Kite surfing, fresh fish, and sand dune sledding in Mui Ne

Happy Thanksgiving to all my family and friends back home! There will be no turkey for me today and this will be my first Thanksgiving spent without my family in Iowa City.  I will miss eating turkey and watching football with them but as a consolation I am thankful for them and also blessed to be having a great experience exploring SE Asia with my brother.

Before I continue my story I just want to say I am very disappointed that Rutgers and Maryland have joined the Big 10 conference. So much for tradition. Big 10 – I don’t even know you anymore. Also, I will be on Halong Bay, Cat Ba, and Monkey Island over the next three days so no blogging during that time.

After moto-crazy fast-action Saigon my brother and I needed some R&R and Mui Ne was the remedy.

This blog entry is another long one – 10 minutes should be enough if you have the time but there are some good pictures and videos, particularly of kite surfing and sand dunes, so I recommend at least a good skimming if you have the time.

Our first night in Mui Ne we went to a local lady’s general shop/home and bought a couple beers to take to the beach.  It was dark and my first step on the beach was a step into a full-on nettle patch which resulted in about 4 nasty splinters in each foot.  The biggest one was painful so we went back to the woman’s shop and I asked her if I could buy a needle.  Because she spoke almost no English I had to ask her for a needle through motions and through showing her my splinter-riddled feet.

When she saw my feet she immediately motioned for me to come to the back of her shop/home.  She had a needle for sale but she was not about to let me try and do this on my own.  She propped my feet up on a chair and for the next fifteen minutes performed minor foot surgery and removed the biggest splinter with a combination of a needle and a pair of tweezers, also cleaning the spot with alcohol.

We bought some extra snacks to show our gratitude and I insisted on paying her extra for the surgery but she absolutely refused – she was just happy to help a man in need, even if he was an American who didn’t speak her language.   These are the types of experiences that reinforce my faith in humanity.  I ended up leaving some money for the snacks and some extra money for the splinter work and walked out before she could give me the money back – cheapest medical treatment I’ve ever received.

All but one of the rest of my splinters worked their way out on their own except one that infected my foot in Hue.  This time I had bro perform splinter surgery for me.  Foot is all good now btw.

Our first day in Mui Ne we were feeling lazy and did very little except this.

No corona here. But I was sipping a “Saigon” beer…

Our second day we were feeling a little more adventurous and with Ben’s growing affection for riding motorbikes, we decided to rent some and ride up and down the beach.  Mui Ne is a long strip of breach that stretches along the same road for about 8km.  Massive resorts and look-alike restaurants go on for miles.  If you remember the chase scene background technique used by Looney Toons during the 80s and early 90s this is what riding down the road was like – everything looks identical and is repeated every 40 meters or so.  So similar in fact that I inadvertently passed our hotel, Xin Chao Hotel, at least six times during our two day moto run in Mui Ne.  The beach is beautiful and seems to stretch on forever.

On the West end of the beach you can find a good spot with what kite surfers call the “Wind”.  I had never witnessed kite surfing before and at the risk of sounding like a burned out surfer dude I must say it is totally radical. But don’t take my word for it – just click this link.

Mui Ne has some of the best “Wind” of anywhere in the world.  With a light vest wrapped a round his/her body and a massive 10 meter kite attached to the vest by a strong cable, a kite surfer just needs a bit of wind to effortlessly skip back and forth along the shore on a surfboard.

Because the wind is so strong in Mui Ne hundreds of kite-surfers have taken up residence here.  One of the co-owners of Xin Chao Hotel is a 34-year old guy from Holland.  He had been kite-surfing since the sport’s genesis some 14 years ago.  At 21 he had moved to Mui Ne, one of the best “wind” spots in the world.

He told me that back then, the equipment was not as safe and things were much more dangerous. Back then it was truly an “extreme” sport because they really had no idea what they were doing – they just knew they loved harnessing the extreme power of the wind.  He was part of a small group of 500-1000 kite surfers who would travel the world to find and ride the best “wind”.

He had taken breaks from Mui Ne to travel all over the world and had found the same guys at every spot and every competition.  Regardless of whether he was in Mui Ne or on the coast of Brazil, for the last 14 years he has been kite-surfing almost every day, his life’s true passion.   When I told him I was going to South America in early 2013 he recommended I try to stop and take some lessons at a few choice “wind” spots in Brazil.  I told him I might take it one step further and he suggested that four months would be enough, 1-2 months of lessons would make me a strong enough surfer that for the following 2-3 months I could just relax on a beach in South America and ride the wind. Its a tempting idea…

He told me that nowadays equipment is much better and things are much safer so there are tens of thousands of kite surfers all over the world.  He was no longer competing in the sport and was just surfing for fun while running his new hotel (Xin Chao) in Mui Ne.  It was a nice hotel too, check out the pool!

The word is out – the “wind” is good in Mui Ne and kite-surfing has blown up here.  Ben and I met a group of three guys from Spain who were down in Mui Ne just to kite surf for 3 weeks – there was a similar group of three Aussie guys in our hotel.  On a day when the wind is “good” (strong) you can see hundreds of them up and down the beach.

