Sure enough, my bum was sore enough after a good few hours of rattling through the Vietnamese countryside. Typical of the journey so far, we arrived long after nightfall and were the last to leave the bus when we stepped out onto the empty streets of Mūi Né. The sleepy silence of the town seems alien after the bustling hustle of Ho Chi Minh, and barely any motorbikes tried to drive through me while walking to the hotel at 1am.
Most of what we found in Mūi Né, we learned about after arriving; a cursory Google found that it was the obvious stopping point on the trip up Vietnam’s ludicrously long coast, but otherwise we planned to improvise. A small fishing town, its main claim to fame are its incongruously scenic dunes – two areas with either blinding white or rust-red sand, big enough to warrant the use of dune buggies to traverse them. English beaches not being known for their grandeur, this was my first experience of Lawrence of Arabia-esque scenery, I made sure to get as much sand in my beard and clothing as possible in order to enjoy it later.
On the Internet’s advice we also explored the famed local fishing village – for ten minutes or so, before we had to admit defeat due to the astonishingly pervasive scent of death. Unfortunately, quite a lot of flotsam, jetsam and nasty stuff has accumulated along the coast so, whilst genuinely interesting from a cultural authenticity standpoint, it’s rather aggressive on the senses.
Instead, we ventured to the curiously-named Fairy Stream, whereupon we were told to remove our footwear and wander up the riverbed barefoot. This didn’t seem overwhelmingly appealing until we started the walk upstream; the red-and-white sand mixes with the water to create a terracotta path you wade through, soft and warm underfoot. At points along the route there are great, slick banks of fresh, sun-heated mud which I could stand in all day with a vague smile on my face. The warm, squishy mud washes off as you walk past steep, multicoloured rock faces and outdoor stalagmites (which I didn’t previously know were a thing).
One of the other thing we discovered Mui Ne is famous for, however, isn’t a particularly fun thing for travellers – particularly for those inclined to ride bikes and scooters around the country, which is possibly the best means of doing so. Strictly speaking, to drive any vehicle in Vietnam you require an IDP (International Driving Permit), or a Vietnamese driving license (difficult to get unless you’re a long-term resident). This being South-East Asia, almost nobody ever checks such things, and indeed I’ve yet to be asked for my license by anybody I’ve rented a scooter from. The general rule of thumb is to not be a twit on the road and we’ll all get along.
Mui Ne, however, has gained a bit of a reputation for specifically targeting foreigners on bikes, issuing ridiculous (and almost certainly illegal) fines even if the driver can prove they have the appropriate license. It’s since been confirmed for us that it’s *only* Mui Ne that seems to have this problem with corruption, and that the rest of the country is fine to (responsibly) ride in. My advice to avid riders would be to either not rent in Mui Ne for a few days, or (if you’re riding your own bike) consider a detour around the coastal road east of the town (see expertly-drawn map for recommended detour route).
We’d planned our final day to be a relaxing, self-care sort of morning in preparation for the next five-hour journey to Da Lat. It was a bit jarring, then, when our lovely host knocked happily on our door at 6:00am to inform us that he’d booked us a seat on the bus that would arrive in ten minutes, and that he hoped we’d have a nice trip.
Bleary, tired and underpants-clad, I somehow succeeded in packing everything, brushed my hair, combed my teeth and put on almost all my clothing the right way round before the bus came and whisked us away, up into the cloud-hidden green peaks of the Vietnamese highlands.