Ha Tien is a coastal city in the far Southwestern corner of Vietnam, next to the Cambodian border. Located in Kien Giang Province in the Mekong Delta Region, Ha Tien is one of the two ferry ports that serve the island of Phu Quoc (the other port being Rach Gia).
Port cities are not usually places you would want to hang around, and border towns even less so. Most travellers that pass through here do so via a bus+ferry combo tickets from Saigon to Phu Quoc, or are making the international crossing. If you have time and if you like wandering chilled-out provincial cities, it’s worth breaking up your trip here before going to Phu Quoc or onwards to Cambodia.
I knew I was going to like Ha Tien before I visited. Technically I had been here before, so that helped. I had changed buses here after crossing the Cambodia-Vietnam border in 2013. Passing through a place doesn’t count as a visit (in my travel rulebook at least), but that sneak preview was enough to make me curious to return. For this trip I was on my way to Phu Quoc, so this was an ideal opportunity to give it a proper visit.
Ha Tien Map
Notes on Ha Tien
Ha Tien is on the mouth of Giang Thanh River on the Gulf of Thailand. My hotel selection process was to find a place near the river and central market. The riverfront walk made Ha Tien immediately likable for me.
The market is near the riverfront, and it’s around here that you will find the most active part of the city.
Not surprisingly, the market is dominated by seafood.
The city is the usual jumble of modern concrete buildings that is common in Vietnam. At least some of them are colourful.
I was surprised though to find lots of old buildings scattered around the city.
Like Sa Dec and Long Xuyen which I had previously visited, I wondered what might have been if Ha Tien still had a core heritage area.
[40 Tran Hau.]
[49 Lam Son.]
[53 Lam Son.]
Maybe Ha Tien could have be like Kampot across the border in Cambodia, where its intact heritage architecture has made it a popular place for such a small provincial city.
[20 Tuan Phu Dat.]
There are lots of nice temples around the city as well.
I didn’t visit any, but their presence makes for a pleasing streetscape.
The modernist church is also a highlight.
Something that I’ve noticed in my wanders around Vietnam is that dentists (nha khoa) are always named Sai Gon. Perhaps the chief dentist went to dental school in Saigon, or having a big city name makes it more reputable.
On the other side of the national highway is the Ha Tien new urban area. This area caught my attention in Google Maps as the street layout looks different from the rest of the city. As a chronicler of future cities in Southeast Asia, I had to have a look.
This area faces the sea, and the main project is called Centroria.
There were no signs at the site to show what it’s going to look like, so here is the plan from the official website.
It’s still a work in progress, with only a few buildings having started construction.
There is a new canal and park that forms a boundary of the Centroria project.
Some streets have homes that are occupied, but cows are still wandering around as if they own the place.
Despite all the space, the skinny tube house that is so popular in Vietnam is still the prevailing style here.
Another section is the Ha Tien Venice Villas project. I always cringe a little on the inside when I see these fake European towns being built in Southeast Asia.
At the corner of Rome Street and Millan Street is an Italian-inspired fountain.
Even though they haven’t started building, Lotteria has already set up shop. I noted in my Sa Dec post that Lotteria is the leading franchise in Vietnam. They really are going all out to be everywhere.
There are no houses or villas built yet, so I should wait until I see the finished product before judging. Who knows, maybe I end up eating my own words and end up retiring in one of these villas in 30 years’ time. For reference, here is what Ha Tien Venice Villas will look like.
Something that is happening across Southeast Asia is edible birdnest farming. The “farms” are distinct as they are usually these windowless blocks with little holes in them.
You will hear the farms before you see them though, as the houses broadcast screeching bird noises to attract birds. All-day, all you hear is this noise:
Birds-nest farming is become common across Southeast Asia. Houses are modified with small holes in the wall, and screeching recorded bird noises are played from the roof to attract swiftlets. This shouldn't be allowed in urban areas. pic.twitter.com/VFSFXlwoy5
— James Clark (@nomadicnotes) January 9, 2021
It turns out that Kien Giang has the largest number of birdhouses in Vietnam (2,600 at last count).
