Phabulous Phan Thiet
Phan Thiet is a fascinating place usually bypassed by visitors, who breeze through on their way to the resort town of Mui Ne 17 kms down the road.
Mui Ne … meh. It’s too artificial for my taste. For me, Phan Thiet is the real Vietnam, the Vietnam I love.
Phan Thiet was the chosen destination for our child-free girls weekend away. And it was an absolutely phabulous choice.
A four-hour train journey from Ho Chi Minh City, Phan Thiet is considered one of the southern-most towns of Central Vietnam. It’s a town that does its own take on some of the central region’s most famous dishes.
Here’s a quick rundown of all the Phan Thiet phabulousness. Starting, of course, with the food.
What To Eat In Phan Thiet
Cha means something made with ground meat and cuon means rolled but together cha cuon means so much more. It’s an elegant spread of things that can be rolled up into bendy rice paper (as opposed to the unbendy type that needs to be softened in water) to create delicious fresh spring rolls.
You are offered a selection of peppery pork sausage, fermented pork, roasted pork, lemongrass pork sausage, boiled egg, green mango strips, cucumber, the most divine golden fried spring rolls, fragrant fresh herbs and a super-delicious tangy dipping sauce.
Try it at: Cha Cuon, 9 Tuyen Quang
Chao is Darling Man’s go-to comfort food. It’s often translated as rice porridge which I think does it a great injustice (because I don’t like porridge). The Chinese call their version congee and it comes in all kinds of varieties – fish, chicken, beef and pork. However, in southern and central Vietnam, offal rice porridge is the thang.
I am not an offal fan at all but luckily my girls weekend sidekick is. She taste-tested the Phan Thiet version of chao long and declared it delicious, peppery and crunchy and chewy and very pleasing to the mouth. She might have even muttered something about umami but I can’t be sure. I was busy eating cha cuon!
Try it at: Cha Cuon, 9 Tuyen Quang
Banh Xeo Phan Thiet (Phan Thiet-style Sizzling Pancake)
Smaller than the giant tumeric-yellow sizzling pancakes served in Ho Chi Minh City, these central style banh xeo are chewier and, in my opinion, much tastier than their crispy Saigon cousins. Served with a side of herbs, you tear off chunks of pancake, wrap them in the herbs and dunk them in the delicious peanutty dipping sauce.
Try it at: Banh Xeo, 40 Tuyen Quang
Mi Quang Phan Thiet (Phan Thiet-Style Mi Quang Noodle Soup)
My favourite Vietnamese dish, mi Quang, is served a little differently in Phan Thiet than in its hometown of Hoi An. The Phan Thiet version uses thinner rice noodles, the broth is sweeter and spicier and there are large chunks of blood jelly. It’s more soupy than the Hoi An version too and sometimes the locals mop up the broth with fresh baguettes. It’s an awesome concept!
(I ate mine sans blood jelly, by the way.)
Try it at: 18 Tuyen Quang and at a little morning stall set up outside 92 Thu Khoa Huan
Banh Trang Cuon Deo and Banh Trang Mam Ruoc
Considering one of the classic Phan Thiet dishes, this delicious rolled-up thingie was a bit difficult to find. Following the original directions I was given proved fruitless, so we walked around pointing at the words I’d carefully printed in my notebook with all the appropriate tone markers: bánh tráng cuốn dẻo and bánh tráng mắm ruốc.
We were excitedly given directions that I thought meant around the corner near the red cafe. But we couldn’t find a red cafe. We did stumble upon an amazing little temple that was celebrating Buddha’s birthday and we decided we were happy enough with that find. Then as we headed back to the main street, we noticed a lady cooking something that smelled incredibly delicious. Closer inspection revealed we’d found our banh trang!
These things tasted AMAZING. A thin sesame-studded rice cracker is coated with a sweet tangy sauce, which makes the cracker pliable. It’s then filled with fermented pork, quail egg, pickled carrot and radish and green onion, rolled and crispied up on the tiny charcoal-burning barbecue.
We ordered two rounds each. That’s how good they were.
Try it at: a tiny stall outside 59 Thu Kho Huan
Banh Quai Vac (Tapioca Dumplings Stuffed With Prawn)
These chewy morsels, sometimes known as bột lọc, are served with nuoc cham, the all-purpose fish sauce-based dipping sauce. The tapioca dumplings, which are deceptively filling, are considered another must-eat dish when Vietnamese people talk about visiting Phan Thiet.
Try it at: either of Phan Thiet’s two markets.
Giant Goi Cuon
We discovered these tastebud-rocking rolls in the market and they were FANTASTIC. So good we ordered two rounds each. (How we fit through the train doors to get home again I’ll never know.)
I thought something this good would have an official name but Darling Man just shrugged and said they were goi cuon, usually called fresh spring rolls or summer rolls in English. These were the most fabulous fresh spring rolls I’ve ever tasted. They were fresh spring rolls with fried spring rolls hiding inside — how’s that for BRILLIANT?
There was also egg, Vietnamese sausage, raw whitebait, fermented pork, meatball and herbs. I could eat these all day every day. The dipping sauce was fantastic too, much tastier than the hoi sin sauce that fresh spring rolls are usually served with.
Try it at: the small market between Tran Hung Dao and Ly Tu Trong on the “other” side of the river.
