Vung Tau (Vũng Tàu) is a city in Southern Vietnam, about 125 km from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Its nearness to Saigon and its beauty and fresh air makes it a very popular destination for weekends.
Vung Tau is the economic centre of Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu, a province in southeastern Vietnam. The city centre, located on the southern tip of the peninsula, has been long known as a tourist haven for businesspeople from Ho Chi Minh City.
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Geography and climate
Vung Tau sits on a peninsula separated from the mainland by a river. Much of the city is flat and easy to commute by bicycles / motorcycles or on foot .The city features long coastlines and a savanna climate pattern with two seasons :
- Dry season (Nov-Apr): consistently hot and dry, though cooler during the year-end months and the Tết Holiday (Jan-Mar). Ideal for hiking
- Rainy season (May-Oct): lots of rain, usually in the afternoon. Gets very hot and humid during daytime. Ideal for seaside frolics.
Vung Tau has two main beaches for tourists. The first, Front Beach, is a compact beach with calm waters located in a small bay in the southern tip of the peninsula. The second, Back Beach, has long stretches of sand and relatively violent – but safe for swimming – waters, located on the city’s eastern side. The city is scattered with several smaller beaches, though they are dangerous for swimming and drowning is frequent .
Vung Tau features two mountains in the backdrop: Mount Tương Kỳ and Mount Tao Phùng, both popular for hiking. The two mountains are colloquially known as núi Lớn (“Big Mountain”) and núi Nhỏ (“Small Mountain”), because of their visible sizes. On the hiking trail to the top of the Big Mountain are numerous Buddhist pagodas and a Vietnamese Zen (thiền) Monastery. On top of the Small Mountain is a 32-metre (105 ft) statue of Christ the King, built from 1974 to 1994.
During the 14 th and 15 th centuries, European trading ships regularly visited the waters of this area for shelter because of its calm waters, which inspired the name ” Vũng Tàu ” ( literally ” anchorage ” ). During the Nguyễn Dynasty, Vũng Tàu was officially Tam Thắng ( literally ” Three Boats ” ). The Portuguese named the then-small fishing town after the Catholic Saint Jacques .
Bạch Dinh ( ” White Palace “, 1898 – 1902 ), weekend getaway for political elites during French rule and the American WarWith the onset of French colonisation, Vung Tau was a battleground where the Nguyễn Dynasty fired at French battleships with cannons from mountaintop fortresses ; the cannons still exist on the hiking trails today. After the French invaded Vietnam in the 19 th century, Vung Tau was known as Cape Saint-Jacques, shortened to Cape. The Vietnamese then colloquially called the city ” Ô Cấp “, based on the French pronunciation of ” au Cape ” ( literally ” to the Cape “, used by French people in Saigon referring to their weekend getaways in Vung Tau ) .
Under French rule, Vung Tau became a popular seaside getaway for officials and the elites. The last Emperor of the Nguyễn Dynasty, Bảo Đại, often retreated to the hillside French colonial mansion Bạch Dinh (Villa Blanche, literally “White Palace”, now a popular tourist destination) while on holiday. The French built many public buildings, a Catholic church, and tree-lined avenues; all are well preserved and still intact to this day.
During the American War ( called the Vietnam War outside the country ), Vung Tau was home to the Australian Army and American tư vấn units. Its popularity as a seaside resort continued. After the war, Vung Tau was a common launching place for boat people fleeing the communists. In the 1980 s, the joint Vietnamese-Soviet enterprise for oil and gas exploration Vietsovpetro established, leading to an influx of Soviet ( mainly Russian ) migrants. In 1991, Vung Tau officially became a city .In recent years, waves of immigration have turned the northern part into an industrial zone with many ports and oil industry services, and the southern tip remains an attractive weekend getaway. Because of Russian immigration, an ethnic Russian cluster was established, with Soviet-era architecture apartments and many Russian shops and eateries .
Economy and society
Thích Ca Phật Đài, a Buddhist pagodaHistorically a port city, Vung Tau is a major centre of Vietnam’s modern offshore oil industry. State-controlled oil and gas enterprises attract many high-skilled engineers and technicians. After privatisation in 1986, Vung Tau has welcomed many private corporations in ship building, oil services, and logistics. As a result, Vung Tau’s middle-class population is generally well-educated and well-mannered, though the lower-class population consisting of immigrants from rural areas does exist. Contrary to North American cities, the suburban area is home to the lower-middle class immigrants and working population. The middle – and upper-middle class population mostly settle in the city centre located at the southern edge of the peninsula, close to the beaches and tourist spots .
