Squeezed into a distant corner of Vietnam, Ha Tien has fully embraced its position as the mainland gateway to Phu Quoc island, and as the passageway connecting Vietnam with Cambodia. For a border town Ha Tien is surprisingly sleepy and safe. Set on the coast, where the river meets the sea, the town is a pleasant enough spot for travellers to spend a night before moving on.
For some, moving on means biding farewell to Vietnam for Kep or Kampot in Cambodia. In fact, it seems like the entire town really, really wants you to go to Cambodia and it’s impossible to walk a block without a motorbike taxi offering to take you there. If you’re coming from Cambodia, moving on means taking one of the at least two daily fast ferry (the Superdong) to Phu Quoc, or hopping onto the bus for Ho Chi Minh, the Mekong Delta, Hon Chong or perhaps Rach Gia, the jumping off point for Nam Du, a small set of little visited islands that we’re trying to put on the map.
Another island we’re trying to put on the map is Hai Tac. Where? It even took a few tries for locals to register where we were headed. Hai Tac, which translates as “Pirate Island”, is a sweet little spot of sparkling clear waters, deserted beaches, fresh seafood and no foreign tourists. Intrigued? This place completely flies under the radar and it’s accessible by regular ferry, the journey taking just over an hour. Tourist infrastructure on the island is very rudimentary. It can be done as a day trip or the adventurous can stay overnight in the room of a local house. It certainly makes a case for not simply zipping through Ha Tien without stopping.
For such a small town, Ha Tien has a high concentration of guesthouses and hotels, easily half a dozen within one city block. The town is centred on the market and the languid river, which leads to the expansive Dong Ho “lake” to the east, actually an inlet of the sea.
There are also plenty of good local eats, especially around the market and concentrated all along Tran Hau Street. In the evening extra tables spill out from the restaurants onto the side streets and you’ll find everything from cheap noodle soups to pay-by-weight seafood restaurants serving hot pot to your typical rice with veg and meat.
Oasis Bar at 42 Tuan Phu Dat St is an oasis for western travellers looking for familiar fare. The only western restaurant in town, diners can indulge in fresh salads, baguette sandwiches and daily specials of comfort food like chilli con carne and massaman curry, all 60,000 to 90,000 dong. And good news, they do a hearty full English breakfast, only 80,000 dong. The friendly, helpful advice from the owner is free. T: (077) 3701553; open daily 09:00-21:00.
The river is the place to be at sunset and the wide footpath along the banks is a lovely place for a stroll. At the end of the day River Hotel transforms their section into a cafe, the perfect place to have a coffee or cold beer, catch a breeze and enjoy the beautiful light. It’s a popular spot with locals at dark, as they project TV shows onto a small screen turning it into a cute mini outdoor theatre.
Crossing the Cambodia / Vietnam border
The Xa Xia/Prek Chak border crossing connects Kep, Cambodia and Ha Tien, Vietnam, which is the mainland gateway to Phu Quoc. From Ha Tien it is just over six kilometres to the border, which is open from 06:00-18:00 daily.
There are two options: you can pay an agency or hire a taxi for thru-service, taking you all the way from Ha Tien to Kep. You can’t walk a block in Ha Tien without a motorbike taxi offering to take you to Cambodia. To Kep by motorbike taxi costs US$10, by private car it is US$40, which is a fair price. Oasis Bar can arrange for a reliable driver. Or the second option, you can do it yourself, making your own way. Relatively speaking, it’s a fairly quiet border and not as hectic and seedy as Poipet.
Crossing the border from Vietnam to Cambodia here is pretty straightforward – though everyone will tell you otherwise. People aren’t aggressive but ignore all claims that it is too far to walk across the border, that you’re not allowed to walk and must hire transport or use an agency or get the visa in advance, etc, etc. Once you stamp out of Vietnam, walk across to the Cambodia passport/immigration. For a Cambodia tourist visa you need two passport photos, US$30 – and a bit extra. The usual Cambodia border caveats apply and the price may suddenly increase. Going in the morning is advisable as you have more options and bargaining power. The closer to closing time, the more your hands are tied. It also gets busy in the day and backlogs form.
Negotiate a motorbike or taxi for your onward journey to Kep, 20 kilometres or 40 minutes away. A motorbike should cost around US$8. Ensure the quoted price is the final price – you shouldn’t have to pay for petrol. Do not pay in advance — pay on arrival at your destination.
Going from Cambodia to Vietnam most people will need a visa in advance. Some nationalities are visa exempt, no charge, the duration varies depending on country. At the time of writing, this includes 30 days for Singapore and Thailand. Passports that can get 15 days, single entry, not returning within 30 days: British, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. Of course, this could change at any moment so always verify the latest rules before trying to enter.
Ha Tien was part of Cambodia until 1708. It was founded in 1674 with the permission of the Khmers by a Chinese immigrant named Mac Cuu, only to be absorbed into Vietnam 30 years later. The landscape surrounding the town is pretty, a lush landscape of paddies and wallowing buffalo, the flatness punctuated by sudden limestone karsts.
The town sits on a corner of land wedged in between the Cambodian border, the ocean and the river which is straddled by the To Chau bridge. Cross the bridge to get to the pier for the ferry to Phu Quoc, located directly across the river from the town centre. The bus station is also on that side, a distance of two kilometres from the centre.
The Prek Chak/Xa Xia border connects Kep, Cambodia and Ha Tien, Vietnam. From Ha Tien it is just over six kilometres to the border, which is open from 06:00-18:00 daily. If you want, you can hire a taxi or go pay an agency for thru-service, taking you all the way from Ha Tien to Kep or Kampot. Or you can do it yourself, making your own way and negotiating for transport once out on the Cambodian side. Relatively speaking, it’s a fairly quiet border – people aren’t aggressive and it is not as hectic and seedy as Poipet. See our transport section for full details.
There are several ATMs in town and WiFi is a standard amenity in guesthouses/hotels.
By Cindy Fan.
Last updated on 14th October, 2016.