Around Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi Tunnels - Tay Ninh - Nui Ba Den - One Pillar Pagoda - Can Gio - Buu Long Mountain -Tri An Falls - Vung Tau - Long Hai - Loc An Beach - Ho Tram Beach - Ho Coc Beach - Binh Chau Hot Springs - Cat Tien National Park - Con Dao Islands


IDD Code : (+84) 64
Vung Tau drones with bass-thumping action on the weekends as visitors from HCMC motor into town; weekdays, however, arc blissfully dead. Vung Tau’s beaches are easily reached from HCMC. making them a favourite of that city's residents since French colonists first began coming here around 1890, Known under the French as Cap St Jacques-so-named by Portuguese mariners in honour ot their patron saint - Vung Tau is a commercialised beach resort on a peninsula jutting into the South China Sea, about 128km southeast of HCMC (via Bien Hoa). The business of oil-drilling here means the azure horizon is marred by frequent oil tankers, and the population flecked with ;joy-seeking expats. The beaches here aren't Vietnam's best, nor is the water pristine due to pollution from oil drilling, hut Vung Tau is an easy, fast beach foray out of HCMC. Beachgoers looking for a tropical-holiday feel might do better making the three-hour trip to beautiful Mui Ne Beach.
Vung Tau's peninsula is punctuated by Small Mountain (Nui Nho) to the south and Big Mountain (Nui Lon) in the north. Back Beach (Bai Sau) stretches for kilometres, with a wide,sandy beach and a long strip of guesthouses and hotels. You'll find the downtown action at Front Beach (Bai Truoc), but no beach. If you're looking for a quiet, pebbly beach, head for tranquil Mulberry Beach (Bai Dau), up the northwest coast.
International SOS (Tell: 858 776; Đ Le Ngoc Han; consultations US$55-65; 24hr)
Internet Cafe (4A Đ Ba Cu; per hr 3000d) Fast connections. Le loi Hospital (Tell: 832 667; 22 Đ le loi) Main post office (8 Đ Hoang Dieu) Located at the ground level of the Petrovietnam Towers building. OSC Vietnam Travel Vung Tau's biggest travel agency sells a decent city map (20,000d} and offers a host of unique tours, including an old battlefield tour (US$49 per person). Vietcombank (Tell: 852 024; 27-29 Đ Tran Hung Dao) Exchanges cash, travellers cheques and gives credit card advances. You'll also find an ATM at the Rex Hotel at 10 Le Quy Don.
Sights & Activities
Atop Small Mountain, a giant Jesus (admission free, parking 2000d; 7.30-11.30am &1.30-5pm) waits with arms outstretched to embrace the South China Sea - showing off unsightly swallows' nests in His armpits. At His foot is a sad collection of monkeys and snakes in cramped cages. A kilometre or so northwest, the 1910 lighthouse (admission 2000d; 7am-5pm) boasts a spectacular 360-degree view sans imprisoned animals. From the ferry dock on Đ Ha Long, take a sharp right on the alley north of the Hai Au Hotel, then roll on up the hill. Pagodas dot the length of D Ha Long, but prim Hon Ba pagoda sits offshore on an islet - the place to be if low tide coincides with sunrise. Along Front Beach, heading towards Mulberry Beach, you'll find cafe-bars on the hillside facing the ocean. On weekends you stand the best chance of hearing local amateurs belting out the ballads du jour. backed by live bands. It's like karaoke, only...good. Oh, one more thing: where else in Vietnam do you think you'll see greyhound racing? Lam Son Stadium (Tell: 807 309; 15 D Le Loi; admission 20,000d; Tell: 7-10.30pm Sat) is the place.
During weekends and holidays, Vung Tau's hundred or so hotels can get heavily booked, but usually you can find a room.
Thien Nhien (Tell: 853 481; 145A Đ Thuy Van; d 100,000-200.000d; Along the main beach drag, this simple, airy guesthouse has tidy rooms, some with balconies, air-con and ocean views
Song Bien (Tell:523 311,131A Đ Thuy Van; d 120,000-150,000d; Chinese-style decor brightens this fairly comfortable place; although there ore no ocean views, there's a shared terrace on the top floor.
Sammy Hotel (157 ĐThuy Van; r from US$35; Easily the fanci¬est place this side of Small Mountain, Sammy has an in-house Chinese restaurant and comfortable rooms with all the trimmings. There's a pool at the oceanfront park across the street, None of the ocean-view rooms have balconies, oddly, though mountain-view rooms do.
FRONT BEACH Rex Hotel (1Đ LeQuy Don;s/d from USS28/35; The Rex has clean, spacious, carpeted rooms, friendly service and abundant amenities - all of which make it one of the best options in town.
