Why go to Phan Thiet and Mui Ne
Tired of hustle and bustle of a big city? Had enough of sightseeing? Have already checked the Cu Chi tunnels, explored the delta of Mekong and ticked all the other must-sees and must-dos in Saigon? Well, it is high time to take a train or a bus to the beach, then.
Both Phan Thiet and Mui Ne are found in the Binh Thian province, the largest province on Vietnam’s South Central Coast. Phan Thiet is the capital city of Binh Thian, and with populating exceeding 300,000 inhabitants it is ten times larger than Mui Ne, a coastal fishing town and a ward of Phan Thiet 24 km northeast of the capital. Of all the other coastal wards of Phan Thiet, declared resort areas in 90s, Mui Ne has undergone the major development and its three beaches thanks to strong winds attract kitesurfing crowd from December to April. Out of the two Phan Thiet is less commercialized. It sees very few foreign tourists and is treated by many as a mere transition point to the beautiful beaches of Mui Ne. If you are after the low-key vibe and love mingling with locals you should consider staying in Phan Thiet rather than in Mui Ne.
The distance from Ho Chi Minh to Phan Thiet is about 210 km; if you decide to go directly to Mui Ne, you have to cover about 230 km.
From Saigon to Phan Thiet by train
The main railway line from Saigon to Hanoi passes through Binh Thuan, with Phan Thiet sitting 15 km aside, at the end of the line branching eastwards from Binh Thuan station. There are two direct trains a day from Saigon to Phan Thiet. These are SPT2 leaving Saigon at 6.40am and SPT4 (on selected dates only), departing at 6.30pm. Both take just under four hours to get to Phan Thiet. Note that the latter arrives late in the evening at 10.30pm, so it makes sense to arrange accordingly: book your accommodation in advance and let your host know about your late arrival not to find yourself in the middle of the night knocking on the door of your guesthouse, fast asleep.
If you do not mind covering the last 15 km between Binh Thuan and Phan Thiet by taxi, then you can consider a larger choice of departures from Saigon. Any of the morning trains – SE8 at 6am, SNT4 at 7.50am or SE6 at 9am – are a good match bringing you to Binh Thuan before or around noon with a considerable part of the day ahead of you. The night trains leaving Saigon after 7.30pm (SE2, SE26, SNT6, SE4, HNT8) are less convenient as they get to Binh Thuan in the middle of the night. The afternoon train TN2 at 1.30pm is also an acceptable option.
There are all types of train cars on offer – first and second class sleepers plus soft and hard seats – and though the difference in ticket price is insignificant, AC seats (USD9) are arguably more convenient for a short trip like this one.
At Binh Thuan station taxis are waiting for the passengers heading to Phan Thiet or Mui Ne.
From Saigon to Phan Thiet by taxi
If you are travelling to Phan Thiet or Mui Ne from Ho Chi Minh airport or Saigon train station, private transfer is a reasonable solution for families or a group of friends. We recommend DTW Charter with two types of vehicles available: a minivan for up to 7 passengers and a van accommodating up to nine people. There is only USD20 difference between the two, so you may want to prefer a larger vehicle (USD135/USD155). Drop-off point as per your instructions either in Phan Thiet or in Mui Ne.
From Saigon to Mui Ne by train and taxi
There is no direct railway line to Mui Ne and if you travel by train to Phan Thiet (or Binh Thuan), you will have to get a taxi or hop onto a local bus to get to Mui Ne. There is no lack of transport to deliver you from Binh Thuan or Phan Thiet train station to Mui Ne. From Phan Thiet, expect to pay around VND300,000/USD12 for a taxi (half-an-hour drive) or, if looking for a cheaper alternative, get out of the train station and hop onto local bus #9 which will cost you just VND6,000/USD0.30. Travelling from Binh Thuan, taxis ask double (USD24) and need about an hour to get to Mui Ne.
From Saigon to Mui Ne by bus
There are direct buses from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne, operated by a number of companies, including The Sinh Tourist and Hanh Cafe.
Tip: All bus operators serving the route between Saigon and Mui Ne pass through Phan Thiet. Just remind them to drop you off there if you are not going to Mui Ne.
Hanh Cafe offers a wide choice of departures throughout the day from 7am till 8pm. The Sinh Tourist has three buses a day, at 7am, 2pm and 8pm.
