Once upon a time, Mui Ne was an isolated stretch of beach where pioneering travellers camped on the sand in the early 1990s, but it was too beautiful to be ignored. Times have changed and it is now a string of resorts, expanding in number every year. However, the beach retains much of its charm and the resorts are, for the most part, mercifully low-rise, set amid pretty gardens by the sea. The original fishing village is still here, but tourists outnumber locals these days. Mui Ne is definitely moving upmarket, as more exclusive resorts open their doors, complemented by swish restaurants and swanky shops, but there is still a (kite)surfer vibe to the town.
Mui Ne is the adrenalin capital of southern Vietnam. There’s no scuba diving or snorkelling to speak of, but when Nha Trang and Hoi An get the rains, Mui Ne gets the waves. Surf’s up from August to December. For windsurfers, the gales blow as well, especially from late October to late April, when swells can stir things up big-time. Kitesurfing has really taken off and the infinite horizon is often obscured by dozens of kites flapping in the wind. If this all sounds too much like hard work you can simply lounge around on the beach, watching others take the strain.
Mui Ne sees only about half the rainfall of nearby Phan Thiet. The sand dunes help protect its unique microclimate, and even during the wet season (from June to September) rains tend to be fairly light and sporadic.
One major problem the area faces is the steady creep of coastal erosion. Many resorts north of Km 12 have almost completely lost their beaches and rely on sandbagging to keep the little they have left.
Road safety is another serious issue. There are no traffic-calming measures along the main coastal road, and speeding cars and trucks have little regard for pedestrians. Take care.
It’s almost impossible to get lost in Mui Ne, as everything is spread out along a 10km stretch of highway. Most accommodation lines the beach side, while restaurants and shops flank the other.
Mui Ne is famous for its enormous red and white sand dunes. The white dunes are the more impressive, the near-constant oceanic winds sculpting the sands into wonderful Saharaesque formations. But as this is Vietnam (not deepest Mali) there’s little chance of experiencing the silence of the desert.
Prepare yourself for the hard-sell as children press you to hire a plastic sledge to ride the dunes. Unless you’re supermodel-light, it can be tricky to travel for more than a few metres this way.
Quad bikes and dune buggies also destroy the peace. Bizarrely, ostrich riding (100,000d) is on offer here as an activity, but we don’t recommend it. Expect some litter too; periodically there’s a clean-up, but the red dunes were badly littered on our last visit.
You’ll need a jeep to explore the dunes properly, but be careful to agree on an itinerary for the tour, preferably in writing. We’ve heard complaints, particularly about ‘sunset tours’ that cut short with the sun high in the sky.
Also of interest is the Fairy Spring (Suoi Tien), which is really a stream that flows through a patch of dunes with interesting sand and rock formations. It’s a beautiful trek wading up the stream from the sea to its source, though it might be wise to hire a local guide. You can do the trek barefoot, but if you’re heading out into the big sand dunes, you’ll need leather soles on your feet; sandals are even questionable during the midday sun.
(Km 5; admission 5000d; 7.30-11.30am & 1.30-4.30pm) West of Mui Ne, the Po Shanu Cham towers occupy a hill near Phan Thiet, with sweeping views of the town and a cemetery filled with candylike tombstones. Dating from the 9th century, this complex consists of the ruins of three towers, none of which are in very good shape. There’s a small pagoda on the site, as well as a gallery and shop.
(97 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; one round 100,000d; 10am-10.30pm) This attractive palm-shaded minigolf course is dotted with craggy rock formations to challenge your putting skills. Rates include a cold drink, or pay 120,000d at night and a cocktail is included.
( 062-374 1777; www.sealinksvietnam.com; Km 8, Mui Ne; for 18 holes 1,350,000d) Fine 7671yd course with ocean views and a challenging layout that includes lots of water hazards. Play a discounted twilight round from 2.30pm. The complex includes a resort hotel and driving range.
( 062-384 7440; www.miamuine.com; 24 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; 1hr massage from 645,000d) Gorgeous upmarket spa offering the full gamut of massages, facials, body treatments and wraps. Essential oils and natural products are used. A steam room has recently been added.
(241 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; 1hr massage from US$10; 8am-9pm) Budget spa offering an extensive range of massages, beauty treatments, steam bath and jacuzzi in clean, orderly surroundings. Staff are professional and welcoming. Located in the grounds of the Son Huong Hotel
Consider investing in a short kitesurfing lesson before opting for a multiday course, as it’s a tricky skill to master. Bear in mind it is an extreme sport and most places will not offer a refund on an immersion course for anyone who drops out.
