Windsurfing was a rewarding new challenge, and getting off the beaten path to explore the mountain temple of Ta Cu was exhilarating, but nothing excited me more than the chance to see, photograph, and play in the famous Mui ne sand dunes.
There are two distinctive hot spots: The red dunes, about 20 minutes drive outside Mui Ne, are more visited and more prone to garbage and pollution. The white dunes are about an hour drive from Mui Ne and are also heavily visited by tour groups, though are in better condition. Never one to compromise, I insisted we had to see both. And so off on the bikes we went…
The Red Sand Dunes
Having never been to the Middle East or Africa, I had never laid eyes on such large rolling hills of sand. Not that we had the place to ourselves: photographers were setting up tripods, tourists were unloading from their jeep tours, and local kids were chasing after them with scraps of plastic offering rides down the dunes. My first impression? What a workout to walk through! Still, I couldn’t have been happier to be there.
After snapping the above shot of me, Mark, my favorite camera model, wanted a jump shot of his own. And I wanted to take advantage of our surroundings, named by Lonely Planet as a “photographer’s paradise.” While in one direction the sun was beginning to set, in the other direction sat the most beautiful sky of clouds I’ve ever been lucky enough to photograph. There were several takes…
… but finally we got “The Shot,” on of my favorites of the year!
And of course then I wanted in on the fun as well.
I found it very difficult to get that perfect picture of the dunes without footprints or debris. This was about as close as I got, though I could do without that patch-of-something in the middle.
The following black and white photo is, in my opinion, simply the best photo Mark has ever taken. Lucky me to be the subject!
I was having a blast shooting at the dunes (seriously, I was giggling like a schoolgirl) but there were also challenges. Low light, the wind whipping sand into my camera and into my contacts, and people and footprints trying to creep into every shot. It’s a miracle we got anything!
I was eager to see the white sand dunes as well, so we packed up to leave as 20 more jeep tours rolled up.
Mark couldn’t resist a few last jumps.
The downside of deciding to DIY (do-it-yourself) your own tour is that you don’t have all that insider knowledge and info, like where exactly the white sand dunes are located.
So we drove around fairly fruitlessly, enjoying the deserted roads and neon sky… and vowing to get better directions tomorrow.
The White Sand Dunes
The next day we teamed up with some friends who were also determined to find the white sand dunes. Armed with loosely written directions and our knowledge from the day before, we set off for the hour long drive along the coast.
It turns out we had been right all along the day before, we just hadn’t gone far enough. But all is well that ends well and we were enjoying riding with our new friends and traveling as a group, though unfortunately we did catch the eye of some extortionate traffic cops. Mark and I managed to hide off the side of the road but the other three bikes ended up with bogus fines.
Our timing was perfect, getting us to the sand dunes just in time for sunset and just as the majority of jeep tours were heading towards the red sand dunes.
Immediately I agreed with the consensus that the white dunes were infinitely more attractive. The scenic lake butting up next to them didn’t hurt either.
I do most of my shooting in bright daylight, so I admit I’m a bit disappointed by the quality of some of these low light photos. Obviously this is my fault and not the cameras…. always room for improvement!
I did get a few photos I’m happy with, like this one:
And what was Mark up to? What a surprise, jumping off a few more sand dunes.
This was one of the most amazing sunsets of my life. The company and the setting combined to make a sublime evening. Best of all, we had the dunes nearly to ourselves.
We watched patiently as the sky turned from this…
Would you believe me if I said these photos aren’t altered in photoshop? I have a video coming up with some clips of this sunset that might make you a believer.
When our minds and our memory cards were full and we started to get up and go, we were greeted by the bizarre sight of two people running towards us in morph suits. I was dying to see what they were up to, but we had to use what little light was left to get back to town. If anyone has seen these two circulating the web in a viral video or something, let me know!
And with that perfect evening, our exploration of Mui Ne was complete. I can’t recommend this beachside town more highly. Adrenaline junkies, photographers, beach bums, wanderers… there’s something for everyone in this little corner of Vietnam.