Mui Ne is a small fishing village in south Vietnam. Just a short, five hour, bus journey from Saigon. It makes for a good stop on your tour of the country. Having lived and worked in Mui Ne for two months, I feel I have a good insight to the village.
How long do you need?
I would advise staying in Mui Ne for at least one or two full days. If you are an avid surfer or kite surfer then you should stay longer and take advantage of the strong winds in high season. However if you are like me and have the surfing abilities of a drunk walrus then two days is enough. You can see the dunes and fairy stream and still have time to relax and explore.
Where to stay?
When most people stay in Mui Ne they don’t actually stay in the village itself. There is a long tourist strip just outside the village with all the tourist bars, cafes and shops. Maybe it was planned cleverly by the locals to give them a break from the sheer number of visitors they get every year.
There are plenty of good budget hostels on the strip, as well as fancy resorts so there’s something for any budget. A friend of ours stayed in a hostel called IHome, right on the seafront, for 67 pence a night! If you do stay on this stretch just make sure you find the time go to the village and see the real Mui Ne.
If you want to stay in the village itself; one good option is Source Kiteboarding and Lodge. Breakfast is included and you get a daily fresh juice and coffee/tea. Rooms have a wonderful view of the sea and the harbour and the restaurant terrace has an unbeatable, panoramic view of the sunset.
What to see?
Mui Ne is famous for its sand dunes and Fairy Stream. All accommodation will offer to sort out tours for you to see them. As a budget traveller, I have often found ways to avoid tours. Whenever I can do something myself, I do.
You can visit all of these things yourself easily by scooter. However the benefit of the tour is that they will take you for either the sunrise and sunset. Now getting up before five for the sunrise is one thing.. but getting up even earlier and navigating your own way by scooter to the white sand dunes (which are a long way out of town) is another thing.
So if you would like to see them at sunrise, a tour would be advisable. You get driven in an old school Jeep to all of the destinations and can just sit back and relax. For those of you that are travelling solo, you should try and find people to do the tour with because you will split the jeep and bring the cost down.
Our house was just around the corner from the red sand dunes so, in low season we spent a lot of evenings there watching the sun go down, eating doughnuts and drinking Saigon. For me it’s okay that we never got round to seeing the white sand dunes because we have such lovely memories of the red ones.
Fairy Stream is an interesting attraction. Located within the tourist strip it’s easily accessible on your own and a great way to spend an afternoon. Entrance tickets cost us 15,000 VND (roughly 50p) however may be a bit more in high season. You will also have to pay for parking if you take the scooter but that only costs around 10,000 VND.
Hopefully when you visit Fairy stream it will have rained recently. We went twice, once in low season and once in high. I feet very sorry for the people that only see it in high season. When it has been raining the stream is much deeper, cleaner and fast flowing- making it a much more interesting experience. Visiting in low season meant there was less people around and since we weren’t on a tour, we practically got the place to ourselves. All the colours were much more vivid and it generally seemed like a much more natural, magical place.. like a stream where fairies dwell.
When to go?
Tying into what I have said about Fairy Stream, Mui Ne changes a lot between Low and High season. Personally, I preferred staying there during low season.
Monsoon season meant we got a refreshing shower every other evening. Some of the storms we witnessed were the most magnificent ones I have seen. Black and green billowing clouds would cover the sky, making the coastal landscape dramatically stunning. So long as you find shelter before it pours down, you can enjoy the serenity of watching the rain fall down.. if you’re lucky then you can watch it whilst treating yourself to a bowl of warm traditional Vietnamese Pho.
Roads are much safer in the low season. Driving a scooter can be a dangerous business if you don’t take it seriously. High season made the roads very crowded and the long tourist strip is quite a dangerous one to drive on. I saw three fatal crashes in the space of one month.. so do make sure you are cautious whilst driving.
Generally I would advise anyone who is coming to Mui Ne to come in Low season. Unless, what draws you in is the surf. Surfing and kite surfing is only possible November to around April.
Food Food Food!!!
Both the village and the tourist strip have a great selection of dining options. For live fresh seafood, I would advise going to the village itself. On your way in from the strip you will pass a number of high rated seafood restaurants that will be considerably cheaper than the ones in the tourist strip. If you are staying on the strip, be sure to visit one of the DIY BBQ restaurants. Going in a big group is best because you can order loads of different types of meat and try them all.
Street food in Mui Ne is really varied. My favourite was the seafood pancakes outside the petrol station on the main road of the village. You can also get really delicious banh mi just outside the market. Make sure you go inside the market in the morning to experience the truly, local life. This is all on the road called ‘Huynh Thuc Khang’.
The Food Court is a great place to go for dinner and drinks. It’s located on the tourist strip and has food from all over the world. Beers are decently priced too; you can buy IPAs for around 30,000 VND (roughly £1) which is normally quite hard to find in Asia. There’s a large selection of different lagers and ales to choose from so you can spend a long time there. All the food we had was really good. My recommendation would be the Indian- mouthwatering curries and life-changing Garlic and cheese Naan.
