Compared to crowded beaches of Nha Trang to the north and Mui Ne to the south, the public beaches aren’t as postcard-pretty but there are miles of magnificent wild, empty coast to discover around Ninh Thuan Province. If you love explorations by motorbike and being alone on a beach, Phan Rang Thap Cham is in the middle of two sensational coastal drives.
But first, the city itself – two cities actually. Phan Rang to the east has fused with the town of Thap Cham in the west to become the provincial capital. Thap Cham has the train station and the namesake Po Klong Garai Cham Tower (Thap Cham means “Cham Tower”), but there’s no place to stay and little reason to linger – pass through and you’ll see what we mean.
On the other hand, Phan Rang is favourite sibling of the sister cities and you may want to stay here if your sole interest are the Cham towers, but we’d recommend staying seven kilometres to the east on Ninh Chu Beach. The short commute is absolutely worth it, as the long stretch of beach is easily accessible and has a few good value accommodation options that are accustomed to foreign travellers.
Ninh Chu can be a little busy on the weekends with Vietnamese, but you really won’t have a problem finding a quiet spot. Most people flock to the area beside the big concrete park at the end of Muoi Sau thang Tu. When it comes to swimming, the Vietnamese philosophy is safety in numbers – and snacks (there are the usual vendors milling around selling tasty treats). However, areas in front of the resorts tend to be empty. The only problem is rubbish, which is the trade-off when it comes to local, non-tourist beaches.
The beach scene here is in its infancy, and Ninh Chu Bay Sailing Center and Beach Club is trying to change that. Mui Ne reigns as the kitesurfing capital of Southeast Asia, with strong onshore winds from October to March; Ninh Chu’s is the opposite, February to September. The centre offers lessons and rentals, and even if soaring over the water like Superman isn’t your thing, it’s a great spot to hang out, SUP, eat and swim. Find it across east across Ninh Chu bridge, a kilometre down the coast on TL702. T: (068) 627 2727; http://www.ninhchubay.com/
But Ninh Chu doesn’t remotely compare to what lies north and south of Phan Rang. To the north is the coastal road to the fishing village Vinh Hy (pronounced vinh hey) and the Vinh Hy-Binh Tien Pass, a route that edges the coast through Nui Chua National Park. Stop at any number of the jaw-dropping empty beaches along the way.
To the south is a desolate stretch of new road that wraps around the coast to Ca Na. Along the way, the almost secret cove at Mui Dinh will have you pinching your sunburnt arms. You could do each drive as a daytrip from Phan Rang, or travel it as a multi-day journey, all the way from Mui Ne, Ca Na, Phan Rang and Cam Ranh/Nha Trang. This route is mostly new road with little traffic.
Aside from beaches and Po Klong Garai Cham Tower, which will take no more than one hour, there are a few other sights to keep you busy. Po Ro Me Cham Tower takes more effort to get to but it’s worth it for the atmosphere – a single tower perched atop a hill in the middle of cacti-dotted desert flatlands. A caretaker (and his dog) has to unlock the temple to let you in. Close to Po Ro Me, there’s Bau Truc pottery village and My Nghiep weaving village, worth a look if you’re already there.
And the landscape around Phan Rang is a treat. Ninh Thuan Province is the hottest and driest in Vietnam, and the climate and conditions have given rise to a few interesting industries. Dry scrubby vegetation, barren rocky hills like the surface of the moon and sand dunes intermix with baby shrimp farms, vast salt flats, dragon fruit gardens and grape vineyards. The area produces a fruit “wine” that tastes like a mix of fruit juice syrup concentrate and vinegar. Pick up a bottle from a roadside stand. Yum.
Phan Rang is your typical mid-sized Vietnamese city. It is mostly clustered around Thong Nhat Street, which runs north-south and has the central market. New, wide roads connect Phan Rang to Ninh Chu Bay making the commute between the city and the beach a breeze. Yen Ninh Street runs almost the entire length of the C-shaped beach, with the majority of accommodation concentrated on the northern half.
The Thap Cham train station is located in the northeast corner of the city, and is a short walk to Po Klong Garai Cham tower. Though we’ve given you plenty of reasons to stay in the area, it is possible to organise your train tickets so that you disembark, see the sight and continue on a following train.
Po Ro Me Cham Tower, Bau Truc Cham pottery village and My Nhiep weaving village are clustered eight kilometres south of the city on Highway 1A.
If you stay in Ninh Chu, you don’t necessarily need to go to Phan Rang bus station to catch the bus. Often companies will include pick up from the hotel or your hotel can arrange for you to catch a bus passing through. At any rate, the hotel making the arrangements saves you at least one trip to the station.
ATMs are easily found. For self-catering needs, there’s a large Maximart on Muoi Sau Thang Tu, midway between Phan Rang and the beach.
By Cindy Fan. Last updated on 14th October, 2016.