( 0167 342 2136; www.surfpoint-vietnam.com; 52A Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; 5hr course US$250 incl all gear; 7am-6pm) With well-trained instructors and a friendly vibe, it’s no surprise Surfpoint is one of the best regarded kite schools in town. A three-hour taster costs US$145. Surfing lessons on softboards are also offered (from US$50) when waves permit.
( 068-384 7405; www.windsurf-vietnam.com; 84-90 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; 7.30am-6pm) Set up in 2000, this is the original kitesurfing school, offering lessons and renting state-of-the-art gear, including windsurfs, surfboards, kitesurfs and kayaks.
( 0914 910 607; http://muinekiteschool.com; 78 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu) This school is run by experienced kitesurfers and offers kitesurfing lessons and equipment rentals. Lessons start at US$99 for two hours, or US$270 for five hours.
( 0909 469 803; www.vietnamkitesurfingtours.com; 68 Nguyen Dinh Chieu) Based in the Rach Dua Resort these guys promise that there’s better kiting than Mui Ne, and they’ll get you there. One place is in a military- controlled border zone, for which you’ll need a permit.
( 0127 287 8801; www.mysticfishcharters.com; 108 Ð Huynh Thuc Khang) Hello sailor! Experience a sailing trip aboard a Corsair Marine Sprint catamaran. Trips start at US$300, but this can be split between eight.
Heading east from Phan Thiet, development is sporadic until the Km 8 mark and the rather splendid looking University of Phan Thiet. After this, there are several resorts, restaurants and a golf course, as the main strip takes shape. From Km 10 to Km 12, Mui Ne has quite a Russian feel, with souvenir shops and spas galore emblazoned with Cyrillic script. Km 12 to Km 14 is where many of the popular midrange resorts and restaurants are found. From here there is a break in the resorts, with a strip of seafood stalls and some late-night beach clubs before another cluster of backpacker accommodation and restaurant-bars around the Km 16 strip. This is where the village of Ham Tien (the original settlement) starts before giving way to more backpacker accommodation around Km 18. Look out for superb views over the Mui Ne fishing fleet around Km 20 and you’ve arrived at the end of the strip.
( 0916 655 241; www.c2skykitecenter.com/cooking-school; Sunshine Beach Resort, 82 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; 9am-12.30pm) Well-regarded Vietnamese cooking classes by the beach. Pay US$30 and a market visit is included. Make sure you have a light breakfast first as there’s lots of grub to try!
Mui Ne has a great range of places to stay in all price categories. Most accommodation is either right on the coastal road or just off it, though some good new places have been built on the hills behind town. Wherever you are, you won’t be far from the beach.
( 0127 364 3446; firstname.lastname@example.org; 119 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$12-15) Down a lane on the inland side of the main drag, these simple, clean rooms are quite spacious and excellent value. The owners are all smiles and there’s a little garden with hammocks.
( 062-384 7047; www.muinebackpackers.com; 88 Ð Nguyễn Đình Chiểu; đm US$6-10; r US$20-60) Popular with young travellers for its sociable vibe and shoreside location, the dorms (with en-suite bathrooms and good mattresses) are a good bet, though the rooms are little pricey and quite plain. Lots of tours offered; transport tickets can be arranged.
( 062-384 7450; www.songhuonghotel.com; 241 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$12-20) Run by welcoming family owners this hotel is set well back from the road and boasts spacious, light airy rooms in a modern house. Breakfast is included.
( 062-350 0060; 106 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$16-22) This guesthouse has been lovingly decorated and several rooms include a sea view and breezy balconies, plus all have spotless bathrooms. The charming owners really make an effort here.
( 062-384 7799; 87A Ð Huynh Thuc Khang; s/d US$12/15) Close to the western end of the strip, the Duy An has friendly owners who speak good English. Room options include quads and there are bikes for hire.
( 062-384 7018; email@example.com; 139 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$9-21) Set back off the road, all the simple, fine-value rooms here have aspects over a lovely little garden and TV. Fan rooms are very spacious for this sort of money.
( 062-384 7243; www.haiyenguesthouse.com; 132 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$17-28) Boasts a good selection of rooms, including some with three beds, set behind the seafront swimming pool. Spend a little more to enjoy a sea views.
( 062-384 7327; www.muinelodge.com; 150 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$14-26) The lodge offers 12 plain rooms with fan and flat-screen TV that represent decent value, and there’s a bar area with a pool table.
