Introduction to Bao Trang Sand Dunes
The Bao Trang Sand Dunes are part of the Binh Thuan Desert which is located in Binh Thuan Province. The capital city of the province is Phan Thiet. Located nearby is a popular resort town named Mui Ne which is famous for wind surfing, beaches, golf and other beach related activities. Mui Ne was our home base for 3.5 weeks while we visited the area.
Bao Trang translates as “White Lake” in English. This is on account of the white sand dunes that cover this part of the Binh Thuan Desert. The Binh Thuan Desert is unique as compared to world famous deserts such as the Sahara or the Gobi Desert. This is because the Binh Thuan Desert is partially man made!
Our rental home was near a golf course that had beach access. We were able to procure a motorbike rental and after that everything was easily accessible in the area.
Sea Links Beach in Mui Ne
Formation of Bao Trang
The Vietnam white sand dunes are believed to be the driest region in SE Asia with only 50 cm of rain during the dry season. The effect is that this area has been prone to dryness and the desert like conditions have likely existed for a long time.
However, Starting in the 1960’s the government began a massive deforestation process in the nearby southern district of Thanh Linh. As a result, the district lost over 50% of its forested areas. The main objective of clearing the trees was to farm rice. However, the rice growing program was never implemented with the likely cause being the Vietnam War. The result of the deforestation (from the war and government program) was massive soil erosion which created desertification. As a result, the displaced soil washes out to sea and then it reemerges in unwanted locations e.g. fresh water water reservoir.
Obviously this desertification was not good for the forest and the animals that lived there. The rich jungle environment in Than Linh had once been the home of tigers, gibbons and other endangered species. Previously, tigers were regularly encountered in Thanh Linh! However the few that remain have been pushed back into the mountains.
It can be assumed that the desertification in Than Linh has contributed to the increasing size of the white sand dunes. Although it is not the only cause and some of the desert like conditions in the area have existed since long ago. However, there is also a lot of over development causing soil erosion in the Bao Trang area to exacerbate the growing problem.
Fortunately, the developers in the Mui Ne area have been very careful to keep sufficient vegetation in place to suppress desertification. Otherwise, the area would also have likely turned into a Mui Ne desert by now!
The Drive to Bao Trang
Bao Trang is located about 60 kilometers north of Mui Ne. The best way to get there is by motorbike (in my opinion) and there are plenty of rental shops in Bao Trang. As you drive through the north end of Mui Ne you drive past the boat harbor which has some good photo opportunities. The harbor is located right off the side of the road and it is very easy to find.
Mui Ne Boat Harbor
These kids were hanging around there hawking some home made jewelry. We chatted with them for a while and they agreed to let us take their photos.
As we drove further out of Mui Ne we encountered an area called the Red Sand Dunes. This area is popular for sand sledding and there are local kids near the road with the necessary rental equipment.
Red Sand Desert Vietnam
These local kids were little rascals. They ran off with one of our motorcycle helmets and we had to hold one of them hostage to get it back! The hostage incident notwithstanding, the Red Dunes didn’t seem too exciting so we decided to press on to Bao Trang.
Arrival at the Bao Trang Sand Dunes
Near the dunes are several places to rent these 4 wheel all terrain vehicles. However, after some negotiating we decided that it would be better to just walk in the dunes instead of ride. This proved to be the best choice in my opinion and we saved some money in the process.
The white sands were indeed a vast “white lake” of sand and our arrival was timed perfectly (early evening). We wandered around the dunes for an hour or two and encountered some great photo opportunities. As we first entered the sand dunes it was a little bit tracked up but we were able to find a section without the motorized traffic. This was ideal!
White Sand Desert Vietnam
Some Fun in The Bao Trang Dunes
We had a blast playing in the Mui Ne desert sand. Plus, the sun was going down so the air was cooler and there was great light for photos!
The Disappearing Lakes at Bao Trang
Several lakes in the area add to the unique landscape. Unfortunately, the surrounding white sand desert continues to expand and the beautiful lakes may eventually disappear. The pace at which the desert is encroaching is alarming, it is suspected the lakes could disappear in our lifetimes if serious remediation is not implemented! For now the lakes are a nice place to swim and lotus flowers grow near the shore line. Although swimming in the lakes is potentially dangerous because the plants can get tangled up with your feet. Additionally, these lakes are the only water source for the entire district.
Ostrich Racing at Bao Trang Sand Dunes!
On the way out we passed a large fenced area that enclosed some saddled ostriches. This seemed rather odd so we inquired about it and it turns out that for a few Dong we could ride the ostrich! I immediately declined however my girlfriend was much more intrepid (as usual)!
So far so good……………..
That was fun!