I’ve barely stretched my legs from the previous 5-hour bus ride from Saigon and now here I am again on the go, this time riding a motorcycle for an entire afternoon’s tour of the natural attractions of Mui Ne. I must say though that “easy riding” at the back of Mr. Binh’s motorcycle was a much more comfortable experience because it had a back rest and firm footholds, allowing me the use of both my hands to take on-the-road videos with my BlackBerry. Ironically, I also found the back of the motorcycle to be much less cramped than my seat in the Sinh Tourist Bus. (At any rate, my legs were freer and thus there was less strain.)
The first stop was a place called “Fairy Stream”, which is very accessible from the main road but it had a very inconspicuous entrance. After leaving our flip-flops at the starting point, and being assured that they will not be stolen (Mr. Binh lives in the area and is known to the residents there) we started our barefoot hike on the stream itself.
The water never went beyond ankle-deep so there wasn’t any danger of losing one’s balance or being swept by the current. The stream bed was made of soft red sand which is continuously being eroded from the vast sand depositss inland and out to the sea. Sandy cliffs are seen on both sides of the Fairy Stream at the beginning, but as one follows the stream inland, the right-hand side gives way to thick vegetation, while the left-hand side cliffs begin to be more visually appealing. To illustrate, at the start, the cliffs are drab and gray looking like this:
But eventually, they give way to impressive views like these, when it gets to a point where hills of red sand are located:
At one point, I even climbed up a steep, sandy slope. This one:
To get a sweeping view of a segment of the stream with the land formations:
By the way, for much of the beginning of the hike, the air reeked of patis (fish sauce) due to the fact that there is a home-based factory of this condiment nearby. As we went further inland, either the smell lessened or my nose just got desensitized.
In case the video was inaudible, Mr. Binh was saying that the place didn’t use to have a name. It was only when tourists “discovered” it that the appellation “Fairy Stream” started to be used. He didn’t say what was particularly fairy-like about the stream, but I’m guessing that the first foreigners who named this place found it somewhat magical. This is probably the place where I saw the reddest sand ever. It’s actually abundant in Mui Ne in general, and on the way here, I saw a number of roadside proprietorships that specialized in making bricks out of this red sand.
The sad thing about the Fairy Stream is that the place is in a constant state of erosion. See, the cliffs aren’t made of rock but sand. Even on a sunny day and with very little water movement, sand is always being eroded 24/7. Mr. Binh says that in time, this natural attraction will be gone forever.
On the way back to the starting point, Mr. Binh and I chatted while he was gathering kangkong (river spinach). I forgot what they called it, but he seemed amused by how I pronounced “kangkong“. I also came across some patches of makahiya (sensitive plant). Interestingly, Mr. Binh told me they called it “mákha” (not sure of the spelling, but that’s how he pronounced it.) I then wondered whether there might be etymological links between the Tagalog and Vietnamese terms or if it’s just coincidence. He even told me a Vietnamese legend behind the plant involving a princess who was not allowed to marry the man she truly loves. I really wish I took notes while he was saying it.
When we were very near the starting point, Mr. Binh left the kangkong stalks that he “harvested” at his house and that’s when I noticed that there was actually an ostrich farm in the vicinity. They even offered ostrich rides for a fee. I would have wanted to test what it was like riding an ostrich, but I was trying to save my cash and I wasn’t really sure if an ostrich would actually be able to carry me. Maybe next time.
OLD MUI NE
Along the way to our next destination, we passed by the place where this whole place got its name. Many years ago, Mui Ne was just a small traditional fishing village. As I mentioned in the previous blog entry, it was only when the surrounding area got noticed by foreigners for its tourism potential that the name of this small fishing village was applied to the much bigger area.
Had I gone on a whole day tour of Mui Ne, Mr. Binh would have taken me to the village itself to interact with the people and have a meal bought from the freshest catch. As it is, I only got to observe the village from afar from a viewing deck by the roadside. It had a stairway going down to the shore, but since I had very limited time and it was a hot early afternoon, I just took pictures and then we drove off.
LITTLE GRAND CANYON
Our next stop was a natural formation called “Little Grand Canyon”. From the pictures, it’s easy to see why it’s called as such. It certainly resembles the Grand Canyon in some way. the cliffs are around 20 feet high on each side. The center is a dried up riverbed or stream, but certainly might come to life once the rains arrive.
As you can see, the “canyon” is very reddish, made up of the same caked red sand that is seen at the Fairy Stream and other places in Mui Ne. A lot of tourists were descending the sandy cliff towards the dried riverbed. But I didn’t do so anymore as I was just contented in snapping photos from afar and I actually wanted to go already to the White Sand Dunes. We spent less than 5 minutes here before finally leaving.
