Experience the Grueling Wonders of Mui Ne's Ta Cu Mountain

By: Keely Burkey

Not too long ago, the hard-working souls of City Pass Guide banded together to enjoy a colourful, blissful weekend at Pandanus Resort in Mui Ne. On that Saturday, the individuals who weren’t suffering from the rum-soaked festivities of the night before drove out to Ta Cu Mountain to hike, to see, and to photograph.

This is our story.

Encent in Ta Cu Mountain

A Divisive Start (Or, Alternative Team Building)

From our resort on the sandy edge of Mui Ne, the first thing to say is: getting to Ta Cu Mountain will be an event in and of itself. The road was long, dusty and filled with honking trucks barrelling down the roads.

Another thing I and my nine other City Pass team members noticed on the way to the mountain was 1) we would get to the entrance at about 1 p.m., and 2) that happened to be the hottest time on an already hot day in Phan Thiet.

The obligatory cable-car-versus-hiking debate began early.

Cable car in Ta Cu Mountain

In the end, our team split. Four individuals (won’t say who!) took the cable car (a relatively new addition to the mountain experience that will cost a person VND 120,000 for a round trip ticket or VND 80,000 for a one-way ticket) while six took their chances on the wild, untamed mountain range that is the path to Ta Cu Mountain’s illustrious peak.

Into Thin Air (But Way Less Polluted than Saigon’s)

I, for one, was extremely excited by the prospect of going on a proper hike. Hiking and, further, exercising outdoors is something that I always took for granted before I moved to Saigon. It wasn’t until I was faced with the opportunity to go on a hike that I realised how much I missed it in the first place.

My colleagues, not so much.

However, they agreed, and by the time things really got rough (about a third of the way up) there was no opportunity to turn back. In the end, we all made it through without any tears or scrapes, and we were all the better for having done it.

To be fair, it was a more challenging hike than I had anticipated. Had I known how difficult the hike would be, I think I would have opted for the cable car as well. The terrain was a mix of large boulders, dirt paths, and dilapidated stone stairs that sometimes had to be climbed up, such was their verticality. In one or two places, I had to use the trees flanking the path to pull myself up a small, untended hill.

Monkeys in Ta Cu mountain

The best thing about the hike? The views. And these aren’t the views that you’re thinking about. Look around when you’re hiking up Ta Cu, and you’ll see trees all around you. You’ll hear the deafening roar of cicadas from all directions. You’ll see wildlife, like brightly coloured lizards, insects and monkeys – if you’re lucky – doing their thing and paying you no mind. This was jungle nature at its best.

Lizard chilling on a rock

Which is why the pollution all along the trail made me even more sad. Plastic bottles littered the pathway and were thrown in literal heaps at the several rest points along the way up. So please, if and when you tackle this beautiful hike, store your empty water bottle till the top!

The Reclining Buddha and Other Marvels

Having finally hauled ourselves to the top of the mountain, we met up with the others, had a nice lunch at a large mountaintop restaurant, and switched roles. Now it was our turn to explore what Ta Cu Mountain had to offer.

The Pagoda

Pagoda Ta Cu Montain

The pagoda consisted of a few buildings, not incredibly well maintained, and a lengthy staircase to get to them. My legs being completely numb at this point, I was able to hobble to the top with relative ease.

Compared to other pagodas I’ve been to in Vietnam, this one seemed a little less maintained (perhaps due to the inconvenient building place). However, it’s apparent that the beauty of the pagoda itself isn’t important alongside the view, the mountain and the monks themselves. There was a peaceful vibe there that I can’t deny.

The Buddha

Lying buddha in Ta Cu Mountain

It’s impossible to write a proper blog article about Ta Cu Mountain and not mention the magnificent reclining buddha nestled in the forest. Said to be the largest reclining buddha statue in Vietnam, this beautiful work of art is around 49 metres long and made out of concrete and painted sparkling white.

Buddha face in the wild

To see that stark white against the dark green background was, simply, breathtaking.

The Cave

Here’s a little-known fact for you. If you’re facing the reclining buddha, look to your right. You should see some large stones with spray painted arrows on them. If you’re relatively nimble and you don’t mind climbing over some boulders, follow these arrows.

Within a few minutes, you should come to a small opening in the rocks on your left-hand side. This small opening is actually a cave. For those intrepid enough to go inside, you’ll find a small shrine to commemorating a monk who meditated there. Be warned, though: many insects and snakes have since made the cave their residence, so if you do feel up to visiting the cave, be sure to just explore the opening cavern.

