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Windsurfing was a rewarding new challenge, and getting off the beaten path to explore the mountain temple of Ta Cu was exhilarating, but nothing excited me more than the chance to see, photograph, and play in the famous Mui ne sand dunes.

There are two distinctive hot spots: The red dunes, about 20 minutes drive outside Mui Ne, are more visited and more prone to garbage and pollution. The white dunes are about an hour drive from Mui Ne and are also heavily visited by tour groups, though are in better condition. Never one to compromise, I insisted we had to see both. And so off on the bikes we went…

The Red Sand Dunes

Having never been to the Middle East or Africa, I had never laid eyes on such large rolling hills of sand. Not that we had the place to ourselves: photographers were setting up tripods, tourists were unloading from their jeep tours, and local kids were chasing after them with scraps of plastic offering rides down the dunes. My first impression? What a workout to walk through! Still, I couldn’t have been happier to be there.

After snapping the above shot of me, Mark, my favorite camera model, wanted a jump shot of his own. And I wanted to take advantage of our surroundings, named by Lonely Planet as a “photographer’s paradise.” While in one direction the sun was beginning to set, in the other direction sat the most beautiful sky of clouds I’ve ever been lucky enough to photograph. There were several takes…

… but finally we got “The Shot,” on of my favorites of the year!

And of course then I wanted in on the fun as well.

I found it very difficult to get that perfect picture of the dunes without footprints or debris. This was about as close as I got, though I could do without that patch-of-something in the middle.

The following black and white photo is, in my opinion, simply the best photo Mark has ever taken. Lucky me to be the subject!

I was having a blast shooting at the dunes (seriously, I was giggling like a schoolgirl) but there were also challenges. Low light, the wind whipping sand into my camera and into my s, and people and footprints trying to creep into every shot. It’s a miracle we got anything!

I was eager to see the white sand dunes as well, so we packed up to leave as 20 more jeep tours rolled up.

Mark couldn’t resist a few last jumps.

The downside of deciding to DIY (do-it-yourself) your own tour is that you don’t have all that insider knowledge and info, like where exactly the white sand dunes are located.

So we drove around fairly fruitlessly, enjoying the deserted roads and neon sky… and vowing to get better directions tomorrow.

The White Sand Dunes

The next day we teamed up with some friends who were also determined to find the white sand dunes. Armed with loosely written directions and our knowledge from the day before, we set off for the hour long drive along the coast.

It turns out we had been right all along the day before, we just hadn’t gone far enough. But all is well that ends well and we were enjoying riding with our new friends and traveling as a group, though unfortunately we did catch the eye of some extortionate traffic cops. Mark and I managed to hide off the side of the road but the other three bikes ended up with bogus fines.

Our timing was perfect, getting us to the sand dunes just in time for sunset and just as the majority of jeep tours were heading towards the red sand dunes.

Immediately I agreed with the consensus that the white dunes were infinitely more attractive. The scenic lake butting up next to them didn’t hurt either.

I do most of my shooting in bright daylight, so I admit I’m a bit disappointed by the quality of some of these low light photos. Obviously this is my fault and not the cameras…. always room for improvement!

I did get a few photos I’m happy with, like this one:

And what was Mark up to? What a surprise, jumping off a few more sand dunes.

This was one of the most amazing sunsets of my life. The company and the setting combined to make a sublime evening. Best of all, we had the dunes nearly to ourselves.

We watched patiently as the sky turned from this…

…to this.

Would you believe me if I said these photos aren’t altered in photoshop? I have a video coming up with some clips of this sunset that might make you a believer.

When our minds and our memory cards were full and we started to get up and go, we were greeted by the bizarre sight of two people running towards us in morph suits. I was dying to see what they were up to, but we had to use what little light was left to get back to town. If anyone has seen these two circulating the web in a viral video or something, let me know!

And with that perfect evening, our exploration of Mui Ne was complete. I can’t recommend this beachside town more highly. Adrenaline junkies, photographers, beach bums, wanderers… there’s something for everyone in this little corner of Vietnam.

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37 Comments...
  • Zoe
    January 27 2012

    LOVE!! great post
    have you ever heard of the painted hills in Oregon? not quite as soft, so no jumping for Mark, but looks beautiful…

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2012

      Um, WOW! I just googled. What an amazing place! I might have to add that to the bucket list…

  • Jen
    January 27 2012

    Absolutely beautiful pictures! I think they came out great!
    Jen recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      January 28 2012

      Thanks Jen! I appreciate it! They are some of my favorites from my travels.

  • Roy
    January 28 2012

    These photos are amazing!

  • Fidel
    January 28 2012

    Great shots. And kudos to you for keeping it honest. Some would opt for photoshop to erase the footprints, blown sand. By the way, how did you keep the sand out of your CCD? I am afraid of changing lenses on the beach because I’ve ruined on DSLR already with sand on my CCD.

    • Meihoukai
      January 30 2012

      I definitely would not do any lens changing at these dunes! I was freaking out a little about all the sand blowing around and could even hear it crunching as I turned my zoom lens… but then I remembered a photographer’s post I saw after burning man about how his camera survived the desert sand. So I calmed myself with that and just tried to wipe it down best I could when I got home.

