Desert Diaries from Mui Ne

This 11-day journey is coming to a close but I am still far from discovering all of Vietnam’s treasures. Maybe that’s the best thing about traveling. You get to see the ones you have written for your itineraries, you get to experience new ones you did not know you will and there are some that are left to be the reasons for you to come back.

After a 6-hour sleeper bus ride to Phan Thiet, we were dropped off at a station where a car fetched us to bring us to the sand dunes. Our tour guide is a Japanese-looking Vietnamese guy. He is wearing this brown leather hat and an oversized, buttoned down ivory-coloured shirt. The car was a vintage jeep with no windows. I guess for a more airy feel.

We drove by a long stretch of barren roads. The view ahead is almost pitch black—I can’t see past the headlights. After 20 minutes, I started to smell the salty breeze. I knew we were already near a body of water. My peripheral vision can already see the sun gazing up gradually—like a gentle giant waking up from a deep sleep. One wave after the other it slowly became golden—shimmering, glistening, bringing the water to life.

Uncovering Eden- Mui Ne Vietnam 01

Our car arrived in Mui Ne at twilight—that extremely spiritual moment between total darkness and a glimpse of sun. We ordered two glasses of Vietnamese coffee at a make-shift store before heading out again. Two 4×4 ATV cars waited for us outside. My driver scooted a little forward to give ample room for me. Then with no warning at all, our car zoomed into the murky desert.

Uncovering Eden- Mui Ne Vietnam 02

We reached the top of Mui Ne’s White Sand Dunes in no time. The driver asked if I want to try and drive. I haven’t driven anything ever in my whole twenty-six years of existence. Hesitantly, I agreed. He alighted and I moved forward. I can feel my hands shaking. They can even hear it in my voice. But this is it—a once in a lifetime experience. I may experience it again, but never the same level of adrenaline because the circumstances are going to be somehow…different.

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I held the knob, turn it around a bit, and the car blasted forward like nobody’s business. So, out of nervousness, I wrapped my hands around the brakes tightly. And of course, the car stopped…forcefully. I tried driving one more time. Now with a little ease. And our movement went a little fluid and less bumpy.

The summit is everything I have expected—pinkish-white of pure sand, shaped into soft ridges by the gentle breezes. Countless foot markings lay on its top—as far as my sight could see. We stopped a bit to bask in its beauty—to realize that this is not a dream. That life can feel this good.

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Before we reach the cliff, the driver took the wheel again. Packs of tourists were standing near the edge, waiting for their turns to experience this daredevil act. The next events happened so fast I did not even had the chance to collect myself. I just found myself screaming as the car went almost vertical going down the slope. It was just a few seconds but the experience summed up our Vietnam trip. Short, fleeting but all worth the excitement. 

The pace slowed down as we maneuver towards an oasis. There, we had time to take photos, pretending we’re all fine, when our hearts were seemingly taken out of our bodies after that terrifying yet satisfying ride. Acting like our bodies are not uncontrollably shaking out of fear.

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Uncovering Eden- Mui Ne Vietnam 04

Next destination is Mui Ne’s Red Sand Dunes. But before we got there, our tour guide made a stop on a nearby fishing village. This is the place where the locals go to fish. It’s amazing how this peninsula was built. God really has an amazing eye for design. I haven’t seen a place where deserts line parallel to a long stretch of a body of water.

I ran down where the people are busy with their day jobs. On my left are middle-aged women collecting sea shells, separating the good ones from the bad ones. On my right are men who drag their circular boats ashore. The salt in the air made my lungs feel lighter. There is something therapeutic whenever I am near the waters. Maybe it’s because I’m a water sign or maybe it’s because my parents used to drive me to beaches every summer. Whatever the reason may be, I know I’m better off near it.

I frolicked by the shore, snapping photos one after another. Every click is dramatic. Every scene is postcard-ready. I was more than satisfied.

Uncovering Eden - Mui Ne Fishing Village

Uncovering Eden - Mui Ne Fishing Village

Uncovering Eden - Mui Ne Fishing Village

The heat suddenly shoot up once we arrived at Mui Ne’s Red Dunes. I was not prepared but I’m not the type of person to back out. Picture this, a five foot two Asian guy wearing a camo parka with khaki shorts in the middle of a burning desert. Imagine how hot I felt that day—but it’s all worth it. We walked past a couple of vendors sitting, patiently waiting for tourists like us to come and buy something from them. They are all wearing the same type of clothing —cotton, full-sleeved, skin-tight leggings, and a bandana over their heads.

We ran til we reached the top of the red dunes. Once there, the view you’ll see is beyond earthly. It is so unusual—like how NASA would graphically describe Mars—red sandy terrain, dry and humid.

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Uncovering Eden- Mui Ne Vietnam 09

I tried holding the sand, but I tend to lose them as soon as I press my palms against each other. Contrary to the temperature, the sand is a bit cold. I buried my feet on the sand just to have a feel and tried it a few times but I felt heavier and heavier every step so I stopped.

The skies look like sapphire blue gems against the rich orangey desert. And people look like tiny figures from where I stand. So surreal, so out-of-this-world, yet so real.

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Uncovering Eden - Mui Ne Vietnam
Can you focus on me?

For our last stop before heading back to Ho Chi Minh City, our guide brought us to Fairy Spring. Reddish rock formations aligned on its side whilst vast greenery made the right part its territory. The stream flows in the middle, from the creek to its source, which is a spring. This is a great way to end our trip here. Walking was a pleasant activity and also, it’s a time to cool down from the extreme heat we experienced prior this.

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Uncovering Eden- Mui Ne Vietnam 12
Kath is the coolest!

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Mui Ne has been a beautiful surprise. Blue coastlines, red sand dunes, green lush, all in a single place — what more can I ask for? I’m glad we found time to visit this. 6-hour drive from Saigon isn’t always the best experience, but it sure is worthy. I have never been to a place so diverse. Finding myself lost for words in describing a place is new to me but somehow Mui Ne has exceeded my expectations.