These guys make it look pretty easy but I saw some beginners taking lessons and they were struggling mightily.  But if you can learn – if I can learn – the payoff is big.  Unlike regular surfing, with kite surfing you have the power of the wind to lift you between 10-15 meters in the air, just like in this video here.  The kite surfers continued on into dusk – as long as the wind is good and there is enough light you can see them for miles along Mui Ne beach as the sun sets.

The next day Ben and I decided to take our motos out to the white sand dunes northeast of Mui Ne.  Near Mui Ne Vietnam has an incredible naturally occurring mini-desert with white sand for several kilometers – a must if you come to Mui Ne.  Before we left while looking for a pair of shades (I’ve already lost two pairs, good thing they are so cheap here), I noticed a familiar logo on a pair of swim trunks hanging in a store that made me smile and then frown.

While its good to find hawkeye branding all over the world, even if the small Vietnam town of Mui Ne, I didn’t want to be reminded of the football team’s woeful performance this season.

Further down the road and a quick trip up a side street jutting off from the main Mui Ne beach road gave us a nice view over Mui Ne.

The first part of the drive out to the dunes led us through a fishing village.

Massive blue fishing boats dotted the coastline – I guess this is not really a “hidden” fishing spot – someone has been talking…

As we got farther north and east of the village we came to the red sand dunes which are pretty much exactly as described.

Then it was just open highway in front of us and blue water to our right.  We stopped at a beach to throw the frisbee and relax for an hour and a pair of Russian sisters were nice enough to snap a photo of us.

Aside from kite surfers Mui Ne attracts loads of Russians.  They probably comprised 50% of the tourists we met and saw in Mui Ne.  The menus and signs for resorts, restaurants, and travel agencies are all written in three languages – Vietmanese, English, and Russian.  Many times just Vietnamese and Russian.  We ended up stopping by a club later that night that was 100% Russian – run by two Russians, menu in Russian, Russian music videos on the big screen, and nothing but Russians dancing on the dance floor.  Vietnam in general is a very popular vacation spot for Russians.

After the beach we got off the coastline highway and headed north into the Vietnamese countryside and rode along a river.

Much like Cambodian countryside, Vietnamese countryside is fantastic to drive through.  Ben’s face says it all.  I think.

We ran into a bit of a road block after 15 minutes.  About 50 road blocks to be precise.

But the good thing about these road blocks that you see all over Vietnam and SE Asia is that they clear up within two minutes or so.

And as you ride by the road blocks they continue on their way.

After about 30 minutes in the countryside the white sand dunes finally came into sight.

At the base of the dunes we rented some “sleds”, read: sheets of hole-filled cheap plastic.

When we got to the top of the dunes it turned out that this was totally unnecessary because there were about 10 abandoned sheets of plastic. As we hiked towards the dunes we could see several people scaling them in the distance.

The hike was longer than expected – sand can be deceiving.  We had purposefully delayed our arrival to the dune so it was around 4:15 pm while we were going up – the sand and sun were much cooler than they would have been at noon.

The top of the dunes was windy, very windy.  You can see the sled in Ben’s left hand rippling left  – if he would have let go he would have lost it.

We started out by sledding at the “main” hill.

It was not that steep but you could still get a good 10-15 meter ride in as long as you didn’t mind sand ending up with sand stuck all over you.

From the opposite side of the dune we could see our silhouettes in the distance – Ben and I are the two in the middle there.

The dunes were an incredible natural phenomenon in the middle of otherwise green rice-paddy Vietnam.  I haven’t looked into how they form but they were an impressive spectacle and seemed to stretch for miles towards the north.

By 5pm everyone had left the dunes except Ben and I.  This is when Ben decided to slide down an incredibly steep dune that no one else had even been considering.

Click here and you can see how his slide went.  If you look closely enough you’ll see that he basically flew over a cliff near the bottom and had to roll the rest of the way down.  He told me he had never had so much sand in his eyes in his life.  And according to him his hike back up the dune with sand in his eyes was not enjoyable.

But he made it back up.

Right as the sun was starting to set.

Ben and I were the only two people that stayed for the sunset on top of the dunes.

I really can’t believe more people don’t stay for it – its one of the coolest sunsets I’ve seen in SE Asia – click here for a 360 degree look and listen to the wind.  But I guess they want to get home before dark – our ride back on motos was in the dark which is obviously not ideal.

Our final day in Mui Ne Ben and I just relaxed on the beach.  That night we went to the fish market and sipped on a couple beers while enjoying another nice sunset near the beach.

We were able to look at the variety of freshly caught seafood – caught less than six hours before – before making a decision.  Given the great selection, it was not an easy decision.

I ended up going with red snapper.  I was able to pick out my fish – I went with the big one right in the picture here.  The cook threw him on the scale and charged me by the kilo.

Eating it was a delicious process but also the most “personal” fish eating experience I’ve ever had.  This was my own happy little Nemo who had been swimming around in the ocean just 4-8 hours ago, just going about his everyday business.  At the beginning of the day he had no idea he was going to end up on a plate.  Sorry to ruin that Disney memory for you…..

The cook had done almost nothing to the fish except soak it in lots of good butter, garlic, and spices and then cook it.

The meat was so soft that it would slide right off the bone and could barely sit on our fork.  I’ve used this phrase before but the meat would literally melt in your mouth – it was almost intangible.

We cleaned the fish to the bone and walked away satisfied customers just as the sunset finished its fiery finale.


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