( 062-374 3404; 77A Ð Huynh Thuc Khang; r US$12) Fronted by a large restaurant, there are only a small number of bungalow-style rooms overlooking a sandy, shady garden.
( 0908 052 350; www.muinehills.com; 69 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$40-55) High above the coast, this fine villa-style hotel has wonderful vistas from its pool. Rooms are superb value, all with contemporary design touches and full facilities, but it’s the personal touch from staff and owners that guests rightly rave about. Note that it’s located, up a dusty, very steep lane.
( 062-374 3086; www.xinchaohotel.com; 129 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$20-50) Impressive new hotel (owned by kitesurfers) set well back from the busy coastal road. A lot of thought has gone into the design, with rooms grouped around a pool at the rear. A small lounge area (with pool table) and roadside bar-restaurant add to its appeal.
( 062-384 7008; www.fullmoonbeach.com.vn; 84 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r from US$56) An artistically-designed place where the committed owners have consistently upgraded the facilities to keep up with the competition. It features a bamboo-shaded pool, rooms with four-poster beds and terracotta tiling, and an oceanfront bar. Worth trying to negotiate a discount.
( 0908 052 350; www.muinehills.com; 69 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r/ste from US$35/60) The layout of this place isn’t as good as its upmarket sister hotel, with rooms grouped around a walled compound; those on the ground floor feel a bit hemmed in. However, given the quality of the furnishings, pleasingly modern design and good breakfast it’s still a good-value place to stay. Around 300m north of the main strip, via an incredibly steep access road.
( 062-374 3638; 233A Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$20-40) Rooms are set in attractive villas around the generously proportioned swimming pool. The higher standard rooms enjoy great details and more space, and there’s a small restaurant out front.
( 062-374 1007; www.baoquynh.com; 26 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$49-149) This attractively designed resort has lovely grounds and offers decent rooms and spacious bungalows, though their decor would benefit from an upgrade and beds are very firm. Nevertheless, staff are welcoming and it’s located on a decent stretch of beach.
( 062-384 7177; www.joescafegardenresort.com; 86 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$18-58) These bamboo huts and rooms feature nice decorative touches. They’re scattered around a leafy plot to the rear of Joe’s Cafe, a busy bar-restaurant. Breakfast is included.
( 062-384 7262; www.muinebeach.net/hiephoa; 80 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r with fan/air-con from US$20/30) Yes, the decor’s a bit dated at this family-run hotel, but comfort levels are higher than at the cheapest guesthouses. Rooms all have a porch and face a central garden.
( 062-384 7440; www.miamuine.com; 24 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$90, bungalows US$130-190) Everything is right at this stylish beachfront hotel, with gorgeous accommodation with designer furnishings dotted around a beautiful tropical garden. The pool area is particularly attractive, facing the ocean and bordered by the excellent Sandals Restaurant, and the friendly, efficient staff really give the hotel a little extra polish that is lacking in other places of similar price.
( 062-374 1234; www.chamvillas.com; 32 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$150-185) A really relaxing place to stay and unwind, this luxury hotel’s lovely villas are spaced well apart around a stunning garden. The secuded, partly shaded pool area is particuarly beautiful in the morning, with birdsong in the air and dappled light on the water. Book early during peak periods.
( 062-374 1081; www.allezbooresort.com; 8 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$80-410) An outstanding place with a very classy ambience thanks to the French Colonial–style buildings. The grounds are huge, spilling down to the shore, where you’ll find a pool and huge (shaded) jacuzzi.
( 062-384 7700; www.sunsearesort-muine.com; 50 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$74-135) One of the most attractive hotels in Mui Ne, the elegant accommodation blends natural materials (thatch, lacquerware and rosewood) with modern design. There is a second shady pool fronted by the cheaper rooms with garden view. The Sukothai Restaurant is well regarded for Thai cuisine.
( 062-374 1660; www.villaariamuine.com; 60A Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r US$110-180) Delightful new modish hotel with hip rooms set on both sides of a gorgeous garden, and an inviting pool on the ocean side. The restaurant is a wonderful place for breakfast, and it’s located close to the centre of the action. Online discounts often drop rates to below US$100.
( 062-374 1888; http://mui-ne.anantara.com; 12A Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; r/villa from US$108/220) Formerly the L’Anmien, the accommodation here is very luxurious indeed, some villas have private pools and even the cheapest rooms are beautifully finished and have huge balconies.
( 062-381 3000; www.victoriahotels-asia.com; Km 9; r US$170-460) The original luxury resort in Mui Ne, the Victoria is still a good place to stay. The open-plan bungalows feature huge bathrooms with deep tubs and Balinese-style outdoor showers. There is a lengthy strip of beach and two pools.
