Mũi Dinh is a sandy, boulder-strewn promontory hiding wild, windy and isolated beaches that have hardly ever seen a foreign visitor. The landscape is striking, arid and deserted, and the fishing villages are dusty, poor and salty: this is Vietnam’s Wild West. Located on the south-central coast between the famous resort towns of Mũi Né and Nha Trang, a stunning new road now connects Mũi Dinh with Phan Rang to the north, and Ca Na to the south. This road cuts out a busy and boring section of Highway 1, and connects nicely with the scenic routes of Nui Chua Coastal Road to the north, and Lien Huong Coast Road to the south; making an incredible coastal road trip all the way between Mui Ne and Nha Trang.
Mũi Dinh is the northern-most part of a hot and dry region of Vietnam that resembles a desert. I call it the ‘Sandy Deadlands’ and it stretches from the famous red and white sand dunes of Mũi Né to the twin cities of Phan Rang and Tháp Chàm. The landscape here is characterized by sand, cacti, boulders, arid mountains, and exceptional beaches and blue seas.
Even before I started exploring this area, I always got the feeling whenever I passed through its rocky, burned landscape that there was something magical about it. The intense heat and the bright light reflecting off the boulders, sand and sea give the impression of an ancient and vast land – the kind of place you’d expect to stumble upon a dinosaur skeleton or a forgotten temple buried in the sand.
The prickly cacti that dot the terrain are called xương rồng in Vietnamese, which means ‘dragon bones’. People believe that this is where dragons came to die; their ‘bones’ littered the dry earth which scorched itself in grief. Driving out to Mũi Dinh through the giant mounds of boulders and cacti – which appropriately look like tombstones – it’s easy to imagine this place as a dragons’ graveyard.
Mũi Dinh promontory juts out between two pretty beaches: Cà Ná to the south and Ninh Chữ (part of Phan Rang city) to the north. Either of these makes a good base from which to visit Mũi Dinh. Highway 1 runs inland from Cà Ná to Phan Rang to avoid the rocky cape, but now there is a new road from Phan Rang all the way around Mui Dinh Promontory to Ca Na. This new road is exceptionally beautiful, and characteristic of Vietnam’s extensive and ambitious new infrastructure, which is gradually opening up scenic and previously inaccessible areas, such as this, to travellers.
The road from Phan Rang to the lighthouse at Mũi Dinh is just over 20km (although a new bridge from the south end of Ninh Chu Beach will soon cut the distance in half). The first 10km is on a small, paved road through rural hamlets surrounded by luminous rice fields and vineyards (note that when the new bridge is complete there will be no need to drive this section of road – see Directions for details). When the road meets the coast the scenery begins to look like desert, and the small road turns into a new, four-lane highway with absolutely no traffic on it. Big shrimp farms line the ocean-side of the road while sand dunes and rock-piles rise on the inland side. The wide, empty highway through this desolate landscape is a surreal sight.
As the road continues, the shrimp farms disappear, the wind picks up, sand blows across the tarmac, and kilometres of empty, tantalizing coastline comes into view. This is, of course, the reason for the construction of the new road: sometime in the future fancy resorts and golf courses will line these beaches. For now, the only settlement in the area is Sơn Hải fishing village; a dusty, dry little place that makes its living from the sea. The blue, wooden fishing boats cluster in the harbour, which is a very scenic spot except for the town’s trash collecting in the bay. Sơn Hải’s narrow streets appear rough and living conditions look very poor, but there’s a surprising amount of activity and life, especially around the market near the seafront.
Turn right at the seafront for a tiny concrete lane that leads along the beach and then winds up to the lighthouse at the top of Mũi Dinh Promontory. Parts of this lane get covered in sand drifts which make it difficult – but not impossible – to drive a motorbike; walking is the best option and there’s plenty of inviting beach for a cooling swim after the hot walk. The lighthouse was built by the French in the early 1900s. The views from the top are wonderful and there’s a small cove at the bottom with a perfect crescent of sand and turquoise water.
From Sơn Hải fishing village continue straight on the empty new highway as it leads up, over, and around the entire rocky promontory of Mui Dinh, all the way to Ca Na beach, where it meets Highway 1. From Sơn Hải to Ca Na it’s only 30km, but you might find it takes over an hour because the views are so good you’ll be stopping every few minutes to admire them. The sea is the colour of amethyst, and the sandy, rocky, cacti-studded headland is a rich, toast-gold in the burning bright sunshine of Ninh Thuan Province. Take your time and enjoy this fabulous new stretch of tarmac.
Sơn Hải village is roughly 20km south of Phan Rang city, or 30km north of Cà Ná beach.
From Phan Rang city take Thống Nhất Street (the city’s main thoroughfare) south until it crosses a bridge. About 500 metres after the bridge bear left at the gas station and take another left immediately after. Follow this road for 6km until it hits a T-junction at the coast. Turn right onto the new highway for 15km until Sơn Hải fishing village appears down to your left. Note: a new bridge is currently under construction that will link Yên Ninh road on Ninh Chu beach in Phan Rang City directly to the new highway to Son Hai village. For the path up to the lighthouse on Mũi Dinh Promontory turn right at the seafront in Sơn Hải village, cross a small bridge and follow the road as it bears to the left and turns into a concrete path along the beach. Although this path can get covered in sand it does eventually lead all the way up to the lighthouse. To continue from Son Hai to Ca Na, head out of Son Hai village back up to the new highway and continue south on it, following it around the promontory and down into Ca Na village. When the road meets Highway 1 turn left for a few kilometres until you reach the resorts on Ca Na beach.
If coming from Cà Ná beach take Highway 1 north for 4km. Turn right off the highway onto a new dual carriageway with salt fields on your left. Continue on this road as it ascends up a rocky cliff and winds all the way around to the lighthouse and Son Hai fishing village.
For the time being there’s no accommodation on Mũi Dinh Promontory. You can, however, base yourself at one of two good beaches either side of the promontory: Ninh Chữ to the north (part of Phan Rang city), or Cà Ná to the south. The former is a long sandy beach with plenty of places to choose from on Yên Ninh Road along the seafront.Bau Truc Resort (www.bautrucresort.com) which is also known as Den Gion Resort has nice brick bungalows in verdant gardens and a great stretch of beach for around $50 a night. For cheaper accommodation that’s still close to the beach, try any of the hotels and guesthouses (nhà nghỉ in Vietnamese) on the opposite side of Yên Ninh Road. On weekdays decent, clean rooms should be around 200,000VNĐ ($10).
Words, photos and film by Vietnam Coracle