Mui Ne was my second stop in Vietnam, and my god I was looking forward to it. After my unpleasant experience in Ho Chi Minh (nothing bad happened to me, I just really didn’t like it), I was desperate to escape the crowds and unwind in this sleepy seaside town, famed for its fresh seafood and slow pace of life.
Seafood & Sand Dunes | Backpacking Mui Ne, Vietnam
Before we begin, I should point out that confusingly, the place that everybody says is Mui Ne is not actually Mui Ne, but Ham Thien. Mui Ne itself is a tiny fishing village within Ham Thien, but if you are talking to other backpackers about where you are going or trying to book a bus, then you will always call it Mui Ne – strange, I know. I don’t make the rules.
Ham Thien lies on the East coast of Vietnam, about a 5 hour bus journey from Ho Chi Minh. While it used to be nothing more than a string of tiny fishing villages, since tourism to Vietnam opened up in the 1990s, it has flourished as a resort town, extremely popular with wealthy Russian tourists. In fact, most of the signage is in Russian before it is in English!
Curiously, backpacking Mui Ne seems to be slightly less common. Although my friend and I stayed in a hostel, we were the only grungy travellers there, and there was a total lack of the backpacker bars that you see in other cities in Vietnam such as Hanoi or Dalat.
There is one main road that runs through Ham Thien, making it super difficult to get lost, and as well as an almost endless stretch of golden sand beach, it is home to dozens of BBQ seafood restaurants (known as Bo Ke restaurants), the magical ‘Fairy Stream,’ and stunning white and red sand dunes that span as far as the eye can see.
While backpacking Mui Ne, my friend and I opted to stay for 3 nights, which gave us enough time to see all of the main Mui Ne attractions without feeling rushed off our feet.
If you want to know about all of the best things to do in Mui Ne (and my experiences doing them!), then just keep on reading!
The Best Things to Do in Mui Ne
Fairy Stream Mui Ne is just a short drive away and is one of the most popular things to do in Mui Ne.
This bizarre geological formation is a water fissure from Rom Island with water flowing through from Ham Thien’s Dinh Mountain, creating a gentle stream. It actually resembles a mini Grand Canyon, and the stream itself is only ankle deep, meaning that you can take your shoes off and walk right through. The red sand riverbed is actually very pleasant underfoot, and the water is lovely and cool.
My favourite things about Fairy Stream were the sand dunes and pitted rock formations on either side, both of which are easy to climb up and make interesting detours (and also great viewpoints!).
There’s also a waterfall at the end of the 45 minute walk which is very pretty.
If you get peckish, there is a restaurant near the waterfall which has some of those feet-eating fish (this was my first experience with the buggers), and there are also cafes and food stalls scattered around at the beginning of the walk.
Fairy Stream Mui Ne is free to enter!
Mui Ne Fishing Village
Taking a trip to Mui Ne Fishing Village is a nice little excursion that you can make if you want to see local fishermen going about their work, as well as lots of colourful little fishing boats bobbing around in the ocean.
I visited Mui Ne Fishing Village as part of a full day tour, but to be honest our guide really didn’t tell us that much about it so you’d probably be better off going alone, so you can meander around slowly (if you don’t mind the smell that is!) and taking your pick of all the food stalls and open-air restaurants that are right there on the sand.
Red Sand Dunes
The Red Dunes of Mui Ne are one of the most famous Mui Ne attractions and it isn’t hard to see why.
Red sand and gorgeous sunsets make this a beautiful spot to photograph, and you will find people of all ages enjoying a spot of sand-sledding here – I didn’t try and I really wish I had done!
I’d never been to any sand dunes before and so going here truly blew me away (almost literally!) – I felt as though I could have been in the Sahara desert, never mind Vietnam!
The Red Dunes of Mui Ne are 17km from Mui Ne Beach and I visited as part of a guided tour but many people rent bikes and visit that way.
