vung tau drones with bass-thumping action on the weekends as visitors from HCMC motor into town; weekdays, however, are blissfully dead. Vung Tau’s beaches are easily reached from HCMC, making them a favourite of that city’s residents since French colonists first began coming here around 1890.
Known under the French as Cap St Jacques – so-named by Portuguese mariners in honour of their patron saint – Vung Tau is a commercialised beach resort on a peninsula jutting into the South China Sea, about 128km southeast of HCMC (via Bien Hoa). The business of oil-drilling here means the azure horizon is marred by frequent oil tankers, and the population flecked with joy-seeking expats.
Getting there & away
From Mien Dong bus station in HCMC, air-con minibuses (25, 000d, two hours, 128km) leave for Vung Tau throughout the day until around 4.30pm. From Vung Tau’sbus station (192A Ð Nam Ky Khoi Nghia) to Mulberry Beach or Back Beach, a xe omshould cost around 10, 000d.
Should convenience outweigh cost, catch a Petro Express hydrofoil (HCMC 08-821 0650, Vung Tau 816 308) to Vung Tau (120, 000d, 90 minutes) at Bach Dang jetty in HCMC. Boats leave roughly two hours starting at 6.30am, but check in HCMC for the latest schedule. In Vung Tau the boat leaves from Cau Da pier, opposite the Hai Au Hotel.
During 14th and 15th centuries, the cape that would become Vũng Tàu was a swamp which European trading ships visited regularly. The ships’ activities inspired the name Vũng Tàu, which means “anchorage”. The Portuguese navigators passed Vũng Tàu many times and named it after Saint Jacques. The French invaded Vietnam afterwards and called it Cape Saint Jacques. The cliff of Vũng Tàu is now called Mũi Nghinh Phong (literally means “Cape of greeting the wind”).
Vũng Tàu was originally referred to as Tam Thắng (“Three Boats”) in memory of the first 3 villages in this area: Thắng Nhất, Thắng Nhị, Thắng Tam. It was within the province of Biên Hòa under the Nguyen dynasty.
10th February 1859 marks the first use of cannons by Nguyen’s army, when they fired at French battleships from the fortress of Phước Thắng, located 100 m from Vũng Tàu’s Front Beach. This marked an important period in Vietnam’s war against French invaders in South Vietnam (then called Cochinchina).
In 1876, according to a decree by the French colonialists, Vũng Tàu was merged in Bà Rịa county, a part of Saigon administration (French: Circonscription De Saigon).
On May the 1st 1895 the governor of Cochinchina established by decree that Cape Saint Jacques would thereafter be an autonomous town. In 1898, Cape Saint Jacques was merged with Ba Ria County once again but was divided again in 1899.
In 1901, the population of Vũng Tàu was 5,690, of which 2000 persons were immigrants from North Vietnam. Most of the town’s population made their living in the fishing industry.
On April 4th 1905 Cape Saint Jacques was made an administrative district of Ba Ria province. In 1929, Cape Saint Jacques became a province, and in 1934 became a city (commune).
The French governor of Indochina, Paul Doumer (who later became President of France), built a mansion in Vũng Tàu that is still a prominent landmark in the city.
During the Vietnam War, Vũng Tàu was home to the Australian Army and American support units, and was a popular spot for in-country R&R for U.S. combat troops. After the war, Vũng Tàu was a common launching place for the Vietnamese Boat People fleeing the communists.
On May 30th 1979, Vũng Tàu town was made the capital of Vũng Tàu-Côn Đảo Special Admistrative Zone.
On August 12th 1991, the province of Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu was officially founded and Vũng Tàu town officially became Vũng Tàu city.
Economy and society
The city is located in the south of Vietnam, and is situated at the tip of a small peninsula. It has traditionally been a significant port, particularly during Vietnam’s period of French rule. Today, the city’s importance as a shipping port has diminished, but it still plays a significant role in Vietnam’s offshore oil industry. Vung Tau is the only petroleum base of Vietnam where crude oil and gas exploitation activities dominate the city’s economy and contribute principal income to Vietnam’s budget and export volume.
Vũng Tàu is home to 210,000 people, in which 1250 are Russians working as specialists in the oil industry.
Phu My Portis a deep-water port able to accommodate ships ranging between 40,000 and 60,000dwt.Phu My is a commercial port with nothing nearby. A shuttle may be provided to the small town of Ba Ria where you can take a taxi to a larger city like Vung Tau. The best way to get to Ho Chi Minh City is either with the ship’s or private tour. Transfer from Phu My Port to Ho Chi Minh
Located in Southern Vietnam, Vũng Tàu has only two seasons in a year :
- Dry season (November – April) : dry and slightly cooler during winter months and around Tết Holiday. Gets hotter in April.
- Rainy season (May – October) : rainy, but less than Ho Chi Minh City. Usually hot at noon till 3PM. Summer is ideal for sea bathing.
- Vũng Tàu Lighthouse, On top of Small Mountain. First built in 1907 on the lower peak of Small Mount, it burned kerosene in its lamp. In 1911, it was rebuilt to 3 meters in diameter and 18 meters in height, and moved to the higher peak where it stands today.The Vũng Tàu Lighthouse projects light as far as 35 sea miles (64.75 km) and is equipped with telescopes to follow and direct ships at sea.
Next to the platform, 4 old French cannons (about 10m long and weighing several tons) were once used to defend the area from naval attacks.
The lighthouse affords a panoramic view of the whole of Vung Tau and is a really interesting site. No ticket is needed, but tourists are required to pay 4,000 VND per visit.
