After heavy drinking in Nha Trang and constantly (or what we felt like was constantly) being on the move since arriving in Asia, Mui Ne was exactly what Jamie and I were looking for. Cheap accommodation right on the beach, a sleepy vibe and not a whole lot to do but eat, swim, and sleep. Which is, of course, why we decided to go against our instincts to relax and give kitesurfing a shot on our first day in the town.
I think that if you were to sit down and list all of the possible sports in the world that you could try to master, kitesurfing would jump out as the most bad-ass. For anyone who’s seen it be done, you know what I’m talking about. For those who haven’t, it’s basically wakeboarding with a kite that lifts you about 10 feet in the air when the wind is strong enough so that you can do all kinds of cool flips. Needless to say, when Jamie and I heard that Mui Ne was one of the premier spots to learn how to kitesurf in the world, we were pumped. So let’s strap on that board, harness in to that kite and get going, right? Wrong.
The first lesson in kitesurfing is learning how to fly the kite. Which makes sense. In order to successfully fly a kite, the wind has to be quite strong. Once you’ve demonstrated to your instructor that you’re not a complete moron and can fly a kite for longer than 10 minutes or so, including moving the kite from side to side, then it’s time to hit the water. The thought of “hitting the water” is exhilarating at first, but reality sets in pretty damn quickly.
The first thing that you are taught to do in the water is called body dragging. Basically, you strap yourself in to the kite, lay on your side, and attempt to keep it in one spot for long enough so that it drags you horizontally across the water. Keep in mind that if it’s windy enough for your kite to actually fly, the waves will be a good size and will be crashing in to your face every 2-3 seconds or so. But you don’t have enough time to pay attention to the waves, you’re too busy staring directly in to the sun (which begins to sting after the first 45 minutes or so) while trying to squint as much as possible so that you can see if you’re keeping the kite in the spot you want it to be. Of course, you’re also trying desperately not to puke all over the instructor as you swallow gallons of sea water due to the waves crashing relentlessly in to your face. Every so often you will enviously glance toward those lucky bastards from your hostel who chose to “sit this one out” and lay on the beach all day, while your instructor is strapped to the back of your harness shouting “very nice” or “try to keep it in one place” as another wave slaps you right in the mouth.
At the end of the day, we looked up at the clock and realized we had been in our lesson for about 3.5 hours each and felt like we had accomplished something in that we didn’t give up halfway through. At a rate of $40 per hour, I can honestly say that our first kitesurfing lesson was, without a doubt, the most money that I have ever paid to feel totally and utterly miserable. Thankfully the wind didn’t pick up enough to continue with our second lesson on any of the remaining 3 days that we stayed in Mui Ne, so Jamie couldn’t guilt me in to giving it one more go.
Other than kitesurfing, there are a few other reasons to visit Mui Ne. For instance, a visit to Mui Ne isn’t complete without seeing the sand dunes. I’ve never been to the Sahara Desert or any other desert landscape on Earth, so for me the white dunes were mind-blowingly cool. The red dunes were also interesting to see, but not as expansive as the white dunes (although most tours stop at both places). Jamie and I were debating renting an ATV and cruising up and down the dunes, but decided to walk instead as it cost $7 per 20 minutes to rent. We were thrilled with our decision, as most other people had their buggies stall countless times, and in a few cases, flip over entirely. A few kids were offering to ride people around on the back of their ATV’s for about $5 or so, which was cheaper than renting one yourself. I don’t know what it is about traveling that seems to allow certain people to completely shut their brains off. Would you let a 12 year old drive you around on an ATV at home? One girl that we saw thought it was a great idea, and her driver ended up flipping the vehicle on top of themselves.
Luckily, both the driver and the girl on the back were ok, although clearly shaken up. My advice: don’t rent an ATV, and don’t ride on the back of one either. Regardless of the safety concerns, I just don’t think they should be there. There’s something about hearing the constant revving of engines and watching miniature cars zoom up and down the sand dunes that takes away from the awe of the experience. The best comparisons that comes to mind would be to start renting jet skis at Lake Louise, installing a motocross at the Grand Canyon, or turning the Eiffel Tower in to the world’s largest rock climbing wall. These are fun things to do and all (I especially love rock climbing), but some places are better left untouched.
Come nightfall, Jamie and I would head to the restaurant next to our hostel, Lam Tong, which was notoriously cheap and relatively good (especially the seafood). About $2 will buy you a decent sized meal and plus a beer at this beachside gem. However, our most memorable dining experience in Mui Ne was at a seafood stall in the town’s seafood market. Tanks full with various types of fish are lit up while customers point out what they’d like to eat. The fish are then thrown on the grill, seasoned, and served. Jamie and I managed to scarf down a full plate of fresh squid, about 20 shrimps, and a full red snapper all for $7 each (including one Saigon apiece). Of course, if you want to get adventurous and try sea snake, turtle, or shark, you’ll be paying a few more bucks.
Of all the places we had visited in Vietnam, Mui Ne undoubtedly had the most sunshine. The temperature would soar to about 35-40 degrees during the day without a cloud in the sky. For the beach alone, I would recommend this town. Kitesurfing wasn’t my thing, but our instructor was telling us that Mui Ne is one of the most difficult places to learn in the world. So, if you can kitesurf here, you can kitesurf anwhere. Thus, if you’re looking to give it a go, Mui Ne is a good place to do so. The sand dunes were incredible (especially if you’ve never been to the desert before) but be wary of the ATV’s. Top it all off with a meal at Lam Tong or a feast at the seafood market and I don’t know how you couldn’t enjoy your time in Mui Ne.