If you’re looking for a short vacation while in Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau will hook you up with that sweet sweet ocean noise. It’s the closest beach town to Saigon, so it’s popular but certainly wasn’t busy when we went on a Monday/Tuesday. The city is on a peninsula and it feels very Miami Vice. Check out the video, read the article, and view the map for all the information you need on Vung Tau, Vietnam
First off, we took a bus from the backpacker district, because we were there already and the money we’d save going to the bus station wasn’t worth the effort. FUTA Bus Lines is located at 205 Phạm Ngũ Lão (the street that runs along the south side of the long park). Buses leave throughout the day, cost 120,000 dong, and take about an hour and a half. Alternatively, you can go to Miền Đông Bus Station and browse around for the cheapest option. You might save 30,000 dong ($1.50 or the cost of a delicious lunch).The bus will drop you off at Vung Tau’s bus station. It’s downtown — about a 20 minute walk to Back beach, the largest and most popular beach in Vung Tau. You’d probably be able to find a hotel there no problem. We didn’t want to spend our vacation shooing off hawkers, so we stayed at the south-end of the peninsula across from Pineapple beach. A taxi there cost us 100,000 dong, a bit much but I heard taxis are more expensive in Vung Tau. We stayed at Sunny Blue Cap Resort. It was nice. It looked like it needed to be freshened up, but we were happy to have a pool that overlooked the ocean, and there were plenty of areas to sit and relax. The cost was $35/night. Quick note, we called the hotel ahead of time because we needed to check to see if they’d let us stay there with only a copy of our passports. They said it was okay, but we were told they didn’t have any double rooms left, only triples. We ended up booking a double through Agoda, and when we arrived they put us in a triple (for the price of the double).
If we didn’t want a pool, we probably would have stayed further down Ha Long street. A cool option would be Hoa Tieu Hotel. I’m basing that on the location, the price (a room with a balcony that overlooks the sea for $25/night), but mostly on the fact that it looked really neat from the outside. Another crazy looking hotel was the Jolie Mod Hotel at 150 Ha Long. It’s circular and right on the water — pretty Bond villain-like. There’s a lot of 80s/early 90s hotels in Vung Tau that are looking a bit outdated and rundown, but pretty cool.
After an afternoon of relaxing, we walked along the coast and stopped at New Delhi Indian Food restaurant. It was excellent – the best Indian food we’ve had in Vietnam so far. It’s on Ha Long street (check the map below).
Vung Tau livens up at around dusk, when the Vietnamese are off work and looking to unwind. The beaches get busy. People are swimming, exercising, and socializing. Unlike the western world, the Vietnamese don’t go to the beach to sit in the sun. They hate the sun. In fact, they’re called the vampires of Asia… that’s not true.
The next day we ate a blah breakfast at the hotel, then rented a scooter from a place down the street. For 150,000 dong, every inch of Vung Tau can be yours. Renting a motorbike is hands-down the best way to traverse the city. The road along the coast is an easy ride with many cafes along the water to stop at. We did a complete loop that was only about 30 minutes of driving and offered much to see.
Here are the places we went to:
That’s right, we finally gave up our heathen ways and had a visit with the lord. Vung Tau has a huge Jesus statue on a hill that you can go into and climb the 200 or so steps to a balcony on his outstretched arms. We made the half hour hike to the top of Small Mountain only to find out that Jesus doesn’t allow anyone wearing shorts inside of him. You also can’t bring in bags, wear sleeveless shirts, or spit inside of him. Your loss, Jesus. I was pretty sure that climbing to the top of him was going to help me see the value of having Christ in my life, but instead we sat outside making puns at Jesus’ expense.
- The Lighthouse
Since Jesus wouldn’t give us the panoramic views of Vung Tau that we so desired, we headed to the lighthouse on top of Small Mountain. When we got there it was closed; we still had access to the grounds, so we got our views, and there was a stand there that sold cold drinks. A shady place with a great view and a cold beer — that’s probably better than a stuffy old lighthouse.
- The White Palace
An old French-style house that was once the summer home for the Governor General of Cochinchina, Paul Doumer (who later became President of France before being assassinated). It was built in the early 1900s on the former grounds of a fortress that actually fired the first shot against the invading French ships. The interior is nice. There are some great views, and the palace has a collection of artifacts found on sunken ships from around the area.
For breakfast, lunch, or even dinner make sure you try banh khot, a Vung Tau specialty. It’s a rice pancake that’s fried and topped with shrimp. Very delicious! For more information about the dish check out VietnaMenu’s profile on banh khot.
Of course, the seafood in Vung Tau is great. If you are looking for a classier dining experience, Ganh Hao has some delicious dishes and it’s right along the coast. We ordered a whole sea bass, plus some crab soup, and some water spinach. The fish was grilled to perfection. Total cost of the meal was about 440,000 dong. If that’s too rich for your blood, Quán Bia Tươi is a better option. The seafood is good, but the highlight here is their cheap draft beer (bia tươi means fresh beer). I think it was like 30 cents for a glass… real cheap, and pretty tasty.
We stayed two nights in Vung Tau. In the morning, we headed back to the bus station and caught a Hoa Mai Tourist minibus back to Ho Chi Minh City. It was slightly cheaper than FUTA Bus Lines (95,000 dong), but took longer and the driver was into high risk maneuvers.
We have lots more information on budget travel in Vietnam and more to come.