Not another hidden Gem - Ninh Thuan province

Blogs - Vietnam: May 23, 2014

If you read a great deal about traveling in Vietnam, you are bound to hear so much about “hidden gems” that you might think going to Vietnam is one big mining expedition. Many of these “gems” are difficult to reach, take you far from your other objectives, and provide so few amenities that the effort and hassle spoil the entire experience.

Not another hidden Gem - Ninh Thuan province

Ninh Thuan is an exception. The province is located in the middle of the south central tourism triangle of Phan Thiet/Mui Ne, Dalat, and Nha Trang. In the heart of the province are the adjoined cities of Thap Cham and Phan Rang. Thap Cham is the historical capital of the Cham people. Phan Rang, the capital of Ninh Thuan, is a mid-sized modern city near the ocean. From Saigon the drive is only an hour or two longer than traveling to Mui Ne, and it is two hours closer than Nha Trang. If you are flying into the Cam Ranh Airport, it is the same drive time as if you were going north to Nha Trang. Nearly all the visitors to this area stay at Ninh Chu Bay, which is five kilometers from Phan Rang.

Ninh Chu Bay

Ninh Chu Bay is considered one of the nine most beautiful beaches in Vietnam. Prior to 1974, the ten kilometer crescent was used as the exclusive beach for the President of South Vietnam. Since that time, it has remained relatively unknown to those outside Vietnam. Seven resorts of various quality and character line the area between the wide roads and the beach and several more resorts are being developed. The city of Phan Rang is located far enough away from the coast so the area near the ocean is uncongested.

Ninh Thuan MuseumWhat makes the area a true “hidden gem” is the unique balance of traditional Vietnamese life combined with modern conveniences for travelers. It is a gateway into seeing how contemporary Vietnamese live outside the major tourism destinations, while also providing all the services tourists need. Two large metered taxi companies offer reliable transportation to visitors, ATMs and banks line the streets, and high-speed internet access and international TV are available in all the resorts. Near the bay is one of the most modern buildings in Vietnam, an arrow-head shaped museum which is part of a large park that is now the unofficial community center. However, it is not unusual to see cattle being herded down the wide, six-lane road that connects the beach to Highway 1. If you have travelled around Vietnam for any length of time, you will notice several unusual things about this area that make it a welcome change. You will not be approached by people asking you to buy things or give money. You can walk on the sidewalks without the fear of motorbikes. Crossing the street is not life-threatening. The temperature is not humid and the ocean breeze cools you down. Getting in a taxi is safe, and the traffic is light. It is one of the easiest places in Vietnam to relax and just experience Vietnamese people as they truly live now and not how they lived in the past.

When to Go

If you want good beach weather almost guaranteed, then Ninh Thuan Province is for you. The province has the least amount of rain, the most sunny days, and consistently warm temperatures throughout the year. In fact, 95% of all grapes produced for wine are grown in this province.

The raining season is officially from mid-September to mid-December. However, when it rains it usually rains for about 15 minutes and stops. Phan Rang has 20% less annual rainfall than Nha Trang and Phan Thiet. Exceptions, like when a typhoon is near, are rare.

Getting There

As the city is directly in the middle of major tourist destinations, you have several options of travel. The train is a safe and reliable method to travel to Phan Rang on a budget (but spend a little extra for a cabin bed). Almost all the north/south trains stop at Thap Cham Station, which is about a $7 taxi ride from Ninh Chu Bay. Metered Mai Linh taxis are usually waiting at the train station.

Taking a bus is also an easy alternative. Most tour buses going to Nha Trang are happy to drop you off and pick you up in Phan Rang. If you are planning on arriving in the middle of night, make sure they drop you off where you can find a taxi to take you to your hotel.

Ninh Thuan Coastal HighwayPhan Rang is nearly the same distance from the Cam Ranh Airport as Nha Trang is, only south instead of north. The taxi ride will be more expensive since fewer taxis are willing to make this trip. You can expect to pay between $20 and $30. Once the new coastal highway is opened, the trip from the airport to the beach is going to be spectacular. The views from this highway are some of the best in the world. It is schedule to open in the first half of 2013.

Taking a van, taxi, or bus from Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, or Dalat will take about 2 hours. A taxi from Nha Trang will cost approximately $50.

Before the war, a railway connected Phan Rang to Dalat. The government plans to re-open this route in the next few years, which means Phan Rang will be the gateway into the south central highlands.

Where to Stay

It is highly recommended you stay at one of the seven resorts located on Ninh Chu Bay. Mini-hotels in the city are an inferior alternative.

The seven resorts range in price and service. Two-star options are available for $20 per night, but you will get what you pay for. Thai Binh, and Con Ga Resorts are the best of these. For a slightly higher price, you can stay at Bau Truc (formerly known as Den Gion) which has both three and four star facilities. Bau Truc is a nicely designed resort in the center of the bay with an open, outdoor restaurant right on the beach. They also have one of the largest swimming pools in Vietnam that they keep very clean.

Beds have new mattresses and linens that conform to western standards. Moving up in price, the next option is the Saigon Tourist owned, Ninh Chu Hotel. It is 8 floors and has many rooms with ocean views, as well as some beach bungalows. The Saigon Tourist hotel also has the most facilities such as a spa, game roomand a beach bar. Unfortunately, like many Saigon Tourist hotels, the service is subpar and the staffing is kept at a bare minimum.

Bau Truc resortFor a surreal experience that will make you feel like you are in a Scooby Doo mystery, stay at Hoan Cau resort (really, don’t). The resort mixes Vietnamese folklore and Disneyland design, only it looks like it hasn’t been maintained for the last decade. But, if you feel like staying in a “tree trunk”, then by all means check it out (don’t).

If you are traveling with a group, the new Aniise Villa resort recently opened and they have several beach villas with kitchens that can easily accommodate up to ten people.

Finally, the world famous Aman Resort Group is opening a resort on the cliffs above Vinh Hy Bay. The Aman Resort Vinh Hy Bay is set to open in the first half of 2013 and will be one of Vietnam’s most prestigious hotels.

Banner Photo by: Khánh Hmoong