Located on the coast 100 kilometres south east of Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau is a popular weekend getaway for Saigoners to escape the heat and stresses of the big city. Two to three hours by road, or one hour and 30 minutes by hydrofoil (the boat conveniently departing very close to District 1), traffic, noise and pollution are replaced by sea breeze, fresh seafood, surf and sand.
Meaning “bay of boats”, Vung Tau sits on a hilly promontory of land that juts out into the ocean. On the eastern side is the star attraction Back Beach (Bai Sau), a three kilometre stretch of sand catering to the needs of Vietnamese tourists: sun loungers, umbrellas, jet ski and tube rentals, seafood, beach toys and beer for sale. On the western side is the smaller, more local and low-key Front Beach (Bai Truoc). This is also where many small boats harbour. A long coastal Riviera-esque promenade connects the two making for a pleasant sunset stroll – clearly the French had their hand in shaping the city.
Once a French beach getaway known as Cap Saint-Jacques in colonial times, Vung Tau metamorphosed during the Vietnam War when it was used as R&R by American and Australian servicemen. The seedy reputation never left. While it’s certainly not Pattaya, Vung Tau does have bars aimed at single men looking to “unsingle” themselves. That said, it’s a part of Vung Tau that’s easily avoided and the big business these days is the city’s offshore oil industry and Vietnamese families on holiday.
There are two faces to the city. On the weekend and public holidays, the beaches are packed, the promenade is lively, restaurants are bustling and hotel rates skyrocket. Expect accommodation prices to as much as double and for all the good places to be full – if you plan on being here during the weekend, book ahead. A mass exodus on Sunday empties the city and it slips into a lazy slumber until Friday rolls around and the rush starts all over again. Travellers can net great deals on hotels during the weekday. If you want to dodge the crowds, avoid the weekends.
For the average traveller, Vung Tau is thin on actual things to do. The beach pales in comparison to those of Nha Trang, Mui Ne’s accommodation is far better value and you can still have a beach entirely to yourself in Phu Quoc. But the close proximity to HCMC is the big selling point.
If you find yourself in Vung Tau, you can check out one of the city’s many temples, climb up to Christ the King statue or drive up to Vung Tau lighthouse for a 360-degree view of the city and ocean. The local markets are bursting on the weekend with HCMC folk buying up fresh seafood before heading home – the melee is a sight in itself.
If you’re adventurous, there’s a small kiteboarding scene or, during low tide, you can walk over to Hon Ba islet which lies to the east of the very southern tip. It has a small temple dedicated to the goddess that protects fishermen and sailors. The visit has to be expertly timed. Look online for Vung Tau’s tide chart and time your crossing around peak low tide. Be very careful as the rocks will be slippery and you really do not want to be stranded or caught in the middle.
Vung Tau’s main tourist area is centred on the southern tip, along the coast. Front Beach (Bai Truoc) is located on the western coast and Back Beach (Bai Sau), the main tourist beach, is on the eastern side, connected by a coastal road/promenade Ha Long Street. Separating the two beaches are two “mountains” (more like hills). Perched atop Large Mountain (Nui Lon) is the iconic Christ the King Statue and on Small Mountain (Nui Nho) is Vung Tau Lighthouse.
For supplies and self-catering, there’s Lotte Mart Department/Grocery store at the big roundabout, in the corner between 3 Thang 2 and Thi Sach streets. Coop Mart is a few blocks northwest of Lotte Mart, on Le Hong Phong Street.
There’s a small post office at 156 Ha Long Street, open Tuesday to Sunday, 07:00-11:30 and 14:00-17:30.
The hydrofoil pier to Ho Chi Minh City is located on Ha Long Street just south of Front Beach.
Vung Tau is the port for passenger boats to Con Dao Islands. See the Transport section for details.
By Cindy Fan.
Last updated on 13th October, 2016.