“Sleepy” would be a generous description of the fishing towns of Phan Thiet and Mui Ne, on Vietnam’s beautiful central coast. While beaches, sand dunes, kite surfing and lighthouses offer plenty to do during the day, the area’s nightlife isn’t quite as diverse. We polled our Phan Thiet insiders to see what there is to do once the sun goes down…
Fiesta at El Latino
Open four and a half years, El Latino‘s owner spent five years in South and Central America in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, leading him to open Mui Ne’s only Tex-Mex restaurant / bar (139 Nguyen Dinh Chieu). The decor is decidedly kitschy with big Mexican sombreros and paper mache cacti all set to an upbeat Latin soundtrack. The vibe is friendly with people congregating around the bar and just chilling out. The menu features homemade chips and tortillas, quesadillas, fajitas and BBQ at very reasonable prices. The drink menu features cheap shooters, spirits, sangria and cocktails like passionrovska (vodka, passion fruit, sugar and ice, a nod to the large Russian contingent who visit Mui Ne) and a lemongrass margarita, most under USD 5.
Located on the stretch of road between Phan Thiet and Mui Ne lies dozens of streetside seafood restaurants that come alive at night. They all feature live seafood, usually in tanks, in front of the restaurant. Each has a market price (not on display, so you have to ask about each one individually) and a widely varying selection of fresh fish, crab, shrimp, mollusks, lobster… you name it. We even spotted some lizards, snakes and crocodiles in the mix. There’s usually not very much bargaining with the price, so you’ll have to choose a restaurant based on its selection and atmosphere. The Vietnamese name for the area is “bo ke” (pronounced: burr care) or “embankment”, as the restaurants are right on the edge of the man-made seawall.
Start by choosing what kind of seafood you want and how much of it you want (in weight). Feel free to point to the exact animal(s) you want. The restaurant staff (who usually speak English, Vietnamese and even Russian), will then weigh it for you.
The price includes cooking, and you can pick your preferred style, whether it’s crab in tamarind sauce or shrimp steamed in beer (both pictured above). Other options include deep frying, steamed with ginger, sauteed with vegetables, and more. Choices are only limited by your imagination and the skill of the kitchen. The usual condiment is simply salt and pepper with a squeeze of lime. Rice, vegetables and drinks can be ordered separately.
Refined Dining at L’Oceane Restaurant
If street food isn’t your scene, L’Oceane Restaurant overlooking the sea at Victoria Phan Thiet Resort & Spa makes for a wonderfully elegant after-dark venue. Its covered open-air terrace with high ceilings invites ocean breezes and the sound of the waves breaking below while the deep ochre walls and vintage ceiling fans recall the understated glamor of Indochina.
Taking advantage of Phan Thiet’s bounty, L’Oceane specializes in the freshest of seafood, grilled to order or served up in a spicy Tom Yum-style hot pot with fresh local vegetables.
The a la carte menu features elevated versions of Vietnamese favorites like Pan-fried sea bass in a sweet and sour sauce and banana bud salad with beef (pictured below).
Chef Hoang also dishes up Western classics like a Phan Thiet seafood millefeuille (pictured below) and homemade lobster ravioli with mushrooms and herbs. The restaurant also smokes its own fish.
Laid-Back Vibes of Joe’s Cafe
Joe’s Cafe (86 Nguyen Dinh Chieu) is a chill space that seems to go on forever. The front bar / garden area features live music (currently a soloist either in guitar or keyboards) from 7-11 pm daily and draws a nice crowd of mainly tourists. Seating is in groupings, so it’s not really the place to mingle, but soft lights and soft cover songs make it a pleasant place to sit back and relax. For an even quieter experience, head to the tables in the far back set up around the small swimming pool and the beach with a second, smaller bar. Joe’s serves up a little bit of everything with burgers, sandwiches, salads and a smaller selection of Thai and Italian dishes. Drinks include local and imported beers, frozen mixed drinks and liquors.
Expat Eclectic at Tropical Minigolf
The the 18-hole Tropical Minigolf (97 Nguyen Dinh Chieu) might seem an unlikely night spot, but the restaurant / bar behind the golf course turns into an expat watering hole in the evenings. Expect a thached-roof tiki bar atmosphere where the local expat community lets loose to an eclectic soundtrack of lounge or disco or whatever the French owners feel like playing. The night we visited, a lederhosen-clad Austrian duo played spirited Oktoberfest favorites (and a sax-backed version of the 1980s hit “I’m So Excited!”). Tropical Minigolf serves an eclectic menu of Vietnamese, French fondue and Indian-inspired dishes to accompany the usual range of juices, shakes, lassis as well as cocktails (at around USD 5) and spirits at this family-friendly venue. Minigolf is available until 10:30 pm.
Dance the Night Away at Dragon Beach Lounge
At the end of the row of seafood joints is Dragon Beach Lounge (120/1 Nguyen Dinh Chieu), the place to be any night of the week after 10pm. Expect a young, fun, inclusionary vibe with backpackers making up the majority, and Vietnamese tourists / local expats rounding out the crowd. A DJ spins techno-dance into the wee hours of the night. The lounge is spacious with lots of seating areas, both indoors and out on bar stools and upholstered sofas. When you’re tired of dancing, grab a friend and head to the row of beds and sofas lined up right up against the embankment looking out to the sea with the waves crashing in. Happy hour and ladies’ nights are common. Check their Facebook page for the latest.
Did we miss any Phan Thiet / Mui Ne hotspots? Tell us in the comments!