Phan Thiet is is the capital of Bình Thuận province in the coast of Vietnam. It is a charming resort city, offering visitors a wide range of activities, both on land and on the water. The city encompasses a 57.4-kilometer-long coastline with many beaches, both large and small. Phan Thiet City boasts an abundance of international and Vietnamese restaurants, beautiful beach resorts, inexpensive hotels and guest houses, water sports activities and an active nightlife. The local cuisine is diverse and unique in many respects. Because of its proximity to Saigon, Phan Thiet is one of the best places to visit, both for Ho Chi Minh City residents and visitors.
The community of Phan Thiet, or ‘Hamu Lithit’ as it was called by the Cham people who lived in the area before it became part of Vietnam, has existed for hundreds of years. However, before the 1990s, Phan Thiet was just a medium-size backwater town that was known primarily for the manufacture of fish sauce and the cultivation of dragon fruit. The first resorts began to appear along beaches in the Phan Thiet area in the early 1990s.
Then in 1995, the name Phan Thiet popped up in hundreds of news articles and television programmes around the world. A rare solar eclipse had been predicted by scientists and they said that one of the best places in the world to see the total eclipse was on Rang Beach, just a few kilometres northeast of Phan Thiet city centre. At the time, Rang Beach had only one nice resort on it; the newly opened Coco Beach Resort. There were also some cheap guest houses, but it was primarily just a small residential community and home to a few hundred fishermen and their families centred around Ham Tien market, approximately 15 kilometres northeast of Phan Thiet city centre. On 24 October 1995, many foreigners and would-be astronomers descended on the area to watch the solar eclipse. Guidebooks directed the tourists and astronomers to the beach in front of Mui Ne Bay, incorrectly referring to Ham Tien as ‘Mui Ne’ and Rang Beach as ‘Mui Ne Beach’. From that day onward, tourists have mistakenly referred to everything east of the city centre as Mui Ne, while Mui Ne and Ham Tien are actually two different wards of Phan Thiet and by no means synonymous! Hoping to benefit by tourists’ familiarity with the now popular nomenclature of ‘Mui Ne’, hotels, shops and restaurants that started popping up along Rang Beach and in Phu Hai Ward added ‘Mui Ne’ to their names, put ‘Mui Ne’ on their websites and advertising and went as far as to insert ‘Mui Ne’ into their addresses. This misuse of the description of their locations has continued to this day, causing confusion among tourists and visitors.
Phan Thiet was officially designated as a city in 1999. The city centre had a population of around 200,000 people at the time, but when the city was incorporated, it annexed a number of nearby communities, including Mui Ne, Hon Rom, Ham Tien, Thien Nghiep and Tien Thanh. The 18 wards and communes that were created increased the Phan Thiet population significantly, so that it is now close to 400,000. Each area of Phan Thiet has its own draw and unique characteristics and there are plenty of things for tourists to see and do in the area.
On foot, hire motorbike taxi or hire taxi.
Katy River and Colourful Fishing Boats Although fishing and the manufacture of fish sauce was initially the major industry in Phan Thiet, as evidenced by the fleets of colourful fishing boats along the Katy River and in Mui Ne Bay, tourism is rapidly replacing the fishing industry as the area’s largest employer. In the mid-1990s, the first resorts appeared along the beach in Hung Long and Phu Thuy Wards in the city centre, and Phu Hai and Ham Tien east of the city centre. Since then, the city has seen a construction boom, with hundreds of resorts, hotels, guest houses, restaurants and shops opening on beaches along the entire 57.4-kilometre-long coastline.
The Beaches of Tien Thanh and Ke Ga The beaches at Tien Thanh commune and Ke Ga, stretching along the coast south of the city centre, offer tourists a quiet, peaceful getaway. The communities have only a few hundred residents, so there is very little traffic on the road and one can ride along the coastline without having to dodge cars and motorbikes. It’s very pleasant to rent a motorbike or get a bicycle from your resort and ride from the city centre to the lighthouse at Ke Ga, and then climb to the top of the hundred-year-old tower.
City Centre Like any medium-size city anywhere in the world, the Phan Thiet city centre has lots of restaurants, shopping malls, markets, cafes and stores. Ho Chi Minh taught school in Phan Thiet, and Duc Thanh School where he taught is now a visitor attraction and museum. There are only a few resorts and hotels along the beach in the Phan Thiet city centre, but it is very easy to get to, regardless in which ward or commune your accommodations are located. Inexpensive public buses run all day long from all along the beachfront into the centre, passing either directly in front or within a few hundred meters of virtually every resort and guest house on the beaches of Phan Thiet.
