What To Do In Ha Tien, Vietnam
Ha Tien in southern Vietnam mostly serves as a either a quick stop en route to Phu Quoc Island or the Cambodian coast, with only a handful of travelers opting to stick around for more than a day or two. To reflect this, there’s only one western bar in the town of 40,000 people. The amenities aren’t as a foreigner friendly as they are in Kep, Cambodia just 20 km away. In a way it’s for the best, because Ha Tien is something of an unknown gem once you get your hands on a motorbike.
The beaches are a few kilometers outside the city, which isn’t too convenient, but when I was there in the fall of 2013 there was hardly anyone around. There’s a good amount of development there for Vietnamese tourists, with plenty of restaurants, hotels and even a bizarre toboggan-like slide. The beach itself is top notch thanks to its cleanliness and massive size. For some, it might almost be too quiet because not one hawker approached me to offer their fried shrimp cakes. A couple groups of visiting Vietnamese politely asked me to pose for photos with them, which I obliged. It wasn’t until the third day that I spotted a foreigner on the beach. I can’t boast that about any beach I’ve been to in Cambodia or Thailand.
Ha Tien is best explored by motorbike, as most attractions are a few kilometers outside of town – if not further. Most of the guesthouses offer rentals, but I decided to rent mine from a local known to frequent Oasis, which is the only Western bar in town. Included in the rental was a handmade map showing where a number of caves in the Mekong Delta can be found. Only a couple of these were mentioned in the latest Lonely Planet Vietnam, which did a pretty poor job of covering the region with a mixture of omissions and incorrect information.
The caves aren’t mind blowing, but are impressive enough. I particularly loved the oasis in the photo below surrounded by limestone mountains. Most of these you’ll probably have almost all to your. Read all about it in this blog post.
In the southern part of the town, just off the massive bridge, is a steep road leading to a hotel that seemed to be closed due to renovations. A few people mill around on this hill, smoking cigarettes and playing cards on the benches. It provides the best vantage point to catch an oceanfront sunset over the planned expansion of Ha Tien. There are only a few buildings in this unpaved and reclaimed land, so enjoy the vista while you can.
So many people I met in southern Vietnam were incredibly friendly, and that was especially true in Ha Tien. There are a number of places to grab a drink – even on a couple floating cafes – but the best drinks I had were with a Vietnamese family near my guesthouse. One of the brothers had just come home to visit from Canada, so banana liquors were being consumed and they invited me to join the fun. They were pounding the drinks at a ridiculous pace and I couldn’t keep up, but they made sure I was comfortable with lots of water and snacks. Their family owned one of the guesthouses in the central part of town and even offered me a deal.
I’m always on guard while traveling (like when the blackjack scammers in Phnom Penh approach me), but this was a genuinely fun time. I’ve heard many stories about the perceived coldness of Vietnamese people compared to places like Cambodia, but I didn’t see anything to enforce this stereotype at all.
Some Practical Advice
The bus from Can Tho dropped us off about a kilometer or two from the center of the city and a trio of motorbike taxis took us to the city for 50 cents (10,000 dong). There were plenty of guesthouses for less than $10, most of which come with AC and are fairly clean. The travel agency sold a bus ticket to Phnom Penh that they claim takes a remarkably quick four hours. Since the bus doesn’t exist, it’s closer to eight hours. After a van ride to Kep, we were pawned off to a tuk tuk driver to get to Kampot. After that, I waited for a taxi to get filled to capacity for the trip to Phnom Penh. We stopped many times in an effort to fill the taxi up even more. We even took a 30 minute detour on the dirt roads to find another passenger.
It was a terrible end to a good trip. Moral of this story: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
I'm an American freelance writer who spent a couple years living in Cambodia. Now I'm on the move again and traveling all over the place. I'm willing to try any bizarre liquor that's presented to me. Any recommendations?