Bunched around the Ca Ty River, and home to a sizeable fishing armada, PHAN THIET is the unassuming capital of Binh Thuan Province. Apart from a few minor sights, there’s little to see or do here, though just a short drive up the coast, secreted away from Highway 1, lies Vietnam’s fastest-growing beach resort – Mui Ne. Phan Thiet has a reasonably attractive beach of its own, which is very popular with Vietnamese, but foreigners in Phan Thiet tend to be just passing through.
Tran Hung Dao Bridge, over which Phan Thiet’s main drag vaults the river, yields one of the town’s few interesting sights – a fleet of fishing boats straight off a postcard. Turn left off the bridge’s southwestern end and stroll along Trung Trac, and you’ll soon plunge into the thick of things at the wharfside fish market. Be prepared for a major sensory assault: the market is enveloped by a stench as heady as any produced at the nuoc mam factories that proliferate around this region of Vietnam. Packed close with hoary fishermen, fishwives and shoppers clustered around great, fly-blown wicker baskets of seafood, there’s a jamboree atmosphere every morning, though especially between June and October, when daily catches peak. North of the bridge, fishermen in coracles and with miners’ lamps strapped to their heads try their luck after dusk.
In the other direction, Trung Trac skirts the city centre en route to the sedate riverside position occupied by the Ho Chi Minh Museum (Tues– Sun 7.30–11.30am & 1.30–4.30pm; small admission fee). Wending its way through Ho’s life from his early days abroad up to his death in 1969, it’s rather a flat museum, though it’s leavened somewhat by memorabilia such as his white tunic, walking stick, sandals and metal helmet, and an offbeat action shot of him playing volleyball. The rows of varnished wooden desks and tables in the evocative Duc Thanh School (same hours) next door have remained unchanged since Ho’s brief spell as a teacher here, and effortlessly conjure up another age.
Over Tran Hung Dao Bridge, Vo Thi Sau strikes off to the right and to the city beach. The scruffy patch of sand it hits first doesn’t look too promising, but 700m northeast it opens out into a more wholesome pine-shaded spot, backed up by some smart hotels. You can walk back up Nguyen Tat Thanh to get back into Phan Thiet. This leads to the Victory Monument, which depicts machine-gun-toting patriots gazing expectantly into the future, sheltered by an arrow-headed concrete umbrella.