Phan Thiet's Government Master Plan Working?

By: Steve Raymond

Last year Binh Thuan online published an article entitled “Strategy for Development of tourism in Vietnam to 2020” and “Master Plan for tourism development Vietnam to 2020 and vision to 2030”. The article concerned the government’s plans to boost tourism into the area, and to cooperate with the tourism officials in Ho Chi Minh City and Lam Dong (Dalat) to set up a “tourism development triangle”.

The goals sound lofty, but the reality is a long way from that ideal. The government officials who created these plans start with a number of premises that show a lack of understanding of the needs or desires of foreign tourists who visit the area, as well as the needs of tourism establishments outside of the Ham Tien/Mui Ne core area. For example, they have held what they refer to as “cultural events”, such as a hot-air balloon festival and two food festivals that have had no effect on the advancement of foreign tourism. I was one of only a handful of foreigners who attended the balloon festival and the most recent food festival was held in the center of Phan Thiet. It attracted many locals but few tourists.

Rather than informing tourists about everything that Phan Thiet area offers and giving them choices of where to stay, the plan exacerbates the misunderstanding of both tourists and tourism companies that think Ham Tien and Phu Hai are part of Mui Ne. This adds to the confusion of tourists, concerning the actual location of their hotels and the establishments they wish to visit and does a disservice to the rest of the Phan Thiet area.

Additionally, the plans do not address or even mention the most glaring deterrent to future tourism into the area; The article talks about an investment in cultural events, road construction, signage, parks, markets, cable television, training of workers, an airport, promotions and trade shows, yet not a dong for cleaning up the area so that it is a pleasant oasis for visitors.

Since the plan was written, tourism into Binh Thuan has dropped significantly. Some of that drop can be attributed to the deterioration of the Russian ruble and the riots against the Chinese in 2014, but much of it can also be attributed to the internet posting of tourists who come here and are disappointed by the amount of garbage at the sand dunes, the fairy stream, Taku mountain, along the sides of the roads and most disturbingly, on Binh Thuan’s beaches.

As for the programs that are mentioned in the plan, little has been done in the past year. After an initial burst of activity, construction of the new airport has either slowed or stopped altogether. Improvement along Nguyen Dinh Chieu, the main street through Ham Tien, has consisted of filling in some potholes usually about three months after they appear. The plan to build an oceanfront park and promenade at the Bo Ke area of Ham Tien consisted of the police tearing down some of the makeshift structures which have since reappeared and multiplied. 

Binh Thuan has yet to promote tourism at any major tourism fair. They have finally, however, attended ITE in Ho Chi Minh City, but have not yet gone to the ASEAN Tourism Forum, or to ITB; the largest tourism fair in the world. However, the authorities are very good about sending out directives and printing banners in Vietnamese. They also produced a promotional video, also in Vietnamese.

If the first year of the program is any indication, tourism growth into Binh Thuan will either stagnate or deteriorate, while private investment in the area waits for a government that understands the priorities of international tourists and acts to address them.


A Few Days in Phan Thiet/Mui Ne

By: Rob van Driesum

By Rob van Driesum

Our family – Jan, myself and five-year-old Matilda – was long overdue for a short holiday at the beach. The plan was simple: book four nights in the off-season at the Sunsea Resort in Phan Thiet/Mui Ne, Wednesday to Sunday, and take the train from Ho Chi Minh City (the most hassle-free, comfortable and quickest way to get there). What could go wrong?

Well...

I tried to book train tickets online but the options were confusing. There were several websites with different trains, different schedules and prices, and click-throughs that didn’t seem to work. I knew there was one train a day in each direction, and I just wanted three simple soft seats on the standard train for the four-hour trip. Why was that so difficult

On Monday morning I went to the ticketing office at Ga Sai Gon (which would have to be one of the world’s most cunningly hidden central train stations), took a number and awaited my turn.

“Seats to Phan Thiet on Wednesday are no problem,” said the lady behind the counter in impeccable English, “but we only have two tickets for Sunday return. We have plenty of seats on Saturday.”

Oh dear! I should have realised that August may be the off-season for foreigners, but it’s also the Vietnamese school-holiday season when HCMC locals descend en masse onto the lovely beach between Phan Thiet and Mui Ne during the weekends. An expat in Phan Thiet told me later that it’s wise to book train tickets to/from Phan Thiet one month ahead during the school holidays.