In Saigon, buses of the both companies leave from the heart of the backpackers district: from Sinh Cafe in De Tham Street or Hanh Cafe in Pham Ngu Lao almost opposite ABC Bakery and Cafe. Pricewise bus tickets result cheaper than travelling by train and taxi and cost between VND140,000/USD6.50 (Hanh Cafe) and VND170,000/ USD7.50 (Sinh Tourist).
Note: Almost all the buses of Hanh Cafe and The Sinh Tourist are sleeper buses with lower and upper berths which do not fold in during the day. The exceptions are the 2pm bus of The Sinh Touris and 8am and 8pm express buses of Hanh Cafe. The latter has sleeper buses departing at the same time; check before you buy your ticket.
Tip: A bus trip may take you longer than a combined train+taxi trip via Phan Thiet or Binh Thuan. Though normally a bus takes from five hours to 5½ hours to get from Saigon to Mui Ne, there is constant roadwork on the way, and travellers report having spent up to eight hours instead of five.
In Mui Ne, buses bring you to Hanh Cafe and Sinh Cafe Mui Ne, both located on the main drag running along the sea, Nguyen Dinh Chiue.
Phan Thiet or Mui Ne: which one to choose?
While Phan Thiet enjoys popularity with local tourists thanks to cheap seafood restaurants and rather a large public beach, foreign tourists may find the beach quite mediocre by Western standards – both in the sense of beauty and cleanliness. There are no foreigners oriented services (e.g. you will hardy find a place to rent a bike) and the choice of accommodation leaves much to be desired. Yet Phan Thiet cannot be beaten in great local authentic cheap food which is a real task to come over in Mui Ne. There are no large-scale attractions in Phan Thiet, but everything Mui Ne boasts is within an easy reach. The main charm of Phan Thiet is probably its local vibe. Enjoy lazy evenings at the public beach with locals, visit dragon fruit farms or take a day trip to the marvellous beach beyond the Ke Ga Lighthouse, 30 km south of Phan Thiet.
If you want to have a choice of nice beaches right by your side, Mui Ne is your next destination. Opposite to Phan Thiet, accommodation option of all price ranges do not lack in Mui Ne. Note that the high price of the room of a seaside property does not guarantee you will have an access to the beach as Mui Ne beaches suffer from erosion and some of the resorts which used to boast nice strips of sands right by their door now are deprived of it. So the best strategy with accommodation is probably to show up and investigate the current situation on the spot – if, of course, you are not going to come during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, which in most years coincides with Chinese New Year (end of January–beginning of February). During this festive period all rooms are booked well in advance.
Getting around in Mui Ne
Mui Ne resort strip stretches 12 km along the bay and you may want to have at least a pair of wheels to move around. Motorbikes are easily rented from street rental shops and resorts but note that by law you should have a valid international or – even better – Vietnamese driving licence. You can rent a bike without the licence, but police will be more than happy to catch you on the road. Helmets are a must, too.
For those on a budget, bicycles and local buses are a friendly option. Some accommodation offer free bicycles – so check with your host first.
Xe om, or tricycles, hang out in the streets. Agree on the rate before the trip. For a more comfortable ride, call a taxi – your hotel will gladly do it for you.
Things to do in Mui Ne
Thanks to strong winds blowing in Mui Ne half of the year, Mui Ne is the world’s kitesurfing mecca. There are a lot of schools for those willing to be initiated, too. But do check first if the teachers in your school are certified.
Besides kitesurfing, you can practise all other imaginable kinds of water sports, including kayaking, sailing, surfing, SUP and what not.
Red and white dunes north of Mui Ne are an amazing phenomenon, and though herds of tourists do not add to their natural beauty, dunes are still worth seeing.
If you have not yet seen Champa towers in Danang or Nha Trang, have a look at Po Shanu Cham Towers. They date back to 9th century and can be visited both from Phan Thiet and Mui Ne.
Onward travel from Mui Ne
Most buses from Saigon to Mui Ne continue further north to Nha Trang. It takes from four to five hours to get from Mui Ne to Nha Trang either with The Sinh Tourist or Hanh Cafe (VND160,000/USD7-VND180,000/USD8). In Nha Trang, you can switch onto a train to Danang (11 hours) or Hue (14 hours). Connecting via Nha Trang works for Hanoi, too.