Phu Hai Ward Phu Hai Ward is the site of the Thap Poshanu Cham Tower, built in the late eighth century. The ward covers a hilly area with a number of coves and small beaches, many of which have one or more resorts on them. Phu Hai Ward is also the site of Sea Links City; a complex of apartments, condominiums and a hotel, plus a wine castle and golf course. Both the wine castle and the spectacular links golf course are worth a visit. This is one of the wards that is wrongly called ‘Mui Ne’ by the owners of the restaurants, resorts and hotels located here.
Ham Tien Ward Ham Tien Ward is another area in which its restaurants, resorts and hotels incorrectly use the name ‘Mui Ne’. It is the penultimate tourist strip, with hundreds of resorts, shops, restaurants, beach bars and spas built along the 10-kilometre-long stretch of Rang Beach. Those who want to be “where the action is” should stay here as this is where they will find something to do 24 hours a day. Although the other wards and communes have many smaller beaches, Ham Tien has only one beach that stretches for 10 kilometres along the entire length of the ward.
The kitesurfing craze began here, turning this into one of the top kitesurfing destinations in the world. For those who do not know how to kitesurf, there are plenty of schools all along the beach that will teach novices how to do it. Many of them also teach windsurfing and there is a sail training centre in Mui Ne Ward, at the end of the beach, where one can learn the art of sailing in one day.
The nightlife in Ham Tien is particularly lively, with a number of night spots and beach bars open throughout the night. Ham Tien is also the location of the ‘Fairy Stream’, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Phan Thiet. Over the centuries, a small stream has cut a canyon through the sand dunes. Since the dunes are multi colored, the walls of the canyon are very colourful.
Mui Ne Just east of Ham Tien is the real Mui Ne. The ward consists of two communities; Mui Ne and Hon Rom, and two beaches; Ganh Beach and Suoi Nuoc Beach. The town of Mui Ne itself has about 25,000 residents. It is very interesting to get up at sunrise and go down to the water’s edge in Mui Ne to watch the dozens of fishing boats coming in and unloading the many varieties of fish and seafood that the fishermen have caught overnight. Their families gather to help them separate the fish and prepare them either for the market or the fish sauce factories near the city centre. Then, head up to the market in the centre of town to watch the locals haggle over pricing for everything from seafood to pigs and chickens. Mui Ne Ward is also where the red sand dunes are located; on a hill between the communities of Mui Ne and Hon Rom. The larger white sand dunes are located about 20 kilometres north of Mui Ne. Both the red and white sand dunes are popular attractions, with dozens of local children offering to rent plastic sleds with which to slide down the dunes. Vendors at the white dunes offer dune buggies for rent to ride around the dunes, plus there is a compound of ostriches to ride, but not for the faint-hearted.
Taku Mountain Another popular attraction is located 30 minutes west of Phan Thiet and an hour west of Mui Ne. Taku Mountain is the site of the largest reclining Buddha in South East Asia. One can either walk up the mountain or ride the gondola from the valley floor. But even those who opt for the Austrian-made gondola will get a little exercise, as the Buddha is another 300 steps from the terminal. The views from the top of the mountain are spectacular and there is a restaurant overlooking the rice fields and dragon fruit farms below. On a clear day, one can almost see Ho Chi Minh City in the distance.
Fruit Farms Besides fish sauce, Phan Thiet is famous for dragon fruit, which thrives in the area’s hot and relatively dry climate. Many of the farms welcome visitors, so if tourists wish to see a local functioning dragon fruit farm, they should ask either the staff in the hotel or one of the travel agencies on Nguyen Dinh Chieu Street in Ham Tien to arrange a visit.
Local Food Tour Visitors to Phan Thiet often ask about the local cuisine and where the best restaurants are located that offer the local dishes. The city restaurants and food stalls have a number of dishes that are either found only in Binh Thuan Province or have characteristics that are unique to the area. The dishes that are unique combine the pungent tastes of Hanoi, Hue and the Mekong Delta cuisines and add a sweetness that is a hallmark of Phan Thiet, often using the fresh seafood that is brought ashore by the local fishermen who comprise the largest fishing fleet in the country.
Phan Thiet hosts two big supermarkets which also offer some imported goods and products.
Thủ Khoa Huân st. after the cross with Tôn Đức Thắng st. is full of Guest Houses with price between 200.000VND and 300.000VND for 2 persons room. Almost every building is either a guesthouse, or a shop, or a barbershop, or etc.
Hoang Lai Hotel []