Just a short drive from Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau is a great place to escape the bustle of the big city for a while. Take the short trip to leave the noise and pollution of traffic behind and get ready to enjoy a few days of lazing around on soft sandy beaches, indulging in fresh local seafood and exploring the beautiful surroundings of this small coastal town. Quick to reach and easy to get around in, Vung Tau is a great destination for anyone wanting to enjoy a weekend by the sea without the hassle of having to book flights or lengthy ferry trips.
A Short History of Vung Tau
For the better part of 600 years, Vung Tau has been a known seaside destination. In the beginning, it was a local trading port where Vietnamese merchants met with their colleagues from around Asia, and later it became an important port of arrival for various European travelers. The city was also used to secure surrounding coastlines and had cannons installed on the hills to ward off invaders and attackers. A particularly persistent group of pirates once actually managed to briefly take over land close to the city. However, they were soon ousted by Vietnamese troops who were sent from nearby towns.
During the Vietnam War, Vung Tau was a popular Rest & Recreation point for Western troops. Its reputation for being a relaxing seaside retreat remains until today. With many initiatives to clean up beaches and make the town more attractive to visitors, Vung Tau has seen somewhat of a revival in recent years and continues to attract weekenders from Ho Chi Minh City as well as international travelers wanting to relax on the soft sandy beaches for a few days.
Best Time to Visit Vung Tau
Located right by the sea, Vung Tau has a fairly constant temperature the whole year round. If you want to avoid the hottest time, skip April, May and June though. During these three months, 35°C temperatures are quite common. From November to mid-February the climate is a bit more temperate, making it more suitable for some of the outdoor activities offered in the city. While there’s always a slight chance of rain, downpours are quite regular from June through October, so if you don’t want to get caught in a rainstorm while in Vung Tau, November to March is the best time to visit.
How to Get There
Getting to Vung Tau from Ho Chi Minh City is quite easy and there are several options to choose from. One of the cheapest ways is taking the bus. There are many operators offering multiple trips every day so whether you’re an early bird or a want to sleep in, there will be plenty of buses available. The journey costs around VND 90,000 and usually takes around 2-3 hours depending on the size of the bus and the traffic. Since Vung Tau is a popular weekend destination, there is more traffic on Fridays and Sundays, so the trip is likely to be a bit longer.
When booking a bus or minivan, go with a reputable national company. Then you can be sure that security standards are met and you get charged the correct price rather than being overcharged for being a tourist. Futa Bus and Kumho Sanco are two good providers to look into. They have routes to plenty of other cities as well, so if you’re planning on heading somewhere else after Vung Tau, check them out.
A faster way to get to Vung Tau is by Hydrofoil. These quick boats only take about 90 minutes to go from end to end. In Ho Chi Minh City, the pier is conveniently located at the dock next to the Ho Chi Minh Museum. There’s also a booth where you can buy your tickets. Since these boats are quite popular, it’s advisable to book your spot ahead of time, especially if you’re going on a weekend. Trips cost between VND 200,000 and 250,000 for adults for one way.
If you want to be flexible and don’t like being tied down by bus or boat schedules, you can also go with a private driver or on your own motorbike. There are plenty of places in Ho Chi Minh City where you can rent a bike for a weekend at a pretty reasonable price. The ride by bike will take around two hours and once you’re there you’ll have an easy time getting around. If you want to explore Vung Tau and its surroundings, that’s a clear advantage.
Where to Stay in Vung Tau
Like all cities in Vietnam, Vung Tau offers a wide range of accommodations for all types of travelers and every kind of budget. Do a bit of research ahead of time and you’ll be sure to find a place that suits you well. If you feel like splurging, try the Lan Rung Resort & Spa. It’s quite romantic, offers direct access to the beach and boasts one of the best seafood restaurants in town.
For a nice place to stay that won’t bust your budget, have a look at the Thuan Hoa Hotel. It’s close to the city center and the beach is only a short taxi ride away. The city also has a wealth of hostels so if all you’re looking for is a simple place to sleep, there’s a long list of great places to choose from.
What to See and Do in Vung Tau
Despite it being a small town, Vung Tau has many things to see and do. Here is a short outline of our top picks.
Explore the Beaches
The beach closest to the city is the Front Beach or Bai Truoc. It’s right between Nui Lon and Nui Nho mountain and its crescent shape lines the side of the town. Unfortunately, due to the fishing and oil industry here, the water is not very clean and doesn’t really inspire you to go for a swim. Nonetheless, the Front Beach is worth a visit as it offers a wide variety of restaurants, bars and street food stalls where you will be getting some of the freshest and most delicious seafood you’ve ever tasted.
While the name might suggest that it’s far away or not so popular among visitors, Back Beach or Bai Sau is actually the most visited beach in Vung Tau. It’s six miles long and quite wide, offering visitors plenty of space to spread out. Whether you want to build a beautiful sand castle, relax on the warm sand or enjoy a picnic with friends, you’re bound to find the ideal spot for that here.
There are also plenty of fun beach bars you can get a drink or freshly barbecued seafood at so no need to worry about bringing provisions. If you’re into surfing, Back Beach is great to stop by as during the rainy season you often get pretty good waves there. In case you didn’t bring your own board, there are a few shops where you can rent one or even get an instructor if you’ve never tried it before.
Located at the foot of Nho Mountain, Bai Dua or Pineapple beach is another favorite for guests to visit while in Vung Tau. The beach’s calm waters and great sunset views make it a popular spot to enjoy a relaxing day. While it’s the smallest of Vung Tau’s beaches, it is also the cleanest, so head over here if you want to enjoy pristine waters.
