Red Sand Dunes in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Our last stop on the $5 tour of Mui Ne were the red sand dunes. Unlike the white sand dunes that were half an hour drive away, these red sand dunes are right in the center. Like all the other stops on the tour, entrance is actually free so you can go here on your own for as long as you want.

The first thing that happened when we parked by the dunes was swarms of Vietnamese children ascended upon us. They were holding boards for sliding down the sandy hills. If we hadn’t recently done the same thing in Inner Mongolia (which we’re still finding sand from months later) we would have been happy to try.

We got their just in time for the beginning of the sunset, so we just sat on the peak and took photos. It was the perfect way to end the tour that showed us so many different places in this fascinating city. The entire tour only took four hours, so if you’re just stopping in Mui Ne briefly, make sure to check out some of these places or taking this amazing value-for-money tour!

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Riding an ATV in Vietnam – White Sand Dunes, Mui Ne

When we set off on our $5 tour of Mui Ne, we did not expect that we’d be driving an ATV or to almost drive off a sand cliff. But our Vietnam trip was full of surprises! After visiting the Fairy Stream and Fishing Village, we were off to the white sand dunes.

Mui Ne is very geographically diverse despite it’s small size and is known for having both white and red dunes. Although I was more excited to see the red sand dunes, the white dunes took my breath away. Unlike most deserts with yellowish sand, this large area was completely covered in light sand comparable to the white sand beaches of Hawaii!

Since we were on a backpacking style trip, our goal was to spend as little as possible. When we were offered a 600,000 Dong (around $30) ATV ride, we immediately refused and starting walking up the slippery sandy hill on foot. At the top of the hill we saw beautiful views, a far away lake and lots of ATVs zooming by. My husband and I looked at each other wordlessly and turned back to get that ride.

We saw this as a once in a lifetime opportunity and were perfectly willing to spend those $30 but my husband has lived in China long enough to know that the price can always be negotiated. After all, he managed to get our visa fee down significantly just by asking nicely… so a few minutes later we were on an ATV for just $15.

It was fast, bumpy and quite terrifying. On top of everything, the breaks weren’t working and you could only go forwards. If you’ve ever driven, or even walked a long sand dunes, you’ll know that what you see ahead of you isn’t always clear. We were driving full speed ahead when we went over a small hill and were about to drive down another.

It took a very sharp turn to keep us from rolling down a very steep and dangerous sand cliff. I was quite hysterical and there was lots of yelling and complicated maneuvering to get us safely away from the edge of the cliff. From that moment we drove a little slower and got to see the lake that we wouldn’t have had the time to walk to since we were only given 40 minutes.

Although I was absolutely terrified, once we found a flat area, I gave ATV driving a change and it was pretty amazing! Don’t believe me? Watch my ATV driving YouTube video, I apologize in advance for the shakiness, the dunes are bumpy!

 

Mui Ne Fishing Market: a Fascinating Smelly Seafood Cemetery

Our second stop on the $5 Mui Ne Tour took us to a atrociously smelling but fascinating fishing market. Also known as the fishing village, many TripAdvisor reviews gave it low ratings due to it smelling bad and being covered with dead fish. Isn’t that what you’d expect to see (and smell) at a fish market?

Yes, it smelled horrible which was the reason we didn’t stay long. We didn’t even stay long enough to buy some fresh seafood although no one else on the tour seemed interested. I guess bleached, processed and wrapped in plastic fish is more appealing than fresh naturally smelling fish.

We had to step over dead crabs to take photos of the fishing boats, but despite the grossness, it was quite beautiful. These fishermen use large circular tubs as floating fish catching vessels. Some are tied to boats but others had their own oars. Some had separators and logs to sit on, which is pretty genius.

Basically, you fill these tubs with water once you are in the ocean and you place the caught fish inside to swim around your legs until you dock. You can leave your fish in the tub until you’re ready to move them into a selling tub.

If we had been alone, we probably would have spent more time there and done a little shopping. After five minutes you start to get used to the putrid smell anyway. But everyone was itching to leave so after just 10 minutes, we were off to the white sand dunes where we would ride an ATV for the first time!

 

Don’t Ride Ostriches at the Fairy Stream – Mui Ne, Vietnam

The Fairy Stream is an incredibly unique place where a shallow river flows through sandy mountains, trailing red and yellow sand through the water. When you visit most rivers, you walk alongside their banks. At the Fairy Stream, you walk through the water and the warm mud feels amazing on your feet. Free foot spa? Hell yes!

Speaking of free, we read about a lot of people getting scammed into paying to enter the fairy stream. Don’t. It’s a free attraction without any particular entrance, so if anyone tries to get money out of you, tell them no. If you want to spend some money, there are plenty of stores alongside the river that sell snacks and souvenirs.

Soon after entering the stream, you’ll see advertisements for ostrich riding. We walked by the ostrich farm and took a peak at the poor birds. Although the signs only showed children riding them, I’m sure they’d let adults do it for the right price. Needless to say, please don’t ride the ostriches. They are already mistreated enough by being kept in tiny cages and grass-less fenced off areas. They don’t need people sitting on them and injuring them any further…

Sadly, these ostriches are not the only unhappy animals in the area. We passed a tiny resort style place offering food, massages and a free zoo. The zoo had animals in tiny cages without anything for them to eat or play with. The monkeys looked deprived and aggressive and the rest of the animals weren’t much better off.

