One benefit of being a travel blog addict is having some great recommendations before even arriving in a destination. While Mui Ne may be best known for its watersports, we were also eager to get out and explore dry land. When we were deciding where to go with our rental motorcycle, I though back to a post by Adventurous Kate in which she described driving to a far away temple on a hill.
Ta Cu Mountain
And so off we went towards Ta Cu Mountain, in search of its beautiful reclining Buddha. But our directions were horrible and our Vietnamese even worse- so we ended up following a now-familiar pattern of using our whims and intuitions to navigate for over in hour, unsure if we were anywhere near our final destination. Whenever I started to get a bit nervous about this arrangement, I was quickly distracted by a beautiful valley of dragon fruit plants, or an 18 wheeler truck trying to pass us on a two lane highway.
Once again our intuitions seemed to be finely tuned and we found ourselves at the base of Ta Cu Mountain. As the hard part was over, we patted ourselves on the back for skipping a tour and DIY-ing it, once again. We did not, however, DIY our trip up the mountain. Instead, we took the cable car.
On our way up I realized that we were in our third cable car since reaching Vietnam. And it wasn’t getting old. Not with the beautiful views and the boyfriend sticking his head out the window like a dog in the front seat of a truck.
Our physically arduous
hike ride up the mountain was rewarded with some beautiful views. This was the Vietnam I had pictured in my mind: crumbling pagodas overlooking lush tropical vistas.
Although we had spared ourselves the vast majority of the required effort by taking the cable car, we did have to do a fair bit of trudging through the simmering heat.
The Buddha was worth it. At 59 meters long, it is even larger than the infamous reclining Buddha in Bangkok. Since we visited, I’ve seen photos where the Buddha was mud-streaked and grey. But when we arrived he was as pure and white as he’ll ever be, as evidenced by several stray paint cans lying about.
For a sense of scale, look at this photo of me and the Buddha’s feet. I’m about the size of a couple of toes.
We were two of very few tourists there, and absolutely the only two Western tourists. We even had a stretch of time where it was just us and the Buddha.
I’m not very surprised though, as this spot gets only a brief mention in Lonely Planet. Finally, my blog reading addiction was paying off! Getting to Ta Cu Mountain was an adventure, and it was worth it.
We didn’t linger for too long, as we had much more to see in Mui Ne…
A staple on the afternoon jeep tour peddled in every travel agency in Mui Ne, the Fairy Spring is a poetically named stream that snakes through a scenic patch of dunes with now-famous rock and sand formations.
Because it is Vietnam, there were three separate attempts to part us from our money with ten minutes of arrival (1-parking scam, 2-admission scam, 3-“tour guide” offers). Managing to avoid them all and enjoy a free attraction for free, we reached the stream, slipped off our shoes and started up the watery path.
At first, I wasn’t so impressed. But that quickly gave way to awe at the other-worldly landscapes and colors unfolding in front of us.
The bizarreness was enhanced by the group of Vietnamese teenagers perpetually a few steps behind us who would periodically build up their bravery, run up to snap a myspace-style photo of themselves and one of us, and run back to the group shrieking.
At then end of the stream there was a rubbish-filled waterfall to wrap things up. In this case, the journey absolutely is the destination.
Despite my doubts, the Fairy Spring really was worth the hype. No one should come through Mui Ne and miss this nearby and free natural wonder! Ta Cu Mountain is worth the journey for those with more time and with their own transportation (or willing to pay for a tour!) But we still hadn’t yet stopped at Mui Ne’s most famous slice of Mother Nature…
To Be Continued!
Your pictures are absolutely beautiful!
Thanks Brittany! For all the difficulties of Vietnam, it was a photographer’s paradise!
Can’t wait to read the next one about the famous slice of Mother Nature. The suspense is killing me
You won’t have to wait long… it’s on the docket for tomorrow 🙂
I am so happy that you went! 🙂 it’s a really nice journey that not too many people do.
I’m glad you wrote about it! Like I said, Lonely Planet doesn’t make too much of a fuss over it so I wouldn’t have known it was worth the drive if I hadn’t remembered to look through your archives that morning.
I said it to my friends and family when I went to Hanoi and I’ll say it again after seeing these pictures. I don’t understand how we went to war in such a beautiful country filled with beautiful people. I understand the politics of it, but to know that we dropped the bombs we did on this beautiful country really break my heart.
