Phan Thiet is a resort city, offering visitors a wide range of activities, both on land and on the water. The city encompasses a 57.4-kilometre-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 aspects. 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.
Phan Thiet City is located in Binh Thuan Province and is approximately 160 kilometres east of Ho Chi Minh City. However. travellers who use highway 1A, the main road between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, traverse 200 kilometres but a new freeway which will cut traveling time from six to two hours between the two cities is scheduled for completion in 2020.
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-sized 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.
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.
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, 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 only 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.
The Different Areas
- The beaches at Tien Thanh commune and Ke Ga 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.
- 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.
- Ham Tien Ward is the penultimate tourist strip, with hundreds of resorts, shops, restaurants, beach bars and spas. It 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. 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.
- 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.
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. There is also a compound of ostriches to ride, but not for the faint-hearted.
- 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.
Besides fish sauce, Phan Thiet is also 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.
The fresh seafood is also famous in Phan Thiet. The two most popular methods of cooking this fresh seafood in the area are grilling or roasting. Other methods of preparing and serving the fresh catch that are available in most seafood restaurants include hotpots and steamed or stir-fried dishes. These dishes are all available on the streets or at the seawalls (Bo Ke areas) in both Ham Tien and Mui Ne Wards of Phan Thiet.
Phan Thiet has one seafood speciality that seemingly every Vietnamese tourist wants to try. It is called “Muc Mot Nang” or sun-dried squid. So many tour buses returning from resorts in Phu Hai, Ham Tien or Mui Ne Wards stop at the “Muc Mot Nang” stores on the top of the hill in Phu Hai that the traffic on the street in front of these stores comes to a standstill every Sunday afternoon.
Another speciality not to miss out on is “Lau Tha” hotpot with fresh Phan Thiet seafood. This dish is particularly popular with tourists and is the speciality of the Seahorse Bistro Restaurant in Ham Tien. The hotpot is made with sillago or silverside fish and herring.
By far the most famous dish that is served to tourists at many Phan Thiet resorts and hotels as a speciality of this area, banh xeo is available all over Vietnam. However, like balut and some of the other dishes that Phan Thiet residents claim as specialities of their city, the taste of this dish is different than in other regions.