We haven’t had much of a chance to explore many places in southern Vietnam other than the Mekong Delta, and it feels like our time here is running out very quickly! So we made the most of a Labour Day bank holiday weekend at the beginning of May and travelled to Mui Ne, a coastal fishing town in the Binh Thuan Province. However it felt like all of Saigon and their extended families had the same idea when we arrived at our bus pick up point on Saturday morning. Crowds of pushy Vietnamese families and slightly bewildered travellers huddled together as we awaited our allocated buses that arrived in a constant stream, 5 minutes apart from one another. We watched nervously as one group, close to tears, complained that they’d missed their bus due to a miscommunication surrounding the pick up point. There was no way there would be room on any of the other coaches and they were sent away. Luckily, we were herded on to our sleeper bus at 8:10am with no issues and settled down for the 5 hour journey.

Mui Ne is home to hundreds of beach resorts, bars, restaurants, and has two main beaches, which was the fundamental draw for us, as we haven’t had nearly enough beach bumming around time in our 9 months away from home. The strong sea breeze makes Mui Ne a popular destination for kite surfers and windsurfers, but we were happy to laze around and soak up the sunshine. After arriving at lunchtime and checking in (to an upgraded room) we hit the long sweeping bays to catch the afternoon rays. It wasn’t long before we made our way to dinner; seafood was the obvious choice and BiBo had rave reviews so off we went. We didn’t realise how big Mui Ne was until we began our hike to the restaurant, arriving 40 minutes after setting off. We were ravenous but the place was packed out so we had a long wait for food. When it did arrive (served by a 10 year old child who’d been roped in by his struggling family due to the madness of Labour Day) it was well worth the wait and devoured in minutes. We went for deep fried calamari, a BBQ’d red snapper, and a side of garlicky morning glory greens.

On our only full day in Mui Ne we planned a half-day trip to visit the infamous red and white sand dunes, but not before a sunning sesh on the beach. We plastered on the sun cream, but clearly weren’t thorough enough as we watched in horror as our skin burned a vibrant red as the day progressed. But we didn’t have time to dwell and hopped on a jeep with three other tourists; a French couple, and a solo American traveller. Our first stop was the Fairy Stream (Suoi Tien), a 30 minute paddle upstream in ankle deep water, with a wall of red rock on one side. There was an extremely underwhelming waterfall at the end and we weren’t particularly impressed. The next stopping point at a small fishing village was much nicer, with a beautiful view overlooking the colourful boats that bobbed in the harbor.

Finally, we sped towards the white sand dunes, the most impressive of all the destinations we were to visit. Some tourists hopped on the quad bikes to explore the sand dunes, but the five of us opted for a jeep ride to the top. Little did we know we would be embarking on a near death experience. Our driver was a lunatic and serious adrenalin junkie with an agenda of terrifying anyone brave enough to hop in the back of his car. We tore through the sand and up the steep dune sides before lurching over the other side, plummeting down a blind summit that took everyone by surprise. It was a near vertical drop that could have flipped the land rover upside down. We all screamed. It was very scary but also so much fun. If you want to hear our blood curdling cries for mercy, follow the link:

There were many more maniacs up at the top plunging down the sides of the dunes on sand boards, quad bikes and cars, careering through the sand and swerving us (still shaking) travellers as we fled for safety. The views were really beautiful and it was definitely the highlight of the Mui Ne trip.

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Our final stop of the day for sunset were the red dunes, where unfortunately the cloud cover meant we didn’t see the sun setting at all. It was dark by the time we were returned to our hotel and time for dinner; seafood paella! We didn’t walk 40 minutes for grub that night but instead lathered ourselves with after sun following an ice cold shower.

Our hotel choice was a lucky find, boasting 3 separate swimming pools, a restaurant and bar, all at a reasonable price. So we spent our final day around the shaded pool area, trying to find a comfortable position that wouldn’t aggravate our tender skin. Nothing was comfortable and even lying down pinched intolerably. We couldn’t enjoy any of the sunshine or blue skies, finding even the shade too oppressive to relax under. We felt very silly, and naïve in thinking we had a ‘base tan’ from living in this tropical climate therefore we wouldn’t get sunburnt. Next time on the beach it’ll be factor 50 all the way.

We caught our return bus to Saigon at 4pm, gently easing our red raw bodies onto the leather seats, wincing as the bus bumped its way home. Since Mui Ne, there has been a long healing process in regards to our sunburn. However we have been religious in our moisturizing and exfoliating (of course it peeled badly). The skin shedding is still an issue over a week on, with flakes sprinkling our bed sheets each morning. But we’ve learnt a valuable lesson: never trust a base tan.