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 vendors and 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's banks are mostly gathered on Tran Hung Dao St. Closest to the town centre is ACB (Asia Commercial Bank), which provides all the normal services. Further along Tran Hung Dao you will find Vietcombank, and at the other end, adjacent to the greyhound stadium is AB Bank. There are also a large number of ATMs scattered along Back Beach, and all around the town -- it'd be hard to miss them.
For those staying on Back Beach, the nearest post office is just a few hundred metres inland -- head up Chu Trinh St until you reach Vo Thi Sau St, and swing a right to find it just there on the corner. Those staying in the front beach area should look to the big building next to the greyhound racing track.
AB Bank - 8 Hoang Dieu St, T: (064) 512 480, open 07:30-11:00 & 13:30-17:00 and Sat 08:00-12:00.
Asia Commercial Bank - 3A Tran Hung Dao, T: (064) 511 970, open Mon-Fri 07:30-11:30 & 13:30-17:00 and Sat 07:30-11:00.
Post office (Back beach) - 64 Vo Thi Sau St, T: (064) 858 255, Daily 07:00-21:00.
Post office (main branch) - 8 Hoang Dieu, T: (064) 810 370, open 07:00-11:30 & 14:00-17:30.