Being part of a resort park, you’re required to pay an entrance fee to access Paradise Beach, which is actually just an extension of the Back Beach. It’s a fun option if you prefer the feel of a beachside club. There are some amenities here that make paying the fee worthwhile, such as bathrooms and changing rooms. But the fact that food and drinks there are also considerably more expensive than at the other beaches is a bit of a turnoff.
Climb Nui Nho Mountain
Feel like you need to earn your chill-out time at the beach by doing some exercise first? Then get up early and head on up to Nui Nho Mountain. Since there’s not much shade, arriving before 10 AM is a good idea as otherwise, the ascent can feel pretty strenuous.
After a short taxi ride from the city to the base of the hill, climb the 847 steps to reach the top and enjoy the sweeping views of the city, its beaches and the ocean. What makes Nui Nho special though is not only the view and its countless fragrant plumeria trees but the 32-meter-high statue of Jesus Christ you’ll find overlooking the city.
If you’re dressed respectfully (e.g. long pants and covered shoulders) you are even allowed to enter the statue and take a few more stairs to the lookout point at the shoulder. When you step out onto the statue’s arms you’ll feel a wonderfully cool breeze and get an even better view. Be warned though: the inside of the statue is quite claustrophobic.
On the other side of Nui Nho Mountain, you will find Vung Tau’s lighthouse. It’s a cool sight to see as it’s said to be the oldest lighthouse in Vietnam, built by the French in 1862. Getting there is a bit tough though as you can’t easily reach it from the Christ statue, but have to go back down and then up from the other side. The walk is quite long, so we recommend going up by car or motorbike. If you’re an avid hiker though, go right ahead! There’s not much to do with the lighthouse other than taking pictures and enjoying the view. So, bring your camera, take a few shots and relax while you take in the sweeping vistas of Vung Tau city.
Visit Seafood Markets
If you love checking out markets and want to learn more about the countless varieties of fresh seafood available in Vung Tau, the local seafood markets should absolutely be on your to-do list. Since Vung Tau has such an abundance of seafood, you can find it everywhere in the city.
A popular one to go check out is Cho Hai San. It’s close to the city center, right behind the Imperial Hotel. Head over there and get ready to be amazed by the endless variety of fish, clams, snails, crabs, and prawns you will find there. Walk through the tightly packed aisles and start making mental notes of what you’ll want to try for lunch or dinner. Then, when you’re ready to eat, choose one of the many seafood restaurants at the market, pick the things you want to try from the many live tanks, agree on a price with the vendor (this is important!) and then sit back and enjoy!
If you want a place where slightly fewer tourists go, head out to Tran Phu fish market. Since it’s a little outside the city, it attracts fewer curious visitors and more locals who come for lunch or are buying seafood in bulk for their own restaurants. Other than that, Tran Phu is similar to Hai San in the sense that it offers a wonderland of choice to seafood lovers.
Have a Blast at Ho May Culture & Ecotourism Park
Depending on how much time you have in Vung Tau, you might want to consider going to Ho May Culture and Ecotourism Park for an afternoon. Perched on top of another hill, this amusement park is easily accessible via a cable car. The station is located right next to the port you arrive at if you take the Hydrofoil. The entrance fee of 400,000 VND includes the cable car and unlimited access to all rides in the park, and there are plenty!
Apart from roller coasters and bumper cars, you’ll also find a paintball area, an archery field and many other things to do. Go-karts or water games anyone? Come here with a group of friends and have a blast with activities you probably haven’t done for quite a while!
A note on Ho May Park: Reviews are 50/50 as some guests’ expectations were too high. While it offers some fun activities and rides, this place is no Six Flags. You can still have a great time here though, enjoy being active outdoors and give that inner child some playtime.
Enjoy Nightlife in Vung Tau
Admire the City from Above in a Lighthouse
Vung Tau Lighthouse, located on the top of Nui Nho mountain, is not only a great choice for observing the city during the day, but also a great destination for panoramic views of Vung Tau at night. The cool sea breeze has a knack at dispelling fatigue. From there, you can admire the whole outstanding city with bright lights under the dark sky. On the way to the lighthouse, you can drop by Son Dang coffee shop, which is located on the pass, to enjoy a soft drink or tea for the evening.
Go Camping on the Beach
This is an activity enjoyed by both young and old alike, you’ll even see families pitching their tents for a fun night on the sand. Prepare in advance the tent, BBQ tools and materials, firewood for the campfire, and other necessary equipment such as flashlights, lighters, long-sleeved clothes, and blankets to keep you warm. It will be a cozy and intimate night when you and your friends gather around the campfire, eat a romantic dinner close to the sea, and share your stories. You are free to go camping on the beach as long as you can make it safe and harmless to the environment.
Night Clubs in Vung Tau
At these bars, you can not only sip wine and beer, but also enjoy Vung Tau seafood dishes. At night Vung Tau has a distinct color, not too noisy like Saigon, not too calm like Hanoi, but a strange beauty of a coastal city which cannot be found elsewhere.
You should not ignore the night entertainment clubs in Vung Tau to soak up the lively atmosphere. Check out these options:
Looking for something cool to do this weekend? Then why not head to Vung Tau! Now that you know about all the cool things to see and do there and have an idea of where to eat, you have no excuse. Just think of all that delicious seafood and the endless sandy beaches that are waiting for you there!
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