Sand Dunes of Mui Ne Survival Guide

If your Vietnam itinerary includes a stop in seaside Mui Ne, you’ll likely find yourself at the yellow sand dunes, where street children rent out plastic sleds to tourists. It’s easy to to let the third-world “charm” of the kids overwhelm you (and they will lay it on thick), but don’t be fooled — the kids are actually very cunning.

Follow these tips if you want to enjoy your visit to the dunes:

  1. Set the price before you slide. The going rate is 5,000 VND per slide. If you don’t quote the kids before you slide, they’ll charge you an exorbitant amount and attempt any or all of the following.
  2. Stay close to other tourists. This is a given if you go with a tour guide. However, if you arrive on a rented motorbike, you’ll be swarmed by eager juvenile salesmen. The plan is to take you to a remote spot where a group of kids can surround you and squeeze more money out of you. This can get nasty.
  3. Don’t let the kids hold any of your belongings. One of the kids will offer to take pictures. This is okay, but if you give the kids your sandals, a helmet, etc., they may hold them as collateral and demand you give them more money.
  4. The kids work together. If you pay just one of the children, the others may feign being ripped off, claiming the kid you paid isn’t with them. The truth is that any of the kids that accompany you to the dunes work together. Best advice: arrive with small money.

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3 responses to “Sand Dunes of Mui Ne Survival Guide

  1. Hey TJ – any photos of the dunes? I’d love to see what they look like, especially photos including sledding tourists. Sounds like a riot!

  2. Solid advice. I’d like to hear more about the slides. I will be sure to check it out when I make it to Mui Ne.

  3. Simon

    I had this scam pulled on me at the Mui Ne red sand dunes. I bicycled there and when I finally found the place after many wrong turns (useless lonely planet map) a guy by the side of the road shouted to me and informed me I couldn’t take the bike any further. He said I had to leave it at one of the restaurants across the road from the dunes and buy a drink there for the privilege. I was thirsty anyway so bought one and then he offered to rent me a sand board for 60,000 dong. I didn’t know of anywhere else to rent one from so I paid up. He told me that the dunes where all the other tourists were going (to the right when facing the dunes from the road) were not good for boarding and that I should definitely head to the left. I started walking up to the right anyway as I wanted to check out why everyone else was going up there and he saw me from the road and shouted at me to go to the left. It was when I arrived at the top of the dune to the left that I was set upon by 6 children who started by trying to rent me a sandboard even though I already had one. They asked me how much I paid and when I told them they said I’d been ripped off and that they would have rented me one for 30,000 dong. I tried to sandboard down a short dip but the kids wouldn’t leave me alone and insisted that I follow them to a steeper dune, far away from all the rest of the tourists. When we arrived there, it was steep alright and they told me to take off my shoes so that they could show me how to sandboard. I kept my small backpack on as I didn’t trust them to leave it at the top of the dune. When I reached the bottom, I checked my bag and noticed the zip was open a little. I zipped it up fully again and walked to the top of the dune where the kids insisted on helping me again. It was when I was about to slide down again that I felt a very slight vibration on my back. I quickly turned round and there was a kid between the legs of the one helping to push me down the lip of the dune who suddenly jumped back. When I reached the bottom, I noticed that my bag was open again. I checked the contents and thankfully nothing was missing. I didn’t want to be around these kids any more so I said I was leaving, I was able to make it to the top and get my shoes back but the ringleader said that I now had to tip them. I offered 50,000 dong but this resulted in howls of protest. “Give us that big note!” the ringleader shouted at me (he must have seen I had a 500,000 kip note (£15). I tried walking away but they kept on saying that they would in no way except anything less than 200,000 dong and that it wasn’t fair “man” because I’d given the guy 60,000 for the board and there was 6 of them that helped me. They wouldn’t stop surrounding me and shouting and whining and to be frank, bullying and all the time I was trying to make my way (slowly, as it’s quite slippery) across the dunes, it was a pretty embarrassing scene and I felt pretty alone with them passive aggressively and also full on aggressively making me out to be some big mean westerner. Flashbacks to my days as a primary school kid in the playground were flashing through my head. Eventually one came up and said they would accept 150,000 dong. By this time I was so exhausted, I just wanted to get away from them so pulled out 150,000 but still had another 50,000 in my hand. I gave them the 150,000 and they kept on shouting at me that I had to give them the other 50,000 which I shoved in my pocket. Then they started shouting at me that I had to give them “their” board back even though they knew I’d rented it elsewhere. Then, they saw my bike at the bottom of the dunes outside the cafe and one of them started running for it. I had to run after him in case he stole my bike and held it as collateral. It was at this point the other 50,000 in my pocket must have fallen on the dunes, so I lost this too. I got to my bike and the guy who rented me the board came out and I informed him that the kids had tried to open my bag. He berated them a bit but the kids started acting all innocent and laughing. The guy who rented me the board must have been in on it as he told me to go to the left in the first place!
    This was a really bad experience that left me feeling very annoyed. I should stress that not all children in Vietnam are like this. Most dleight at seeing westerners and always shout hello to you. Only days previously on the beach in Hoi An me and some friends played some Vietnamese kids at football and frisbee and had a great laugh. I still fantasise about returning to the Mui Ne Red sands with a shovel though and burying all those kids up to their necks, this is probably normal. It’s really when you’re on your own that you’re most vulnerable to scams.
    My advice on going there is, don’t do what anyone tells you and ALWAYS head to the right where all the other tourists are. If any children approach you, scare them off.

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