket list though: learn to drive a motorcycle.

We are picked up and stuffed into a jeep with four other people. We make another stop to pick up three more. There are now 9 people in this 4 seater jeep, plus a driver. The group of four English people and the three Israeli dudes that join us all complain, but I try to remind them that this is South East Asia and it’s part of the fun! You can’t expect a private car for $6.

I lather myself in more 90SPF sunscreen to avoid getting a half-body tan on my left arm and leg, which are exposed to the sun in the jeep.

Our first stop is to the “fairy stream”. It’s a very shallow reddish-orange stream running along the sand, so we get to walk along it through the water. We’re surrounded by some cool scenery like hoodoos and bright red sand cliffs. Along the way, there is an option to ride an ostrich for 40,000 dong ($2), and as much as I feel like I want to try everything Vietnam has to offer me, I don’t see the point in riding an ostrich. I’d much prefer climb the sandy red hills and explore the stream.

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Our next stop is a fishing village, which to me, just looks like a bunch of boats out fishing. I don’t think any of these people actually live on the boats full time, but I could definitely be wrong. Our driver speaks minimal English so it’s hard to get any answers. It’s beautiful in any case, but I don’t understand what makes it a “village”. We get about 10 minutes here just to take photos, we don’t actually get to visit the village. This is okay with me and I use the time to relax and take in the view. I love all the bright colours of the boats against the dark blue wavy water.

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After 20 minutes we pile back into the jeep and head off towards the dunes.

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I’m a little concerned when we pull up to the sand dunes at 4:00pm. We’re told we can have 40 minutes to walk around… But I was told we’d get to see the sunset, which definitely doesn’t occur at 4:40. We’ll see what happens.
There’s an option to rent a 4×4 scooter thing, for 400,000 dong ($20) per 20 minutes. Ummm heck nah, that’s robbery. We walk.

Although we can’t get as far into the dunes, I am happy I’m too broke to rent a 4×4. Their loud engines put a bit of a damper on the breathtaking enormity of this seemingly misplaced desert. Wasn’t I just on a beach this morning? Now, a cascade of sand hills rolling on for miles is all I can see.
We remove our sandals to begin our little trek through the overwhelming immensity of the dunes. The sand is soft and warm between my toes, the sun is shining down strongly, but a cool breeze picks up every now and then to keep us from getting too hot.

It’s hard to choose a direction in which to go, but it’s an easy decision to avoid the route of those on the loud 4x4s, and to follow any route that lacks footprints. The wind quickly washes away any evidence of foot and tire marks, but it’s still preferable to walk in a direction that feels unexplored.

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A top one of the peaks and on our way to the next one, the wind picks up and now, instead of providing us with a cool breeze, is pelting us with tiny sharp sandy swords. There’s nothing we can do to escape it so we push on, but oh how these little sand shards sting!

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When Tamara and I make it to the third and highest dune peak, I turn around and realize just how far we’ve come. The ascent through the sand felt long and slow, but I guess we’ve been moving more quickly than I thought, because now the entrance gate is barely visible. Not really knowing how long it’s been, we decide it’s safest to turn back now. In the distance to our right we can see a herd of cows walking across the desert. I assume they must belong to someone but they’re too far away for me to spot a herder.

To our left, we see someone abandon a broken down 4×4 and start walking back towards the gate. I definitely have no regrets about keeping my 400,000 dong for something better.

When we get back to the gate one of the English girls in our jeep is crying hysterically. Apparently she fell off her 4×4 by going right over the edge of one of the sand dunes. She didn’t understand that it would be a straight drop down, and went over at full speed. One of the Israeli guys somehow managed to flip his 4×4, and one of the British guys had his break down. So glad I didn’t spend 400,000 dong!!

These were apparently the “white sand dunes” and we’ll be going to the “red sand dunes” for the sunset. Here’s hoping. We pile into the jeep with our unhappy and shaken up tour-mates, and drive back towards Mui Ne city. We get to the red sand dunes at 5:30, and have half an hour to wander around. I over hear the group of English people complaining once we get to the entrance of the dunes. “They’re not that impressive, and they’re not even red” they say. Well actually, they are red. Iron rich-soil red. Not Vietnam-flag red…I don’t really know what these people expected, but I think they’re still bitter about the 4x4s.
My only complaint is the amount of garbage, as per usual. There wasn’t any to be seen at the white dunes, but for all I know the dunes are just gigantic sand-covered piles of garbage. It’s hard to tell with all that blowing sand. The red sand dunes are much smaller and are not as soft between the toes as the white dunes had been. There are local children selling long pieces of plastic to be used as “slides” down the dunes. I think about how much water got in my face on the water slides the other day, and decide that going down a sandy dune would probably end the same way. I pass.

Tamara and I climb up to a sandy red peak and sit and wait for the sun to set. We get pelted with more sand, and unfortunately for us, the wind is coming from the same direction as we are facing to watch the sun. We each eat a small banana while we wait, but I would guess 40% of what goes in my mouth is sand. It’s everywhere.
The sky is exceptionally clear except for one small cloud right on the horizon. Clearly, that’s where the sun ends up setting. We still get to slowly watch the sky go from blue to beautiful orange, but the sun itself gets hidden behind a cloud mid-way through. Somehow the sand looks even more red now that the sun has gone.

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On our walk back down to the jeep, Tamara compares us to chips. I don’t understand at first, but then I realize she’s referring to how covered in sand we are. We are like giant ketchup chips coated in red seasoning. She’s totally right.

I’m extra-ketchup chippy, because I’ve also managed to get extremely sunburnt. Apparently 90 SPF just isn’t enough for Vietnam. Or, it’s possible that the bottle of sun screen I purchased in Nha Trang is a watered down version of 90…or just regular body cream. One can’t really be sure.
Either way, I look ridiculous.

We get dropped off at the hotel where I take a shower, but the water pressure is so low I’m still covered in quite a layer of sand. I accept my fate and get dressed knowing that whatever I put on, it will be covered in sand shortly too. I just try to avoid anything that will hurt my sunburn.

We go for dinner where we both order curry, mine is called Thai curry and Tamara’s is called vegetable curry, but they’re 100% the same. Mine might have more coconut milk in it. They’re good though! We then get a green tea ice cream and Saigon beer at the same live music bar from last night. The same old man is playing, but this time on an acoustic guitar instead of an electric keyboard.

We have another early night in preparation for an early morning bus to Saigon tomorrow.

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