Mui Ne Vietnam tourist guide

The Red Sand Dunes

Until the mid-1990s, Mui Ne was just another fishing village on Vietnam’s sinuous and seemingly endless coast. Then some Vietnamese star-gazers came here to witness an eclipse of the sun and realized that the sweeping curve of beach was ripe for development. The transformation since then has been breath-taking, and Mui Ne is now one of the country’s most popular beach destinations, vying with Nha Trang, around 200kms to the north, for top spot.

Mui Ne consists of a string of resorts, guest houses, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops along a 10kms beach road that leads to the fishing village itself. Though there are a few budget hotels, most resorts here are up-market, and more are opening all the time. One coincidental fact that has fuelled this development is that Mui Ne can be reached from Saigon in a few hours by road, making it an excellent weekend escape for frazzled expats and Vietnamese who need to relax.

Mui Ne’s laid-back vibe is certainly a drawing card, but it is also a tourist enclave, cut off from Vietnamese culture, except for the staff who work in the resorts and restaurants, so there’s little to learn about the country here. There are also few nearby attractions, but most people are here to lounge on the beach or go wind-surfing or kite-surfing. If you’re looking for a beach where you know you’re in Vietnam and there’s plenty of nightlife, you’d have more fun in Nha Trang.

The region around Mui Ne experiences a micro-climate that is distinct from anywhere around. It receives little rainfall, a factor in the creation of the nearby dunes that are the area’s big attraction after the beach and surfing. From August to April, gusty winds blow in, creating ideal conditions for wind-surfing, though kite-surfing is now becoming much more popular. Several outfits along the main road rent equipment and offer instruction for beginners, though rates aren’t cheap.

The winds that attract surfers also have a downside, as surging tides between October and December drag away the sand on the beach, and some resorts have had to shore their frontage up with sandbags, spoiling their ‘tropical paradise’ image. All resorts have their own restaurants, tour desk and gift shop, and many also feature a spa, so they can satisfy their guests’ every need. Still, most visitors will want to explore beyond the boundaries of their own resort and sample some of the other restaurants and bars along the beach road.

On the outskirts of Mui Ne are areas of sand dunes, some red and some white, making for a striking vision. All visitors feel tempted to climb the dunes to see the view beyond, but this can be a painful experience in the midday heat, especially if you are wearing sandals, as the sand is red-hot. Be wise and go dune climbing in the early morning or evening, when they are more atmospheric. Another way to see them is by walking up Fairy Spring, which is actually a small stream that runs down out of the dunes to the sea. The shapes of the dunes are spectacular, and their bright colouring makes them even more attractive on a sunny day.

The fishing village itself is also photogenic, especially when hundreds of boats are bobbing in the bay, and you might also see fishermen setting out incoracles, primitive baskets basted with tar to keep them afloat. Another typical feature of Vietnam – fish sauce – is produced in houses around the village. Look out for huge covered vats standing in the yards, though your nose will probably let you know you’re near before you see them, as this secret ingredient in Vietnamese cuisine is pungent, to say the least.

A couple of kilometres off the road leading to Mui Ne from the nearby town of Phan Thiet stands a cluster of Cham towers called Po Shanu. They are not the most impressive towers along the coast, but are worth a look if you have not hade a close look at Cham towers elsewhere. The site also enjoys sweeping views up and down the coast.

That’s about it for Mui Ne’s attractions, unless you’re a golfer, in which case you might like to take on the Sealinks Golf Course, which is also off the beach road as it approaches Mui Ne. This is one of the country’s newest and most impressive courses, with fabulous views from every tee. Fees are around US$50 for 18 holes.

Where to sleep in Mui Ne

Mia Resort Mui Ne: A delightful retreat featuring thatched bungalows decorated with local textiles, a swimming pool bar, restaurant and surfing tuition. Rooms from US$82; 24 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St., Ham Tien, Mui Ne, Central Mui Ne Beach, Phan Thiet… more details and booking

Little Mui Ne Cottages: An excellent mid-range choice, this well-designed compound features bungalows tucked away from each other and a big pool in the middle. There’s free internet access and use of bicycles for guests. Rooms from US$48; 10B Huynh Thuc Khang Street, Ham Tien Ward, Mui Ne/East Ham Tien, Phan Thiet… more details and booking

Thai Hoa: One of the few budget places remaining, this no-frills place offers basic concrete bungalows with fan or air con set around a spacious garden. Rooms from US$40; 56 Huynh Thuc Khang Street, Mui Ne/East Ham Tien, Phan Thiet… more details and booking

More on Mui Ne hotels.

Where to eat in Mui Ne

Champa: Located in the Coco Resort at 58 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, this atmospheric restaurant serves exquisite French dishes in a refined setting and also has an impeccable service to match the food. Open: from 15:00 (closed Monday); 58 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, tel: +84 62 384 7111/2/3, email: paradise@cocobeach.net, website: www.cocobeach.net.

Smoky House: As the name suggests, barbecue is the speciality at this no-frills but welcoming restaurant. Portions are huge and prices are very reasonable. 125 Nguyen Dinh Chieu, tel: +84 62 374 3020.

Getting to Mui Ne

There’s really only one option for getting to Mui Ne, which is to take an open-tour bus from Saigon or Nha Trang. These will drop you right along the beach road (usually at a resort in which they have a stake), and they leave from the same place. There’s no airport near, and the train line passes inland at this point of the coast.