WHITE SAND DUNES
The famous White Sand Dunes of Mui Ne are located much further inland. One’s vehicle has to get off the well-cemented national road and actually drive on several dusty, dirt roads before finally reaching the site. Along the way, we actually passed by the Red Sand Dunes. We would return to it later in the afternoon as our last stop. And so, presenting the White Sand Dunes! (*applause*)
The white sand dunes, for me, is the highlight of the afternoon’s tour. This is the first time I actually stepped on and roamed around sand dunes. There are of course sand dunes in the Philippines (particularly in Paoay in Ilocos Norte) but I’ve never really had the chance to explore it. It’s really ironic that I got to experience this sort of thing for the first time in another country. But anyway, I’ve seen the Paoay Sand Dunes, and they’re nowhere as white as this:
I really don’t have as rich a vocabulary as I hope to have in describing what I experienced while I was there so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking:
Actually, I tried to take a video to describe the experience realtime, but the wind was blowing so hard that what I was saying was completely rendered inaudible. Here it is:
I spent a lot of time just looking around at the low part of the dune that I didn’t realize time was ticking and I could actually climb all the way up to the highest parts of the dunes. So I went all the way up and found out that the wind is much stronger up there. This posed a bit of a problem because I changed lenses a number of times. I had to take care that no sand finds its way in the body of the camera.
On the way up, I also got to observe how the wind forms all those squiggly lines that one sees in the sand. With the wind speed, any trace of footprints disappear if one just waits a couple of minutes for the wind to do its job. Here are views from the top of the dune:
I took a video too at the top of the dune:
Mr. Binh asked me to come back at the parking area at 4:00 pm. I had such a great time exploring the dunes that I came back 30 minutes late. After this, we drove on the dusty road all the way back to the Red Sand Dunes.
RED SAND DUNES
I had no high expectations for the Red Sand Dunes. Basically, all the feedback I’ve ever read about this place was negative. From the all the trash strewn about the dunes, to the overcrowding, to the children who pester tourists for paid rides in their makeshift sand boards. Well, it’s all true. But since it was on the way, we visited it anyway. The only consolation was that due to the lateness of the hour, all the trash was nearly invisible in the shots. I mean in this picture, for example…
You’d have to take a closer look to see that there’s actually a lot of trash in the sand there. (Go ahead, click the image for a closer view.)
Anyway, here are some other pictures of the dunes:
The sun having set, it was time to go back to the guesthouse. Along the way, we stopped by the Sinh Tourist ticket office to purchase a bus ticket to return to Saigon for the next day. The person manning the ticket booth was actually the conductor of the bus that I rode from Saigon to Mui Ne, so he recognized me. After giving me pointers as to what time the bus will arrive to pick me up at the front gate of the guesthouse, I thanked him and Mr. Binh and I continued on our way.
The final stretch of the trip was the short drive along Nguyen Dinh Chieu Road going to Ever Green Guesthouse. There I finally paid and thanked Mr. Binh for showing me the most that Mui Ne could offer in one afternoon. I promised I’d recommend him to my friends who’d visit Mui Ne. (And I’ll probably avail myself of his services again if i do return.)
BACK TO THE GUESTHOUSE
The gatekeeper smiled at me as I entered. And just when I was greeting Ken and Monik (and their other guests) a good evening, their 2 dogs began to tenaciously bark at me to voice their displeasure. It took Monik all her strength to restrain them so that I could finally walk towards my room unscathed.
Here are photos of my room:
It’s really a nice room good for 3 people. I would have wanted to stay longer but I was only staying for 1 night.
Since the guesthouse didn’t serve dinner, I had to walk along Nguyen Dinh Chieu Road to look for someplace to eat. This wasn’t really hard as the street was lined on both sides with various restaurants. I had to walk a sizable length of the road to make sure I really had a wide range of choices.
I finally settled on one restaurant with a particularly friendly waiter and tried to eat as slowly as possible. I wanted to get a feel of the place while I was dining al fresco. It was not tourist season so the restaurants weren’t packed, but still there were a lot of tourists milling around, mostly westerners.
Once I finally finished eating, it was one final stroll towards the guesthouse. I planned to to take a dip at the guesthouse’s private pool, but I felt sleepy even before reaching reaching the gate. So once I returned to my room and washed up, it was straight to the bed for me. I tried to watch some TV, but I kept on sleeping so to make things really simple, I switched it off and finally slept soundly.
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This entry is part of the Vietnam-Cambodia series dated November 27 – December 3, 2011:
1. Preview: Contrasting Motorcycle Scenes in Vietnam
2. Preview: Temple-hunting in Cambodia
3. Suggested 7-day Itinerary for Vietnam and Cambodia
4. Budget Estimate for a 7-day Vietnam-Cambodia Tour
5. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 1 – Arrival in Saigon, Cu Chi Tunnels, City Tour
6. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 2 & 3 – A 13-hour bus ride, Angkor Wat at Dawn
7. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 3 – All-day Temple-hopping in Siem Reap
8. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 4 – Beng Mealea and Koh Ker
9. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 5 & 6 – Two bus rides to Mui Ne
10. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 6 – Mui Ne’s Natural Attractions
11. Vietnam-Cambodia, Day 7 – Last-minute tour of Saigon
12. Vietnam-Cambodia Travel Tips
13. The 24-hour Mui Ne Travel Guide