As of 2021, Vung Tau is home to 420,000 people. As a result of Russian immigration, there is a sizeable Russian minority living in a designated area colloquially called Khu Năm Tầng (“Five-Storied Area”), because of the area’s array of five-storied apartment buildings in Soviet architecture. There is also a significant Australian community, mainly elderly, drawn to the area after serving in the Battle of Long Tan 35 km to the north of Vung Tau. In vibrant downtown, foreign cultural influences are visible through Japanese, Korean, and Russian shops and eateries. In recent years, a growing expat community has contributed to the city’s hippie-ish neighbourhoods with Italian, Mexican, American, and Indian influences.
Although the population is generally irreligious, Vung Tau is religiously tolerant and there are many religious buildings catering mostly to Buddhist and Catholics along with other religious minorities such as Protestants and Cao Đài. Two of the city’s iconic spots are the Statue of Christ the King and Thích Ca Phật Đài, highlighting the religious diversity of the population .
Vũng Tàu is connected to the mainland by Hwy 51 ( Quốc lộ 51 ), which runs from Biên Hòa City. The shortest route from Ho Chi Minh city is through HCMC – Long Thành – Dầu Giây Highway, exit at Long Thành and join Highway 51 .
You can take a bus to Vung Tau from Tan Son Nhat (Tân Sơn Nhất) International Airport (SGN IATA). All buses are parked near the domestic terminal. Look for “JetStar” or “Vietnam Airlines” painted on the bus body.
The fastest way on bus to Vung Tau is by taking a high speed coach from Mien Dong Coach Station ( Bến Xe Miền Đông ) in HCMC. Comfortable 16 – seat buses with air conditioning make trips every 15 minutes. Duration : 2 hours, with a break at the halfway point. To get to Mien Dong Coach Station, take Bus 19 from Ben Thanh Market Bus Station, which will drop you opposite the Mien Dong Coach Station entrance .It usually takes almost 2 hours from District 1, HCMC, to Vũng Tàu centre by coach / bus .
From HCMC, the best route is similar to coach / bus mentioned above. Use HCMC – Long Thành – Dầu Giây Highway, turn right at Long Thành exit and go straight on Highway 51 to reach Vũng Tàu. It takes roughly 2 hours from District 1, HCMC, to Vũng Tàu, depends on drivers and / or traffic. On public holidays or weekends, the roads usually become busier .Drivers need to remember to follow speed limit as traffic police may present anytime, check speed and give fine. 120 km / h is limit on HCMC – Long Thành – Dầu Giây Highway. On Highway 51, drivers can reach 90 km / h on most of the way outside crowded area. In some crowded towns, it is limited to 60 km / h and prompted by big blue information signs on roadside. There are several other certain limits described by other signs infrequently .There are 3 toll booths on the way from HCMC to Vũng Tàu. One is on HCMC – Long Thành – Dầu Giây Highway and another two are on Highway 51. At the first booth, fare for up-to-9-seat car is 40,000 dong. At the second and third booths, you pay 20,000 dong for the one you reach first and give receipt to the rest, no more charge .
By motorbike / bicycle
As motorbikes / bicycles are forbidden from HCMC – Long Thành – Dầu Giây Highway, the best way for drivers / riders is using Cát Lái ferry. The ferry fares are :• Motorbike ( 1 driver included ) : 3000 dong .• Bicycles ( 1 rider included ) : 1000 dong .• Pedestrian or extra people on motorbike : 1000 dong .After cross the river, follow the main road to get through Nhơn Trạch district, then join Highway 51, turn right and go straight .
The road quality is acceptable for driving/riding. Just make sure you are on proper lane and watch out for pedestrians especially at busy intersections, where people cross the road irregularly at times. Except HCMC – Long Thành – Dầu Giây Highway, there are many coffee shops, restaurants, gas stations for drivers/riders to take a break. Make sure you know the price before settle down.