- Đình Thần Thắng Tam (Thắng Tam Temple),Thắng Tam Ward, Vung Tau City (From the Front Beach, follow Truong Cong Dinh St. to Tran Hung Dao Park. Here take Hoang Hoa Tham Street to Thang Tam). Aka Thang Tam’s Local Gods Communal House, is a special feature in Vũng Tàu. According to legend, it was built in the Minh Mạng dynasty (1820-1840) as a place to worship the three men who set up the 3 villages of Thắng in Vũng Tàu. Visit this site to discover the story of the three men who led three villages’s inhabitants to Vũng Tàu and started a new way of life. The architecture is particularly interesting around the Tam Quan gate, the sanctum, the public commune, the meeting room and the scene for military opera stage that is skillfully engraved.
The sanctum is roofed with yin-yang tiles and is in the shape of “a couple of dragons joking upon the moon” and the pillars are engraved wit the shapes of dragons. This commune stores twelve pieces of sanction of Nguyễn dynasty.
On the right of Thắng Tam commune is the Whale tomb where there is a set of great bones of whales picked up from 100 years ago and on the left is Ngũ Hành Temple (5 elements of the space: metal, wood, water, fire and the earth).
- Đài Liệt Sĩ (Martyr’s Memorial), Lê Hồng Phong Street. A stone obelisk on a hill-top, located on the way to the sea, the Martyr’s Memorial hill is said to be the biggest traffic circle in Indochina. A cool hang-out place for lovers.
- Statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms,On top of Small Mountain. The enormous 28m figure of Jesus gazing across the East Sea with outstretched arms is located at the southern end of Small mountain. Built in 1971, this Giant Jesus rests on a 10m high platform. The interior of the statue is hollow and contains a spiral staircase of 129 steps, ascending from the foot of the statue to its neck. The two shoulders of the figure are balconies, each able to accommodate up to six people, which offer a splendid view of the surrounding landscape. This is the largest sculpture in the Southern Vietnam. Recent construction of a pathway has made the 30-minute hike up the mountain more pleasant and the panoramic view from various vista points along the way is magnificent. Definitely a must do!
- Beautiful pagodas, Small Mount top. Niết Bàn Tịnh Xá and Thích Ca Phật Đài are most popular among the pagodas and temples in Vũng Tàu.
- Bạch Dinh (Villa Blanche), Along Trần Phú Street. Built by the French (1898-1916) as a summer holiday house of French Governor General Paul Doumer. The building was named Villa Blanche after his favorite daughter. The name Villa Blanche or Bach Dinh coincides its appearance, for that season, the local people call it Bạch Dinh (White palace). Later, some Indochina-French Governors used this summer house occasionally so it’s also called “Villa du Gouverneur” (Dinh Toan Quyen). Both Ngo Dinh Diem and Nguyen Van Thieu used it as well for recreation and holiday. It made the name Dinh Ong Thuong (Palace of Lord appear). Villa Blanche is located on the slop of Big Mountain, along Tran Phu St., at 50m above sea level. The outside walls were decorated with beading and the Hellenic statues. This was also the location where the French colonialists placed Thanh Thai Kin under house arrest. He belonged to the last feudalistic dynasty in Vietnam and fought against the French before exiling him to Reunion Island off the coast of Africa (1909-1910). From its balcony there’s a panoramic view of Front Beach and opposite the Villa at the foot of that mountain is Hai Nguu islet with a stone rock shaped like a water buffalo wallowing in water. Next to Hai Nguu at the seaside was the helicopter yard. Today Villa Blanche exhibits hundreds of antiques collected from Cau Islet-Con Dao and is the culture destination attracts hundreds of tourists every day.
Seaside status makes Vung Tau a nearby paradise for Saigonners. However, for well-travelled foreigners, expect a bit less. The beach is not all too attractive with litter lining the coast, and most of the sandy eastern beach has signage about dangerous swimming. There are four beaches in the city center located in different positions.
- Bãi Trước (Front Beach)- Located on the center of Vung Tau and stands between Big and Small Mount. Restaurants, kiosks, and hotels are close to the beach. Front Beach is connected through a small park called Front Beach Park. As this lays on the tourist center of the city, most people come here to visit the park and view the sunset.
- Bãi Sau (Back Beach) – Bãi Sau aka “Thùy Vân Beach” is the only standard beach for tourism in Vung Tau. It is 3 kilometer long and streches from the Small Mount to Paradise Park. All beaches here are free although you may cross some “water park” to get to the beach. There are services for keeping your belongings, usually 15,000 VND each person. Umbrella is 30,000 VND, chair 25,000 VND. Fresh water bathe costs 8,000 VND. Sea parachute with canoeing available all day.
- Bãi Dứa (Pineapple Beach)- Small beach located along Hạ Long street, by Small Mount.
- Bãi Dâu (Mulberry Beach)- Small beach located on the western side of Big Mount.
Bãi Dứa and Bãi Dâu are actually beaches along Mountains, thus you must go downstairs to get to the waterfront. There’s less sand and no safeguard.
Vung Tau’s landscape is suitable for climbing mountains, few of the hikes in Vung Tau are
- Hike to the Lighthouse in the little mountain. The entrance is at in Phan Chu Trinh street, about 1 km from the beach.
- Hike to the Jesus statue in the little mountain. This is a very nice short hike.
- Hike to the big mountain. The trail starts in Tran Hung Dao street. The top is very flat, and there are couple restaurants on top.</listing>
There is also a cable car to the top of the big mountain where there is a small amusement park. Pricey at 200,000 VND a ticket for the cable car ride and entrance to the park.
- Riding double-bikes. 20,000 VNĐ / hour.
- See greyhound racing. 25,000 VNĐ.