Last updated April 2022 | Words and photos by Vietnam Coracle
Due northeast of the popular beach retreat of Mũi Né, the landscape turns arid and wide along the coast. Drifts of red and white sand form huge dunes rising just inland from the sea. A new, empty highway crosses the dunes, plunging through the sand and across the desert-like landscape to the small fishing village of Phan Rí Cửa. Further still, there are long stretches of empty beach and deserted coast roads near Liên Hương, and boulder-strewn mountains which meet the glistening seas at Cà Ná. This route – The Sand Dune Highway between Mũi Né and Cà Ná – is relatively short, easy to follow, all on good roads with light traffic, and a great way to escape the crowds of Mũi Né for a day or two, or as part of a longer coastal road trip.
GUIDE: SAND DUNE HIGHWAY
The Sand-swept Coastal Route between Mũi Né & Cà Ná
In this guide, I’ve written a description of the scenic coastal route between Mũi Né and Cà Ná, including a route map and suggestions of places to see, stay and eat along the way. You can ride this route one-way (as part of a longer, multi-day road trip) or return (as a day-night trip from Mũi Né). Any time of year is good, although there’ll be some rain between May and October. If you don’t already have a motorbike, renting one in Mũi Né should be easy. Note that one section of this route is infamous for a police check-point that usually results in foreign riders paying a considerable fine. However, this is easily avoided by taking a detour (see this paragraph for details). Finally, this route can be linked with several other fantastic coastal rides: see Related Posts.
*Road Safety & Disclaimer: Riding a motorbike in Vietnam – or anywhere in the world – has its dangers. I would hope & expect anyone who chooses to pursue a self-drive road trip based on the information on this website does so with care, respect & due diligence. I encourage careful riding & adherence to road rules, but I am not responsible for the legality or manner in which you ride, nor any negative consequences which may result from your decision to ride a motorbike in Vietnam: you do so at your own risk. Read more >
Sand Dune Highway: Mũi Né to Cà Ná
View LARGER MAP
Please Support my Site
I never receive payment for anything I write: all my content is free to read & independently financed. There’s no sponsored content whatsoever. If you like this guide, please consider making a donation or becoming a patron.
Thank you, Tom
- Route: Mũi Né to Cà Ná via the sandy, scenic coastal route
- Distance: 110km (one-way)
- Duration: 3 hours-1 day
- Scenery: beaches, sand dunes, fishing villages, big, arid, empty landscapes
- Attractions: sand dunes, empty beaches, swimming, expansive views, great riding
- Road Conditions: good, smooth, paved roads, light traffic
Start the route from either Phan Thiết (the provincial capital) or Mũi Né (the long strip of beachside resorts nearby). Immediately, however, you’ll need to make a decision: take the pretty coast road through Mũi Né village, around the promontory and along the shoreline but risk being stopped (and fined) by the traffic police, or take a detour inland, avoiding the police and then rejoining the coastal route near Hòa Thắng. The detour is easy, scenic, quiet and hardly adds any mileage to the route (see the red line on my map); the coast road is very pretty, passing the famous coracle-filled bay near Mũi Né fishing village and the Red Sand Dunes, but as a foreign rider you are almost guaranteed to be stopped by police at an infamous check-point roughly marked on my map. Regardless of whether you have a local driving license and are following all regulations, it’s highly likely that you’ll still be stopped, questioned and fined, or even have your bike impounded. It doesn’t really matter whether you think this is fair or not: the only thing that matters is that this is the reality of the situation at the moment. For this reason, I would advise taking the detour. However, some riders I know are willing to pay the fine just for the pleasure of riding this section of coast road. You decide.
After taking either the detour or encountering the traffic cops, the two routes connect on a windswept, arid plateau covered in cassava farms, cashew trees, and studded with wind turbines near Hòa Thắng. The Sand Dune Highway starts proper after a sharp right turn due east. The road widens into four lanes and the asphalt sweeps into the distance. Just a few years ago, this road was nothing more than a red-dirt track (as seen in this video). The impressive White Sand Dunes rise behind a cobalt-blue lake. You can walk and slide on the dunes as much as you like, which is great fun, although the sand can get extremely hot during the middle of the day. It’s also possible to drive on the dunes on quad-bikes. However, I’d advise against this, because the tyre tracks are starting to ruin the aesthetic of the once smooth contours and the noise is terrible: I’m surprised it was allowed in the first place.
Stay on the highway as it leaves the dunes behind, ploughing northeast and dropping off the tourist radar altogether. From here to the fishing village of Phan Rí Cửa it’s 20km of smooth tarmac through uncultivated, dry, desert-like terrain. In the soaring temperatures during the middle of the day, there’s something thrilling about this burnt, thirsty landscape, with the ocean and curving coastline on one side, and large drifts of white sand on the other. Indeed, stretches of this road have become selfie hotspots for young Vietnamese road-trippers.