  • Olivia
    January 29 2012

    OK before my favorite post of yours was the zoo one but now this one is by far your best one. Yay!

    • Meihoukai
      January 30 2012

      Okay so… Olivia likes photo-heavy posts πŸ™‚ Good to know.

  • Karla Stride
    January 30 2012

    Hi Meihoukai,

    Gorgeous pics! My partner is taking me to Saigon next week for my 30th birthday and we originally just planned to explore Saigon but after seeing your post I think we will scrub that and go to Mui Ne instead! Thank you! =)

    • Meihoukai
      January 30 2012

      I’m so glad to hear that! Personally I think Mui Ne is a much better place to celebrate a birthday πŸ™‚ Be sure to check out the fairy spring and Ta Cu mountain as well! Happy birthday!

  • Pippa Jackson
    January 31 2012

    Great article Hun – especially love the shots, it totally took me back! It really was a very special day that one wasn’t it!! X

    • Meihoukai
      January 31 2012

      It was! One of my favorite things about Vietnam was the scenery. I have some great video footage too…. coming soon!

  • alexis
    February 1 2012

    beautiful photos on the sand! made me miss the Sahara! great post!
    alexis recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 1 2012

      Thank Meihoukaiis! I figure it will be quite a while before I make it to the real Sahara… so this will have to suffice for now! πŸ™‚

  • melvin
    February 12 2012

    wow! nice post.i’m going to vietnam soon and mui ne is on top of my list
    melvin recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 13 2012

      Mui Ne is amazing! You should also check out my posts about Ta Cu mountain, the ferry spring, and windsurfing. All are must-do’s!

  • Dani | Globetrottergirls
    February 22 2012

    Wow, these photos are amazing!! This is not how I would picture Vietnam at all!
    Dani | Globetrottergirls recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 22 2012

      I know! I never imaged anywhere in Southeast Asia to look like this. I guess you never know until you go!

  • melvin
    March 31 2012

    i’m going to mui ne in May and i cant wait! i love your photos.

    • Meihoukai
      April 2 2012

      Thanks Melvin! Mui Ne was one of my favorite places in Vietnam. I’m sure you will love it!

  • david from france
    July 5 2012

    Do you love your experience in vn?

    • Meihoukai
      July 6 2012

      Hi David, you should check out my post “Vietnam: Love It or Hate It” to get a real sum-up of my opinions about it!

  • Kelly
    May 27 2013

    Love this blog! I was already excited to see the sand dunes in Mui Ne and your photo’s made me look forward to it even more. So glad we went, we definitely weren’t disappointed πŸ™‚

    • Meihoukai
      May 28 2013

      Thanks so much Kelly! Glad you made it to Mui Ne, it was one of my highlights of Vietnam! What a beautiful place.

  • John Wong
    March 27 2014

    Hi again Meihoukai,
    What a zest for life you have. So I am reading up on all your posts about Mui Ne… curious to see what you think since I’ve been living here for over a year now. I am a Malaysian expat based in Vietnam and traveling the region since 2005. If you are headed this way again, it would be my pleasure to take you to some little known spots.. and that goes for your friends too.
    John Wong recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 27 2014

      Thanks for the offer, John! Not sure when I’ll return to Vietnam but if I do I may take you up on it πŸ™‚

  • Xin Chao Vietnam
    May 20 2014

    Nice shots Meihoukai. The pictures make me remember here. I should come here this summer again:)

    • Meihoukai
      May 24 2014

      It’s a beautiful place! I’d love to return someday.

  • Lam
    October 1 2014

    Hi Meihoukai, I stumbled on your blog and loooooove it. A friend and I are headed to VN in November and would love to see the sand dunes and fairy stream… Do you remember where you stayed and how you rented the motorbikes?

    • Meihoukai
      October 2 2014

      Hey Lam! Unfortunately I was a bad blogger back then and didn’t note helpful things like that πŸ™‚ Sorry! But don’t worry, there are a million options around town and as this was several years ago I’m sure the options have changed!

  • Tania
    February 5 2015

    I just wanted to say that I can’t thank you enough for your website.I am sitting in South Korea at my last day of work before I set out on a big trek around Asia. Then it’s off to a new home in Australia for the year and then a year in Canada. Two years ago I was sat at home in tiny Wales wishing I could do these things. Blogs like yours have inspired and excited me. Your enthusiasm for life jumps off the page.
    I am just finishing up my research into the places we are going and I got so excited reading about Mui Ne.
    To you and other travel bloggers that take the time to share your experiences. Thank you, I realise this is just a silly comment compared to the hundreds you get daily but…Thank you.
    Tania recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      February 6 2015

      Thank you so much Tania — this comment means a lot! Travel blogs like this also inspired and excited me to get up and start traveling, so I’m just paying it forward. You rock — happy travels on that big beautiful jaunt around Asia!

  • Nazira
    April 29 2016

    Hi there! I’ll be going on a solo trip to Vietnam and Mui Ne will be one of my stops. I’d love to rent a bike and visit the sand dunes, and seeing that you did, was there a place to park the bikes and you just walked all the way up there? πŸ˜€

    • Meihoukai
      April 29 2016

      Hey Nazira, it’s been ages since I was there but from what I recall parking was fairly painless and yup, we just walked to the dunes from there. Enjoy!