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.
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.