The new highway ends when it hits a bridge over the Lũy River and enters Phan Rí Cửa. There’s a rough edge to this fishing village, but it’s an exceptionally lively place for its size. There’s usually a good cluster of street food vendors and cafes in town and a busy, fascinating fish market. However, there’s not much reason to linger, so continue due east through town and out the other side along the coast towards Chí Công, a rocky bluff that is entirely covered with ramshackle fishermen’s dwellings: it looks like a barnacled rock.
The road weaves around Chí Công to the other side of the bluff where a curving bay stretches out before you. For 10km the coast road runs alongside an excellent beach, with not a hotel or tour group in sight. Stop for a swim in the glistening sea and relax beneath the shade of casuarina trees. However, as is so often the case with undeveloped beauty spots in Vietnam, this coastline is a popular weekend picnic spot for locals and domestic tourists, who enjoy epic picnics and barbecues on the shore here. But, sadly, many picnickers neglect to take their rubbish away with them. The trash is appalling.
At the end of the long, lovely bay, the road veers north towards the town of Liên Hương, passing the entrance to Cổ Thạch (a pagoda-filled headland) along the way. A hot and dusty town, Liên Hương has a good local market and several local cafes, food outlets and guest houses. From here head north to join Highway 1 for a short, fast burst through an arid landscape towards Cà Ná. Thanks to recent upgrades, this section of Highway 1 is now in excellent condition. The scenery is parched and rocky, including giant salt fields and, at Vĩnh Tân, a series of enormous coal power plants. But the last few kilometres to Cà Ná is beautiful as the highway runs alongside the deep blue sea on one side and impressive, cactus-studded mountains on the other.
At Cà Ná the road and railway run side by side, parallel to the ocean. There are several places to enjoy a swim in this area, as well as some seafood restaurants and a handful of accommodation options. (However, noise pollution from the road can be annoying.) Either stay a night in Cà Ná before heading back to Mũi Né the next day, or continue north on the Dragons’ Graveyard coast road to Phan Rang and further still on the Núi Chúa coast road to Cam Ranh.
Places to Stay:
Although you could easily ride from Mũi Né to Cà Ná and back in one day, it is much more relaxing and pleasant to break the journey over two days and one night. In Mũi Né (and Phan Thiết) there are hundreds of accommodation options, of which you can browse and book on this page. Elsewhere on the route, however, there are only a few clusters of local guest houses (nhà nghỉ), mini-hotels (khách sạn) and small resorts.
Cà Ná: It makes most sense to stay in Cà Ná, because this is the end of the route before the return journey and because this is where the best accommodation is. Hòn Cò-Ca Na Resort is a decent mid-range place to stay with sea views and beach access. Just west of the resort, along the seafront by the highway, there are a handful of other small hotels that are pretty cheap and fine for one night.
Liên Hương, Cổ Thạch & Phan Rí Cửa: Elsewhere on the route there are several cheap, local guest houses scattered here and there. Liên Hương has a couple of nhà nghỉ guest houses that you’ll see as you ride through town. South of Liên Hương, on a rocky promontory, is the Cổ Thạch tourist area, where several cheap guest houses can be found. Further west along the coast, in the rustic, bustling fishing village of Phan Rí Cửa there are a couple of OK local nhà nghỉ for a night. Any of these places are fine for one night if you run out of time or if you’re particularly fond of staying in places that almost no other foreign travellers do.
Food & Drink:
Both Phan Rí Cửa and Liên Hương have fairly active street food scenes and local fresh produce and fish markets. As you ride through either of these towns during mealtimes you’ll find plenty to eat and drink. Seafood, of course, is readily available on this route. The seafood shacks (quán hải sản) at the eastern end of the coast road near Liên Hương are especially good (try to time it so that you can stop here for lunch). There are also seafood restaurants along the highway and coast at Cà Ná, but they are a bit too expensive and often full of coach passengers. Another good stop in the evenings for shellfish barbecues and other tasty treats are the dozens of shacks that set up near Phan Rí Cửa on the west side of the bridge.
This being Vietnam, there’s are cafes throughout the route. I’ve always had a soft spot for the old, local coffee house on a corner at the centre of Liên Hương (their cà phê sữa đá is fantastic).
*Disclosure: I never receive payment for anything I write: my content is always free and independent. I’ve written this guide because I want to: I like this route and I want my readers to know about them. For more details, see my Disclosure & Disclaimer statements and my About Page