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 Cuon

What to eat in Phan Thiet 619

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 Long

What to eat in Phan Thiet

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)

Banh xeo Phan Thiet

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)

What to eat in Phan Thiet

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!

What to eat in Phan Thiet

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.

What to eat in Phan Thiet

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)

What to eat in Phan Thiet

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

What to eat in Phan Thiet

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)

What to eat in Phan Thiet

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)

What to eat in Phan Thiet

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

barbecued dong lizard

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.

Phan Thiet Whale Temple

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.

Duc Thang School

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.

What to do in Phan Thiet

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.

What to do in Phan Thiet

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).

What to do in Phan Thiet

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.

What to do in Phan Thiet

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 congnhihotel76@yahoo.com.vn or call them on (062) 382 9333. The staff’s English is not great so speak slowly and clearly and be patient with them.

The Truong Thinh Hotel that houses the amazing Pet Cafe also looked like a great option, even though we didn’t see the rooms. It’s at 26-28 Tuyen Quang and the contact details are on its website.

 

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

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.

8 Comments

  1. budget jan says:

    True this post is huge. The Banh Xeo in Nha Trang was beautiful (small like in Phan Thiet). I first heard about Phan Thiet from another Australian Walter Mason in his book Destination Saigon, however that was not the same as this comprehensive post. Seeing the photos and getting the low down on all the food makes all the difference. The beach looks inviting too, not to mention the huge Buddha statue. That is so funny seeing the other market on your way home. I have done that kind of thing quite often, but it is a good thing I think, finding the less well known.
    budget jan recently posted..Have you caught Crabs on Holiday?

    • Barbara says:

      I LOVE finding the less well-known, which is why I love Phan Thiet so much. I’ll have to get hold of a copy of Destination Saigon. I’m afraid I haven’t read it yet.

  2. Just…yum!!!
    Wandering Educators recently posted..Crossing Canada with the Maplemusketeer

  3. Christopher says:

    Fantastic post. I always wonder what grain is used to make the pancakes, as I have Celiac Disease. Um, probably no to that fried lizard. Yikes.
    Christopher recently posted..New Story at Prime Number Magazine

    • Barbara says:

      Hey Christopher, thanks for stopping by.
      Banh xeo uses rice flour, not wheat flour, so you could definitely give it a go. Wheat is expensive here in Vietnam and rice is cheap so most things are made using rice products. You could go crazy here! The only thing you’d have to avoid is the Chinese-style yellow noodles and the hoanh thanh (wontons). No wheat used to prepare the lizard either!

  4. Jonny Blair says:

    What kind of blood jelly is in the ‘Mi Quang Phan Thiet ‘? They are really tasty to look at, makes me want to try all of those! 😀

    • Barbara says:

      I wasn’t aware there was more than one type of blood jelly, Jonny. I always skip that part of any dish if I can … but my Phan Thiet partner-in-eating likes blood jelly so I took a photo of her bowl. 🙂

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