Phan Thiet: Up, Up and Away?
According to #iAMHCMC’s resident Phan Thiet expert, Steve Raymond, in addition to suffering from a serious case of mistaken identity, Phan Thiet City is being hampered by the slow progress of the proposed international airport.
Having lived and worked in the area for more than 10 years, Raymond, the former General Manager of Pandanus Resort, still despairs whenever he sees locations in Phan Thiet incorrectly listing themselves as being in “Mui Ne”, the popular kite-surfing mecca 10 km down the road.
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While he understands the reason owners and operators would want to associate with the name, in his opinion it’s been a self-defeating strategy.
“The problem with it,” Raymond told #iAMHCMC, “is that when tourists google the location of accommodation or businesses using the name Mui Ne, they are directed to a spot 10 or 20 kms away from the actual place.”
He goes as far as to call it a “misinformation campaign” that has contributed to the failure of several businesses.
‘‘Because of the promotion of ‘Mui Ne’ as a destination, the greatest beneficiaries are businesses located in Mui Ne, Ham Tien and Phu Hai wards, all to the north and east of the city centre and still part of Phan Thiet. However, since no tourism body helps promote businesses along the beaches south of Phan Thiet in Tien Thanh commune and Ke Ga, many of them have closed or have very few customers.”
In addition, Raymond has bemoaned the lack of progress on the planned Phan Thiet International Airport, which he says has halted construction since he last spoke to #iAMHCMC in 2015. This is despite a recent visit from Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who in February signed a decree approving the upgrade of the planned Phan Thiet runway from 2400 m to 3050 m. According to one report by local news outlet Bao Binh Thuan Online, this will allow the airport to handle aircraft as large as the Airbus A320—popular with the likes of China Southern and China Eastern Airlines—and increase the terminal’s annual passenger capacity to around two million.
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“At the moment, the spot where the airport will be is not much more than an empty lot”, Raymond said, “although the plans for road work, a shopping mall and other associated businesses have increased the value of the land in the area by 10-fold.”
Exacerbating Raymond’s frustration has been the continued delay of the US$750 million, 98 km Dau Giay-Phan Thiet Expressway, which has been in the works for the last 10 years. In April of this year, Vietnam Investment Review reported on the termination by the Prime Minister of its latest, World Bank-led iteration.
“The termination could not be avoided”, a senior official from the Ministry of Transport told VIR. “Investors have been discouraged by unresolved problems relating to the risk-sharing mechanism on exchange rates and the revenue guarantee.”
A New Hope
Despite the challenges, Phan Thiet has still shown what Raymond calls “exponential growth” since the economic downturn of 2014-15. Renewing hope that its progress would again be fast-tracked, at the end of May this year, the Prime Minister held a working session with leaders of Binh Thuan Province to discuss the construction process of the US$247 million airport project.
However, even without an airport or a freeway, according to Bao Binh Thuan Online, the location remains popular, with more than 140,000 visitors flocking to Phan Thiet City during the Reunification Day long weekend holiday in 2016.
Aside from enjoying the beach and taking in the hustle of one of the busiest fishing ports and most vibrant markets in southern Vietnam, many of them arrived to witness the area’s significant number of historical monuments. Chief among them are the Po Sah Inu Towers, which date back to the 8th century and are some of the most important remaining vestiges of the Cham Kingdom. Formerly featuring several towers, only three remain, creating a sombre sense of history and a magical ‘golden hour’ photo opportunity.
Other historical and cultural attractions include the largest reclining Buddha in Southeast Asia, which sits on Ta Cu (“holy mountain”) 28 km west of the city. Inhabited by an extended family of enthusiastic monkeys, the mountain offers a stunning vista of the dragon-fruit and paddy fields below, framed by the blue of the East Sea.
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For those looking to up their knowledge of the country’s greatest leader, the Duc Thanh Museum near the banks of the Ca Ty River is a living tribute to Ho Chi Minh, who taught at the Duc Manh school in 1910 before setting off to France to continue his own education. It’s a quaint, charming reminder of one of ‘Uncle Ho’s’ core philosophies and features memorabilia about his life and time in Phan Thiet, surely another of Vietnam’s most underrated destinations, with or without an airport.
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