( 062-374 3236; www.shadesmuine.com; 98A Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; apt US$80-170) Ticking the right contemporary design boxes, Shades offers luxurious studio apartments, and studios with open-plan kitchens and modern trim, some with sea views. Breakfast is included.
Mui Ne has an incredible selection of restaurants, most geared to the cosmopolitan tastes of its visitors, with Russian, Italian, Thai and Indian cuisine all present. Indeed, at times is seems the only thing tricky to find is good authentic local food.
After years of rumours, virtually all of the once-famous but illegally built seafront shacks (collectively known the Bo Ke restaurants) were removed by police in 2013. If you really want to eat great seafood by the shore, nearby Phan Thiet has lots of great places.
Try the goat restaurants in Ham Tien around the Km 18 mark for a local experience. Choose from barbecued goat or goat hot pot, herbs and all.
As Mui Ne is an upmarket resort rather than a backpacker stronghold, it’s one of the most expensive places to dine out in Vietnam.
(15B Ð Huynh Thuc Khang; meals 20,000d; 7am-9pm) An exceptional little roadside vegetarian place owned by Di, the ever-helpful English-speaking owner. There’s no menu, but always four or five freshly cooked Vietnamese dishes (and sometimes traditional Indian music on the stereo). You eat on bamboo tables in very clean surrounds. It’s right opposite the Eiffel Tower of the Little Paris resort, on the far east of the strip.
(253 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; burgers 55,000-95,000d; 11am-9.30pm) Roadside burger joint with variety of options, from gourmet to classic, served with great fries. Sip on a shake (try the chocolate and mint) while you feast on meat.
(92 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; dishes 28,000-115,000d; 11.30am-9.30pm) You’re eating under a corrugated roof, and staff can be brusque verging on rude, but this beachfront restaurant serves good seafood, Vietnamese classics, and some vegetarian dishes.
(Yen Gia Quan; 53 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; dishes 30,000-70,000d; 7am-9.30pm) A long- running local restaurant, the family here serve up traditional Vietnamese cuisine under a breezy thatched roof. Prices are pretty reasonable and the service is always efficient and friendly.
(24 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu, Mia Resort; meals 90,000-350,000d; 7am-10pm; ) This outstanding hotel restaurant is the most atmospheric place in town. It’s particularly romantic at night, with tables set around the shoreside pool or in the elegant dining rooms. Waiting staff are knowledgeable, attentive and welcoming. The menu is superb with everything from pasta dishes to Malay-style laksa executed and presented beautifully. Get stuck into the extensive wine list or enjoy a fresh juice with your meal.
(57 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; mains 52,000-160,000d; 11.30-10pm; ) Excellent, authentic Indian restaurant with wide selection of dishes from the subcontinent, including plenty of choice for vegetarians (such as a generous thali). The garlic naan really is to savour.
(65A Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; dishes 70,000-200,000d; 5-10pm) An incredible building, with something of a forest screening tables from the road and lots of tribal art, masks and statues about this place. The menu includes good clay pots and hot pots, lots of seafood and some Western options.
(mains 85,000-180,000d; 7am-9.30pm; ) Beautifully designed hotel restaurant with tables set on a shoreside deck and a menu that includes salads (from 75,000d), soups, pasta and noodles. There’s a good cocktail list.
( 062-374 3272; 229C Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; mains 50,000-165,000d; 10am-11pm; ) Previously called La Taverna, this place is popular thanks to its thin-crust pizzas and homemade pastas. The extensive menu also includes Vietnamese faves, fresh seafood and Italian vino.
( 062-374 3123; 109 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; mains 50,000-250,000d; noon-10pm; ) One of the few air-conditioned restaurants in Mui Ne, it’s aptly named Snow. Choose from decent Japanese sushi and sashimi or sample Russian, international and Vietnamese cuisine. Rumbles on as a cocktail bar later in the evening.
(www.joescafegardenresort.com; 86 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; 7am-1am; ) Mui Ne’s premier live music (every night at 7.30pm) hangout with a sociable bar area, tables under trees, lots of drinks specials, an extensive food menu and pool table. Draws a slightly older crowd.
(124 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; 10am-1am; ) With a faintly boho ambience, this bar is popular with the backpacker crowd. Overlooks the ocean and has drink promotions to rev things up.
(120-121 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; 8am-2am) With a great shoreside location that catches the sea breeze, this place is the most happenning dance floor in town. Western and local DJs playing deep house, techno and drum ’n’ bass. There’s a chill-out deck with cushions to one side. Happy hour is 8pm to 10pm.
