Phan Thiet is the capital of Binh Thuan province, located in the South Central Coast region of Vietnam. The main drawcard of Phan Thiet is the beach that runs from Phan Thiet city to Mui Ne town. The beach is marketed as Mui Ne, even though only a small section of the beach is in Mui Ne.
[Mui Ne in relation to Phan Thiet (via Wikipedia).]
Mui Ne/Phan Thiet is a popular beach destination from Saigon as it’s only a 4-hour van ride away. I’ve been to Mui Ne twice but I’ve never stopped to look around Phan Thiet city. For this trip, I wanted to see what the city is like, and also have a look at the beaches on the other side of Phan Thiet. This area is not as developed, but like everywhere in Vietnam, it’s only a matter of time before it’s discovered. There are some infrastructure projects planned for Phan Thiet, including a new airport and an expressway from Ho Chi Minh City. This may make Phan Thiet a bigger tourist destination in the future.
This map includes places referred to in this article.
[Map of Phan Thiet and Binh Thuan Province.]
To get my trip started I spent a night in Mui Ne to celebrate travelling for the first time in over two months. After the second outbreak in Danang in July I erred on the side of caution and limited my movements while the country got the virus under control again. A day by the beach was a good way to start travelling again.
[Pool by the sea at the Seahorse Resort & Spa.]
On my first trip to Mui Ne it was raining and the water was murky, which didn’t leave a good impression. This time around the sun was shining and the water was clean and clear.
Mui Ne is a popular destination for Russian tourists, and the main road behind the beach is lined with shops and restaurants reminding you of this fact.
Like many other places I’ve visited in Vietnam this year, Mui Ne is struggling through the pandemic. Many of the hotels have been shuttered, uncertain if they are going to reopen. The main street felt like a ghost town with the tourist shops closed.
As an online publisher with most of my interests in travel, it’s been a depressing year. I don’t have many overheads though, so at least I can get by. I feel bad for the physical businesses that have fixed expenses. It’s going to take years to get back to normal.
Having got my beach fix I moved camp into town. Phan Thiet is a fishing port city that doesn’t have much on offer to stop tourists on the way to the beach. As I mentioned on my visit to Tuy Hoa, I like visiting these unassuming provincial cities. The onus is on you to find points of interest.
Luckily I’m easily amused, so wandering the streets is a good day out for me.
[Motorbikes + little plastic seats = classic Vietnam.]
During the day the fleet of fishing boats is moored in the Ca Ty River. The city is famous for fish sauce, and with the right breeze, the smell of fermenting fish can be whiffed in many parts of the city.
In the late afternoon, the boats start heading out of the river to begin their evening of work.
Whenever I’m in a new city in Vietnam I head for the central market.
Even though I’m not buying anything I love wandering around to soak up the mayhem of a Vietnamese market.
Another site to be on the lookout for are war monuments. I didn’t have to look hard here as there is a glorious monument on one on the main roundabouts in the city centre.
The Victory Monument features a celebrating soldier with his family.
Behind them a soldier has their back with a grenade launcher.
Behind the monument is a mural depicting scenes of people during the war. Here are civilians holding the flag of the National Liberation Front.
The mural here features women soldiers, reminding me of the monument in Ben Tre.
The water tower is the city logo and architectural highlight.
There are a few old shophouses that are hanging in there. I wondered what Phan Thiet might have looked like if it had been able to retain a few streets of heritage buildings.
I couldn’t find any old photos online of old Phan Thiet. There was an American base outside the city, but apart from the base being attacked there weren’t any references to fighting in the city.
Most of the American air bases in Vietnam were continued to be used by the People’s Army of Vietnam, and then shared or turned over completely for civilian use. The airport here was reverted to farmland. If they had of kept the airport then perhaps Phan Thiet would have grown as big as Nha Trang.
Another reason I wanted to stay in Phan Thiet was to eat at local restaurants. Being in a fishing city it seemed appropriate to have some kind of fish soup, and I found a good place near the central market.
[Banh Canh Xíu – So 1 HA, Kim Dong, Phan Thiet.]
This is Banh Canh Cha Ca.
If you are looking for dinner and see a busy street stall, my general rule is to take a seat and ask questions later.
The answer was nem nuong from Nem Nuong Minh Hieu.
[Nem Nuong Minh Hieu.]
Binh Thuan province is famous for its dragonfruit farms. On the train or drive to Phan Thiet, you can see rows upon rows of this cactus-like plant growing on concrete stakes.
As a result of the pandemic, dragonfruit farmers haven’t been able to export the fruit to China (the largest market). A bakery in Ho Chi Minh City made a banh mi with dragon fruit to help sell more dragonfruit. While a few dragonfruit-flavoured bread rolls are hardly going to put a dent in the stockpile, I appreciated the show of solidarity for the farmers.
In Phan Thiet I found a place selling dragonfruit bread, so I had to try it out. I wanted it as a banh mi, but the server was just confused with my order and was not entertaining my request. I ordered a banh mi in regular bread and a plain dragonfruit bread on the side. It turns out that the dragonfruit banh mi is more like a cross between bread and a pastry, so I understood why I was not being given one with filling.
It was very tasty as a bakery treat, with a slight hint of the fruit (of a fruit that only has a hint of taste in the first place). The Banh Mi was also excellent.
[Lo Banh Mi Nhi Nhi.]
Cafes are also part of any city exploration plan, and there are some good cafes here. There are no Highlands here yet (the big Vietnam cafe chain), so there are some local cafes competing with each other with branches across the city.
I enjoyed the coffee and vibes at Ta Coffee on Hung Vuong Rd.
Also on Hung Vuong Rd is Mr Bin Coffee.
I wasn’t here to just eat street food and wander around to different cafes. My plan was to visit some of the construction sites in the city and on the beaches to the south. One of the big projects in Phan Thiet has been the conversion of a golf course into a new urban area. There are only a few houses here so far, so I would like to see how it turns out in the future.
The next day I rented a scooter and drove along the coast. I had some places marked out that I knew were being built, but there are more planned developments that haven’t started yet. I from this trip I compiled a report on construction projects in Binh Thuan Province.
There are some big resorts planned along here, but for the most part it’s a peaceful stretch of coastline with some beautiful beaches.
These secondary roads are a great place for cruising around on a scooter.
Once you have discovered the joy of a hammock cafe it’s hard to go back to seated cafes.
A coconut break with a view.
And here is one of the aforementioned dragonfruit farms.
The architectural highlight along here is the Ke Ga lighthouse (the oldest lighthouse in Vietnam).
It’s on a little island just off the coast, and there are boats that can take you over to visit.
I was riding a bit further to visit the Thanh Long Bay development. I’ve seen pictures of this resort that looks like a new city, and I wanted to see it for myself. Here is my full report on Thanh Long Bay.
[Beach at Thanh Long Bay.]
From here I went back to Phan Thiet even though I would have gladly kept riding.
Transport – getting to Phan Thiet
From Saigon I got a limo van to Phan Thiet. This is a quicker option than the bus, and they have big seats with lots of leg room. I went with G5 Car, and they delivered me directly to my hotel on the beach.
Search for transport to Phan Thiet.
For the return leg I got a train from Phan Thiet station. This takes 4 hours and this is my preferred option for travel. Here is the review of my previous train trip to Phan Thiet.
[Phan Thiet Railway Station.]