Mui Ne Sand & Water

By: Joe Springer-Miller

On Sand and Water

A friend of mine once commented, “So you live on a houseboat?” “Yeah, kinda… It’s an ocean of sand under us. It’s a sand dune beach.”

When you live in Mui Ne, you become more and more aware of living in a sea of change. Development, politics, tourism… but especially the environment. Everyone talks about the “microclimate” here, but we all keep trying to figure out what that really means. In Muine, we live on sand. Wet sand, dry sand, clean sand… dusty sand. We buy and sell it. We shovel it. We suck it up and spit it out with machines. We love it so much and when it goes, we miss it. Like an old and endearing friend, it always comes back.

Fifty kilometers inland sand seems to tip out of the mountains and in a sluice between the rocky points of the Cham towers to the southwest, and the peninsula that holds the town of Muine to the east and north, this sand pours into the south China Sea (called The East Sea in Vietnam). Wind picks up sand, grains at a time, and takes them up towards the mountains again. From the mountains to the sea, it’s a big sluice. We live on a fifty kilometer deep beach. 

The sand gets hot and creates a “heat draught” that pulls air off the ocean and makes Muine one of the best and most predictable wind sport spots in the world. Even as sand inland gets hot, the wind from the sea keeps the temperature near perfect along the coast. If the temperature drops for some reason, the warm air over the sand dunes seems to fall back towards the sea keeping it perfect. The heat creates a bubble and a lot of the stormy weather that comes to the south of Vietnam just seems to wrap around us. We often sit in the sun during the rainy season watching dramatic storms over the ocean. Often when we drive to Phan Thiet, a line of water on the highway shows where the rain begins and motorcycles are pulled over to put on their raincoats. Overall, we have the dryest and best weather in Vietnam.

The sand under us swirls and stretches and flows. There are days each year when a person sitting on a deck chair at Joe’s Café will be looking eye to eye with someone walking on the beach while at another time the beach will have disappeared completely and the ocean laps or crashes our patios and walls. The beach sometimes will go for a couple hundred meters out at low tide, at others it is gone completely. When you enter the sea, you might be able to walk through the shallow seas for a couple hundred meters or you might find yourself over your head in just a few meters. Where’s the beach? You’re on top of it. Nature thinks it just put it here and will pick it up later. We’re squaters to nature. We’re not going anywhere! Let the great contest and cooperation continue!

White sand dominates and what we call the “White Sand Dunes” is a special place and ecosystem. People stop at the “Red Sand Dunes” as well and the hike up the “Fairy Stream” is a must as a mixture of sands is cut by flowing water Grand Canyon style. Red sand we associate with iron ore. Black sand is heavier than white sand and is associated with titanium and titanium mining. Black sand stays out of sight until you walk on the white beaches, your feet sink in and a bit sticks to your feet.

One of the other great benefits to our microclimate is the currents that for most of the year keep all trash away and our beach pristine and water clear. There is no rip current here to take you out making our beach safer than many, but you might get a couple resorts further than you thought in a hurry as it takes you down the beach. 

Phan Thiet beach and sanddune

It’s so confusing because even as the beach, the actual sand, will go up or down a couple meters in an hour, it’s hard to remember what it was like. People brag or lament. We hear about global warming, changes in rainfall, cutting down the mangroves in the Mekong, development… greening of the sanddunes with farms and golfcourses… we hear about the factories and watch long peirs, jetties or holding walls go out into the sea to control sand. We debate the designs of our seawalls and watch some fail. We think of the sand going up and down the coast and sometimes in and out of the sea, but of course it’s moving vertically as well as we build and change the ground water table.

I often think of a glass of water stirred and dropping a little blue ink in to watch it swirl up and down and around. I think the sand is doing that below us and around us. But of course that isn’t perfect either… sand when dry is solid or dusty, sand wet is even harder until it gets wet enough, and then it liquifies. 

One thing is for sure, we love our microclimate. We love the heavily touristed winter months when wind and weather are perfect and people choose us instead of chilly Natrang and Danang. We love the rainy seasons when it rains- but rarely and we love how the air still has that after rain freshness. We love our beach and pine for it when it is gone. We live in constant change.

Phan Thiet for Families

By: Barbara

Hordes of international tourists head to Mui Ne each year, bypassing the little fishing village of Phan Thiet. 