So, we had to return on Saturday, which meant three rather than four nights at Sunsea. That was not the end of the world of course, but still a bit of a disappointment.

Sunsea Resort

Fortunately Sunsea Resort itself was far from disappointing. I had already investigated it during an earlier visit to the area, and knew to expect a recently renovated, wonderfully quiet resort with tasteful stonework imported from Italy. I admired the round, private cottages near the beach that were works of art, incorporating beautiful, local timbers and furniture custom-made to follow the curves of the rooms.

The Pool View Rooms at Sunsea Resort face the ‘inner’ pool
 

Instead of a private cottage, however, we booked a more affordable Pool View Double Room for $80 a night including service charge, taxes and breakfast. There was no extra charge for our daughter because she was still under six years old.

The room exceeded our expectations. It was tastefully appointed with all the mod cons (although the DVD player refused to accept our Europe-coded DVDs), and the “Pool View” moniker lived up to its name – we could walk straight into the pool from the private patio.

Sunsea Resort’s infinity pool at the beach, with the bar and Sukhothai restaurant to the left
 

Matilda could not have been happier. We kept an eye on her from the comfortable couch on the patio where we caught up with a few books we hadn’t got round to reading. Bliss!

Sunsea has a beautiful infinity pool at the beach as well, next to its beachfront bar and Sukhothai restaurant, which serves a range of Vietnamese and Western dishes as well as excellent Thai specialities (the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Sukhothai in central Thailand was the capital of the first kingdom of Siam back in the 13th century). The restaurant would have to be one of the most pleasant spots along the beach strip for breakfast in the gentle, morning breeze. Lunch is on offer as well, and coloured lighting creates a magical and stylish ambience for the evening meal.

Off-Season

The Phan Thiet-Mui Ne beach is quiet in the off-season, especially during the week. In the high season (roughly from October to April), it’s a mecca for kitesurfers and windsurfers when scores of them catch the consistent breeze. Some resorts – including Sunsea – have high poles on the beach to keep the kitesurfers at a distance for safety reasons.

In August, however, you don’t see any of them. There’s the odd wave-surfer and jet-skier, and a few people try and fly recreational kites in the fickle breeze until the afternoon showers set in. Perfect for rest and relaxation, in other words.

Sorting the catch on the beach at Mui Ne fishing village.
 

There are, of course, other attractions in the area – see here.

If there was a downside to staying during the week in the off-season, it was the fact that Matilda had no-one of her age to play with. This changed on Friday when families with kids began to arrive from HCMC, but unfortunately we had to return to HCMC on Saturday morning.

So, if you plan to follow our example with a child in tow, book your weekend train tickets a month in advance!


A Night at Full Moon Village

By: City Pass Guide

City Pass Guide visited Full Moon Village Resort in Mui Ne for two nights and two days of natural bonding, excellent food and a beautiful beach backdrop. Two of our writers collaborated together to write their inspired experiences of boozy team building and bonfire nights.

Water Activities at Full Moon Village

I should probably have been born a fish. Want to know why? It’s a pretty weird statement to make, yep, I get that...but it makes perfect sense. Since I was very young I have been drawn to bodies of water.

I love the ocean. I grew up in Sydney, and I learnt to duck under those unfeasible monsters that pummel the Sydney coast and grab onto the sand on the seabed practically before I learnt to read. I love swimming pools - crystal blue, the tang of chlorine clinging to my stringy hair, floating in silky liquid under a hot sun… Even bath-time was an adventure! And Full Moon Village had a stunning bathtub believe me.

But it was the gorgeous, shaded pool at Full Moon Village which charmed me most. This big stretch of deep aqua blue was one of the most well kept, beautiful man-made bodies of water I’d ever seen. It was a shared pool for all the guests of Full Moon Village, nestled among the villas. It even had a pool bar! Lagoon-like, surrounded by soft deck chairs and tickled by tens of sea-green palm fronds, as soon as I saw our swimming pool I just wanted to hop in.

And later that evening, we did.

