One of southern Vietnam’s popular beach destinations, Mui Ne is a 12-kilometre long sweeping bay that boasts beachfront resorts. Twenty years of development have transformed the once sleepy fishing town into a water sports mecca, most notably for kitesurfing. With Ho Chi Minh City a mere four hours away, it’s an attractive option for travellers looking to jump into a beach holiday from the city.
What tourists know as “Mui Ne” is actually the village of Ham Tien. Sandwiched between Mui Ne (a fishing town to the east) and Phan Thiet, the capital of Binh Thuan province, Ham Tien is where the action happens. To add to the confusion, the beach district is part of Phan Thiet city. Sometimes online hotels are categorised under “Phan Thiet”, but you probably don’t want to book accommodation in downtown Phan Thiet.
Most of the accommodation and restaurants are spread out over a 10-kilometre stretch of coastal road called Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, which turns into Huynh Thuc Khang Street as it gets close to Mui Ne town. Accommodation is either ocean side or across the road from it.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and Mui Ne has characteristics that tend to draw a strong reaction — you will either love it or hate it. Kitesurfers love it.
Mui Ne is a kitesurfer’s paradise, competing with Boracay in the Philippines as the kitesurfing capital of Southeast Asia. It draws wind sport worshippers from around the world due to its consistent cross onshore winds. On average it has over 200 days a year with winds of more than 12 knots. The best time is October to the end of March. Peak time is December and January, when you’ll see a flurry of activity along the entire shoreline. A stack of schools offer lessons to beginners.
Kitesurfing is an extreme sport and the key is to get professional instruction at a reputable school. Of 20 or so shops in Mui Ne, we were told only five have officially certified teachers. Do choose your school carefully.
The water adventures aren’t limited to just kitesurfing. Rentals and lessons are on offer for surfing, windsurfing, SUP, sailing, kayaking and jet ski.
Not into strenuous activity? If your ideal holiday involves beachfront accommodation (and if you can afford it), then Mui Ne might be for you. Unlike Nha Trang which has almost no beachfront properties, Mui Ne is covered with them, from places with a few rooms to mega-resorts. The down side is the fact that the sand and water are not easily accessible to the public and budget travellers have to manoeuvre to find a spot. Most resorts (regardless of if they have a legal permit or not) consider their plot of sand their own. Park your bum and you could be quickly shooed away by security.
Your options are to go to the crowded public beach at the western end, find an empty non-resort which will likely be strewn with rubbish, pay a resort for a day pass or find a beach bar. To make matters worse, Mui Ne has a dirty little secret: It is suffering from coastal erosion. High tide erases a lot of the sand and in recent years some hotels have lost their beach completely. It just makes it that more difficult for budget travellers to find a decent spot.
Mui Ne has developed a reputation and detractors. With development unbridled, the tourist strip is gaudy and soulless. It is an extremely popular destination for Russian tourists, package tour groups arriving by the plane full. Dubbed “Russia Town” by local expats, shops and restaurants cater to the market.
Other beach destinations in Vietnam are also doing a far better job of making the beaches clean and accessible to all, so many travellers are eschewing Mui Ne in favour of Phu Quoc, Da Nang and Nha Trang. But the Russian financial crisis and ruble crash in 2015 and 2016 has hit the destination hard, leaving the town scrambling and offering good deals on accommodation. Low season yields fantastic value.
The not-so-fab reputation isn’t all deserved. Talk to small business owners who have grown up with the town and they are passionate about Mui Ne. They are joining forces to run their own initiatives such as beach clean ups and destination promotions. There are also wonderful low-key chill out bars, quiet spots beneath palms to dig your feet into the white sand watching the water glow orange in the setting sun — a bar atmosphere you won’t find in Nha Trang or Da Nang.
If you can peel yourself off the sand (or away from the bar), a few places are worth checking out in the surrounds. The key attraction is the red and white sand dunes, which can be visited by motorbike or with a cheap Jeep tour. Get fantastic photos at Mui Ne fishing village harbour, especially at sunset.
Get away from the crowds at Nuoc Suoi Beach, 16 kilometres up the coast from town, just past Hon Rom. Choose anywhere along this virtually empty stretch of white sand, or hangout at Jibe’s Beach Club or Longson Mui Ne Campground. In the other direction, get out of the tourist bubble by exploring Phan Thiet city which is full of cheap, tastier local eats and seafood. Along the way stop at Po Shanu Cham towers.
The masses like to head to the Fairy Stream (Suoi Tien), which we’ve chosen not to cover in depth because when we visited in March 2016, it was full of trash, cow dung and not well managed. It’s a 20- to 30-minute walk up a stream with a wall of red rock to one side. People will demand payment everywhere. Give it a miss.
The tourist strip is in the village of Ham Tien, which is sandwiched between Mui Ne (a fishing village to the east) and Phan Thiet city. Most of the accommodation and restaurants are spread out over a 10-kilometre stretch of road along the coast called Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street, which turns into Huynh Thuc Khang Street as the road gets close to Mui Ne town. You will likely find yourself needing a bicycle, motorbike or taxi to get around.
Accommodation is either ocean side or across the road from it. As for addresses, even numbers are on the ocean side; odd numbers, the other. The western end of the beach, dubbed Russia Town by local expats, is where you will find higher-end accommodation, some in the form of monster tour-series resorts. Staying further from the main drag gives visitors more affordable options.
High season in Mui Ne has traditionally been from November to April, low season from May to October. But with tourist numbers in decline, some accommodation are applying low season rates as early as February/March.
Renting motorbikes is a popular way for tourists to get around. The roads look deceptively easy. Mui Ne’s single road is frequented by big buses, trucks and tourists often trying motorbike driving for the first time. Beware of sand patches. The road runs straight east-west which means one side usually has blazing sun directly in the eyes. We were in Mui Ne for only an hour before we witnessed a motorbike accident between a local and a tourist.
By the letter of the law, tourists must have an international drivers license in order to drive a motorbike. Of course, not having one will not prevent you from renting a motorbike, but police happily capitalise by holding regular stings targeting foreigners. It will cost you a fine, more if they confiscate the bike.
Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street is packed with everything a beach bum needs at a huge mark up. If you are staying for a long time or are self-catering, it’s worth it to do your shopping in Phan Thiet city, which has a local markets, large Lotte Mart and Coop Mart.
The tourist strip also has a surprising number of pharmacies and medical clinics. The closest hospital is in Phan Thiet but anything serious, head to Ho Chi Minh City.
VITA Clinic at 139 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St is open 24 hours. T: (094) 363 1418; firstname.lastname@example.org; vitahealthvn.com/home/. The medical clinic at the Swiss Village has an English and Russian speaking doctor. It’s at 44 Nguyen Dinh Chieu St; T: (062) 847 497, (0918) 210 504. Open daily 09:00 -21:00.
By Cindy Fan.
Last updated on 13th October, 2016.