Vũng Tàu - more than just a beach side city

June 19, 2024 - 10:17
As the ferry pulled into Vũng Tàu, the wharf was a welcome step after 15 kms of rocking and rolling across the bay. People held bags to their face and many conversations went silent as the boat left the sanctuary of the Sài Gòn River and took on the volatility of the open ocean. While the journey was short and in some people's opinion, quite calm, there was no other way to the beautiful Vũng Tàu peninsula.

Ray Riches *

As the ferry pulled into Vũng Tàu, the wharf was a welcome firm step after 15 kms of rocking and rolling across the bay. People held bags to their face and many conversations fell silent as the boat left the sanctuary of the Sài Gòn River and took on the volatility of the open ocean. While the journey was only short and in some travellers' minds, quite calm, it was a necessary experience in order to arrive at the beautiful Vũng Tàu peninsula.

It was mid afternoon and the sun was shining as bright as it could over the city. As I exited the boat, the coolness of the cabin was replaced with bombarding heat. People rushed to locate taxis and get themselves to family homes and hotels.

From inside the car I saw empty roads and the city seemed like a ghost town in the afternoon heat. I looked bewildered at the sight of streets and parks without anyone in them and wondered why a city with such impressive infrastructure could be so quiet in the daytime?

Tourists enjoy the view atop the Jesus Statue in Vũng Tàu. VNS Photos Ray Riches

One of the most attractive aspects of Vũng Tàu is the bar culture. Sitting in the corner of a quiet place later that afternoon, the air conditioning hummed as I looked out over the bay, for a moment life seemed to slow down as 'Hotel California' played softly in the background, my attention was held in that moment, while also bringing back memories of a past that took my thoughts of Việt Nam to a new place.

I recalled my younger years when my ideas about Việt Nam came by way of a TV news bulletin or words from my family back in my home country. Now I am looking at a new, modern and exciting Việt Nam and Vũng Tàu is the location that has become a magnet for locals and tourists alike.

But Vũng Tàu is so much more than a beach and a few bars. This place has something for everyone. For the solo traveller it has friendly smiles at every turn and the welcome nature of the bars in Vũng Tàu means there is always someone that will say hello and just be nice.

Looking down part of the 811 steps from the Jesus Statue to the road.

Go a few streets off the bay and you find yourself deep in the Vietnamese culture. Rarely ventured into by foreigners, the eastern areas of Vũng Tàu is a smorgasbord of cafes, food and local businesses that are an experience to behold. There are plentiful local markets all the way from the bay to the eastern border of the city. Spas, pool halls and an array of services are easily found as you venture east towards Bà Rịa. It seems there is an endless amount of adventure for anyone willing to take the time to explore.

The bigger tourist attractions are worth the effort, even if you have already been.

The most popular is the Jesus statue with some 811 steps to the top and then you get to climb up inside and walk out onto the arm to see a truly amazing view of the city and coastline.

Back Beach is also a popular attraction. The beach extends many kilometres and is always full of tourists from all over Vietnam who love visiting the coastal city. This beach doesn’t have waves and is a great experience for anyone, including children who want to experience ocean swimming and paddling in the sea.

Looking out the window at the traffic building as the sun set, I asked myself, who is this place is for? After some 30 visits to this coastal oasis, all that can be said is that Vũng Tàu is for everyone. From young to old and locals to tourists, Vũng Tàu offers something for everyone. As I sat quietly in the corner of the bar, I looked across at the Russian tourists paying pool, the old Australian man sitting at the bar and the young Vietnamese family enjoying western food and I realised that Vũng Tàu is a special place for everyone.

Sunset over the bay in Vũng Tàu.

As a child, I once dreamed of a place to call home. I dreamed of a place that I could look at and feel comfortable with every step I take in the streets and lanes. I dreamed that the people would accept me for who I am and could enjoy the moment, then when I found Vũng Tàu, my dream came true.

In 2012, I walked into a bar and as I sat down, a young lady said something so profound. She said: “Hello”. Her voice, her words and her friendliness was the start of my future where I found my peace. Sitting in the corner of a cool bar and just looking out the window and appreciating all that Vũng Tàu had to offer.

That is what Vũng Tàu is to me. A moment in time and a place I can feel at home. It is Bánh Khọt for breakfast or a burger for lunch, a quiet beer or a chat with a stranger and fresh seafood for dinner. But most of all, Vũng Tàu is about its people, always friendly and welcoming.

The night lights of Vũng Tàu along the shoreline of the bay.

I realise you can talk all day about the amazing beaches in Việt Nam or the majestic mountains and natural wonders. But sometimes, the very best that Việt Nam has to offer is not awe-inspiring or striking, but it is quiet word and a friendly chat while you notice all the small things that Vũng Tàu offers.

You must visit Vũng Tàu, as an expat or tourist, but rather than spending your days on social media, put your phone away and just enjoy the moment. Go to a bar, café or restaurant and just say hello to someone. Your response will ignite new experiences, friendships and a life long memory that will see you wanting to come back again and again. VNS

* Ray lives in HCMC and works as a teacher and freelancer. Apart from teaching he is a keen runner and bicycle adventure rider. He has visited many parts of the country by bicycle and loves the smaller parts of this beautiful country. After ten years in Việt Nam, Ray has a love and passion for the smaller things and enjoys sharing his experiences with people all over the world.