Phan Rang–Thap Cham is the capital of Ninh Thuan Province in the South Central Coast region of Vietnam. It’s between Mui Ne and Nha Trang, though it doesn’t get anywhere near the number of visitors compared to those places. In fact, travelling during these covid times I was wondering if there were any tourists (domestic or international) here at all.
Phan Rang–Thap Cham is probably best known for the Cham tower ruins, of which the city derives the second half of its hyphenated name. I visited these towers on a bus trip in 2005, and after seeing other cham towers on the South Central Coast I didn’t need to see them again.
[The Cham Tower from my visit in 2005. I didn’t see any blue sky on this trip.]
I found myself back here for a few reasons. I’ve been working my way through the provincial capitals of Vietnam, so I was curious to see what the city of Phan Rang–Thap Cham has to offer. Phan Rang is the closest coastal city to Da Lat, so after my trip to Da Lat I stopped here.
My main plan in Phan Rang was to base myself there and ride along the coast. It turns out though that I was there during unseasonal weather, so I just stayed in the city.
Map of Phan Rang–Thap Cham Map
This map includes places referred to in this article.
[Map of Phan Rang–Thap Cham.]
Phan Rang–Thap Cham City
There is not much written about Phan Rang, so the most obvious starting points are the central market and provincial museum (which every provincial capital has).
I was staying near 16/4 Park. This is like the Central Park of Phan Rang and it turned out to be a good area to stay. As you travel further down the southern half of Vietnam you will notice parks and victory monuments with dates in late March and April. In Nha Trang to the north, there is 2 April Square, and in Saigon there is the 30/4 Park opposite the Reunification Palace. So on 16 April 1975, the NVA were in Phan Rang and were two weeks away from Saigon.
Near the park is the Victory Monument in Ninh Thuan Province. The flag gives you an idea of how windy it was while I was there.
These monuments are always worth seeking out as they are done in this chunky socialist modernist style, standing out from the rest of the city.
Opposite the monument is the provincial museum. I enjoy seeing what each province presents for its provincial museum. I think Tuy Hoa has the best museum building I’ve seen so far, but I give points to Binh Thuan for doing something radically different to a boxy governmental building.
Another museum here is the Center For Cham Cultural Research. The ruins are further away near the Thap Cham railway station.
Near the main market was the only area where I saw any remnants of heritage architecture.
If the city had been able to hold on to a few streets with buildings like this, then maybe Phan Rang would be a stop on the North-South backpacker trail.
On the other side of the park is a new urban area that was still under construction. I was staying in this area thinking it was in the city centre. It is, but I didn’t expect such a large amount of new building to be so close to the main park.
And near the victory monument is a new mall and hotel complex under construction.
Yersin Park is a traffic triangle that has some magnificent old trees. Opposite the park is the Ninh Thuan Hotel. I have no idea if it’s any good, but I am intrigued by its eclectic modernist style.
Near the victory monument is the tourist night market.
Bin Son Beach
Like many of the coastal provincial capitals of Vietnam, PR-TP has a municipal beach. The beach is about 3 km from the city centre, so it’s not on the doorstep like Quy Nhon. There is a bus there, but I ended up walking there from the city centre.
There is not much happening on the beach, though things are changing. This unnamed hotel or apartment tower was nearing completion.
The big project that looms over the beach is the Sunbay Park Hotel & Resort. You can read more about planned projects at Future Ninh Thuan Province.
There is a pleasant walking path along the beach. It was unfortunate to be here during bad weather. From other pictures I have seen the water is usually blue.
Less pleasant are these idiotic bike blockers. As someone who mostly walks everywhere, I’m all for stopping bikes from riding on footpaths. There are better ways to do it though, without creating mobility issues.
Ninh Chu Beach
Next to Bin Son Beach is Ninh Chu Beach. It’s the same beach that faces Phan Rang Bay, it’s just that Ninh Chu Beach is in Ninh Hai District and is a separate entity from PR-TP. It feels like this stretch of beach should be part of one city, but the name Phan Rang-Thap Cham-Ninh Hai would be ridiculous.
This little corner of the beach has more places to stay, and it looked like it was lively in the pre-pandemic years. The combination of the pandemic and the wild weather made the area feel like a ghost town. Plastic bags being blown along in the wind like tumbleweeds added to the eerie feeling that something is not right in the world.
If you search for hotels in Phan Rang – Thap Cham on Agoda they show all the hotels in this area as well. I was going to stay around here as there is a cluster of family guesthouses. In the end, staying in the city turned out to be a better choice as there was nothing open here.
If you want a beach hotel experience, the Saigon Ninh Chu Hotel & Resort is open.
For my first meal, I just kept walking until I found something appealing. I ended up at Banh Canh Nhuong, where I had a type of banh canh soup that I had not tried before – Banh Canh Dac Biet. It was a good introduction to Phan Rang.
I found a good Banh Xeo via Google maps at Banh Xeo Quang Trung. As soon as I saw a busy stall down an alley with little plastic seats I knew it was going to be a winner.
When I go to provincial cities I will check to see if there is a regional specialty or famous place that I should check out. Sometimes though the most memorable meal is something as humble as the com binh dan (economical rice meal). I saw this place near a construction site, and I was walking by at that sweet spot of 11 am when everything is fresh and it’s before the rush hour. My decision to stop here was helped by the fact that it was already busy with workers.
Maybe it was because I had been walking for hours and I was famished, but mein Gott this was good. That egg was just waiting to be popped, and the pork fell off the bone effortlessly.
There are a bunch of cafes around the 16/4 Park, and the Sunrise Cafe had the best cafe latte I found.
When in provincial Vietnam you must seek out a garden cafe, and I found a good one at Memory Coffee. These cafes are set in gardens with waterfalls, and often they will have ornamental fish ponds.
I had a ca phe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) at Ca Phe Cho Lon. This cafe is a glimpse of what an old town Phan Rang could have looked like.
Phan Rang-Thap Cham is on the North-South railway, so if you like to travel by train that makes it an easy choice. Thap Cham station was the starting point for the old Da Lat railway. There is a plan to restore the Da Lat–Thap Cham railway, but don’t hold your breath waiting for it.
Search for Phan Rang – Ho Chi Minh City train tickets.
I got the bus from Da Lat to Phan Rang with the Hien An bus company, and that trip takes 3 hours in a mid-size bus with seats (not a sleeper bus).