If you want to eat edible birds nests then who am I to stop you. It’s a massive export industry for Vietnam, apparently worth 450 million USD per year. I just wish that this was zoned as an agricultural business and that the farms (which is what they are) are kept out of residential areas.
Near the new area is the Martyrs Cemetery. You can find such memorials in most Vietnamese cities, and they are not something I would usually visit unless it was a significant landmark. Ha Tien though has a pivotal place in modern Southeast Asia history.
After the American War ended, the Khmer Rouge began border incursions into the Southwest corner of Vietnam. Thousands of people died in the border provinces, and Ha Tien was abandoned for a while. Eventually, Vietnam marched on Phnom Penh to remove the Khmer Rouge from power.
Overall Ha Tien is pretty chilled out, and there is not much to do here at night. Just enjoy the sea breeze as you walk along the riverfront, because if you are going to Phu Quoc next you will be immersed back into a total tourist destination.
I just ate whatever looked good and didn’t seek out anything specific. Sorry my food blogging is terrible. I found a great Bun Ca (fish noodle soup) for 20,000 VND.
Yes, this delicious bowl of soup was 0.87 USD.
You know you are deep in provincial Vietnam when there are no Highlands Coffee outlets. In fact, I didn’t see any familiar chains here. My favourite kind of cafes in Vietnam are garden cafes, and Ha Tien has plenty. I enjoyed Quoc Hoa Cafe near the new urban area.
When in the Mekong Delta Region be aware of how much sweetened condensed milk they use in the iced coffee 😲. And I’ve said this before but I will say it again, free bottomless cups of iced tea is the ultimate in cafe civilisation.
I saw one cafe/bar that was on the cusp of opening when I was there. It’s in a new building on the riverfront, on the corner of Dang Thuy Tram and Nhat Tao. I can envisage this stretch of riverfront being filled with cool cafes one day. If anyone goes here let me know how it is!
The biggest hotel in town is the River Hotel Ha Tien, which has a commanding spot on the riverfront.
I stayed at the Ha Tien Happy Hotel, and that turned out to be ideally located.
Ha Tien is the closest ferry port to Phu Quoc, so that is something to consider when choosing between Rach Gia and Ha Tien. I took the Superdong ferry, and there is also the Phu Quoc Express. You can compare prices and book at Baolau.
[Superdong at Ha Tien.]
There are a few different bus companies that operate direct services to Ho Chi Minh City. Compare services here.
It’s an 8-hour bus trip from Ho Chi Minh City, so I hopped my way through the Mekong Delta with local buses instead. I got the Can Tho – Ha Tien bus that goes via Long Xuyen. There are also regular local buses from Rach Gia and Chau Doc. Pick out a few places in the Mekong Delta that you would like to visit and build your own itinerary.
[Can Tho – Ha Tien bus.]
There are bus services that travel to Kampot, Sihanoukville, and Phnom Penh. That trip I took in 2013 was a minivan from Kampot to Ha Tien. This trip in 2021 was in the midst of the Great Pandemic and the border was closed. I saw some sad buses parked in the city that usually travel to Cambodia. You will need to check with travel agents once borders reopen.
The nearest airport is in Rach Gia, with daily flights to Ho Chi Minh City.
When I passed through Ha Tien in 2013 I changed vans at Oasis Bar. This was a true travellers cafe where you could get travel information alongside a Full English Breakfast. The riverside location has since closed, but they are planning to reopen outside the city once the country opens up again. Check the website for details.
Tom Byrne says
Thanks James,for your comments on Ha Tien.How would you describe the fish soup-yellow flesh.I have found the fish in VN to be flavourless unless eaten grilled on the beach(now banned)or in a hotpot.I need to get the VN names and keep notes! You solved a mystery for me with the birds nest farm bldgs-you’re right they should be classed as agricultural and moved from urban areas or banned-neither likely.Food comments and bldg photos appreciated.
ANUKRATI DOSI says
I do agree when you say that just passing a place does not count in the visited countries. You have explored Ha Tien so beautifully. I love the Vietnamese markets, they are so vibrant and full of life.