We had taken dinner in town at Mui Ne, and as we arrived back at the resort with sand on our toes, the moon winked at us from the sea. It was warm. We were all full with delicious BBQ and one of the nicest dry white wines I’d ever tasted (but then, I am a novice). The little girls were sleepy, as little children tend to be when it is well past their bedtime, and everyone else seemed to be in that pleasant, dreamy mood that adult people also tend to be when it is well past their bedtime and there is delicious white wine. We talked about deep things like the purpose of life and how to be truly happy. We nodded our heads wisely and admired the words flowing out of our mouths… and, with a crisp hotel towel and a glass of gin a tonic, a lot of our number found ourselves at the pool.

Have you ever swum in a pool in the middle of the night? The water is black, solid, silky and soft on your skin as you dip in your toes. Full Moon Village is about half an hour from Mui Ne’s main town and miles from any other city, so as you step into the dark velvet of its midnight lagoon and let the water hug your shoulders, the air around you is as still as the water and the sky above holds a thousand twinkling stars.

We sipped our nightcaps slowly and watched the night. Some of us mucked around, splashing, giggling, and some of us leant back and soaked it all in. Some of us swam, just to feel the vitality of moving in something so smooth, and some of us dangled our legs into the water and let it swirl around our heels. I remember joking, I remember talking without thinking, and I remember racing but giving up halfway because I’m a lousy swimmer. We all laughed that night. As the dark blackened and the hours wore on, more nightcaps flowed and our deep conversation deepened. The moon watched us. And behind us our villas waited, warm and comforting. We could sleep soon... pretty yellow lights blinked from behind black palm fronds. Fireflies in the night. We could sleep soon… or we could wade in the water.
 

BBQ & Bonfire at Full Moon Village

After an eventful day out kayaking in a jellyfish-infested sea (my co-worker and I flipped our kayak twice in a row, frantically trying to turn it right side up and scrambling back into our seats like frightened dogs) the company went down to the beach for the evening.

Two bonfires were set up as the sky grew dark. Coolers with beer were brought and crackly pop music began to play from someone’s phone. Singing rose sonorously and softly as a Full Moon worker lit one, then the other bonfire and the flames shot up.

It didn’t feel much like a company trip. It felt like a night out with good family and friends. Swigging a beer, I sat by one of the bonfires and began to meditate. Two of our staff joined in on the sweaty activity, a small crew singing along with the phone behind us.

Nearby was a large group at a beachfront dining table. The kids from the group came by and began playing around with the bonfires, throwing sand and dancing around like tribal natives. It’s hard to forget images like these, especially on a languid Saturday night in Mui Ne.

This is how team building should ideally look like: like a long, eventful day and night out with close kith and kin, a way to be yourself around the people you work with, a way to untangle professional stresses.

The bonfire rose and fell and shot pine-needle strips of flame into the sky. The tinder on the left began to collapse. As children and co-workers passed by between the fire and I, there was a momentary coolness. By this time the two co-workers on either side of me had left, retreating to a less sizzling area by the little a cappella group nestled amidst deck chairs and beer a few meters away.

Full Moon Village feels like the summer camp you actually looked forward to attending when you were a kid, albeit with extensive amenities, a gorgeous beachfront backdrop and quite a bit more alcohol. Team building can oftentimes feel forced. Luckily the resort provided an environment where we could all do our own thing, but interact long enough in our large shared villas to coordinate group activities once in a while.

Many companies scratch their heads on how they can combine work and play into effective team building. What I found at Full Moon Village was that it requires dropping both terms and simply letting the team mingle, drink and bond. Somehow, yet-unplanned but now coordinated activities arise where both work and play are employed. Just the other night, as the outdoor BBQ was being set up, out of a giant mess of raw meat and fish and a cluster of co-workers materialized an orderly system. BBQ chefs were elected, while employees held a phone out to provide light, opened clams and carried raw meat over, proffered plates, assisted the makeshift chefs and set up the table. 


The formula generating this much-desirable result? The setting (beautiful villa resort) and the freedom to bond at our own pace. From there, suggested activities are enthusiastically considered. We hardly followed our initial itinerary, but the freedom to step outside the rigid schedule is what brought us closer together. 

As I sat meditating on the sand on the last night in Full Moon Village, the bonfire to my left collapsed. Stars were growing brighter, the team less fervent, the singing down to a single vocalist. Soon we would go back to our shared villas after a long day. Team building was hardly on our minds when we arrived. But after our trip it was the only thing we were doing – we just didn’t exactly know it at the time.

Collaboratively written by Alex and Zoe from City Pass Guide.

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