Vung Tau is a low key beachside location, situated on a peninsula, 125km from Ho Chi Minh City and is a popular weekend destination for HCMC residents.
This also makes it perfect for me as a beach option for a couple of days before I look to commence my journey home to Australia.
Before I leave the Mai Phai Hotel in HCMC I make an advance booking for when I return in 4 days. This will be my final night in HCMC and my last night in Vietnam before I fly home via Bangkok. One additional night’s accommodation is VND$296,000 (AUD$20).
My trusty guide book, The Rough Guide to Southeast Asia mentions a regular 1.5 hour hydrofoil fast ferry to Vung Tau so with this in mind I need to head to the Passenger Quay at Bach Dang Wharf.
I get a motorbike taxi (xe ôm) to take me the short ride from my hotel to Bach Dang Wharf located on Ham Nghi (Road/Street), on the banks of the Saigon River. From here the hydrofoil will deliver me direct to Vung Tau.
The Vina Express is one of two or three hydrofoil services available between HCMC and Vung Tau. My fast ferry ticket leaves HCMC at 12:30pm. The cost of my return hydrofoil ticket is VND$160,000 (AUD$15).
I grab a window seat inside the hydrofoil for the 1.5 hour trip through the commercial maritime areas as the fast ferry travels down the Saigon River to the sea.
The hydrofoil approaches Vung Tau.
Our Vina Express fast hydrofoil ferry docks at the jetty at the southern end of Bai Truoc (otherwise called the “front beach” or “bay of boats”).
This spot looks ok but I am wanting the “back beach” of Bai Sau.
I find a metered taxi to take me to Bai Sau. Once there, we drive along Thuy Van (Road) to look for some accommodation. I am looking for a reasonably priced hotel which might have a balcony so I can enjoy the beach view. I eventually settle on My Le Hotel, which has rooms with balconies overlooking the beach and the pool.
I book myself into the My Le Hotel, a 3 star hotel overlooking the beach. Room cost per night is VND$720,000 (total cost for 3 nights is VND$2,160,000 – including breakfast). This equates to about AUD$50 per night. This is one of the most expensive hotels of the trip but it is worth the extra for the view, location and amenities.
So for the next three days I both relax and spend time exploring the peninsula. There are many things to explore in and around Vung Tau including the areas in and around Bai Sau and Bai Truoc.
This is where my hotel is located and there are many things to do within walking distance including the 5km stretch of wide sandy beach (of course) and the boardwalk that runs alongside.
Here on the beach you will also find food vendors who patrol the beach, offering meals cooked on the spot.
Watersports, equipment hire and beach games and amenities are available at Ocean Park.
Also of interest is Hon Ba. This is a small tortoise shaped island situated between Bai Dua and Bai Sau (visible from the Giant Jesus on the Bai Sau side) which can be reached only on foot when the tide is low. This tiny island is home to a temple built by fishermen in honour of the Goddess of the Sea.
Of an evening night markets and their assortment of stalls line the beach boardwalk.
There is a fair selection of local restaurants (in addition to those attached to hotels) in the general area. As there is little English spoken in and around Vung Tau, many of the local restaurants do not have English menus and it can be a point at the menu and hope affair but this goes to making the experience a bit more authentic.
Hiking up Nui Nho (small mountain) is another activity allowing exploration of both the lighthouse and the 28m high Giant Jesus statue.
The hydrofoil from HCMC docks at the jetty at the southern end of the half moon beach of Bai Truoc. This is more the city centre of Vung Tau with more commercial facilities available here than at Bai Sau. The crescent moon shaped beach and city centre sit between Nui Lon mountain and Nui Nho mountain.
Nui Lon is also known as the highest peak in the area. Activities, on offer include a 455 metre long Cable car which gives a panoramic view of the area’s beaches and hills. Also available to explore is Bach Dinh for its architecture, view and exhibit.
Not to be outdone, further on from Bai Truoc is Bai Dau. Here you will find the Virgin Mary Statue.
When travelling between Bai Truoc and Bai Sau be wary of rip-off metered taxi drivers. On one occasion, when returning from Bai Truoc to my hotel at Bai Sau, I was nearly scammed by a taxi driver. We headed off and I noticed the meter was turning over very fast …. I leaned closer to the taxi driver and said very clearly… “your meter very fast”… no reaction… on we go… I let a couple more minutes pass and then said again, pointing “your meter too fast”.
We arrive at my hotel. Only the day earlier I had taken a taxi covering the very same journey, which taxi fare cost me several dollars. On this occasion, the taxi driver’s meter was showing AUD$40!! I say to him “too much”… “your meter too fast”. He is denying it. I tell him very clearly about what my taxi cost yesterday. He wants his money. I pull out the equivalent of AUD$20 and give it to him saying “no more”. I knew as much as this taxi driver that this was still too much but I didn’t want any trouble and it was still more than he deserved. I wasn’t going to debate it any more and I left and went into the hotel.
The only reason I took this taxi was because it was metered. I always check if a taxi is metered and if not metered I either won’t take the taxi or will work out a price first. Sure this taxi was metered, just not calibrated properly. Even when you think you are doing things to protect yourself from being scammed, you still need to be wary.
Despite my taxi hiccup, Vung Tau is a friendly, peaceful and relaxing location and a recommended side trip from HCMC.
For previous Vietnam post see Mekong Delta, Vietnam and the floating markets of Can Tho
For next Vietnam post see Vung Tau to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam