A tour to Mui Ne Sand Dunes is an absolute must if you are visiting Vietnam, from rolling banks of sands to an amazing view at sunrise (or susnset), a visit to these dunes is truly a once in a lifetime experience. For less than $5 per person for a nearly half day tour, this is the perfect excursion for backpackers and travelers on a budget.
Getting There: pickup is arranged from your hotel or hostel.
Costs: 500,000 VND for a private jeep tour for up to 6 people, includes transport and entrance fees.
Suggested Times: tour runs from 4am until about 11am
Additional Information: bring breakfast with you or at least some snacks as it is a long morning without eating!
Vietnam is well known for it’s natural beauty, from the waterfalls of Dalat to the coastal scenery of Halong Bay, the one thing I wasn’t expecting in Vietnam were epic sand dunes sprawling over miles and miles of desert! Realistically if you’re in Mui Ne this is a must do tour. There are a plethora of travel booking offices all along the main road running through Mui Ne where you can book a tour. If you have a group the private jeep tours are the best, and if there are 4 to 6 of you the cost if less than $5 each.
You have two options for the tour, Sunrise and Sunset. I chose to do sunrise as the sunsets from the beach in Mui Ne are pretty good and there is something a bit more magical about watching the sun come up with the excitement of what the day will have in store for you.
Waking up nice and early at 4am our Jeep driver picked us up from the hotel and started the journey to the first stop: the white sand dunes. Situated about 22 km outside of Mui Ne our driver raced through the empty streets getting us there before 5am. When you arrive there’s an ATV shop trying to rent you ATV’s, while this is an awesome way to explore the sand dunes if you don’t want to break the bank or are a budget backpacker (it’s around $20 for 30 minutes) channel the Lawrence of Arabia in you and walk.
It’s pitch black when you arrive, so deciphering which is the biggest and best sand dune to get a view from can be a little tricky. Either follow the big groups or do as we did and meander your way through the dunes until you can gauge which one is biggest. Sitting atop the sand dunes you suddenly have an understanding of just how epic in scale they are, some of them are upwards of 50 meters high. It’s only at the top when you are looking down on the tiny dots climbing them that you appreciate the scale of them.
You’ve got about 90 minutes at the white sand dunes to watch the sunrise, so pick a good spot, set up your camera and enjoy the sun popping through the clouds and illuminating the epic scenery surrounding you. After which you can wander around the sand dunes, or if you want a speedy way to the bottom you can borrow a plastic sand board from one of the kids who have now set up at the top of the dune. For 20,000 VND you’ve got a quick and easy way to get to the bottom of the dune, sit yourself on the sheet of plastic and strap in for a quick descent to the bottom.
Next stop are the Red Sand Dunes, about 7 km outside of Mui Ne. If you are getting a bit hungry by this point ask your driver to stop somewhere for a bit of breakfast as they’ll know the best spots on the way to the Red Dunes. These are exactly what they sound like, sand dunes which are red. Exciting right?! Not quite as impressive as the first stop of the day, although the views out over the coast are beautiful. Again you’ve got about an hour to explore the sand dunes, so have a wander around them, rent a sand board or do as I did and just run down them really quickly trying not to fall on your face.
There’s two more stops on the tour, first is the fishing village of Ham Nin which is only a brief stop to see the locals fishing, sorting through their catch and getting a taste for what their lives are like. The second and last stop is the ‘fairy stream’ which is known for its red waters and palm covered side banks. There are mixed reviews about this stream and I can see why as I came out with mixed feelings. In essence it’s a 3 inch deep stream that runs along a fairly interesting rock formation. Don’t get me wrong it’s very pretty, it’s just that there are weird places along the stream, an Ostrich farm where you can ride Ostriches (Not that anyone should) and a restaurant with a pet crocodile and a couple of monkeys, super weird.
After a short walk down the fairy stream it’s back to the jeep for the drive back to the hotel. Arriving back at around 11am, it’s fair to say that you pack in quite a lot to the morning tour. If the weather is good the sunrise is spectacular but even if it’s a cloudy morning the changing of night to day while sitting atop a massive sand dune is a pretty special experience.