Vung Tau: Baby Jesus Needs a Tuxedo T-Shirt
After my roundabout way to get to Vung Tau due to the Google Maps road confusion,I was happy to be somewhere I could settle down next to the beach with clean air after my 5 weeks in Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC is a great city and I would call it the NYC of Vietnam, but the pollution and over population got to me during my time there. It was nice to get away from the NYC of Vietnam and smell some cleaner air.
I thought before this trip I would be past my hostel stays at this age of life, but I also like the social aspect that a hostel has to offer. I chose to get a private room because I’m definitely past the dorm rooms full of strangers. And this way I would have a place to escape the debauchery of the young travelers at night, but would still allow me to be around other English speakers when I wanted. I’ve found hotels in Vietnam are a lot harder to meet people as a solo traveler. Sometimes I prefer the seclusion from Westerners because most backpackers get in this circle of not really getting to know the local community and one of the biggest reasons I’ve always wanted to live abroad is to immerse myself in the culture.
If you’re ever in Vung Tau and you need a good place to stay. Look up The Gecko Hostel. When it comes to Hostels, this place is top notch. The owner, Judi, works there every day and she makes it much more like a large Homestay than a hostel. I’m not a hostel expert by any means, but over my lifetime I’ve stayed at a few of them. Judi runs by far my favorite Hostel I’ve ever stayed at. She will help you with everything you need and make sure to help you with any requests you may have.
Outside of Judi and her place, Vung Tau was a very lovely and fun town to visit. And for a “tourist” beach town it was very laid back in regard to people pedaling me to purchase sunglasses, marijuana or tours of the town. Other parts of Vietnam where tourists (Vietnamese or foreign) go in large numbers tend suffer from a lot of pushy sidewalk sales people.
If you’re not driving through the country on a motorbike I would recommend renting one for a day and driving up and down the coast of Vung Tau to get a view of the city. It’s a very easy drive for a beginner rider and the views are worth it. They have great electric scooters you can rent if you don’t feel comfortable on a more powerful gas version.
If you are Christian or someone who has an interest in religious site seeing then Vung Tau is somewhere you should visit if in Vietnam. They have a gigantic statue I dubbed “Touchdown Jesus” because we had a similar Jesus figure close to my hometown in Ohio nicknamed Touchdown Jesus before he was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Vung Tau Touchdown Jesus has a staircase that allows you to climb to the top, lookout over the city and ocean from Jesus’ shoulder. It’s probably a bad idea to make a joke about being inside of Jesus unless you’re with people who have a very open sense of humor. #nobrita
And then there is another huge statue of the Virgin Mary holding up a little baby Jesus to show the world. I know this is bad, especially coming from someone who attended 5.5 years of Catholic school, but I really wanted to dress the baby Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt and take a picture so I could caption it, “I wanna be formal but I’m here to party too!” At least I can blame that joke on the movie Talledega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Another great place to visit is the Ho May Culture and Ecotourism Park at the top of another mountain in Vung Tau. I visited with two guys from South Africa and we chose to ride our motorbikes up a very questionable dirt and rock road to get there. We paid less than $10 USD (200,000 Vietnamese Dong) per person for our entry fee. Your other option is to take the Gondola up from the bottom of town right by the ocean. That will cost less than $15 USD (300,000 Dong). Once inside the park you can go swimming at the water park, get a horse and buggy tour, see a “circus” (I put this in quotes because it was a dog and monkey trick show), go zip-lining, race go-karts, ride some crazy roller coaster meets self-brake car, visit a big golden Buddha, view the city from above, and more.
If you’re into food, Vung Tau has a couple of specialties. I would recommend stopping and getting the Banh Khot from any of the local restaurants advertising it. You will find one on almost every street and one serving will fill you up for 30,000 Dong or $1.30 USD. I ate it twice from a place called Bánh Khọt Bà Hai and it was delicious. My favorite dish in VT was a Stingray Hotpot from Vung Tau 7 Lượm. It was the first time I have ever had stingray and it was nothing less than extraordinary. The only warning I must give you is that you will leave smelling just like stingray hotpot. I know this because as soon as I returned to Gecko Hostel Judi could identify exactly what I had for dinner when I walked through the door!