The capital of Binh Thuan province, Phan Thiet, is a small-but-thriving Vietnamese city, and would be a decent destination for tourists in its own right, but for one small problem: it's a stone's throw from Mui Ne, and there's no good reason for the foreign tourist to dally here when a prime beach-town is beckoning just over the horizon.
That being the case, Phan Thiet sees very few foreign faces, save those visiting on a day trip from Mui Ne or belting through on an Open Tour minibus.
For the Vietnamese tourist however, Phan Thiet is a good compromise -- they don't have to choose between expensive resorts and low-rent guest houses like in Mui Ne, good, reasonably-priced seafood restaurants line the water, and the beach is just as fine as Mui Ne -- there's just less of it.
Domestic package tours tend to show up in Phan Thiet in force as well, no doubt cutting sweet deals with local hotels and taking advantage of the proximity to Mui Ne.
A number of minor treats -- including Cham towers and huge cemeteries -- can all be easily visited either independently from here (or Mui Ne).
In terms of the cost of accommodation, the variety of eats and things to do, we have to recommend Mui Ne as the better destination. But there are things to do and see in Phan Thiet proper that make it worth a day trip, and a night or two here isn't a bad idea if you have the time and budget for it in your travel schedule.
The Ca Ty river cuts the city of Phan Thiet in two. The western bank hosts the older part of town, and the eastern bank has more recent development, the beach, and most of the accommodation. There are three bridges joining the two banks -- on the eastern side of the northern-most bridge you'll find the Phan Triet water tower, which is considered the 'symbol of the city.' The middle bridge leads across to a promenade on the western bank and the centre of the old town -- a good place to shop for DVDs if you're in the market. The southern-most bridge is just north of the fish market on the western bank. The beachfront is to the southeast of the city, where Le Loi St runs along the water.
We imagine most visitors will opt to stay on or close to the beach. You won't save much money on accommodation inland, though it does make it easier to find services and a wider variety of places to eat within easy walking distance. After you've exhausted the seafood places and cafes on the beachfront, the rest of Phan Thiet is a kilometre or so away.
The Fahasa Bookstore in Phan Thiet's Co-op Mart offers a 'Ho Chi Minh City Tourist Map' with a close up of Phan Thiet and Binh Thuan province on the back, but for more detail of the city, and of Mui Ne as well, seek out the Vietbooks 'Yellow Map' of Binh Thuan province. It's widely available in Saigon, but we picked up a copy at the Doi Duong Hotel for 15,000 dong. If you're planning to follow our advice and explore some of the nearby sites 'off the Open Tour route,' this map is quite helpful. The Binh Thuan tourist office doesn't offer any maps at all, at least not when we asked.
Internet is widely available in Phan Thiet, at 4,000 to 5,000 VND per hour. If you're staying on the beach, head a bit to the south and you'll find a place.
All your banking needs can be met at the Incom Bank on the corner of Nguyen Tat Thanh and Tran Hung Dao Sts, across from the Co-op Mart. They cash travellers cheques for 1.25% commission, or US$2.20 minimum. There's a 24-hour ATM there that accepts most debit cards, and there's another one across the street a the Co-op Mart proper. If you're on the beach, head to the Binh Minh hotel for foreign exchange.
The main post office is also along Nguyen Tat Than, about halfway between the beach and the Incom Bank, on the right. There are numerous Buu Dien on the beach and around town that also offer postal and long distance telephone services.
Incom Bank: 02 Nguyen Tat Thanh, Phan Thiet. T: (062) 828 000. Open: Mon-Fri 07:00 to 11:30, 13:30 to 17:00.
Main Post Office: Corner of of Nguyen Tat Thanh and Ton Duc Thang Sts, Phan Thiet. T: (062) 849 799. Open Mon-Fri: 07:00 to 21:30
By Don Morgan