The thought of visiting sand dunes often brings to mind the scorching sun and large swathes of lonely desert — far from the air-conditioned comforts of Singapore. But, hey, there are wonderful sandy oases in Asia totally worth checking out and having a dose of fun while there; they may not be as famous as the African Sahara or Mongolia’s Gobi Desert but definitely easier to access.
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Here are six places in Asia where you can roll in vast sands without having to stray too far from civilisation. Disclaimer: You still can’t run away from the heat.
Red Sand Dunes in Mui Ne, Vietnam
The Red Sand Dunes is conveniently situated a mere kilometre away from the beachfront hotels in central Mui Ne, a fishing-village-turned-coastal-resort in Southeast Vietnam.
Rise early and make your way to the sand dunes to beat the heat and admire the view of the morning sun casting its first rays on the reddish-brown sand juxtaposed against the blue sea. Sunset is also a good time to visit; avoid going at noon unless you want to experience walking in a fire pit. Locals are more than eager — sometimes a tad aggressive — to sell you snacks and sleds for sliding down the dunes.
Follow the main road west of the dunes and you will find the Fairy Stream that meanders its way between sand dunes and reddish rock formations before emptying into the sea. Relieve the heat on your feet by walking barefoot in the cool waters of the river towards the waterfall.
If you have more time on your hands, there is the larger and more stunning White Sand Dunes located about 22 kilometres away from town, which you can explore as part of jeep tours.
Paoay Sand Dunes in Ilocos Norte Province, the Philippines
At the north-western tip of the Philippines lies an 88-kilometre stretch of sand where you will find the Paoay Sand Dunes, located near Suba Beach. It served as the setting for scenes of the Vietnam War in the award-winning 1989 film Born on the Fourth of July, which starred Tom Cruise.
Here, you can rent an ATV and embark on a roller-coaster ride over the undulating dunes, or grab a sand board and try surfing on sand. No worries if you can’t balance to save your life, the soft sand will help to cushion your fall!
While in Paoay, be sure to visit the Baroque-style St. Augustine Church and discover its rich history and architectural beauty that have earned it a recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can also go birdwatching or kayaking at the nearby Paoay Lake.
Tottori Sand Dunes in Tottori, Japan
Sand dunes might be the last thing anyone will think of finding in Japan, but they are the star attraction in Tottori, a coastal town northwest of Osaka. Known in the local language as “Tottori Sakyu”, the sand dunes are among the largest in the country, measuring up to 50 metres high.
Ride among the hills of sand on camels or horse-drawn carriages; the more adventurous can take in the panorama of the mini desert and sea from above by paragliding. Why not also seize the opportunity to populate your Instagram with selfies featuring towering sand sculptures at the Sand Museum?
Outside the sandpit, feast on succulent Matsuba crabs — a local delicacy here; visit the picturesque Japanese garden of Kannon-in Temple; or shop at the department stores near the train station. And, for the record, you won’t find Totoro in Tottori.
Mingsha Shan (Echo Sand Mountain) in Dunhuang, China
If sand dunes could speak, you will hear them at Mingsha Shan, literally translated as “Echo Sand Mountain”, and named after the deep moaning sounds made by the shifting sands when the wind blows. While the sounds can now be explained by science, legends still abound that allude the sounds to the cries of the souls of fallen soldiers buried beneath the sand.
Whether you believe that or not, you can take comfort in the fact that the city of Dunhuang is just 5 kilometres away from the sand dunes, which are situated at the edge of the Taklamakan Desert.
Electric cars and ATVs are at hand to take you around the sand dunes, but the camel is recommended for the true Silk Road experience; after all, Dunhuang was once a major stop along the famous route.
While here, don’t miss the unique sight of a crescent-shape oasis — aptly named Crescent Lake — surrounded by the sand dunes. To the east are the UNESCO World Heritage-inscribed Mogao Caves, a cluster of more than 400 caves housing religious art.
Sinduri Coastal Sand Dune, Taean, South Korea
South Korea’s only coastal sand dune is found on Sinduri Beach, which lies within the Taean Haean National Park in the town of Taean southwest of Seoul. Lie on the sand and create sand angels as you admire the view of the Yellow Sea, and you might half expect Captain Yoo Si Jin to emerge from behind a sand dune a la Descendants of the Sun.
In fact, the sand dunes were featured in the Korean movie War of the Arrows, and you might have unknowingly seen the amazing sunset that the park is known for in Kpop group Big Bang’s music video, Sunset Glow.
Young ones can have fun with interactive activities at the Sinduri Sand Dune Center, which also includes English displays about the formation of sand dunes and the flora and fauna found in the area. Trails along the coast lead you to other parts of the national park, which is home to 130 offshore islands.
Denizens of the urban jungle, don’t let a rolling good time in the sand slip you by during your vacation!