Places - October 19, 2018 | 06:37 am PT

Bewitched by the sun and sea in Vung Tau 

This charming place offers great seafood, beautiful beaches and a myriad of other attractions. 

If you have had enough of bustling Saigon, Vung Tau is for you. If you return to your stuffy apartment with a sudden longing for the sea, Vung Tau is for you.

If you have a few spare days, and just need a suburban trip to recharge your energy, leave for Vung Tau.

Photo by Shutterstock/Hang Dinh 

Just a three-hour drive from HCMC, Vung Tau in the southern province of Ba Ria – Vung Tau is one of the important port cities in Vietnam’s southeast.

The city is reachable even by motorbike taxi and people opting for a quick 12-hour break from their daily routine.  

At the crack of dawn: Xom Luoi fish market

Xom Luoi is a seafood market established by local fishermen in Vung Tau. It is located near Bai Truoc Park at the intersection of Phan Boi Chau and Nguyen Cong Tru streets.

Visit the market early in the morning to enjoy the best seafood of the day.

The seafood here is very fresh and reasonably priced. There is a wide range too: snail, shrimp, octopus, crab. During the vacation season, some stalls offer discounts for purchase of large quantities.

The market also has yummy souvenirs to take back home in the form of dried seafood and snacks. 

The best thing is you could buy fresh seafood and have it cooked on the spot. Cooking services are available in the market, with grilling, boiling and steaming being the most popular styles. The simple cooking methods also help the foods retain their flavors. It just takes a 10-15 minute wait to enjoy an appetizing dish, so seafood lovers should definitely not miss it.

7 a.m. Breakfast

For the next hour you could fill your stomach with the famous “tossed” noodle soup in Vung Tau. The noodle restaurant, situated on Ba Cu Street, has been receiving the thumbs-up from foodies for years now, with a recipe passed down through generations.

When you walk into the shop, you can witness the spectacle of noodles being deftly tossed up and down without falling out. The noodles are first placed in a net ladle to dip in boiling broth. After that the cook tosses the noodles up and down for them to dry before putting them in bowls to serve customers. 

A bowl of "tossing" noodle soup at a restaurant in Vung Tau. Photo by VnExpress/Vi Yen

While the sight of noodles being thrown dexterously is a unique one that thrills first-time visitors, the food itself is the reason for the place’s popularity. The broth is very nutritious since it is cooked from pork rib extract. The well-cooked ribs and beef meatballs add flavor to the dish. The wonton is also a must-try at this place.

8.30 a.m. Visiting ships and rigs

A tourism activity of recent origin in Vung Tau is taking a boat ride to visit ships and oil rigs.

From the colorful sail boats, you can see the importance of this port city as the hub of the country’s oil industry. The cost of an oil rig tour is VND120,000 ($5.13) per person.

Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi

 10 a.m. Visiting Villa Blanche, Lighthouse and statue of Christ

The White House (Villa Blanche) was built in 1898 by Paul Doumer, governor general of Indochina at the time. It is 19 meters high with its back leaning against Lon Mountain. The place, at 10 Tran Phu Street, still has 19 old cannons for exhibition. 

Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc 

The next destination is Vung Tau Lighthouse from where tourists can get a panoramic view of the city. To reach the top, you have to follow the tunnel to a two-story house, which used to be home of the lighthouse guard. The lighthouse sits atop Nho Mountain, so get a decent pair of shoes for the trek.

Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc

Also on top of Nho Mountain is the Statue of Christ, a religious icon you may not want to miss. The statue, installed in 1794, is 32 meters high, with two outstretched arms extending 18.3 meters. Visitors can climb up 133 steps inside the statue to the observation area in an arm to enjoy views of the sea from a height of 170 meters.

12 p.m. Lunch time!

Banh khot, Vietnam’s mini pancake, is one must-try delicacy in Vung Tau. You can enjoy the shrimp-filled cake in Goc Vu Sua restaurant on Nguyen Truong To Street, Ward 2. The eatery’s original flour-mixing recipe makes it popular with foodies. The batter is poured directly on a metal oven where the cake gradually forms. The dish is then delivered to customers while it is still hot and crunchy. 

Photo by VnExpress/Lieu Lam 

This dish is served with vegetables such as lettuce, perilla, pickled papaya and a cup of sweet and sour fish sauce. Ground chili is available for guests to tweak the taste of the sauce. A portion of banh khot costs VND45,000 ($1.9).

13.30 p.m. Sail a boat to the island

In the afternoon you can tour around Vung Tau on a rented boat and visit famous islands like Go Gang and Ngoc. The trip is appropriate for a group of 5-8 people. If you travel alone, you can ask other visitors to share a boat.

On Ngoc Island, you can enjoy a visit to a mangrove forest, which stretches over an area of 61 hectares. It is home to many rare bird species and marine creatures. The tour costs VND100,000 ($4.3) per person. On the island, you can also try kayaking and fishing or simply take photos and rest.

Resting cottages on Ngoc Island. Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi.

Go Gang is a pristine island off Vung Tau. Here, visitors can enjoy the fresh air from the sea and a variety of unique seafood. Grilled oyster is one of the best dishes here, and costs only VND65,000 ($2.8) for a kilogram. Other items are also available at reasonable prices, like calappa crab VND195,000 ($8.4), squid VND400,000 ($17.2) and fish VND120,000 ($5.2).

16.30 p.m. Swimming and sunset

In this coastal city, you cannot miss the fun by the sea. Truoc Beach (the front beach) and Sau Beach (the back beach) are the most popular places in the city to enjoy typical beach activities. But they can get overcrowded during holidays, so you should be careful with your personal belongings and avoid swimming too far into the sea. After having fun in the water, you can take time to enjoy the sunset and just relax.

18 p.m: Stingray fish hotpot – Vung Tau specialty

Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh

Warming your stomach with stingray fish hotpot before bidding farewell to Vung Tau is not a bad idea.

The stingray is a marine fish with soft, crispy cartilage. The fresh fish is filleted, marinated and cooked with salt, sugar, lemon grass, chili and other spices. The fish slices are then cooked in a pot. The hotpot broth is rich with its sweet, sour and spicy tastes. You can put greens into the boiling pot and enjoy a bowl of noodles with the broth.

There are many eateries serving this delicacy in Vung Tau, but the best place is situated on Truong Cong Dinh Street.

The sweet aroma of the sizzling pot, the soft texture of the fish, especially the crunchy, soft cartilage, will leave you with a memorable dining experience.

Transportation tips!

Photo by Phong Vinh

From HCMC, visitors can travel by motorbike, bus or train.

Driving: There are three routes. You can take Highways 1 and 51 to reach Vung Tau. The second option is to go through Cat Lai (District 2, HCMC), Nhon Trach (Dong Nai Province) and Highway 51 to Vung Tau. People driving down in cars can also take the Long Thanh – Dong Nai Highway.

Bus: You can board a bus to Vung Tau at Mien Dong station (Eastern station) in HCMC or book a ticket online in advance. A ticket costs VND80,000 – 160,000 ($3.4-6.9).

Express boat: The final option is the Pacific Express boat which takes one and a half hours. Tickets cost VND200,000 (8.5) for adults and VND100,000 ($4.3) for children.

Story by Phong Vinh, Bao Ngoc