ShareCar, a ride-sharing service, offers không lấy phí pick-up at your place in Ho Chi Minh City and in Vung Tau. A seat costs 220,000 dong one-way, booking must be made 2 days in advance via their website or at ☏. For shorter notice, you can pay for a chauffeur car at 700,000 dong one-way, or 1,300,000 dong two-way
” Tàu cánh ngầm ” aka ” Hydrofoil fast ferry ” in Vietnam is a quick way to get to and from Vũng Tàu. Taking the Hydrofoil is a good way to see the commercial maritime areas as the boat runs through the Saigon River to the sea. After 1 hour and 15 minutes, Vũng Tàu peninsula appears with its two mountains ( conveniently called ” Big Mountain ” and ” Little Mountain ” ) at the waterfront. This is a little more comfortable way to get to Vung Tau rather than taking the bus. It’s a little more expensive at 200,000 dong / person. Booking at least one day in advance in recommended, especially at the weekend .
Scam alert: at the ticket counter in Saigon, they may refuse to sell you a return ticket, recommending that you buy it as soon as in Vung Tau. Once there, the lady at the counter will pretend that all the tickets are gone, and you will be immediately approached by local men willing to sell the tickets with a 100% surcharge, with the complicity of the ticket counter employees. Make sure you buy the return ticket in Saigon, or accept to be considered as an ATM.
Adult USD10, child USD5 ( age 6-11, under 1.4 m ), duration : 75 minutes. Departs at Bach Dang Pier in Saigon, District 1. Not far from the Majestic Hotel ( 100 m ). Lands in Cầu Đá Port, Ben Cau Da, Ha Long St, Vung Tau
Bãi Sau ( Back Beach )
Taxis fare is similar to Hồ Chí Minh city, which is 5000 dong for commencement up to the first 500 m, then 12000 dong for each 1 km ( 4 – seat car ). 7 – seat car fare is up to 16000 dong / km. There are taxis everywhere and drivers have no problem using the meter which starts ticking automatically when the vehicle has been moving for a few metres .Thes e are some common taxis in Vũng Tàu and their phone numbers :• Taxi Mai Linh 064.3.56.56.56• Taxi Vinasun 064.38.27.27.27• Taxi Gili 064.3.85.85.85• Taxi Petro 064.3.851.851 – 064.3.81.81.81• Taxi Bình An 064.3.79.79.79• Taxi Navi 064.3.83.83.83
By taxi motorbike
As an ordinary Vietnam urban area, Vũng Tàu has plenty of xe ôm (taxi motorbike) drivers who are professional. Tourists coming to Vũng Tàu may find out that traffic is slower here, especially during weekdays. All riders in Vietnam are required to wear helmets an this is strictly enforced. As such, the driver should supply you with a helmet. If he doesn’t – find another one, as you’ll be the one stuck with the fine. Remember: always agree on a price before you set off.
Motorbike rental service can be found in most of hotels or hostels, especially at back beach. Price is 100,000 – 150,000 dong for automatic and 80,000 – 130,000 dong for manual bike. Make sure you have valid driving license and helmets .
Vũng Tàu should be one of the best places in Nước Ta where you can enjoy riding a bike, thanks to low traffic density and picturesque coastal roads. Bicycle rental service is not too abundant but can be found in some hostel at Back Beach. Other options are bringing your own bike from Saigon or borrow from your friends. The best cycling route is along the coast, through Thùy Vân st, Hạ Long st, Quang Trung st and Trần Phú st. With this way, slow pace to breath sea breeze or speedy race are up to you, as road quality is quite nice. If you prefer off-road, some paths up to Small / Big Mountains are good way of practice .Wearing helmet is not mandatory yet recommended. And do not forget to watch out at any intersection as other drivers tend to not give way to biker .
Xe đạp đôi or double-bike ( tandem bicycle ) has been popular among youth and teenagers of Vung Tau. You can see groups of at least four riding along the windy and green streets and along the coast. A standard double-bike can carry 3 people in which 2 take the ride. You can rent a double bike at the Bãi Trước ( Front Beach ) Area beside Nhà mần nin thiếu nhi ( Children Cultural House ) or on pavements along the Bãi Sau ( Back Beach ) near hotels area .
