The famed red and white sand dunes in the Vietnamese coastal town of Mui Ne, some 200 kilometers off of Ho Chi Minh City, is nature’s massive arena for what is considered to be one the most breathtaking sunrise you can ever witness on this side of the continent. While we naturally prepared for the likelihood of a disappointment, we still carried on with the plan to see what the hoopla is about.
After an hour-long journey in a dingy, open-air 4×4 truck that chilly winter morning, our semi-frozen existence quickly assumed that the stop we made at some random tea house was this trip’s surprising highlight. That warm brew of mysterious origins slithering down our throats surely was our lifesaver that morning. We didn’t have the slightest idea that this part of Vietnam gets exceptionally cold in January. Thankfully, our agenda for that day aimed at the one thing which we felt we were in badly need of – warmth.
Fearing our flimsy strides would turn the dunes into a quick sand, we opted to engage the service of the local ATV operator in the area. It was arguably the most touristy (and one of the most expensive) thing to do in Mui Ne – like marching on the Shibuya crossing in Tokyo. And like most travel clichés, we certainly felt the need to do it!
After parting ways with a few million dongs, each of us excitedly hopped on our own ATV – like Shaider to his Blue Hawk – chauffeured by no less than… some Vietnamese teenagers! We weren’t sure which was scarier exactly, the sudden vertical descents we were told to expect in the dunes or the fact that we inadvertently hired some obviously unlicensed drivers? But after realizing we may miss the chance of ever experiencing this again, we decided to take it at face value and to throw all caution to the wind.
Scared. Upset. Excited.
The relatively flat terrain we enjoyed the first few minutes was Mui Ne’s deceptive introduction. Shortly after our fleeting moment of pure joy, our intrepid drivers suddenly went crazy driving downhill from the dune’s several peaks! If there were other people around, I swear they would have heard some Hail Mary’s in between my screams and a few expletives. And I’m not even a Catholic! Moments of terror only settled in when they finally allowed us to drive the ATV. We then made a brief stopover by the lake, which gives the arid landscape an interesting contrast, and shared a good laugh about the near-death experience we all just went through.
The adrenaline rush was an unnecessary distraction but it surely added to the overall appeal of the sand dune experience. But it was only when the sun began to reveal itself from behind the sandy hills, completely removed from all airs of modern civilization, did we unanimously agree that a couple of hours of lost sleep, our thawed state, and a few million dongs were worthy trade-offs. As a destination in itself, the sand dune of Mui Ne is absolutely deserving of the superlatives it elicits.