Considering I was awake before the birds this morning, I was surprised to find that I wasn’t the only tourist waiting for the sun to rise at the yellow sand dunes about 5km outside Mui Ne. I booked a moto driver for $6 to drive me around Mui Ne’s most famous sights : the yellow sand dunes, white sand dunes, red canyon, fishing village and fairy stream. When we arrived at the first set of dunes, it was still dark and the sun was just beginning to show it’s face from behind some low lying clouds, giving the dunes a mysterious reddish glow. As I walked up the dunes, I spotted a group of tourists ahead, accompanied by the same number of kids carrying pieces of thin shiny plastic with rope handles at one end. The children soon adopted me as part of the group (which I later discovered was not actually a group but a number of individuals who’d all begun the same circuit with their moto drivers as I had) and one little boy asked if I wanted to slide and memorized my – not particularly easy – name within seconds.
We all sat atop the dunes and watched the red sun gradually illuminate the sky. Having seen the Moroccan dunes of the Sahara desert, I was rather disappointed with Mui Ne’s initial offering. However, having experienced the thrill of sliding down the dunes in various positions upon the little boy’s makeshift sand sleigh, I was beginning to appreciate them a little more. So when he asked me for money afterwards, I didn’t mind parting with a few thousand dong.
My driver and I then passed through some awesome scenery which looked more like parts of the Arizona desert than Vietnam, in order to arrive at Mui Ne’s white sand dunes. These were more like the ones I remember from Morocco : sculpted, untouched and on a much larger scale. Surrounding the dunes were immense lakes and forests and a rare tranquility, which made me feel like the only person on earth. That was until I was approached by a couple of kids who insisted on following me the majority of the way around the dunes. When I stopped then so did they, and wherever I chose to tread their little feet would make sure that they didn’t remain far behind. When I finally decided to leave the peaceful mounds of sculpted white sand, the liitle girl reached out her hand to me with the words “money”, words which – with her poor grasp of the English language – sounded more like “morning” so I cheekily bid her good morning in exchange, and continued on my way.
Our next stop on the circuit was Mui Ne’s Red Canyon. When I arrived here, it really was like being in the desert : the sun was now very high in the sky and shining with all its strength, and what vegetation there was, offered little shade. There were a couple of lizards scurrying over the dry rocks, as the imposing canyon towered above my tiny and now very dehydrated little body. I’d stupidly had nothing to drink since leaving my hotel this morning, and seen no-where on route from which I could obtain even a small bottle of water. I don’t think I’ve experienced such a genuinely desparate thirst before, so when I located what I recognised as a rose apple tree, I picked a couple of the sun-ripened fruits and franticly sucked the juice out, savouring every single little drop.
We continued on to the fishing village, which was basically just a viewpoint from which we could see a large collection of fishing vessells floating upon the ocean. Having taken a few photos, we quickly moved along to Mui Ne’s fairy spring : a pretty little and incredibly shallow colourful stream winding its way through a patch of sand dunes with interesting sand and rock formations. I began the long walk along the stream bed and towards a waterfall which supposedly lay at the other end. However, the sun quickly stole any feelings of rehydration that the rose apples had offered me, and I was soon feeling sick and lightheaded. As there was no-one around to pick me up if I did pass out, I decided to head back before I did. Back at my hotel, I drank my way through a whole litre and a half of ice cold water. It didn’t matter that it cost me 10,000VND and I’ve never appreciated a bottle of water so much in my life.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing on the beach, drinking so much water I was starting to imagine all those horror stories about people dying from consuming too much water, and continuing my reading of ‘When Heaven and Earth Changed Places’ by Le Ly Hayslip. It’s a fascinating, evocative and very moving tale of the author’s experiences as a child growing up in a small village just outside Danang in the middle of the Vietnam war, and gives a good insight into the horrors and brutality of war and how it affected innocent civilians.
Photo is of the white sand dunes at Mui Ne.