Large modernist house on Le Thi Hong Gam Street in Phan Thiet.
By Grant Hall
A large number of online and printed articles in recent times have discussed the rising popularity of modernism and modernist design, and Vietnam, with it’s abundance of modernist buildings is no exception. The Facebook site Vietnamese Modernist Architecture is close to having one thousand members, and talks about Vietnamese modernist architecture that take place at The Old Compass Cafe and other venues in Ho Chi Minh City are very well attended. My own interest in modernist architecture started when I went on a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in Chicago as a young fella. I see that the Mad Men TV show is said to have contributed to the rising appreciation of modernism, and I confess that I only watched the show to check out the interior design (it’s set in 1960’s New York City). I’ve long been a fan of the modernist art and architecture of my home country of Australia, from which a fantastic TV show was recently screened called Architecture in Australia: From Modernism to McMansionism which was presented by the architect Tim Ross (available until recently to watch online, but if you can get your hands on it it’s a great show!). My home town of Adelaide has an incinerator designed by Walter Burley Griffith which could win an award for world’s hippest incinerator. My current neighbourhood in Phan Thiet is packed with modernist buildings, and this blog post presents a walk that will take you past many of them. So grab a hat, some water, sunscreen and your walking shoes – and let’s get started!
The map below shows a walk that enthusiasts of modernist buildings will enjoy. I’ve marked the route of the walk on the map in red, green and blue lines, with the green lines representing the areas where there is a high density of interesting modernist buildings, the red lines showing where modernist buildings dot the streetscape and the blue lines being small interesting detours that you might like to take. The area contained within the black circle, is in my opinion, the most interesting section of the walk, here you’ll find a high concentration of modernist homes and shophouses, some of which are quite large and many of which are in a deteriorating state. If you were to take this walk in it’s entirety it might take about an hour without stopping. There are plenty of places to get refreshments along the way. You could start the walk at either the intersection of Thu Khoa Huan and Trung Hung Dau Streets or the intersection of Tran Phu and Trung Hung Dau Streets, and the former is where we will start in this write up, which provides photographs of just a few of the interesting buildings you will find along the way.
Thu Khoa Huan Street, from Trung Hung Dao Street to the roundabout where it becomes Le Hong Phong Street.
The corner of Thu Khoa Huan Street and Trung Hung Dao Street marks the start of this walk (or the end if you start the walk from the opposite direction). Look for the Lotteria fast food restaurant on the corner as a landmark.
This section of Thu Khoa Huan Street has a small number of modernist homes and shops. This doctors office at number 32 on your left is particularly interesting because it retains many design features in good condition, including internal features in the waiting room. Heavy foliage makes it difficult to photograph and it doesn’t appear too interesting if you are passing by in a car, but it’s worth taking a closer look!
And at #43
From the roundabout where Thu Khoa Huan becomes Le Hong Phong Street to the intersection with Hai Thuong Lan Ong.
Veer left at the roundabout where Thu Khoa Huan becomes Le Hong Phong Street and on your right is a section of the street which is notable for it’s row of shophouses, which includes excellent examples of both colonial era and modernist buildings and is probably the finest collection of shophouses in Phan Thiet. Interestingly, .
Modernist shophouses are said to represent the vernacular architecture of southern Vietnam, and here is an example of one of the modernist shophouses on Le Hong Phong Street (number 11)  .
Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, between Le Hong Phong and Yersin Streets
Just past the shophouses, at the traffic lights that mark the intersection of Le Hong Phong and Hai Thuong Lan Ong Streets, you can see the famous water tower of Phan Thiet, which is the symbol of the city. Until not very long ago, the same intersection had wonderful large colonial buildings straddling each side of Le Hong Phong Street, however they were sadly demolished recently to make way for the characterless office buildings you see today (this is something that I wrote about in The destruction of the Phan Thiet post office). Turn right at this intersection and head along Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street.
Below are a couple of gems at numbers 62 and 64 Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street.
Yersin and Ba Trieu Streets
Shortly after passing the two buildings in the photograph above, which will be on your right, look for Yersin Street on your left and head on down that road, where you will find more modernist dwellings. You will shortly come to an intersection of three streets -Yersin, Ba Trieu (which is to your left) and Le Thi Hong Gam (to your right). At this intersection look to your right along Le Thi Hong Gam Street and you will see this massive multistory modernist house which, even in it’s crumbling state, still retains many of it’s original design features. It’s my favourite modernist house in the city.