Banh Re (Sweet Potato Biscuits)
These honey-ish chewy biscuity things are what every Vietnamese tourist takes home from Phan Thiet. They’re interesting-tasting and visually spectacular. But I wouldn’t go to Phan Thiet just to eat them. (Not when there are so many other great things to eat).
Track down some of these to take home as gifts for any Vietnamese friends you might have. They’ll be very chuffed — and think you’re an awesome adventurous foodie.
Try it at: either of the two markets or at the little gift shop at the train station.
Goi Oc Giac (Conch Salad)
Phan Thiet, like many places along Vietnam’s vast coastline, is famous for its seafood. Conch (or conk if you’re Merican) is considered one of the must-eat Phan Thiet seafood dishes and it’s pretty darn good in a salad.
Like a lot of Vietnamese salads, this version is served with rice crackers. To eat, you load a segment of rice cracker up with salad and then enjoy the fresh healthy salady goodness combined with the crunch of the rice cracker (and the chewiness of the slices of conch).
Try it at: Quan 49, 49 Pham Van Dong
Dong lizard is becoming the next big thing in central Vietnam. It’s considered an environmentally-friendly and sustainable food source. Dong lizards are clean, easy to farm and nutritious and they taste alright too.
Try it at: Quan 49, 49 Pham Van Dong
What To Do In Phan Thiet (Besides Eat)
At first glance, Phan Thiet might seem small on activities. But there are a variety of very interesting things to see.
The main touristy things are:
Van Thuy Tu (The Whale Temple)
Built in 1762 to honour the deity of Nam Hai (the whale), the temple houses the skeletons of more than 100 whales, including one that’s believed to be the biggest in Southeast Asia at 22 metres long.
As well as the giant whale skeleton and a glass-fronted room filled with bones, the temple also has some very groovy miniatures depicting what appears to be a royal fishing boat (or the most well-dressed fishermen in the universe).
Duc Thang School
This school, where Ho Chi Minh supposedly taught in 1911. When it comes to Uncle Ho, the history books have been revised so many times no one is sure what’s what anymore. The current story goes that Uncle Ho, who was known as Nguyen That Thanh back then, stopped off in Phan Thiet and taught at a quaint little school for a time. He then made his way to Saigon and then to Paris and other foreign shores where he came up with his concept of using Communism to oust the French from his homeland.
The school itself is the cutest little school I’ve ever seen. But I really don’t think it was as cute and well-kept when Uncle Ho was there.
Ho Chi Minh Museum
The museum is across the road from the school. It apparently retraces Uncle Ho’s life. We didn’t visit so I can’t really say anything more.
Po Sha Nu
Another point of interest we couldn’t fit into our itinerary. A relic from the Cham, the mysterious Hindu empire that once ruled Central Vietnam. Lần sau (next time), Po Sha Nu.
The Giant Reclining Buddha on Ta Cu Mountain
This we DID see and it was a full-day excursion. We rented motorbikes through our hotel and zoomed off, headed for the temple atop the Ta Cu Mountain 30 kms from Phan Thiet.
The ride was spectacular. Although it’s a main-ish road, the traffic was light. There was roadworks underway which made it a bit dusty. But we passed dragonfruit farms, bullock carts and many many friendly faces.
The Giant Buddha itself is accessed by a cable car and then many many steps. Many MANY steps. I’m sure we stepped off as many calories as we consumed during our stay. The 49-metre-long Buddha is very impressive and the temple is a lovely spot to while away several hours.
Phan Thiet Beachfront
The elegant boulevard of Nguyen Tat Thanh is great for strolling, especially as the afternoon sea breezes come in and Phan Thietians come out to play. Walk down towards the beach-front Le Loi Street, where there’s a lovely esplanade overlooking the East Sea (the Vietnamese name for it even though the rest of the world knows it as the South China Sea).
If you feel peckish while you’re strolling, grab some seafood from one of the roadside vendors.
Ca Ty River
On one side of the river is Pham Van Dong Street, home to wall-to-wall seafood restaurants. Further upstream is where the picturesque Phan Thiet fishing fleet is moored. An early morning stroll along the beachfront towards the river will take you through some interesting back streets, then give you a wonderful views of the boats as you walk north towards the Tran Hung Dao bridge.
Phan Thiet Central Market
Apparently, this is a great place to visit. And we missed it. We found another market that I thought was the main market and spent an interesting morning poking around, taking photos, eating stuff and buying food souvenirs. This market was on the “other” side of the river, just off Tran Hung Dao Street.
We spotted the actual central market from the taxi that was taking us to the train station. It looked very interesting. We now have two reasons to go back to Phan Thiet!
A Quick Word on Accommodation
We stayed at Hotel Cong Nhi at 76 Tuyen Quang. The hotel was clean, the rooms were big, the air-conditioning cold, the staff were friendly and the price was right — VND250,000/night. The location was EXCELLENT as Tuyen Quang is one of Phan Thiet’s main eating streets. We gorged ourselves on the local delicacies that were reachable on foot … then hired motorbikes to eat our way around the more distant reaches of the town. The hotel’s website is down but you can contact the hotel on email@example.com or call them on (062) 382 9333. The staff’s English is not great so speak slowly and clearly and be patient with them.
Whew, that is one long post. And just about all you need to know about Phan Thiet. Just don’t tell too many people about the place, huh? I don’t want it spoiled!
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6 years ago