Vietnam: Land of Sand Dunes, Turquoise Oceans, Technicolor Fish, and Floating Bars To Boot


The south coast of Vietnam makes you want to linger. Whether you're there to kitesurf in world-class conditions, make a fool out of yourself sliding down sand dunes, or simply bask in the sun with a cocktail, many people (most of all Russians, it seems) come to these beaches and never want to leave.

Me walking across the red sand dunes with my sled

Sights and Activities

We only had a few days to split between Mui Ne and Nha Trang, so we had to hit the highlights fast. In Mui Ne, there was not nearly enough time to figure out how to navigate a kite connected to our bodies, so we skipped kitesurfing, rented motorbikes ($5), and headed out to the dunes.

TIP: Don't come to Mui Ne for the beach

It's windy and unappealing, unless you're doing water sports.

It was Dean's first time on a bike, but he caught on quickly, and pretty soon we were coasting by the most amazing landscape we've seen in a while, full of burnt red sand dunes juxtaposed against sparkling blue waters.

red fields just beyond Mui Ne

After a stop at the red dunes, complete with some sliding, we navigated our way to the more distant white dunes.


It's hard to put words to how incredible it was when the red sand parted to reveal glistening white crests set behind a pond full of lilies.

white sand dunes of Mui Ne

There were some local kids showing visitors a good time on their ATVs, but we decided to forego the sand toys and just walk around. It took only a few minutes for us to feel the effects of our first sand storm. Let's just say I don't think tattoos would be painful compared to that.

omnious. a lone 4 wheeler

After a refreshing coconut away from the wind, we began our ride back. Unfortunately, this is when our day got more exciting, as we were pulled over by two corrupt cops. We managed to get away after about an hour, but it meant we missed most of the beautiful sunset over the fishing village.


Nha Trang was a lot less exciting in the cop category. The only real thing "to do" besides relax on the beach was to take a "four islands" trip. It's touristy, but cheap, at $7 a pop, and it's a whole day out on the water with 50 of your closest friends. The itineraries are basically the same and include a stop at an aquarium shaped like a pirate ship (50,000D admission), a snorkeling island (10,000D), and an island that charges 30,000D for pretty much nothing.

TIP: Want to save some money? Don't pay for the aquarium or the last island

Neither are really worth it.

The snorkeling was amazing, with tons of fish and great visibility of upwards 15 meters. The beach was also quite pretty.

View from the beach our boat tour brought us to

The problem was the equipment, which was older than we were. The masks didn't fit, the snorkels didn't attach, and overall it was just a lousy way for the tour company to take a shortcut. What could have been an hour spent in what was essentially a natural outdoor aquarium turned into a frustrating hour fighting with our masks and snorkels. That said, we did see beautiful fish, so the island itself shouldn't be missed. Perhaps just skip Nha Trang Island Boat Tours in favor of another operator with better gear.

The highlight of the boat tour was the "boy band" performance, followed by the floating bar. After playing a few songs on their "Yamaha" drumset and inviting a "ladyboy" to entertain the guests, the MC asked everyone on the boat where they came from. Then he forced them to karaoke to a song from that country. There were some hilarious misses, with "Land Down Under" being given to two Australians who hardly knew the words, but the best moment came when the MC realized there were South Koreans on board. Pretty soon, they were performing a perfect rendition of Gangnam Style that had the whole boat dying.

but they knew every move

After the performances completed, it was time for the floating bar. Rob was so excited that he didn't get any photos, which was a miss. Basically, you dive/jump into the water from the boat, the staff throws you a tube, and you float in the water with cocktails dispensed by a staff members in a bigger tube. It was great fun, and there's no better way to make friends than floating in a tube with a drink.

Even though we spent most of our time on the water, we actually really liked Nha Trang on land as well. The setting and landscaping was beautiful, you get a huge platter of fresh seafood on the beach for $7, and you can watch artisans create amazing embroidery "paintings" in the main square. It was a worthy stop on our trip up the coast.

this is embroidery… amazing


In Mui Ne, we stayed at Cocosands, which wasn't on the beach side of the road, but did offer the three of us a huge bungalow for $15. The biggest problem was the smell of fish sauce that permeated the room and somehow got into my pack cover. The biggest plus was the location—central to all the good bars and restaurants.

In Nha Trang, we bunkered down at the celebrated Carpe DM. Hard to believe our room for three was $23. It was appointed like a luxury hotel, with a balcony overlooking a local soccer field. The biggest issue here were the towels. For some reason, they had a hard time remembering to give us three instead of two.

Food and Drink

The best place in Mui Ne is undoubtedly Lam Tong, right on the beach and with good prices for breakfast, seafood, smoothies, and everything else. It's also right next to some of the best nightlife, which makes things easy.

TIP: If you don't have a pool at your hotel, check out Sankara right on the beach

You can use the pool for free as long as you order a drink, and the decor and music is top notch. (Plus, there's wifi.)


Our police run-in meant we didn't get to sample the beach seafood in Mui Ne, so we made up for it in Nha Trang with a huge seafood platter, complete with clams, lobster, and shrimp.

Eating fresh caught shrimp, lobster and clams
TIP: As with everything else, prices for beach seafood BBQs are negotiable

The more skeptical you look, the larger your platter will become.

Another favorite in Nha Trang was Lanterns, which served up a delicious (and huge) dinner at reasonable prices. That said, we did mostly eat street food, as the banh mis (sandwiches), smoothies, and pho were too cheap and delectable to pass up.

TIP: If your hotel in Nha Trang doesn't have a pool, you can use the one at Louisiane Brewhouse (on the beach) for free

Know that the lounges are 40,000D each, and the restaurant doesn't comp them even if you order food. Pretty crappy, and the beer wasn't great either.

For nightlife in Nha Trang, make sure you get down to Sailing Club. It's worth one late night, and if you want to avoid the cover charge, just walk in from the beach.


Our bus from Mui Ne to Nha Trang was uneventful and pretty cheap, at $6 each. It took an absurd 6 hours to cover the distance, but that was to be expected. That said, it was one of the most beautiful drives we've had in our 3 months of travel. The entire thing was on the coast, with views of the glittering waves, red dunes, and fishing villages. Sit on the right side of the bus for the best sightseeing.

We had our first experience with a real sleeper bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An. Even though we booked the "tourist" bus for $13, we were put on a local bus that didn't have a bathroom and didn't have the seats we'd reserved. Rob and Dean ended up on top, while I got the lower bunk. The experience became even worse when the locals with the "cheap" seats came on, as they basically lie down on the floor in between the beds. I shared a few feet of space with three Vietnamese men, one of whom somehow ended up on my lap in the middle of the night. It was a long 12 hours, though it wouldn't have been as bad if we had expected the bus we received. The only good thing to come from the journey is that the travel agency we booked our tickets with did issue us a refund of $3 each, so we ended up paying the proper amount for the bus we took.

TIP: When booking a sleeper bus, ask the agent over and over again whether there's a toilet and whether the bus company allows people to sleep on the floor

The insistence might decrease your chances of getting bumped to a worse bus, which is what happened to us.

More Vietnam Beaches

Interested in seeing the sand dunes and beaches of Vietnam without paying for a plane ticket? Check out our photo tour from Mui Ne and our Nha Trang photo tour.

Leave any backpacking tips for Mui Ne and Nha Trang in the comments!