Part I: The White Sand Dunes
The White Sand Dunes, or Bao Trang (White Lake) is the top attraction at Mui Ne, after the beach itself. The massive, saharan dunes lay 65 km NE of Phan Thiet. The dunes range from gold to pure white (red dunes may be found further south at Mui Ne village). A small stand of pine trees sit on the southern end of the dune lakes, offering a perfect spot for a picnic and afternoon nap.
The Bao Trang area has 3 lakes: Bau Ong (Gentleman Lake), Bau Ba (Lady Lake) which is the largest, and Bau Xoai (Mango Lake) which is the smallest, and several ponds. Bau Ba is 14.5 m at the deepest point and Bau Ong is 22 m deep. The two lake have a combined water volume of 12,131,900 m3. The shallower ends of the lakes are covered in beautiful flowering lotuses, and thus the area is sometimes referred to as "Lotus Lake" by tour companies; further adding to the great confusion of so many names for the same area. While visitors often swim in Bau Ba , this should be done with great care. Locals tell stories of many children tangling their feet in the reeds and drowning.
a tourist enjoys sand-sledding on the dunes
As the area's only water source, it has likely been settled for over 1000 years and has a rich, but little-known history. The south shore once had a large Cham temple to the goddess Thien Y Ana, but now the ruins have been swallowed up by the marauding dunes. In 1867 Poet Nguyen Thong visited the lakes and wrote a series of well-known poems. During the revolutionary period, it served as the Le Hong Phong Revolutionary Base for Vietnamese soldiers. A few small villages exist now around the lakes, nestled in the dunes.
Local residents subsist on crops of peanuts, corn, manioc (cassava), and watermelon. The primary livelihood in the area however, is fishing. Some families also raise livestock. In the dunes area, goat herds are very common; which are raised for meat rather than dairy. Until this century, people living in this area could only reach Mui Ne or Phan Thiet by boat. Travel by land would have meant a dangerous trek through the hot dune sea that extends for many kilometers. The present highway and power lines to the area were only built a few years ago.
The average temperature at Bau Trang is 27C. With no overhead cover on the dunes themselves, there is intense sunshine and a reflective glare off the dunes and the lakes below. This is also the driest known location in all of SE Asia (only 50 cm rainfall annually). For this reason, visitors should take great care to bring adequate sub protection and water.
Although the dunes may now be reached by motorbike, the best way to reach them is by Jeep. Visitors taking motorbikes often underestimate the distance between Mui Ne and the dunes, and do not bring enough water or gas for the return trip. Travel by jeep, although more expensive, allows the option of a scenic drive on the beach and views of a small island off the coast--otherwise not possible by motorbike. Trips to the dunes typically include stop-offs at fairly springs, the red sand dunes and the red sand canyons. The best times to visit the dunes are in early morning for sunrise (sunrise is 5:30 am - 6:30 am) or sunset (6:00 pm - 7:00 pm); offering the best lighting for photography.
If you keep your keys, there is no need to worry about your motorbike being stolen. There is a new area under the trees to store them. There may or may not be a fee of a few thousand Dong VN for parking. There is a new snack stand under the trees, which may have drinks available, but don't rely on it solely.
There are several villages in the area, but there are currently no hotels or resorts operating in the vicinity for good reason. As the driest location in SE Asia, the local water source could not support the water needs of guests or landscaping for hotels. It is likely that any significant commercial development could extinguish the fragile water supply and eliminate the local communities.