Only about 100 kilometres to the South China Sea from bustling Ho Chi Minh City lies the beach town of Vung Tau. This is where locals escape the city fumes and where everything seems almost in slow motion comparing to the crazy hustle of Saigon.
Vung Tau can be reached via motorway by car or by bus or via Saigon river with a hydrofoil catamaran boat. We took the boat ride with Greelines (there are three companies) and in 90 minutes of a very smooth ride along the busy busy river we had arrived to the Front beach boat dock in Vung Tau. Catamaran ride oneway cost us total 625 000 VND so about 25€ for us three. Coming back to HCMC airport we took a private taxi which cost us about 1,8 million VND/ 70 €. Took us more than two hours by car. Taxi from airport to downtown HCMC was about 9€ and GrabCar (similar to Uber) from downtownhotel to the hydrofoil terminal was 30 000 VND (about 1,6€). Boatride was much much more pleasant than the drive in a car.
Time stops in a resort
There are plenty of hotels at all price levels to choose from in Vung Tau. We had a very clear desire to stay in a resort with big enough facilities and services so that we could just rest, sleep, enjoy sun and perhaps exercise in a gym. We had visited three major Asian cities in a row (Jakarta, Singapore and HCMC plus were heading to Hong Kong after Vung Tau), so we felt totally exhausted! We really needed a break to do nothing.
We stayed in a resort called Leman Cap, which turned out a very decent for our needs. We had booked it about two weeks before. It was not the cheapest one in Vietnam, but not the most expensive one either. Whereas we had paid only 38 € a night with breakfast included for three in Saigon city center, here we paid about 90€ per night with breakfast here. Views and room was amazing, infinity pool nice and meals great. Gym was very basic with no airconditioning – still we worked out every day!
We ended up staying in the resort area for many days without leaving it at all. For a couple of days we adults took turns in exploring the close by areas on foot – and getting a nice workout in the heat sweating like crazy. The main reason for us staying within the resort was our son’s ear infection that got quite bad after him being under water in the pool for hours. He’s crazy about diving! So we dined at the resort restaurant too. One night we even called in room service and dined in our room with a view! Our daily activities besides gym, pool, reading and eating was to watch the quite busy sea with all kinds of boats and ships passing by.
Front beach and Back beach
Vung Tau has two main beaches: Front beach and Back beach. Back beach is about 10 km long beach on the coast of South China Sea (though you would think this would be the front one!?). It has a long long boardwalk with nice rest areas too. This is a beach where we saw no other western tourists, only locals enjoying time with families and friends. It was even quite funny to see a big sign posted forbidding “harassment of tourists” (with about 120€ fine as punishment!). Which tourists? Where there any?! We felt a little akward, but then again, very nice strolling there since everyone stared at us for looking so different, however, greeted very nicely. We did not see any big waves on the beach here, even though on a very large coast line.
Front beach on the contrary, is a little bay area with very neat beach, parks and sort of a welcoming front side to the town. There are a few nice hotels here, lots of restaurants and even surprisingly clean and structured but yet laid-back park areas with kids’ playgrounds and art installations. This is where we saw the only about 6 other western tourists. Still, in cafes and restaurants it is very local.
Not just beaches, but activities too
Vung Tau offers activities too to those too restless only staying by the pool or one of the beaches. There are museums, historucical sites like the White Palace, parks, and national parks with cable car to reach it and for views for example in HoMay park. Or you can climb up to the statue of the Christ the Redeemer. There is a theme park on the long back beach as well as a golf course in case you are up for some very hot and humid hours on the greens. Vung Tau is a decent sized town too, so possibilities for some city life and shopping exist too.
Another way is to explore areas on foot like we did. And take a taxi back. Hotels provide daytrips to surrounding areas and the mountains to visit eg temples and pagodas. Some beautiful Chinese temples can be visited in Vung Tau too, as there are plenty! Or you can rent a motorbike for as little as 6-8 € per day and explore surrounding areas on your bike. Believe me, after Saigon, traffic here seems fairly non-existent and simple!
The best coffee in the world!
One thing we urge you to do is to try Vietnamese iced coffee. Coffee in general is excellent here, so smooth! However, we totally fell head over heels with iced coffee here! We even got a package of grounded coffee together with a simple presser and a guided showing of how to prepare it from a waitress in our resort ❤. Just love it!
Not the beach paradise, but local experience close by
As we took the catamaran boat on the very brown Saigon river, we saw how dirty the water was. And looking at the quite heavy boat traffic on the sea plus the two oil drilling platforms visible not too far from the shore, we knew how dirty the water must be. Although looking quite tempting at some spots, we did not want to swim in the sea. We rather dipped into our lovely resort pool. Lots of locals enjoyed it in the water though!
So, if you are looking for the perfect beach experience with clear and clean turquoise waters, this is not the place. But instead, if you just love to gaze at the sea, feel the breeze and enjoy friendly local cuisine and athmosphere with really no tourist rush, maybe at times take a dip in the sea too, we warmly recommend this as it is so close and easily accessed from HCMC!