Welcome to Binh Thuan Province, an area like nowhere else in Vietnam. Visitors often pass through Binh Thuan on Highway 1, as they travel between Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, stopping along the way in the beach resort hotspot of Mui Ne. Mui Ne is known for its lazy groves of palm trees lining long stretches of quiet beachfront. A reliable coastal breeze and equally reliable sunny weather have also made Mui Ne the water sports capitol of Vietnam.
There’s more to Binh Thuan than pleasant beaches however. The province contains South East Asia’s only desert region, with vast Saharan dunes, cactus and boulder-strewn mountains. Binh Thuan receives the lowest rainfall in all of Vietnam. Still, the northern mountains of Binh Thuan support dense tropical rainforests with diverse ecosystems. The local cultures are no less varied, with numerous minorities living in the mountains and desert plains. The ancient Champa kingdom made its southernmost outpost with towers that still overlook Phan Thiet city, the provincial capital.
|Phan Thiet Water Tower|
The descendants of this matriarchal culture with its mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and unique indigenous beliefs still live in villages along the coast. Binh Thuan has been prominent in modern and French colonial history, with several important military outposts located around Phan Thiet. Ho Chi Minh himself made Phan Thiet his home for a brief time, while he taught at a local school before his days as a revolutionary leader.
For those who are tired of the hectic tourist track through South East Asia, it’s common to come to the area planning to spend just a few days, and end up remaining for several weeks. If you are looking for a chance to just relax and forget about the checklists of tourist sites, you are certain to enjoy your time here, no matter how long you stay.
|Phan Thiet Water Tower|
PHAN THIET is known internationally for three things: the production of nuoc mam (fish sauce), dragon fruit plantations, and tourism (centering in Mui Ne Beach). The old quarter is nestled along the banks of the Ca Ty River, but the new city has spread out for nearly 9 kilometers along the beach, nestled in a valley between mountains to the north and sandy bluffs to the east and west. At the center of town, on the East bank of the river, stands the Phan Thiet Water Tower. This elegant symbol of Binh Thuan province is incorporated in numerous local emblems. It was designed in the 1930’s by Prince Suphanouvong of Laos. Across the river is the city’s central market, which is a great place to have breakfast and pick up fresh produce.
Near the market on Trung Noi Street is the Ho Chi Minh Museum and Duc Thanh School (Tues-Sun, 7:30-11:30am & 1:30-4:30pm; small admission fee). In 1910 Ho Chi Minh taught at the school for a year, before leaving to pursue more revolutionary endeavors. The school was abandoned but later rebuilt in his honor, along with a new museum on the site of his former home. The museum contains some of his personal effects, dioramas from the revolutionary period, and some local natural history displays and wildlife specimens.
Along the riverfront you’ll find numerous vendors selling candied fruits, dried squid and peanut brittle. At Tran Hung Dao Bridge the Ca Ty River flows into the Phan Thiet harbor, with its brightly colored fishing fleet and small lighthouse beyond. This is the best place to watch celebrations of the Cau Ngu/Nghinh Ong Festival (dates depend upon the lunar calendar but may be altered by the local government, though usually the end of the summer) and Mid Autumn Festival (October 9, 2009). Cau Ngu & Nghinh Ong are a whale-worship festival with elaborate costumed parades, while the Mid Autumn Festival is a traditional Chinese festival known for evening lantern displays and eating moon cakes. Phan Thiet is nationally recognized as the best place to observe both. The riverfront is especially beautiful during evening festivities when there are elaborate fireworks shows.