Mui Ne: A Vietnamese Fishing Town    

Morning on the beach in Mui Ne
If you wake up early enough you can see fishermen who look like they are playing tug-o-war with the sea-- and winning as their huge nets-- marked with floaters get closer to the shore.

Fishermen pulling in their nets
We got up early to see the sunrise from the red dunes. The sands were cool from the night and we walked barefoot along them. The sky had been pinkening as we rode the motorcycle to them but we arrived with plenty of time before the sun appeared above the clouds. There were already some people on the dunes with kids holding plastic sheets for sliding, waiting patiently next to them. The dunes were marked with the shadows of footprints of the previous day which were slowly becoming hidden by the blowing sand. Lizard and bird footprints ran along the sands as well.

View of ocean from the Red Dunes

Red Dunes
After the sun rose the sled kids prepared the sleds for their passengers. They piled sand onto the plastic, dragged it to a slope, and threw the sand down the slope. I'm not sure why-- maybe it makes sliding easier. The passengers sat in the remaining sand pile. Maybe it added to the weight or evened it out. Then the kids pushed them until they slid down the hill. It seemed kind of sad and strange seeing the little kids doing all this for adults. They should have been the ones sliding.

Tourists and locals on the dunes
After that we headed back to Mui Ne looking for breakfast. We stopped at the beach which was a flurry of activity. They had been hauling the nets when we passed earlier and now the contents of the nets and the fishing boats were in piles being sorted: squid, shrimp, in various sizes, scallops, fish, eels, and crabs. Basket boats went back and forth between shore and fishing boats. People would wade into the water and retrieve plastic baskets or nets of seafood and carry them onto the beach. It was a busy scene and people worked fast-- but it wasn't chaotic.

Sorting shrimp

Carrying seafood from the boats

Rinsing seafood
Some women had scales. Some money was exchanged. Some women carried heavy loads on the ends of bamboo sticks. From the road above, their round bamboo hats looked like clusters of mushrooms where the women gathered working. The beach was littered with piles of scallop shells. Women cleaned the shellfish in the ocean and opened the scallops with knives or metal spatulas.

Carrying fresh seafood

Carrying seafood up from the beach
It was a rush that seemed to last no more than a couple hours as the seafood was sorted, sold and carted off-- perhaps to be taken to other towns inland while it was still fresh. I thought how fascinating this working beach was-- morning with the nets being pulled, then seafood sorted. Later it is covered with wood/net flats full of salted fish drying in the sun. The harbor has cheerful fishing boats painted red, yellow and blue. In the evening the basket boats, which are used for fishing and carting loads back and forth between fishing boats and shore, are pulled onto the beach and the fishermen clean and repair their nets.

Mui Ne port

Fish drying in the sun

Carrying trays of fish to the beach

Basket boats and fishermen on the Mui Ne beach

Fisherman working on net

Launching a basket boat
For breakfast we found a street vendor across from the beach who made banh xeo, delicious thick rice pancakes stuffed with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts and fried/steamed in an interesting blackened ceramic pancake maker with lids to cover each round pancake space. They were served with fresh herbs in a bowl of sweetened fish sauce. They were delicious and were 3000 each (we ate 3 each). They further convinced us of the tragic tastelessness of the restaurants on the resort row.

Woman selling breakfasts by the beach

Preparing Banh Xeo

Banh Xeo breakfast
After breakfast we got some delicious coffee at a cafe in town. Then, armed with a photo and the name in Vietnamese, we went off in search of the Red Canyon, a stop on all the paid tours of the area. We still couldn't find it and asked a security guard. He gestured that it was closed but didn't speak any English so motioned to us to ask the receptionist. She said it was 1 km back. 1 km back was a fenced area with signs in Vietnamese. They looked like warning signs, especially a red metal one. However, red is also the color of good luck in this area so I figured I could be misinterpreting. The gate wasn't locked so we went in. I walked ahead up the path until I saw a sign in Vietnamese with a picture of a skull and crossbones. This didn't leave much open for interpretation so we decided we were probably in the wrong place. Up the road we saw a sign in English reading, “Danger- Area closed for restoration”. A bit farther we asked at a military post and were told that it was the red canyon but it was closed. It looked like bougainvillea flowers were being planted. I wondered if they were going to make it a true “tourist attraction” and add walkways, souvenir shops and a ticket price.

Back in Mui Ne we stopped at the Fairy Stream. The Stream is a shallow sandy stretch of water. We walked barefoot up it in the shade of palms, bamboo and other trees. The stream soon led to interesting white sandstone formations like towers of stalactites eroded by the wind. Rising above them were red sand dunes and beyond that a vivid blue sky. Little springs sent streams trickling down sand flats into the main stream. The sand colored the water red or milky. At the end of the stream were several little water falls.

The Fairy Stream

Red hills and interesting rock formations

Interesting rock formations

Large moth

Little water falls

Rice paddies

Patterns in the sand
After the day cooled a bit (around 4:30) we rode out to an empty beach a bit North of the dunes. We walked along the water watching little, almost transparent crabs skittering across the sand.

Empty beach a little ways up from the town
We headed back to the dunes for sunset but since they were crowded, took the new Phan Thiet road to the other side which was empty. The setting sun turned them orange and their arcs and curved ridges were unbroken by slides or footprints.

The Red Dunes at sunset
Riding by the market beach, the fishing boats were black shadows against silvery blue with the pink and orange sky behind. Farther out we could see the lights of the fishing boats looking like a town across the water.

Boats at dusk

Sky at sunset

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