(68 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; noon-late; ) A well-established beach bar, wax has happy hour until midnight when they light up the beach bonfire. There are also fire shows around 11pm nightly. Drunken bopping and beachside flopping draw the crowds.
(www.sankaravietnam.com; 78 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; 11am-1am; ) Superstylin’ beach lounge, including chill-out pavilions and day beds, a swimming pool and a globalista menu. However, though it looks the part, Sankara can lack atmosphere, and prices reflect the chic.
(120C Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; 5pm-late; ) One of the more popular bar-clubs in Mui Ne with a resident DJ, drink promotions and er…sexy dancers some nights. Popular with Russians on the lash. Happy hour is 7pm till 11pm.
(21 Ð Nguyen Dinh Chieu; noon-1am; ) A hip lounge-bar at the Phan Thiet end of the strip, offering shishas, cocktails and an international menu.
Perhaps due in some part to the insane drink promotions on offer in Mui Ne night spots, the odd fight breaks out each month. Keep your distance from trouble, especially if it involves local Vietnamese, as you don’t know who they are, how many friends they have or what they might be carrying in their pockets.
The website www.muinebeach.net is an excellent resource run by Adam Bray, an expert on the area, though the listings could be updated a bit more frequently.
Internet and wi-fi is available at pretty much all hotels and resorts, as well as at many restaurants and bars. There are several ATMs along the main Mui Ne strip.
Mui Ne offers both north and south links to Hwy 1. The northern link is a wonderfully scenic stretch, passing giant dunes, deserted beaches and a beautiful lake ringed with water lilies.
Open-tour buses are the most convenient option for Mui Ne, as most public buses only serve Phan Thiet. Several companies have daily services to/from HCMC (120,000d to 149,000d, six hours), Nha Trang (120,000d, five hours) and Dalat (110,000d, four hours).
Sleeper open-tour night buses usually cost more; Sinh Tourist’s prices are HCMC (209,000d), Nha Trang (209,000d), Hoi An (378,000d) and Hue (477,000d).
Local buses (9000d, 45 minutes, every 15 minutes) make trips between Phan Thiet bus station and Mui Ne, departing from the Coopmart, on the corner of Ð Nguyen Tat Thanh and Ð Tran Hung Dao.
It costs around US$110 to rent a car for the run to HCMC (five to six hours). There are numerous rental agencies dotted along the main strip. Saigon 2 Mui Ne ( 0126 552 0065; www.saigon2muine.com) gets good reports for reliability, its website even has a forum where you can search for people to share a ride with.
If you’ve a little more time, consider hiring a car to take you along the scenic coastal road to Vung Tau, perhaps stopping at the Ke Ga lighthouse en route. A one-way trip (five to six hours for a leisurely drive) costs US$100. You can then take the hydrofoil from Vung Tau directly to the heart of HCMC. This is a far more relaxing way to travel to central HCMC as it avoid the chaos of Hwy 1.
Easy Riders operate from Mui Ne, although there are not as many riders as in Dalat or Nha Trang. One of the best trips to experience by motorbike is actually the triangle between these three destinations, as the mountain roads from Mui Ne to Dalat and on to Nha Trang are some of the most dramatic in the south.
A xe om ride from Phan Thiet to Mui Ne will cost around 75,000d.
Car & Motorbike
Periodically the local police clamp down on tourists riding motorbikes in Mui Ne without the correct documentation and issue fines. However, dozens of visitors still rent scooters, which cost about 120,000d per day.
The area isn’t highly populated and it’s not on the main highway, but traffic still moves very fast along the main strip. Take care.
Mui Ne is so spread out that it’s difficult to wander about on foot if it is very hot. There are plenty of xe om drivers to take you up and down the strip; no trip should cost more than 20,000d to 40,000d, depending on how far you want to go.
When most people think of fishing in the mountains they conjure up images of hooking river trout or lake bass. But in the arid foothills of the south-central coast (notably around places such as Ca Na, Phan Rang, Phan Thiet and Mui Ne) there is a whole other kind of angling, and a walk in these hills can yield one of the strangest sights in Vietnam – lizard fishing.
These lizards, called than lan nui, are members of the gecko family and good for eating. The traditional way of catching the lizards is by setting a hook on a long bamboo fishing pole and dangling bait from the top of a boulder until the spunky little reptiles strike.
Lizards are served grilled, roasted or fried, and are often made into a pâté (complete with finely chopped bones) and eaten as a dip with rice-paper crackers.