Local Insight: Phan Thiet
Sea, Sun and Wind
Phan Thiet covers sixty kilometres of coastline and each area offers something unique.
The city is famous for the red and white sand dunes, Taku Mountain and the largest reclining Buddha in Southeast Asia, the century-old Ke Ga Lighthouse, the Fairy Stream and of course, kite-surfing and sailing. But there is so much more when you travel to Phan Thiet.
“The city centre and the various communities along the coast retain much of their charm and have not yet been spoiled or over-commercialised like Phuket, Bali, and so many others.”
Although tourism has exploded in the past 20 years, both the city centre and the various communities along the coast retain much of their charm and have not yet been spoiled or over-commercialised like the communities in Phuket, Bali, Mallorca and so many other major tourist destinations around the world. Although tourism enterprises have become the major employer, fishing and related businesses still dominate the life of the majority of the residents. This is evident by the hundreds of fishing boats lining the rivers in the city centre and docked throughout Mui Ne Bay and along the coast at Tien Thanh and Ke Ga.
Instead of succumbing to the lure of tourism brochures and internet sites, don’t just lie on the beach or visit the attractions, but delve into the local scene and see why those of us who live here, love it so much.
Most of the local residents rise before the sun. Much of the activity in fishing communities takes place in the early hours of the morning, so get up when they do and immerse yourself in the culture. Go down to the water’s edge as the fishing boats are arriving and watch as the families gather to separate the fish. Then head to one of the local markets to see the frenetic bargaining for the day’s catch. Afterwards, visit a local dragon fruit farm and see how the farmers turn a yearly crop into a tri-yearly one.
“Don’t just lie on the beach or visit the attractions, but delve into the local scene and see why those of us who live here, love it so much.”
Most of the resorts offer bicycles, either complementary or for a small rental fee. By riding a bicycle, rather than a motorbike or a car, one notices much more. If you prefer the wide open spaces, take the road north of Mui Ne ward beyond the white sand dunes toward Vinh Hao. The road south of the city center through Tien Thanh ward to Ke Ga Lighthouse will take you past two small communities and many uncluttered ocean vistas. However, if you prefer more activity, just ride along Huynh Thuc Khang and Nguyen Dinh Chieu in Ham Tien ward with its hundreds of shops, restaurants, resorts and guest houses, then ride back along the four lane divided highway just above Ham Tien, with its unending ocean views.
“Much of the activity in fishing communities takes place in the early hours of the morning, so get up when they do and immerse yourself in the culture.”
In the evening, don’t just stay in your resort or dine at a restaurant full of other tourists. Venture out to one of the more popular local venues. If you are staying in Ham Tien, go to Ham Tien Market. Between there and the corner where the street name changes from Nguyen Dinh Chieu to Huynh Thuc Khang are a number of goat hot pot restaurants, filled with local Vietnamese. Dining there will be a unique, unforgettable experience. If you’re near the city centre, the latest hotspots are the various Vietnamese barbecue restaurants where you cook your own meal at your table. If you’re in Mui Ne, head to the local high school. In front are a number of beef and goat hot pot restaurants, as well as some very trendy cafes.
If you want to finish your evening on a high note and in a more traditional manner, there are lots of things to do in Ham Tien ward. Joe’s Cafe usually has some great live bands and a nice selection of Western food and wines. The current hot spot is Dragon Beach, near Bo Ke, where you can dance until the sun comes up.