The only thriving animals we saw here was a family of cows grazing on the riverside grass and peeing in the river. All urine is sterile, right? Sure, they looked a little thing, but the cows were roaming freely and enjoying nature. They were used to people so they let you get close and photograph them as long as you didn’t get too close, especially to the baby cow.

We also found a cute water snail and a saw a duck family swimming by. We took lots of photos and I got stink eye from the mother duck when I tried to film her babies up close. Oops.

We went on a very hot afternoon and it wasn’t too busy. We only had an hour to explore so we didn’t walk through the entire stream, that would probably have taken us two hours. We climbed the sandy hills, we rubbed mud all over us and we enjoyed the beautiful views. The entire area is red, yellow and orange, making it look more like Mars than Vietnam.

Watch our YouTube video to see the stream for yourself!

The Best Tour of Mui Ne Costs Just $5

Mui Ne is a popular beach town swarming with mostly Vietnamese and Russian tourists. It’s only a five hour drive from Ho Chi Minh which makes it a great place to go for a weekend getaway. Since it was really hot and bug-full during the time we went, we did not enjoy much our stay… with the exception of the amazing the $5 tour.

After two days of failing to relax on the shade-less sweltering beach with more mosquitoes than grains of sand, we decided to kill some time by taking the tour. We had read a lot of negative reviews about these cheap tours where you are just dropped off at a place and picked up after some time, so we kept our expectations low.

The car that picked us up from our Long Son Campground Hostel was an old US military car. It was on time and it appeared to be just us on the tour. The first stop was the one we were most excited about, the Fairy Stream. Just as expected, our driver dropped us off by the entrance and told us to be back in an hour.

We left our shoes in a large pile near a lady selling souvenirs and food before stepping into the warm muddy water. It felt like we were at a foot spa! We spent an hour walking through the stream and the views were spectacular. It was such a unique magical place with cute cows grazing alongside the river.

There were some bad things too, like some trash in the water, signs for cruel ostrich riding and a tiny zoo that clearly didn’t care about the well being of it’s unhappy animals. Other than that and the lady that tried to cheat us by giving us the wrong change (very common in Vietnam unfortunately) it was a lot of fun and already worth the $5.

When we returned to our driver, he was relaxing and smoking with six new tourists who were joining us for the rest of the tour. Sure, we had to squeeze a bit to fit into the car, but at least we had company and the people were all chatty and fun! We started getting to know them on our way to our next stop, the fish market.

Maybe we should stop reading reviews of the places we plan on visiting, because people had some horrible things to say about the fish market. Someone referred to it as a seafood cemetery, which was a pretty accurate description… but aren’t all food markets seafood cemeteries? Anyway, we could smell it several minutes before we arrived.

The fishing market/village consisted of many stalls selling fish and a cool view of fishing boats in nearby waters. Yes, there were lots of dead crabs and fish all over the place too but there’s plenty of those in the super markets and in your sushi. It smelled quite horrible so we didn’t stay long, but I enjoyed spending those 10 minutes taking photos and videos, plus the place was pretty fascinating if you gave it a change.

Next we drove for a long time down winding roads with free roaming cows everywhere until we reached the white sand dunes. Here we could either walk or rent a ATV to explore the sand dunes. We started off walking but ended up running back and talking the ATV rental guy down to a price we liked. I’ll get into this in another post, but it was so much fun and definitely worth the money! We did almost die once… but it was all fine in the end.

After inhaling lots of sand we set off to the red sand dunes. We were tired so we just sat on the peak watching people take selfies and slide down in makeshift sleds rented by local children. We had already done some sand sledding in Inner Mongolia and didn’t need any more sand in our hair, eyes or ears. The sun was started to set so we had a beautiful view!

Once it was time to leave, we discovered that since everyone else was headed in the opposite direction, they would be taken by car and we had to wait for a friend of our driver to take us back on his motorcycle. Although we were assured that it was free, we still had our doubts and weren’t too happy with the arrangement.

The guy who picked us up was friendly and started talking to us about where we were from and how we like Vietnam. After asking us if we had children, he told us about his family and showed us two photos of his newborn son that were suspiciously in an otherwise empty album. We thought he was just making small talk until he arrived at our hostel and suddenly asked for money.

When we said that the guide told us it was free (and he paid the guy right in front of us) he said yes, it’s free, but give me money for my son. He pulled out his phone again to show us pictures and almost begged for the money. Unfortunately for him, we did not appreciate this and walked away with him yelling about his son.

The entire tour lasted about 4 hours and was a great way to see all the sights, meet fellow travelers and experience some truly unique places. If we had wanted to save money, we could have taken the buy everywhere (maybe not the white sand dunes, they were really far away). It was definitely worth the $5 to have a car take us everywhere. Make sure that you ask around to get the cheapest tour, we’ve read about people paying $5 for each individual stop, which wouldn’t have been worth it.