Great images as always.
It certainly gives great pause. I think any American would have a very hard time visiting Vietnam and not taking time for some deep introspection.
Hi Alex, thanks so much for yet another great post! We are now finalising our trip to Mui Ne. As we arrive HCMC at 830am on Saturday we will miss the 715am open bus. We decided to skip HCMC altogether and stay in Mui Ne. We will arrive quite late on the Saturday evening. We plan to take the 9am bus back to HCMC on Monday. Since we only have Sunday, is that enough time to cover the Ta Cu Mountain, Fairy Stream and the Dunes? Initially we wanted to take a tour but we would really prefer DIY.
First of all, I think there might be buses available that you aren’t seeing online. I would bet if you head to Pham Ngu Lao backpacker area in Saigon you will find a bus departing mid day for Mui Ne. But if not, I think it is possible to do all three in one day, you’ll just have to get up early! Do Ta Cu Mountain first, then head to Fairy Springs. By then it should be a bit cooler and you can head to the dunes. Keep in mind the white dunes are about 40 minutes away from the red ones. Just rent a bike from someone willing to draw you a map!
This place looks fabulous! I guess one of us would need to get over our fear of riding a scooter to get out there 😀
Dani, I’m really impressed that you guys have traveled so far and wide while managing to avoid scooters! I started driving one six months ago and guess what- I’m still a nervous nelly! I guess its not for everyone.
Well we didn’t plan on avoiding them but I drove a scooter straight into a ditch on Koh Lanta (which was pretty painful) – that was our 1st and last attempt to ride one – and we’re both too scared to get back on them now. One of us has to get over our fear though, not sure who it’ll be 😉 We keep seeing tourists injured from scooter accidents and keep hearing horror stories, which doesn’t make it easier…
I had a pretty traumatic first driving experience (which I wrote about here) I felt great when I wrote that post but since then I’ve taken another tumble and now I’m back to being a nervous nelly!
A couple thoughts:
1. I personally am OK with a VND2000-5000 ($.10-$.25) charge for someone guarding parked mopeds. I’ve paid parking fees in San Francisco, LA, and Chicago that I’d consider FAR more extortionate even if they were “legal”. Also, as tangential ‘deep thought’ of mine, I find that a lot of people have found a way to do things that are technically legal but immoral. I also find that people in the U.S. take for granted that if something is or isn’t legal than it must or must not be immoral.
2. I forgot what 2 was.
Well, the extortionate part of our situation was more when we chose to park in the “free” zone rather than the “guarded” zone and were told the police would be called on us! We weren’t surprised as it was something we had read about in guidebooks. Also, we weren’t necessarily choosing to do so solely because we are stingy (though goodness knows we are) but more because we made a conscious choice in Cambodia after speaking to many aid workers that we weren’t going to support those using child labor (AKA kids in Vietnam guarding bikes when they should be in school, kids in Cambodia selling flowers when they should be in bed) in the hopes that someday it will be phased out. Idealistic? Yes. But it’s what we decided to do.
Me again! Your blog is like my own personal travel guide! Just wondering, in your opinion could you do the sand dune AND the buddha in one day?
Hey Katie! It’s been years since I was in Vietnam so I’m having a hard time remembering! I do believe that we left very early in the morning for the Buddha and then went to the white sand dunes for sunset, but if I recall correctly it was a very rushed day and we went back again another day for the further-away yellow sand dunes. Hope that helps!
Ok, thst def helps! Thanks!
Alex, your outlook is so refreshing. Did you miss out on the sunsets at Mui Ne fishing harbor and the uncrowded beaches north towards the white sand dunes and lakes? There’s now a backpacker camp site by the beach on the grounds of Longson Mui Ne Restaurant & Beach Club at Suoi Nuoc beach 7 km north from the harbor.
Hey John, thank you! I did go to the white sand dunes and lakes — they are in another post! I loved Mui Ne but sounds like I have plenty of reasons to return again 🙂
Your picture absolutely amazing!
How many hours you got the temple from city ? I would like to go there in May.
Thank you 🙂
Hey Rizqa! Apologies for not including that information in my original post, because I definitely don’t remember now! Maybe Google Maps could help? Sorry about that!