A community has existed on the banks of the Ca Ty River in what is now Phan Thiet for over a thousand years. Before the Vietnamese conquered Champa in the 17th century, the Cham community was known as Hamu Lithit. The Dai Viet moved into their communities and then transliterated the Cham names of those communities into more Vietnamese sounding names like Phan Rang, Phan Ri and Phan Thiet.
The Phan Thiet city centre is where about two thirds of the population of Phan Thiet reside. With the production of fish sauce as its primary industry, Phan Thiet is filled with the smells of fresh fish being boiled or fried in kitchens all over the city.
Phan Thiet is at its best in the evening as you walk along the Ca Ty River, watching the lights of the city sparkle and reflect off the water, providing a fairytale spectacle.
The Ca Ty River is the heart of the city. It supports its people and offers the local fishermen a safe port in which to dock their boats. The river lies at the city centre and divides Phan Thiet into two areas: The commercial area on the southern bank and administrative area on the northern bank with three bridges connecting them.
Starting at the Tran Hung Dao monument and then walking towards the mouth of the river, tourists can see the lifestyle of the locals along the river bank.
Along the riverside on the con cha embankment are a number of food stalls that offer various local dishes like steamed snails with ginger, and oyster soup at reasonable prices. Besides the food stalls, there are also women who walk the streets of the city centre wearing conical hats and balancing baskets on their shoulders filled with items like shrimp flour cakes for sale.
A prominent landmark and symbol of the city, next to the Ca Ty River is the water tower. Designed by his Royal Highness Souphanouvong, the former Chairman of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, it was completed in 1934.
Phan Thiet city centre also a sandy ocean beach. Unlike the ones in the other wards, which are lined with resorts and are occupied mostly by tourists, Doi Duong Beach in the city centre is a public beach that is used mostly by local residents.
Another sight to behold would be spotting fishermen in little woven boats, also known as coracles. These boats are unique to this part of Vietnam and local legend has it that these boats were created by the Vietnamese people after the French had colonized the country. The French authorities told the fishermen that they were required to pay a tax for the use of their fishing boats. But when the authorities came to collect their taxes, all the boats were docked and the fishermen were all fishing from coracles. Since they were not really boats, the ingenious fishermen managed to escape paying taxes.
Besides the photographs and drawings of the coracles, some of the most popular souvenirs are the Phi Long sand drawings of Ho Chi Minh, local scenery and portraits of Phan Thiet residents. All of these artwork are made by nearly 200 deaf and mute people from throughout Binh Thuan province.
The “Pray for Fishing” festival, celebrated on both land and sea, is a traditional religious folk ceremony that started when Phan Thiet was still part of the Cham Kingdom and is practiced yearly by local residents. The ceremony plays an important role in inheriting the values of social connections and life experiences for the fishermen and their families.
The boat race festival that takes place at the Ca Ty River on the second day of the Lunar New Year highlights the traditional culture of the people of Phan Thiet and attracts thousands of people.
There are both boat races and punt races. Punt racers compete in a 500 metre race, but the boat racers compete in a 1,000 metre straight race and a 1,700 metre curved race.
In the lunar month of August, the people in Phan Thiet celebrate the Middle Fall festival, usually held at the Phan Thiet Opera House on August 14th and 15th. It includes a number of activities, but the primary events are the lantern parade and lion dancing. Although similar events are held throughout Vietnam, Phan Thiet’s event is the largest in the country.
The most famous tourist attraction in the city centre is Duc Thanh High School, which was built in 1907. In 1910, a teacher named Truong Gia Moi asked Nguyen Tat Thanh (Who later changed his name to Ho Chi Minh), to come to Phan Thiet and work at this school.
Nguyen Tat Thanh taught the junior class, mostly about the national language and Chinese literature. In February of 1911, Nguyen Tat Thanh left for France. The school subsequently closed down the following year and the building now houses the Ho Chi Minh Museum.
A very unique and interesting tourist attraction is the ‘Whale Temple’. The main feature of this temple is a huge whale skeleton that is worshipped by the local people. The temple is located on Ngu Ong Street in Duc Thang Ward in the city centre and was built in 1762 to preserve about 600 whale bones as they are believed to be saints who assisted and saved people at sea. Besides the bones, the main altar in the centre of the temple features two saints: Nam Hai and Ngoc Lan.
Another attraction is Ong pagoda. Located in Duc Nghia ward, it is the oldest and largest Chinese pagoda in Phan Thiet.
The pagoda was built in 1770 and is made up of a row of adjoining buildings, which together, create a majestic general building covering a rather large area.
Even though this is a Buddhist temple, there are no statues of Buddha in this temple. The most interesting thing about the temple is the system of pillars, horns and elaborately carved rafters and a collection of paintings that describe classic Chinese references to the eighteenth century.
Restaurants & Shopping
There are hundreds of restaurants in Phan Thiet. Because the city centre does not host many international tourists, almost all of the restaurants in the centre have only Vietnamese clientele and only offer Vietnamese cuisine.
Unlike people from western countries and urban settings like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, provincial Vietnamese seldom go out to eat individually or with their partners, but rather gather as many friends or as many family members as possible in order to make their dining experiences more like parties.
Shopping in the city centre is much better than in the tourist areas of the city. Besides outlets in the two shopping malls of Coop Mart and Lotte Mart, there are hundreds of stores throughout the city that sell almost everything that one can find.
Clothing is much less expensive than in the west, so clothing stores are a favorite haunt for international tourists. Unfortunately, they are not found in any particular area of the city, but instead, spread all throughout the city centre. Some of the most popular are along Tran Hung Dao and Thu Khoa Huan streets.
For souvenirs, the shops in Ham Tien ward have the greatest selection, as that is where most tourists stay, but if one is in the city centre and cannot find the souvenirs one wants, Thoi Trang Viet Fashion on Nguyen Thi Minh Khai has a good selection of them.