Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Mui Ne Sunrise Sand Dunes Tour

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The driver of the private jeep pick us up at 4.30am for the half day Mui Ne sunrise sand dunes tour together with another female Taiwanese and a couple from London. The tour normally includes visiting to the smaller red sand dunes, fishing village and red canyon on the Fairy Stream. Our expedition to the white sand dunes took around an hour, hopefully in time for the sunrise. Since the sand dunes were not accessible by any vehicles, the driver dropped us off and we have to stroll another kilometer, going through the soft sands and make it to the top one of the sand dunes for a marvelous panoramic view. So leave your cover or high heel shoes in the hotel; wear a sandal to the sand dunes to avoid any sands into your shoes and also for easier maneuver.

In the early morning, the sand dunes were untouched and not ruined by any foot marks in the sand, as there are not many crowds. The vast white sand dunes area looked like the Arabian Desert and it stretched for miles around.

Due to the overcast clouds, we could not really see the sunrise when it emerged from the ground. But anyway I still feeling ecstasy.

Slopes of the sand dunes

At the sand dunes, local kids will persuade visitors to rent the blue plastic thin board for as low 10,000 VND for sand sliding down the steep sandy slopes for unlimited times. The prices are negotiable. We been harassed when we walked up the dunes and the asking price is 20,000 VND. I keep bargaining till the kid offered me 10,000 VND.

Sliding down was fun, but not when you have to climb up the soft sand dune with the plastic board. I slide for 3 times, and I’m happy with it. If possible, wear any attire that can dry easily like polyester material, so that the sand won’t stick on your shirt or pant or even body.

After the sunrise, the aided by the burning gold shades of light slowly revealed the beauty of the sand dunes together with the sand formation.

When we were at the highest point of the sand dunes, we saw a blue lake at the far sight and the shallower end of the lakes are covered with lotus plant. It’s like an oasis. It’s the only destination in South East Asia countries for budget travelers to enjoy the view of sand dunes and the weather definitely will not be as hot in the ‘real’ desert.

Finally, I found a visitor from Nanjing, China to take this beautiful shot of me and my wife. On top of that, he also was using the same camera model I have, the Nikon D90.

We were soon refreshed by the sea winds through the open shelter jeep as we head to the Red Sand Dunes through the winding road for 15 minutes.

When we arrived at the red sand dunes, there were many visitors, but mainly local people. We saw many people at the top of the red sand dunes, sliding down the slope on the blue plastic thin board.

Red sand dunes facing the sea

This place was always crowded with people due to easy accessible by public transport, it just located by the roadside

Due to this demand, there were many street peddlers selling foods, souvenirs and renting out the blue plastic thin board.

The area covered by the Red Sand Dunes is as big as the White Sand Dunes but I preferred the White Sand Dunes because less visitors visiting and the atmosphere were quieter. Even the sand dune was not that nice and smooth.

We spent around 20 minutes here before we hopped into the jeep to be driven to our next destination, the fishing village. From far away, we could scent the fish smell. The moment we alighted from the jeep and walked for another 100m, we saw hundreds of colorful boats in the sea, all waiting to go out and catch their fish. The view was amazing and overlooked not only the sea and fishing boats, but also the sandy beach and a fleet of conical ‘container’ boat lined along the shore.

Conical ‘container’ boat

When walking along the beach, we saw fishermen and women sorting out their catch on that day

Wives waiting for their husbands (fishermen) to come back with their catch.

Then we walked back to the jeep to our final destination of the tour, Fairy Stream. It supposed to be a walk on the shallow stream for about 15-20 minutes till we reached a waterfall.

There were few kids trying to be our tour guide there and I knew they are going to ask money from us as part of the services. We decided to walk on our own. Further down the stream, we saw some rock formations

After passing by the rock formation, we went up the sandy hill over-looking a mini grand canyon, partly due to the large red sand dunes from the other sides of the stream.

Without going any further down the stream, we headed back to the jeep with a certain extend of disappointment. Once we backed to the hotel, we refreshed ourselves before heading to a nearby famous backpack hotel called Mellow for breakfast. The hotel is run by an Englishman and it’s a great place for kite surfers. All lessons/equipment hire can be arranged through the hotel.

We ordered the famous Banh Mi with sausage omelet and fried noodle, not too bad. It cost us 75,000 VND including drink.

After breakfast, we still have 3 more hours to kill before we heading back to Ho Chi Minh by bus, sigh…another dreading 5 hours bus ride.

Upon reaching at Sinh Café in De Tham, we checked-in to a nearby hotel, Hoang Linh Hotel for USD15 per night. The room was equipped with hot shower, air-cond, double bed and most importantly, clean.

Then we headed to the local supermarket nearby to buy some souvenirs back like instant coffee and snacks. I trusted the price there and cheaper as compared to any roadside stalls that are targeting tourists, especially those without price tags. After getting what we wanted, we hunt for Bun Bo Thanh Noi for Hue style cuisine signature dish Bun Bo Hue (beef noodle). The broth is a bit sours as compared to the normal beef noodle. Taste something different and good to explore.