During travels you can reach a point when you just really crave all the foods from back home. Luckily for me, we found an English Pub in Mui Ne that serves all sorts of British delicacies, including Sunday roasts. If you have been on the road for a while, you may well appreciate a trip to The Crown and Anchor. We went for a Sunday lunch and although it is a bit pricey for Vietnam standards, it hits the spot just right. Each of us got a roast and then we also shared a portion of mac’ and cheese and a yorkie wrap. Worth every dong.
Spending two months in Mui Ne and only working around 25 hours a week, gives you a little too much free time on your hands. Luckily for us we enjoy visiting cafes where we can play cards and people watch.
There are some really great cafes in the village but they won’t appear on any TripAdvisor or online search. Our favourite was Coffee and Tea on Huynh Tan Phat. A lot of young locals hang out there so there’s a nice atmosphere. Staff are so friendly and the coffee is delightful; it costs only 14,000 VND (roughly 46 pence) for a Vietnamese coffee with milk and you will also get a large mug of iced tea with it to keep you hydrated. This will be a good place to visit on the way to the sand dunes if you are renting a scooter and finding them yourself.
Another cafe on the same street is Chilli. They serve delicious noodle broths with either shrimp or chicken. In the evening this cafe is more like a restaurant, it’s bustling locals. Everyone is drinking and chatting and enjoying the delicious spicy broth.
When we were living in Mui Ne we lived without air con. Most accommodation will have air con unless you opt for a budget room with a fan. Luckily we had two months to get used to sweating ourselves to sleep and were fine with it by the end. However if you are craving a place to cool down, there’s a small cafe on Huynh Thuc Khang.
I never found out the name but it is opposite the large electronic store and you can recognise it from the condensation on the windows- caused by the glorious air con. Staff are super friendly and make you feel welcome. There’s all sorts of fun bubble teas to try as well as regular Vietnamese coffees. All of which, is at local price so its at least half the price of the cafes on the tourist strip. We only found this cafe towards the end of our time here and it came as a huge relief. So bring out the playing cards, air out the pits and treat yourself to an icy beverage.
If you are a scooter-riding foreigner and visit in high season you will almost definitely experience some bother with the police. So wear your helmet, carry your license with you, drive at what you imagine the speed limit should be and no matter how many locals are going through the red lights.. don’t do it yourself.
Police are very corrupt in Vietnam and luckily for us we got warned about them by our friend so we knew what to expect. They like to bother tourists because they can easily make money, lots of money, off them. Some days, they wait at check points and pull over every tourist, then ask to see their Vietnamese license.
They will then use what they can- an absence of a Vietnamese license or you breaking the speed limit- to charge you a fine of 1,000,000 VND (roughly £33). Our friend told us that every time we get pulled over, we should calmly say to them that we have been stopped before and paid 500,000 VND already. Each time we did this, they let us go on. Don’t be an idiot and do what one person did, refuse to pay and attempt to drive off causing them to take his bike from him.
Other perks of inside knowledge
A trip to the Salon
Feeling groomed and pretty whilst long term travelling can be a challenge sometimes. Especially when you’re in such a humid climate. I was a bit hesitant about getting my hair cut whilst abroad at first due to the language barriers but after a while of putting up with my long thick hair in the heat I gave in.
So I saved a few pictures of what I wanted and went with a friend to a hairdressers near our house called Salon Red. It’s on the same street as Coffee and Tea, which I mentioned above. Duong Tran cut my hair and did an amazing job. I felt like a character from season one of Heart of Dixie. It only cost me about 100,000 VND (roughly £3.30) including tip. I even got a head massage when they were washing my hair. I would definitely recommend for anyone to go. Even if you’re on a short trip, you will save about £30 compared to if you waited till you were home.
The most important thing to try in Mui Ne
Doughnuts, oh the sweet, creamy doughnuts of Mui Ne. I still remember the first time I bit into one. My Nashville sister brought me one during my shift. At first glance I though it was a savoury bread but it was so much more.
Picture yourself- It’s been a long day of walking in the tropical heat. You haven’t had much food, just some hostel eggs and bacon for breakfast and a bowl of Pho for lunch. You’re headed to the red sand dunes for the sunset. On the way you stop in a small shop to buy a can of Saigon to quench your thirst.
Coming out of the shop, you notice a nearby cart that looks like it’s filled with various baked goods. Curious, you go to inspect it and although it all looks tempting.. this one item is just calling for you. You point to the one you’re after and the young lad manning the cart takes out the sweet looking bread, slices it down the middle and then stuffs it with what you could only guess as cream?
You carry on and make it to the red sand dunes, climb up to the top, working each of your leg muscles hard to get up the steep, sandy inclines. There’s a nice spot a bit further along with untouched sand and no instagram couples performing photo shoots. Finally you settle on a spot where you can watch the sun go down in a blissful silence and solitude.
You open up the can of Saigon and start drinking, basking in the evening wind and warmth of the final light. Feeling your hunger, you take out your doughnut and take a bite. What is this? Your mouth has never known such wonders. A baguette shaped dough, filled with a vanilla-like, light, creamy custard and coated in different sugars. You want it to last forever but you know your time is fleeting. Every bite brings you so much joy. Out of all the great things you have seen and done on your travels. Nothing will be as memorable as The Mui Ne Doughnut.
That’s why you should come to Mui Ne.