Must-See: Mui Ne, Vietnam Photo Essay

Dunes Over a Sandless Shore

Located approximately five hours east of Saigon in coastal Bình Thuận province, Mui Ne is an idyllic Vietnamese beach town dominated by sunshine, butterflies and slow, lingering breezes. Thanks to decades of erosion, however, the sand that used to protect the town from being swept into the sea has been replaced by a paved ramp that now serves as its primary beach.

In spite of the disappearing seashore the region’s local residents, who are mostly fishermen. A bike trip to the mountain-sized sand dunes that sit just 12 km south of the concrete coastline allows you to see just how locals have adapted to the new boundary between earth and water — and a journey to the top of the dunes themselves provides a sweeping view of the sandless shore they rise above.

Beach erosion at Mui Ne, Vietnam

While the paved beach may seem an impediment to sun-hungry tourists, it is life-sustaining to locals, who keep their invaluable sea-faring vessels safely docked atop the paved ramp. It’s also a popular place for many of them to gather and congregate, providing a stunning sea view in spite of its own questionable beauty.

Foreign Couple Walking at Mui Ne, Vietnam

By nightfall, the tide has receded enough to expose what’s left of Mui Ne’s natural coastline, allowing tourists and locals alike to enjoy walking in the wet sand. At points, this is more than seven meters below the lowest point of the shore town shore.

Traditional fishing boat in Mui Ne, Vietnam

A few kilometers north of Mui Ne’s tourist center is an entirely local part of town, where colorful fishing boats dominate the waters below equally colorful clusters of fishermens’ houses. It is nearby this settlement that the road to the massive sand dunes lying just to the south of Mui Ne begins. Rent a bicycle to experience the journey fully.

Young Fishermen in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Fishing along this part of the country’s coast is still very much a cottage industry shared among individual local families, whose fathers gradually transfer ownership and responsibility over their fishing businesses to their sons. As you will see if you take a rest while biking down to the dunes, the work is decidedly hands-on.

Child workers on sand dune at Mui Ne, Vietnam

Once you arrive at the sand dunes -- and you absolutely cannot miss them -- you’re greeted by smiling children armed with sleds. Sleds in Vietnam? Just wait ‘til see you what they’re used for.

Sledding down a huge sand dune in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Your pint-sized guide walks you to the top of the sand dunes, where he demonstrates how you use the sled. A few helpful tips: Lean back the whole way down; allow yourself to stop naturally; and don’t wear sunglasses you care about.

Tourist shop at sand dune in Mui Ne, Vietnam

While their children compete for visiting tourists atop the sand dunes, local women operate makeshift refreshment stands at the base of the dune entrance, selling water, fresh coconuts and basic snacks. Like their fishermen husbands, the concessionaires manage small operations, which underscore how off-the-beaten-path Mui Ne still is.

Red Sand Dune in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Enjoy a panorama of Mui Ne’s busy harbor from the dunes’ highest peak of sand -- and if you look closely enough, a small sliver of the eroded coastline that desperately needs a few grains of it.

Photo of Robert SchraderThis Vietnam photo essay was a guest post by Robert Schrader, a writer, photographer and founder of the travel blog Leave Your Daily Hell, where you can find destination guides, travel photos, practical travel advice and inspirational essays on the more esoteric aspects of travel. Stay connected with Leave Your Daily Hell on Facebook and Twitter, or add Robert to one of your Google+ circles.