Living in Ho Chi Minh City is wonderful; I’m never bored in this dynamic and bustling city. After a while, however, one definitely begins to feel an itch to escape the craziness, if just for a short while. And so last Saturday night I packed a bag and climbed abroad a bus to Mui Ne, a beach town about five hours away from Saigon in search of some natural beauty and a little peace and quiet.
Accompanying me was my friend Dan (of the Cambodia visa run). Dan is a smart guy, however, as this journey proved, he does not always make smart decisions: namely, deciding to drink five cans of beer before alighting a bus with no bathroom. Never fear, he said, he had a large bottle of water with him which he could use to relieve himself if necessary. Sadly, Dan did not think to empty the bottle beforehand, and so in order to use it he first had to down a litre and a half of water, which, in the long run, only left him in worse pain. While I slept blissfully on the surprisingly comfortable bus, Dan spent the night in agony and had to endure the shame of reliving himself under a blanket whilst laying above a family with a young child.
Dan’s urine aside, the journey went smoothly and we were in Mui Ne before we (or perhaps just I) knew it. It was 3.30am and we had an hour to kill before our sunrise tour started, so we decided to wander to the beach. Using our phone torches we crossed a patch of greenery and found a clearing next to the sand. As we stepped out, Dan shone his torch in an unfortunate direction and his first sight of the Mui Ne beach was, as he described it, a man “bare-ass, taking a dump on the sand.” Nice. (That’s the end of discussing bodily functions for this entry, I promise).
Walking in the opposite direction to the midnight shitter, we wandered along the beach for a while and snacked on peanuts to keep us going until breakfast, whenever that would be. Just before 4.30, we met our tour guides, Mr Binh and Ken, who made us some much-needed coffee before our tour began. On the backs of their motorbikes, we rode through Mui Ne and arrived on the white sand dunes just as the sun was starting to rise. Ignoring my mum’s warnings about flipping ATVs on Countryfile (love ya, mumma) we hired a quad bike. The man in charge of the operation suggested driving us up there first and we agreed. The next 2.5 seconds were terrifying as we flew across the dunes and the thought “no way” crossed my mind.
I quickly forgot my terror once at the top of the dunes; the scenery was absolutely beautiful. The golden sunrise made the sand glow and the morning was so clear that you could see for miles. We stayed up there, marvelling, for a good while until Mr. Quad Bike came to collect us. Thankfully, he also stayed on the bike with us to help us drive it back, and I oh-so-generously let Dan go first. We also didn’t drive anywhere near as fast as we went on the way up, which made me far less afraid for my life. After twenty minutes or so of biking around, our time was up and we headed back to our guides to be taken to the next stop.
Next up was a temple that didn’t seem to be part of most conventional tours; outside of our small party, we didn’t see another soul during out visit. That may be due to the fact that it was closed; we couldn’t go inside, but it was definitely worth it to be able to visit at such a quiet and peaceful time. It may sound cliche, but it was truly refreshing to only be able to hear the sounds of nature after three months without leaving Ho Chi Minh (crazy border run aside).
After the temple we went to see more sand dunes. Mr Binh explained to us that he did not want to take us to the touristy red sand dunes as the overcrowding was “horrible” and instead took us to a spot nearby. There was both red and white sand here, as well as cows trekking uphill by themselves. Ken explained that they do this every morning, and returned at 4pm each afternoon, completely of their own accord. He also explained that these dunes were not natural ones but rather created by the extraction of the black sand underneath.
Next up was a fishing village; again, we were the only tourists there. Ken explained to us about the types of fish caught and how the tub boats had changed over the years. Seeing fishermen go out in tub boats was something of a novelty for me, as I initially assumed that they were oversized buckets to put the fish in (in my defence, I was very tired…)
Having grown hungry, we stopped for a banh mi (or two, in Dan’s case) before visiting our final stop on the tour: the Fairy Stream, a creek surrounded by red earth. Paddling in the cool stream water was definitely welcome relief as the day had become very hot by this point, and the scenery was so idyllic that it felt almost dreamlike. It was definitely one of the highlights of the day.
Finally, the tour was over and our guides dropped us back by the beach we’d started at. We changed and headed towards the water. The amount of rubbish washed up by the sea was a little disappointing, but on the plus side we pretty much had the whole beach to ourselves. Naturally, we did the mature adult thing and dug a big hole in the sand. Dan also decided to bury me.
We passed several hours happily swimming, digging and sunbathing, and eventually decided to get some late lunch. Only then did we realise- despite frequent reapplication of UK-bought factor 50 sun cream- just how burnt we were… Lesson learned, I bought a kaftan beach dress from a nearby shop; I’m a redhead, I definitely can’t handle the Vietnamese sun and it’s time I just embraced that and learned to cover up.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing (and wincing) on the beach and building a makeshift sandcastle around the hole we had dug (like I say, mature adults). Our creation went untouched by anyone except us, until a cat decided that it looked a lot like a litter box and urinated on it (so maybe I lied when I said the ‘toilet’ section of the post was over). As darkness fell, we decided to shower in the bus station (it was as luxurious as you can imagine), get dinner and head home. The next bus didn’t leave Mui Ne til 0.30, leaving us with about three and a half hours to kill post-dins, so we found a cute cafe where we showed the owner our pictures from the day as he talked to us in Vietnamese about his plants (I think).
Finally, we decided to get aloe vera massages to soothe our sunburn. I was a little dubious about the legitimacy of the place we went to but, thankfully, all was fine. Except my masseur wasn’t very well and kept sneezing during, which was just a little gross.
Before we knew it, midnight rolled around and we boarded the bus back to Saigon. It was a perfect journey in that I shut my eyes in Mui Ne and opened them again in Ho Chi Minh, refreshed and ready to return to the noise.
Mui Ne was one of my highlights of Vietnam so far, and well worth the trip. I could have easily spent another day there, but one was plenty to see and do all of the main attractions, and have time to relax afterwards. Although the town very clearly caters to tourists, it is far from overrun; it felt like we hardly saw anyone the whole day. It was a great experience and I can’t wait for my next trip to the beach- although I’m definitely going to cover up next time…