 

Mui Ne, Vietnam: Is it Worth Visiting?

Making an itinerary for a three-week Vietnam trip solely based on online research is extremely difficult. Everyone has different suggestions and no one can seem to agree on the right amount of time to actually spend there. Some manage to see all the highlights in a week while others claim that even two months isn’t enough.

Our 20-day trip seemed to be the ideal length but could have been better planned. The first thing we would have done differently is flying less. We should have flown into Ho Chi Minh and back out of Hanoi, plus taken the bus from Da Lat up to Hanoi (with a few stops along the way). The second big thing would have been cutting our time in Mui Ne and spending it in Hoi An instead.

We spent three days in Mui Ne because we wanted to relax on the beach. We didn’t know that it wouldn’t be possible to enjoy the beach because the water was shallow, it was too hot, there was zero shade on the beach and the sand flies are the devil’s spawn. It just wasn’t the right time of the year to be there.

In addition to the crazy heat and bugs, we didn’t like getting constantly harassed about buying stuff or given motorcycle rides. We couldn’t get a moment of peace outside our hostel. It was also quite hard to get around the city without a motorcycle, which is technically illegal for tourists and the police do give out fines in Mui Ne especially. There’s taxis that are overpriced and a cheap bus that’s too hot to wait for.

The one time we ventured out on our own to explore and look for rum to put in our coconuts, we found a market. Before I complain about the sanitary conditions, keep in mind that I live in China. Where children poop into egg cartons in the middle of aisles at food markets. This market still managed to shock me with it’s grossness…

Most of the food was displayed on towels on the ground. The ground was wet and sticky with blood and juices from fish, rotting fruit and who knows what else. Just outside the market we saw a woman with a motorcycle full of chickens (like 30.) Hung upside down by their feet, squawking in pain as she yanked their wings to rearrange them. I was still a meat eater at this point but was appalled by the unnecessary cruelty.

Not everything in Mui Ne is horrible. The hostel we stayed at, Long Son Mui Ne Campground was an awesome place perfect for both party people and families. They organized a tour to four of the cool sights in the city, which were also great.

The Fairy Stream looked like something from a beautiful alien planet. The other top places were the smelly but cool fisherman village and the sand dunes. But you can visit all of these places in just a few hours… so that’s why I would recommend only staying a maximum of 36 hours. This would also give you enough time to visit the Czech Restaurant.

Our Stay at Long Son Mui Ne Campground

Mui Ne is a popular beach town located not far from Ho Chi Minh. It is a popular travel destination for local and foreign tourists alike, predominantly Russians. Many of the signs and restaurants have Russian translations and there’s even a restaurant that translates to “Fires of Moscow”.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to go to the restaurant although it was recommended to us because it didn’t seem to be open during our stay. We were fascinated by their snake vodka, but maybe it’s better that we didn’t end up costing some poor snake it’s life just to get drunk off it’s blood. Anywhooo…

We planned to spend three nights in Mui Ne at the Long Son Mui Ne Campground. When we naively booked our entire trip from China, I picked a tent overlooking the beach instead of a room. As soon as we arrived in Vietnam we called them to change to a room because of the crazy heat. It wasn’t a problem, but they only had a 12-bedroom dorm available.

It was a nice room and we loved everything about it except for one not so friendly roommate who went out of her way to make us feel uncomfortable. She didn’t even anyone eat in the room because it made her feel sick and she apparently had food poisoning that suspiciously came after a late night of drinking.

Unlike our unfriendly roommate, the staff was great and tried to get us involved in daily activities. We were not up for the drinking games but we did sign up for a ridiculously cheap $5 tour of all (four) attractions in the small city.

Along with a reasonably priced bar, there was a nice selection of food. They had Western options like burgers and salads, but also Vietnamese spring rolls, soups and baguette-style sandwiches. The bar was right by the beach with lots of seating with an ocean view. There were also swings on the beach and several reclining chairs for sunburning.

Sunburning, unfortunately, is not a typo. It was really hot, there were no umbrellas anywhere on the beach (not just on this beach, but the entire stretch of beach) plus the mosquitoes and sand flies were vicious. But that was not the hostels’ fault.

So basically, the hostel was great, cheap and friendly. We’d recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind dorm rooms or wants to sleep in a tent on the beach (who doesn’t if it’s cool enough?) But I definitely don’t recommend visiting Mui Ne in June – August or for a long period of time at any time of the year to be honest. There are much better beaches on Cat Ba island (Ha Long Bay).

We spent a lot of time inside reading and relaxing, trying to ignore the guest that shall not be named. It’s very unlike us because we’re always on the go doing stuff. It was a nice break from an otherwise hectic trip, but 36 hours would have been more than enough in the boiling, bug infested city. At least they sold cheap Tiger Balm that I had to rub on several dozen bites.

LongSon MuiNe Campground is one of the cheapest options in Mui Ne, has a great selection of well-priced food and drinks and the $5 tour made all the less appealing things worth it. You can read more about our Mui Ne experience in my upcoming posts! You can see the hostel for yourself in my YouTube video here.