Petro House Hotel (63 Đ Tran Hung Dao; s/d with breakfast from US$35/4S; One of Front Beach's more elegant options, the Petro House has an attractive lobby with a wide staircase leading up to its comfortable, carpeted rooms. The hotel has a business centre, a gym and a pool table in the bar. The in-house French restaurant Me Maison serves guests 24 hours a day, and non guests can use the pool for US$5. Palace Hotel (1 Đ Nguyen Trai; s/d from US$40/45; This centrally located place has a solid reputatior for its big. comfortable rooms. Perks include traditional folk-music performances, tennis courts and a pool. Rates include breakfast.

My Tho Guesthouse (Tell:551722; 45 Đ Tran Phu;r 120,000d) Among a handful of simple guesthouses OJ this stretch of road. My Tho has battered extremely basic rooms - but it's an OK dea if you can score an ocean-fronting room (drif off to sleep to the sound of crashing waves). BinhAnVillagei Tran Phu;r/ste US$175-290; Vung Tau's most lavish option, Binh An consists of nicely fit;nished rooms and five bungalows amid serene oceanfront scenery. Each bungalow is beaut! fully decorated with Asian antiques and grace with a terrace. There are two swimming pools one ocean-fed and one freshwater, both near the sea's edge. There's also a good open-air restaurant here (set meals US$15 to US$38), which is open for lunch and dinner, with live jazz most weekend nights and a la carte international and Vietnamese cuisine.
Eating & Drinking
The road along Back Beach, Đ Thuy Van, is crammed with com shops and seafood restaurants. Most of the nightlife in town is of the oilmen-and-prostitutes variety.
Melodies Bar/Whispers Restaurant (Tell:856028; 13-15 D NguyenTrai; 4pm-midnight) Local expats start their evenings at the downtown BB Bar/Whispers Restaurant with well-prepared Western food and pool tables in a noisy, lively setting.
Plein Sud (Tell: 511570; 152A Đ Ha Long; mains 35,000-150,000d; Feed your Mediterranean food cravings here. With home-smoked fish and meat, an authentic Italian wood-fired pizza oven and tapas, Plein Sud offers a fixed menu supplemented with rotating specials and freshly baked French bread. There's a lovely terrace lined with. banana trees, and a pool table and a bar.
Viet An (Tell: 853 735; 1 Đ Hoang Dieu; mains 60.000-90,000d) On a quiet street in town, Viet An has a small, greenery-surrounded patio and prepares nicely spiced halal Indian food.
Good Morning Vietnam (Tell: 856 959; 6 Đ Hoang Hoa Tham; pastas 60,000-90,000d; breakfast, lunch & dinner) One more outpost in the coastal chain, this pleasant eatery serves up reliably good Italian food. It's an expat favourite.
Essentials (Tell: 510 099; 6 Đ Le Quy Don; 7.30am-9pm) Imported picnic victuals are available at this tiny shop, from cereals to frozen veal; it also delivers.
Blue Note Cafe (Tell: 532 247; 6 Đ Tran Hung Dao; coffees 6000-8000d; breakfast, lunch & dinner) One of a handful of cafes scattered in this neighbourhood, the Blue Note's spacious tree-shaded terrace makes a pleasant stop for a coffee or a drink.
Mulberry Beach's main road has several good seafood places down on the water. Cay Bang (Tell:838 522; 69 D Tran Phu; mains 45,000(1;11am-10pm) This local favourite, serving fresh seafood, overlooks the water and is a festive place on weekends
Quan Tre Bamboo (Tell: 836 157; 7 Đ Tran Phu; mains 45,000-90,000d; lunch & dinner) Go to this place if you're hankering for lobster or a cocktail with a view of the giant Mary with Baby Jesus statue, best enjoyed from the upstairs terrace.
Ganh Hao (Tell: 550 909; 3 Đ Tran Phu; mains 50,000 80,000d) The seafood here is superb, and you can enjoy a wide variety of dishes (including a delicious seafood soup) on the terrace over looking the waves.
Getting There & Away
From Mien Dong bus station in HCMC, air-con minibuses (25,000d, two hours, 128km) leave for Vung Tau throughout the day until around 4.30pm. From Vung Tau's bus station (192A Đ Nam Ky Khoi Nghia) to Mulberry Beach or Back Beach, a xe om should cost around l0.000d. Should convenience outweigh cost, catch a Petro Express hydrofoil (Tell: HCMC 08-8210650, Vung Tau 816 308) to Vung Tau (120.000d, 90 minutes) at Bach Dang jetty in HCMC. Boats leave roughly two hours starting at 6.30am, but check in HCMC for the latest schedule. In Vung Tau the boat leaves from Cau Da pier, opposite the Hai Au Hotel.
Getting Around
Vung Tau is easily traversed on two wheels. Guesthouses can arrange bicycle hire (per day US$2); motorbikes cost US$5 to US$10 per day. Or just make eye contact with thai cyclo or xe om driver on the corner.