Once you’ve checked out the house in the image above turn around and head back along Ba Trieu Street where a colourful array of buildings present themselves.
Tran Phu and Nguyen Du Streets
You’ll know when you’ve arrived at Tran Phu Street because you will be by the bridge that crosses over the River Ca Ty. When you reach this intersection, you can either turn right to cross the bridge and continue along Tran Phu Street or you can make a brief detour to the left to check out a few more modernist shophouses, such as the ones in the photo below at 189 and 195 on Tran Phu Street. The building at 195, the smallest building in the photo, is undergoing construction work and looks likely to be destroyed soon.
Head over the bridge to continue along Tran Phu Street. The bridge itself is one of the best places to take photographs in Phan Thiet, especially at sunset, where you can capture great images of the fishing boats and stilt houses along the river.
Daytime view from the Tran Phu Bridge
Although not a part of this walk which features modernist buildings, there are a few interesting detours that you can take that lead off from Tran Phu Street. The first one is Trung Nhi Street, which is the first street on your right after you cross the bridge; it has a number of interesting buildings and cultural sites including the Ho Chi Minh Museum and the wonderfully peaceful Duc Thanh School, which has been preserved because Ho Chi Minh was a teacher at the school for a brief period in 1910 or thereabouts. A second possible detour is Phan Boi Chau Street which intersects with Tran Phu Street by the Lau Bo Ba Bung hot-pot restaurant which will be on your left side as you wander down Tran Phu Street (you can read about Phan Boi Chau Street here). The third detour is discussed a bit later.
As you progress along Tran Phu Street you will encounter a number of interesting buildings including colonial, religious and modernist structures. At the intersection of Tran Phu and Nguyen Tri Phuong Streets you won’t be able to miss this bright green building which offers traditional Asian health therapies and brutal massages (address; 42 Nguyen Tri Phuong Street).
As you continue along Tran Phu Street you will come to a large intersection where six or seven roads meet at a roundabout. On your left as you approach the roundabout you will see Phan Thiet’s large market buildings which feature a large clock. The streets around the market are good for experiencing and photographing the vibrancy of a traditional Vietnamese market. You will notice the two large modernist buildings also to your left, standing on either side of Nguyen Du Street (see images below). This is the gateway to our third detour and you should walk between these two buildings and head down this street (Nguyen Du) if you want to check out the 19/4 Cinema (also see below) which will be on your right after walking for a minute or two.
Heading further along Tran Phu Street you will continue to come across more interesting buildings in a range of styles and from a range of periods before you encounter this building which marks the end of the walk!
Food recommendations along the route.
There’s a few eateries that you will pass along the way that provide great food which I’m happy to recommend. At 19a Hai Thuong Lan Ong, just by the traffic lights, you can get great com tam (rice, marinated pork and egg dish) in the mornings and mi quang soup in the evenings. Quan 28 at 28 Yersin Street serves a decent western style steak with fries and a passable spaghetti bolognese, however, I think their bo luc lac (diced steak) is the best in town (evenings). The pho bo place on Yersin is acclaimed as the best pho bo (beef noodle soup) in Phan Thiet and it’s certainly the best I’ve ever had anywhere – just look for the evening crowds from around sunset. Lau Bo Ba Bung at the corner of Tran Phu and Phan Boi Chau streets is well known for it’s delicious lau bo (beef hot-pot) which is best enjoyed with a group, also in the evenings.
I hope your enjoyed the stroll – if you did please let us know in the comments section below!
Please also let us know if you know anything of the history of any of these sites or have any recommendations of other sites to explore in and around Phan Thiet.
Vietnamese Modernist Architecture Facebook Group
Interesting Buildings of Phan Thiet Facebook Group
The wonderful modernist buildings of Saigon and Vietnam’s old south (article)
 Schenk, M, 205, Modernist Houses are Vernacular Houses in Southern Viet Nam, accessed online 30 April 2017 at http://layered.typepad.com/antidote_to_burnout/2015/05/modernist-houses-are-vernacular-houses-in-southern-viet-nam.html