Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Golden Dunes of Mui Ne: Part 1

Ever since I was young, I've always wanted to visit a desert. There's something about a vast, barren expanse of sand that appeals to me, especially the kind made up of towering dunes that swirl and cast shadows among one another. Deserts conjure many images for me: distant mirages, camels, cacti, oases, palm trees... I've seen these things so many times in stories and films like Indiana Jones, Tin Tin, and Lawrence of Arabia, that now deserts seem like exotic lands of fantasy and adventure.

I've still never been to one, though not for want of trying. I was planning to visit the Tabernas Desert in southeast Spain during my bike trip around Europe in 2005, but had to skip it since I was short on time and money. More recently, in 2011, my friend Nick and I booked a vacation in Marrakech, Morocco, and were to take a brief peek of the Sahara while there. That is, until Spanish air traffic controllers decided to go on strike, causing the cancellation of our flights.

When planning our grand tour of Asia, Angela and I found a few places where I might finally fulfil this lifelong dream of mine. China's Gobi Desert and the Thar Desert in India were among them. Of course, we never expected to find a desert on the Southeast Asia section of our trip, given that it's far too rainy and humid to allow for desert environments.

Then we learned about Mui Ne, Vietnam. This small, coastal resort town is pretty unremarkable for the most part, with a stretch of beach lined with restaurants and travel agencies, and populated by almost as many Russians as Vietnamese. If we'd come here just for the beach, we probably would have been pretty disappointed. But we came here for the desert.

Of course, I should probably make clear that this place is not actually a desert at all. But for all intents and purposes, it certainly looks and feels like one. The roads and nearby scenery are coated in clay-coloured dust, and close to the town are these huge dunes that look straight out of an Egyptian postcard. We also visited a fishing village and a "fairy stream" lined with canyon-like rock formations, which really added to the otherworldly charm of the town. Mui Ne is really like no other place we've ever visited, a small slice of the Arabian Nights dropped onto the Vietnamese coast. We decided that until we reach an actual desert, this was a more than worthy taster.

Our bus ride from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne.
Not long after we arrived, Angela took this panoramic shot of the beach. It was pretty run-of-the-mill compared to other beaches we'd been to.
The next morning we got up at 4.30am and took a private jeep to the White Dunes about 45 minutes away from the town.
By the time we got there, the sun was just rising.
We walked for about half an hour across these serene, Sahara-like dunes.

An oasis!

After an hour of exploring the White Dunes, we returned to our jeep driver, who took us back towards Mui Ne via sandy roads.
Even the farms and crops looked like desert.
Slowly the white dunes receded behind us.

Click here to continue the adventure in Part 2, where we visit the Red Dunes and the Fairy Stream.

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