Eat BBQ Seafood!
When I travel, finding good food and experiencing local cuisine is one of my top priorities, and when we drove past an endless line of beachfront BBQ restaurants on my first day, I knew I had to return and find out whether the famous Mui Ne seafood lives up to the hype!
Getting dropped off by our taxi driver, we walked to the first restaurant that we came across after the charismatic hostess convinced us that this was the place to be.
Inside, it was a no-frills affair, with metal tables and bright lighting, but we weren’t there for the decor – like most of the BBQ ‘Bo Ke’ restaurants in Mui Ne, this one had a live menu, where you go right ahead and choose your food from the tanks – you can’t get fresher than that!
Spoilt for choice, we opted for fresh oysters to start, followed by garlic shrimp, deep fried frog (one of my favourite meats), and piping hot chicken spring rolls. Along with pints of ice cold beer, the total bill came to just over 14 USD!
I swear, if I could go back to anywhere in Vietnam for the food, it would be Mui Ne – restaurants in Mui Ne also feature crocodile, turtle and snake on the menu, and being the adventurous eater than I am, I’d love to go back and sample some more BBQ’d delights!
Sidenote: I actually tried crocodile in Cambodia and I wasn’t a fan – it kinda tasted just like a chicken steak but with a fishy odour!
White Sand Dunes
The White Dunes of Mui Ne are even more popular than the Red Dunes as they are absolutely huge! With undisturbed white sand stretching as far as the eye can see, many people choose to hire quad bikes and let loose, which I can’t blame them for!
Some blogs that I’ve read say that the bike tracks spoil the otherwise pristine sand, but I really didn’t mind them – there were only a few people doing this when I was there and the dunes are so vast that it really didn’t matter!
The White Dunes are located 25km away from Mui Ne, and I also saw these as part of a guided tour.
Dragon Beach Bar
In terms of Mui Ne nightlife, one of the best places to go out is Dragon Beach Bar.
Favoured by locals and tourists alike, Dragon Beach Bar is a huge beach club with an actual club area that hosts different DJs every night of the week, and a more relaxed area with lounge chairs where you can enjoy a cocktail and a chat.
There are also weekly Ladies Nights, where every girl gets a free bucket of god knows what – we stumbled upon this on our first night in Mui Ne, much to my delight!
Mui Ne Beach
I didn’t actually visit Mui Ne Beach when I was there (I was too busy lounging by my hostel’s pool when I had spare time!), but I couldn’t write a list of all the best things to do in Mui Ne without talking about Mui Ne Beach!
There are actually 15km of sandy beaches in Mui Ne, so you’ll be guaranteed to find the perfect spot if you walk far enough!
Where to Stay in Mui Ne
We stayed at Mui Ne Hills Budget Hotel (which is actually a hotel and hostel), and I highly recommend it. When I stayed, dorm rooms were around 3 USD and private rooms were 9 USD.
Our dorm room was nice, with private lockers and a nice spacious bathroom, but what really made our stay special was the hostel’s luxury sister hotel – guests are the hostel are actually allowed to use the pool and restaurant at the hotel, as well as enjoying the all-day happy hour.
The on-site restaurant is lovely, and we both spent our final day in Mui Ne enjoying Mai Tais by the pool, soaking up the sun and feeling like real flashpackers – who said backpacking Mui Ne has to mean slumming it?
Backpacking Mui Ne – Final Thoughts
I really enjoyed Mui Ne, and I think I would have done even more had I been visiting as part of a couple on holiday rather than as a backpacker. The abundance of delicious restaurants, the long stretch of beach and the various beach bars and clubs make Mui Ne the perfect place for a couples’ holiday, but I still enjoyed it nevertheless.
If you want to see the ‘real Vietnam’ then perhaps Mui Ne is not for you – Mui Ne is a resort town, full of Russian tourists, hotels and souvenir shops, making it difficult to get a slice of true Vietnamese culture.