Surf City

This Vietnamese beachtown is full of surprises

By: Gary Bowerman

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Mui Ne offers visitors world-class
kiteboarding conditions.
I’ve lost count. Sitting on a beach lounger under a palm tree, the navy blue sea in front of me is a mass of colorful sails. Across the bay, around 60 kitesurfers are criss-crossing the gentle waves, interwoven by at least 20 windsurfers. Welcome to Mui Ne: the new kitesurfing capital of Asia.

Just a few years ago, this 13-mile-long arching bay of palm-fringed, white-sand beach was accessible only via a bumpy dirt track. Backpackers and adventurous watersports enthusiasts were the only visitors to disturb the local fishermen whose families have lived on this coast for generations.

Things have changed. Today, Mui Ne’s (pronounced Mway Ne) single paved street is flanked by new hotels, restaurants and bars. Small, low-rise beach resorts welcome guests year-round, as do the surf stores dotted around town. Meanwhile, the Ocean Dunes Golf Club offers 18 holes, wireless Internet in the clubhouse and a four-star hotel.

A four-hour drive from Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), Mui Ne boasts a mixed visitor profile. Vietnam’s white-hot tourism status attracts visitors from across Asia, Europe, Australia and North America. The glimmering 4x4s and air-conditioned family cars cruising the main street aren’t driven by foreigners, however; they are owned by Vietnam’s nouveau riche who have adopted Mui Ne as a fashionable weekend getaway. The New York Times recently referred to it as: “something like the Hamptons of Vietnam.”

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The area’s red dunes give Mui Ne
an otherworldly feel.
Mui Ne’s status as the rising star of Vietnam tourism is due to geography. The curved southern coast bay looks out over the South China Sea and the daily breezes that whip through the bay have shaped the coastline creating a stunning landscape of white and red sand dunes, as well as a lucrative watersports industry.

One of the first places I discovered was Jibe’s Beach Club, where much of Mui Ne’s daytime action is centered. One of three officially licensed kitesurfing teaching centers in Vietnam, beginners and experts from around the world gather here daily to prepare for their duel with the wind and sea. (Jibe’s offers a 10-hour kitesurfing lesson package for $400.)

The owner of Jibe’s publishes a daily record on his Web site of the coastal conditions. In 2006, Mui Ne boasted an impressive 232 days with sea winds of 12 knots or more.

“It’s a really tough sport to begin with. You have to learn a new way of balancing and control, and the strength of this wind is amazing,” a South African enthusiast, returning to Mui Ne for the third time, told me. “But it’s totally addictive, and the adrenaline rush when you get it right is unbeatable.”

Though I was tempted to try it out, I only had a few days in Mui Ne and decided instead to investigate the nearby sand dunes. Hotels here offer half-day Jeep tours ($10-$12 per person) to the white, red and yellow dunes along the coast.

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Fishing boats in Mui Ne’s bay
My first stop was Fairy Stream, a shallow, orange-colored, watery corridor that passes between striking jagged sandstone formations created by the wind. Though the color made it appear polluted, the water’s tinge actually comes from the sand washed down the creek from a waterfall.

The lower white rock formations were shaped like compressed stalactites, overlaid by deep orange sand rocks. Even more curious was the green vegetation dotted with cacti.

An hour’s drive later, the landscape wound upward through sand dune hills until suddenly the barren vista was enlivened by a deep blue lake backed by undulating white-sand dunes. Clambering across the soft hills, comprised of fine white sand, was a mesmerizing experience every sharp breath of wind covering over the footsteps of the few other visitors up ahead.

With sunset looming, we arrived at a forest of orange stone pinnacles that coiled upward from a shallow ravine set into the side of a hill. As the angle of the sun dropped, an intense orange glow suffused through these brittle sand towers. Mui Ne’s famous breezes were fading and, all along the coast, fishermen were preparing their boats to set sail once darkness descended.


A taxi from Ho Chi Minh City to Mui Ne costs $80-$90. Frequent daily buses (book in advance; journey time is four hours) leave from De Tham Street in Ho Chi Minh City’s backpacker district. I recommend the operator Sinh Cafe (Tel: 08-836-7338). Its one-way fare is $8-$10.


Coco Beach Resort
Landscaped beachfront resort with smart bungalows and villas, a large pool, two restaurants and a beachside bar. Bungalows from $85; four-person villas from $170.

Palmira Resort
Comfortable beachside villas in landscaped tropical gardens with large pool and sundeck, four bars and two restaurants. Villas from $54 per night.


Jibe’s Beach Club

Ocean Dunes Golf Club