Vũng Tàu is rather small, so you can walk most places. Recommended ways are : Ba Cu street ( the city’s centre ), Đồ Chiểu street ( food centre ), Trưng Trắc and Trưng Nhị Square, Công viên Bãi trước ( Front Beach park ) and pavements along the coastline. Pedestrians should watch out before crossing roads as drivers usually do not give way, like in most of Vietnamese cities .
Christ the King on top of Small Mountain
The seaside makes Vung Tau a nearby paradise for Saigon visitors. Well-travelled foreigners may be underwhelmed. The beach is not too attractive with litter lining the coast, although as of July 2018 the local authority have had a clean up and the beaches are much cleaner and most of the sandy eastern beach has signage about dangerous swimming. There are four beaches near the city center :
- Hike to the Lighthouse on Little Mount. The entrance is at in Phan Chu Trinh St, about 1 km from the beach.
- Hike to the Jesus Statue on Little Mount. This is a very nice short hike.
- Hike to Big Mount. The trail starts on Tran Hung Dao St. The top is very flat, and there are a couple of restaurants on top.
Where to buy
- Chợ Vũng Tàu (Vũng Tàu Market), new central market built in 1985. Vietnamese day meals start with market. Goods in markets are cheaper and fresher than in shops and that’s why a market is very familiar with every Vietnamese, esp. housewives.
What to buy
- Handicrafts are ample at Trung Vuong Square and are ideal as souvenirs.
ATMs are plentiful in Vung Tau. Most of them are located on commercial streets such as Lê Hồng Phong, Ba Cu and Trưng Vương Square. Visa and MasterCard are accepted with a minimum fee of 50,000 – 70,000 dong for each withdrawal .
Banh KhotBanh Khot is Vung Tau’s signature meal. It is a breakfast meal which includes greens and noodles .
- Mr Splash Coffee Tea Bar, 81 Thuy Van, +84915677708. Makes amazing coffee, tea and cocktails at very affordable prices. Very professional, and Phú is a proper bartender.
Vung Tau may have the cheapest guesthouses and hotels in Vietnam. Rooms range from fan-only with shared bath to air conditioned with hot water. All on Thùy Vân St, in front of Bãi Sau ( Back Beach ) at the foot of Small Mount. Lowest prices from 120,000 dong / room ( on weekdays ) to 200,000 dong ( weekends ) .
While pickpockets are not common, theft (usually snatching bags or purses) is an increasing problem. Visitors should not carry valuables in bags and try to avoid carrying them as much as possible at night, especially in the city centre or along the front and back beaches. Bags or purses have been known to be snatched off bicycles and even motorbikes as well as pedestrians. This is sometimes followed by violent pushing or hitting to distract the victim and anyone who may be with them, to help the perpetrators get away. This is not as common as it is in Ho Chi Minh City, however, thefts increase in the lead up to the Tet holiday. Normal commonsense precautions are all that are needed to avoid theft.
- Police: 113
- Fire: 114
- Ambulance: 115
- High-speed Internet is available in all streets in Vung Tau. They are called in many names e.g. “Internet cafe”, “Game Online” or “Chat”. Pay 3,000-4,000 dong/hour. Most stores provide Internet dialing cards, so it’s advised that you use it to make international calls.
- Use 171 and 178 with your calls: Make you domestic and international calls with 171 or 178 as following, you’ll save up to 40% of bills
171 (178) + 00 + National code + Area code + Phone number.
Note : This method is not available with cellphones.
- Vung Tau Post Office : 45 Lê Hồng Phong.
- General info service : (064) 1080.
- Ho Chi Minh City
- Bình Châu Hot Stream : in Xuyên Mộc District.
- Côn Đảo Islands – archipelago in the southern sea. Best known for Côn Đảo Prisons, Côn Đảo National Garden. Hydrofoil fast ferry costs 350,000 dong, sets off at Côn Đảo Port (April 30 Rd).
- Long Hải Town – a seaside town in nearby Long Điền District about 20 km north of Vung Tau. The beach here is smaller, but the town owns a local goddess temple called “Dinh Cô” which holds an annual cultural festival called “Dinh Cô Festival”. It is one of the three well-known traditional festivals in southern Vietnam. The town also features Minh Đạm Tunnel, a former hideout of the Viet Minh during the wars.
- Long Sơn: for the wooden Nhà Lớn Long Sơn complex dating from the 19th century.
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