This quirk of tourism fate has left Phan Thiet largely unspoiled, making it an interesting and authentic place for adventurous families to visit.

Just four hours by train from Ho Chi Minh City, Phan Thiet has a range of budget options, as well as a few higher-end places to stay. 

Phan Thiet has its own foodie street, Tuyen Quang Street, full of teeny-tiny local eateries serving fantastic mi Quang (central Vietnamese noodle dish), banh xeo (sizzling pancake) and cha cuon, a wrap and roll dish that includes pork, sausage, egg spring rolls, a basket of herbs and a platter of rice paper to be used as wrappers. 

The local versions are each a little different to how the dishes are served elsewhere, as Phan Thiet is in an area that's sometimes considered the southern part of central Vietnam and other times the northern part of southern Vietnam. So the locals serve central Vietnamese dishes with a southern twist and southern Vietnamese dishes with a central twist. 

Nha Trang Family Vacation - Rainbow diver

Mi quang


In Phan Thiet the mi Quang, a pork and prawn noodle dish, is more soup-y and more spicy than in its birthplace of Hoi An in central Vietnam (and you need to specify “không huyết” if you don't like blood cubes). The local version of banh xeo is also different, with the pancakes smaller in size, thicker in girth and chewier in texture. That might not sound so appealing, but chunks of banh xeo wrapped in mustard leaves and dipped into the tangy dipping sauce are a taste sensation not to be missed. 

Tuyen Quang Street is also home to Phan Thiet's quirkiest cafe, an open-air place that only serves great coffee and has an unusual feature - pet lizards. The owner of Pet Cafe at 28 Tuyen Quang is a lizard-fancier who decided to share his hobby with paying guests. If you arrive early, you get to see a variety of lizards, including iguanas, being groomed and prepared for their day of lizardly lounging. 

Phan Thiet also does fabulous seafood. There's a strip of seafood restaurants in Pham Van Dong Street, facing the river. Even though these places have menus in English and Russian, foreign tourists are still a novelty, so expectto receive a lot of attention from staff and other customers. 

A late afternoon stroll along Nguyen Tat Thanh Street will take you past many seafood carts, and local families sitting at plastic table and chairs snacking on crabs, snails and other crustaceans. The beach at the end of the street is a great spot to watch the sunset, while the locals do their evening exercises. From here, it's an easy stroll along some back streets to the seafood places in Pham Van Dong Street.  

Phan Thiet's attractions will take a few days to explore, and Mai Linh has a fleet of reliable taxis that make getting around town quite easy. You can also negotiate a day rate for a taxi, making longer excursions easy for those who don't want to hire motorbikes to get around. 

Phan Thiet is quite spread out, so walking between attractions isn't always feasible, especially if you have young kids.

Van Thuy Tu Temple

Van Thuy Tu Temple

The town's fishing fleet moors near the Tran Hung Dao Bridge, which provides a pleasant vantage point to watch the fisherfolks' comings and goings in the mornings, before the day heats up too much. From the bridge, it's an easy walk to another maritime marvel, the Whale Temple, also known as Van Thuy Tu

The Whale Temple, which shuts for a few hours in the middle of the day, is home to a 22-meter-long whale skeleton in a large side-building. The temple itself is small but quite colourful, with a miniature ship that may or may not prompt a discussion about pirates.

Another interesting attraction along the river is the Duc Thanh School, where Ho Chi Minh himself apparently taught as a young man, before leaving Vietnam for France. The pretty little school, renovated several times since Uncle Ho passed through, is best explored when it's deserted. If you're unfortunate enough to encounter a tour group at the school, just cross the road and spend some time exploring the Ho Chi Minh Museum before venturing back to the school. 


Duc Thanh School

Duc Thanh School


Allocate a full day to visiting the Reclining Buddha on Ta Cu Mountain, 30 km from Phan Thiet. The 49-metre-long Buddha is part of a sprawling complex on the side of the mountain, and access is via a cable, then a lot of steps. Make sure you carry some water for the long hot climb up to the Buddha. When you're there, remember it is a religious icon, so show respect to those praying and lighting incense at the various shrines. When visiting the complex, and any other religious site in Vietnam, knees and shoulders should be covered.


Reclining Buddha in Ta Cu Mountain

Reclining Buddha in Ta Cu Mountain

A much more ancient religious site exists in Phan Thiet, a relic from the mysterious Hindu kingdom of Champa that ruled Central Vietnam for 900 years. The PoshaInu Towers, 7km northwest of Phan Thiet, were built in the 8th century. Appreciating the three hilltop towers, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, may require a bit of imagination, as most of the time the site is desolate and deserted. Local Cham people hold festivals at the towers, and some local fishermen visit the shrines to ensure their safety at sea. 

