Vung Tau Travel Guide
Beachside Vung Tau (which means Bay of Boats in Vietnamese) sits on a peninsular approximately 120km south of Ho Chi Minh City. This proximity to the noise and pollution of Saigon mean it's within easy reach for weekenders or even a daytrip, yet few western tourists make it. Despite being skipped by most foreigners, the Bay of Boats is a hit with domestic tourists, with the hotels often being full at the weekends and especially over public holidays. If you want to dodge the crowds, mid-week is when the town is at its sleepy best.
Also known by its French name Cap St Jacques, Vung Tau began as a fishing village but metamorphised during the Vietnam War when it was used for R&R by US servicemen on leave. Once the war finished, the hustly and bustle faded considerably and it was from here that the first of what became known as the boat people, left Vietnam's shores. Today, the quaint fishing village is long gone, but Vung Tau remains a worthwhile destination for those in Saigon with a few days up their sleeve.
Vung Tau's peninsula is encircled by a long winding road from the north east of the peninsula along Back Beach past a string of three-star hotels and semi-budget guesthouses. This open seafront is packed with small seafood vendorsand larger restaurants, as well as daytime leisure centres offering the use of a swimming pool. The road continues around the southern tip passing by the infamous Jesus statue, and many kilometres of ocean view, before arriving in the city centre which is bordered by a quaint harbour.
As Vung Tau's beach and ocean are not up to Mui Ne or Nha Trang's standards, you need to think of it more as a traditional seaside weekend rather than a sunbathing excursion. Nearby Long Hai makes for an interesting drive, as does exploring the few attractions around the city, and don't forget the wonderful array of cheap and tasty seafood on offer.
Vung Tau shot to prominence worldwide when aging rocker Gary Glitter was arrested, tried and convicted of child sexual abuse charges across 2005 and 2006. He'd been living in Vung Tau at the time of the offences and his arrest brought to world attention to the seedier side of life here. While it's certainly no Pattaya (the sex-tourism capital of Thailand), Vung Tau does have more than its fair share of bars aimed at single men looking to "unsingle" themselves. That said, it's a part of Vung Tau's that's easily avoided.
Vung Tau is hardly surrounded by famous tourist sites, so it's best to make the most of the outdoors and perhaps take in a couple of the more interesting sights if necessary. Hon Ba Temple is unmistakable as it stands on a rocky outcrop -- it's only accessible at low tide. On the tip of the Vung Tau peninsular are two hills worth climbing as they present spectacular views over the region. The Jesus statue is unmistakable, and it's possible to climb to the top of this hill via a set of steps. The other large hill is home to Hai Dang, or the French built Lighthouse. A paved road winds to the top where you can pay around 20,000 for a tour inside the building. The Lighthouse still functions at night -- the views from up here are fantastic.
A few temples exist around town, probably the most interesting one being Thic Ca Phat Dai, although don't come to Vung Tau to visit temples.
Further afield, the Boulder Rocks draw some visitors. They're up in the hills to the north of Long Hai. It was in these hills and under these boulders that a number of Viet Cong were holed out. Despite massive bombing by American forces, the VC remained untouched -- you can still see the shrapnel scars and craters on the hillside and in the rocks themselves. It is possible to clamber down into some of the tunnels.
Back in Vung Tau city there is a small museum at the old French colonial Bach Dinh Villa, just down the road from the Rex Hotel.
Vung Tau is also home to the Vung Tau Paradise Golf Club, situated at the very northern end of Back Beach past Paradise Resort. A round of 18 holes cost US$40 on a weekday or $60 at weekends, there is also a driving range.
Back at the beach, Back Beach that is, the seafront contains complexes designed for families and tourists. Considering the water in the ocean is infamous for it's bad quality, many prefer to use these centres. Typically they have a restaurant and a swimming pool, with plenty of space for lounging and relaxing. One such centre is Dolphin Swimming, where entry costs 50,000 dong; Dolphin is opposite the Sammy Hotel. Another option would be to take the drive to Anoasis in Long Hai (around 30 minutes) to make use of the four star facilities including a private beach, much more suitable for swimming than Vung Tau's Back Beach. A day ticket costs $6 on weekdays and $10 on weekends.
Also on this stretch of the beach is the Vung Tau Beach Club. It's here you can arrange kite surfing or windsurfing lessons and equipment hire. Prices for kite surfing start at $50 for one hour and up to $250 for five hours, all including instructor, equipment and insurance. For windsurfing, one hour costs $40 or $25 with your own equipment, $120/$75 for three hours and $350/$220 for five hours.
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