After the heavy meals, we both headed back to hotel for a good rest. Tomorrow will be our last minute shopping tour before leaving HCMC to my home country. Alas, that the end of the great adventure we had.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Heading to Mui Ne

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I pre-booked the bus ticket to Mui Ne from Sinh Cafe at Pho Duc Chinh office the day before when I was at Ben Thanh Market (5 minutes walk). The bus fare for return ticket for 2 persons is USD21 or 360,000 VND. The bus will depart at 7.30pm; therefore we reached at Sinh Café main office at De Tham Street around 7.15am. Mui Ne Beach is around 220km from HCMC and the bus ride took around 5 miserable hours for such a distance. But I can tell you, the bus driver drove very slowly though the road was free of traffic.

De Tham Street is famous backpacker area and there are many bars, restaurants, travel agents and cheap guesthouses or hotels.

De Tham during the night and this is one of the most happening club here.

Opposite Sinh Café, there a stall selling Banh Mi, a long bread loaf stuffed with ingredients like ham, cheese, cucumber, carrot, scrambled eggs and etc. This food is common everywhere in Vietnam as a favorite of factory workers and students, and eaten for any meal of the day, commonly breakfast and lunch. The price is varies depending what ingredients you put.

After 2 hours bus ride, we stopped at the rest stop in Thong Nhat District, Dong Nai Province. It consists of convenient stores, restaurant, resting area, insurance service and even post office.

What caught my attention here was the washroom. We need to take out our shoes and change to their dedicated sandals before entering the washroom. I noticed the cleaner mop the toilet very frequently. I guess this must be the cleanest washroom I ever encountered and you can even sleep on the floor or forget about the 3 second rule if your foods drop on the floor, haha.

Books sold at the walkway of the rest stop, emm…Vietnamese version of Bruce Lee

Upon arriving at Mui Ne Beach, the bus stopped us right in front of Hanh Café (another famous travel agent) and we just check-in to Sand Dune Hotel where the reception is on the 1st floor. The price is USD12 per night for double bed with balcony but no breakfast. There’s no kettle or complimentary water provided. Make sure you get load of water.

Not a bad hotel, but my wife and I are the only occupant that day.

Incidental price? The price is similar what other shops are selling along Mui Ne Beach.

After unpacked our luggage and shower, we engaged the travel agent at Hanh Café for the city tour at 2pm which consists of a cable car ride to Ta Cu Mountain (cable car fare not included), dragon fruit gardens, local market and Cham Tower for USD20/person and tomorrow sunrise Sand Dunes tour (White Sand Dunes, Red Sand Dunes, fishing village and Fairy Stream Walk) for USD15/person.

My wife and I got into the back of the jeep, and it was drizzling that day. The travel agent told us, it won’t be raining when we reached our tour destination and I followed his advised. Unfortunately, the rain getting heavier when we were about to reach the cable car station and worst still, it was closed due to the bad weather. We had no choice but to instruct the driver to send us back straight to the hotel. The driver asked if we want to stop at one of the dragon fruit garden and purchase some dragon fruits on the way back and we said no. Both of us including the driver got wet badly due to the leaking canvas roof of the jeep. The water keeps dripping from every corner. My wife had been nagging and jokingly about this unfortunate event. We use the tissue paper to wipe the water on the canvas but in vain, within seconds the tissue got soaked. I remembered that my wife bought along a magic absorption solution, a sanitary pad. My wife took it out and used it to absorb all the dripping water and finally we had a ‘dry’ journey back. Upon reached the hotel, I spoke to the travel agent and requested for a refund, but he mentioned he needed to pay for the driver transport so he gave me back only USD20 after some bartering debate without any hard feelings. Without any hesitations, I quickly took the money.

After showered, we hit to the road and walked around hunting for a good seafood restaurant. On the weekdays, the street along Mui Ne beach is literally quiet and free of traffic.

We found Lam Ton restaurant that offered a cheap and satisfying meal. This is a traditional family run Vietnamese restaurant with an extensive menu of noodles, soups, hotpots, seafood and meat/fish dishes.

We got a nice table next to the sandy beach under a shelter hut

Insect repellent, colorful liquid into the plastic bag

We ordered butter shrimp, sorry for the shaky shots. I’m too hungry at that time to concentrate on the photo shooting. Guess I’m not eligible to be food photography.

Fried noodle with seafoods

Hotpot seafood soup

And chicken claypot, the chicken is a bit too salty

The total bill came to 180,000 VND (~USD10)

After dinner, we walked along the street heading to the North and back to South to our hotel. There were many bars, stores, massage parlours and even travel agents which opened till late night.

This is the windmill spinning and I took it with a slow shutter speed on my camera.

If you are into drinking mood, you can head to the Jibes, next to Lam Ton restaurant. Jibes is a café cum bar cum kite surfing school and also nightclub.

Inside the compound of Jibes during the day

Both of us wanted to go for a drink at Jibes, but unfortunately we have to wake up around 4am in the next morning for the 4.30am sunrise sand dunes tour.