Barbara and her husband Vu lead street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City's back streets through Saigon Street Eats. Since their first bundle of joy arrived five years ago, Barbara, a former journalist, has become a family travel expert. Follow Barbara's blog here.

Phan Thiet Will Become a Dump - Unless We Do This

By: Steve Raymond

General manager Steve Raymond pulls the curtain on Phan Thiet's horrific garbage problem - and the only way to fix it.

Like most people who grew up in developed countries around the world, from the time I was able to walk, I was taught to respect the environment and to put my garbage in a garbage can. As a result, the community in which I grew up was clean and free of visible garbage or trash.

We were all very proud of our public parks and wilderness areas and we always made an extra effort to keep them clean and free of garbage. Whenever we went for a hike or had a picnic in a park or wilderness area, we always took out anything we brought in that we didn’t consume and then we disposed of our trash either at home or in garbage disposal areas.

Contrast this with the environmental education and upbringing of the average Vietnamese citizen. Vietnamese tend to drop trash and garbage on the ground wherever they are or as soon as they un-wrap food or finish using something. When they ride in a car or a bus, they throw their plastic waste and garbage out of the window.

A Vietnamese resident explained that it’s a communal mentality. He said that there is no punishment or repercussion for littering, so people don’t even try to find a wastebasket. Meanwhile, children see their parents throwing garbage on the floor and so they do the same thing.

I have worked in the tourism industry in Vietnam for the past fifteen years and in Phan Thiet for the past nine years. In that time, I have seen the amount of garbage in the sea and along the roadsides in our area grow to unbearable levels.

Hon Rom Phan Thiet Garbage

Tourists who come from countries like mine, with virtually no garbage on the beaches or along the roadsides, are disgusted with what they see in Vietnam. They don’t remember the magnificent color contrasts between the white dunes and the water and plant life at Bau Trang Lake; they remember the garbage along the shore. They return home with memories of trash at the Fairy Stream, Styrofoam and plastic bags on the beaches and piles of rubbish along the roads. The label Mui Ne has become synonymous with filthy or non-existent beaches, clutter and garbage.

Nguyen Binh, a deputy director of a 4-star resort in the area, remarked that “Mui Ne is now a mess.” People don’t travel from other countries around the world to walk along a beach cluttered with refuse or visit a magnificent natural wonder spoiled by ugly garbage and trash. Tourists have many choices of destinations. Many of these destinations have uncluttered beaches and a clean natural environment. Why should they choose to come here instead of going to a destination that has clean beaches and pristine nature preserves?

The government officials in Phan Thiet know that tourism is down this year, but they do very little to offer tourists an environment that is welcoming. When the Russian ruble weakened and fewer Russians could afford to come to Phan Thiet, tourism from other areas did not make up for the loss of Russian tourists. A major reason is that the reputation for trash that Phan Thiet has developed over the years does not engender good will. Tourists from other countries are not encouraged to come here when they read about filthy beaches and unregulated dumping.

If the government officials in Phan Thiet really want to help the economy and develop tourism, they need to clean up the area. They must pass anti-dumping laws and aggressively fine people who throw trash in the ocean, along the roadside, or on public lands. They need to set aside an area in the hills where local residents can dump their garbage and they need to expand their garbage collection to include people hired to pick up garbage along the beaches and roadsides. They must educate local fishermen about environmental protection and ensure that every fishing boat has trash disposal units on board.

garbage in Vietnam

Photo by: Tuoi Tre News

The trash problem is not just in the Phan Thiet area, but is widespreadthroughout Vietnam. This clip is from a recent article in Tuio Tre Newspaper:

“Carlo Campisan, an Italian backpacker who spent four weeks traveling around Vietnam with his girlfriend, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) Newspaper that what he saw during the trip was floating rubbish in UNESCO-recognized Ha Long Bay in the north.”

Phan Xuan Anh, chairman of Du Ngoan Viet Co., remarked that “Many tour guides dream of the day when they see no more floating rubbish on their river tours and no garbage getting stuck in their boat’s propellers.”

Until the government takes action, businesses in Phan Thiet– and the rest of Vietnam – will continue to suffer and tourism will not develop here as well as it develops elsewhere.

garbage in Ha Long Bay

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