Vung Tau is the closest beach destination to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, easily accessible via a two-hour, air-conditioned bus ride – making it a perfect escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. Check out our top picks on how to best enjoy this southern coastal town. Beach time at Front Beach or Back Beach, kitesurfing, hiking and plates full of fresh seafood mean you can expect Vung Tau to check all the boxes for a wonderful getaway.
Vung Tau’s busiest beach is a three-kilometre-long crescent of golden sand with shallow water and gentle waves – safe even for toddlers. Small rocky islands dot the shoreline, while strings of stalls and shoreline restaurants sell seafood snacks and meals. The sand is sprinkled with deck chairs and parasols for rent. It gets so crowded at weekends that there’s barely space to sling a towel – but it’s an idyllic spot if you come midweek.
Vung Tau’s best restaurants with a view are on Front Beach, a stretch of sand perfectly positioned for the setting sun. Come for silhouetted fishing boats and rocky islands as dusk sends it dropping fiery red into the South China Sea. Ganh Hao is one of the most popular – for the views and the huge menu, featuring crabs and lobsters from the tank. It’s easy to get a table as the dining room is huge, but arrive an hour before sunset to be sure of getting one with a view.
The largest private arms museum in Vietnam was originally the personal collection of Robert Taylor, a British collector who lived in Vung Tau with his Vietnamese partner. The core collection comprises ancient pieces, including medieval European suits of armour as well as swords and guns – look for the rifle dating from 1694. There are pieces used by famous soldiers, including Napoleon, and a collection of striking 19th-century Mu’ong swords.
Vung Tau is celebrated for its seafood, thanks to dishes including lẩu cá duối (spicy stingray and octopus hotpot served with pickled bamboo, rice noodles and crackers) and Bánh khọt (prawn pancakes with chilli sauce and shredded green papaya). Chefs shop for the freshest fish at Tran Phu market next to Sao Mai fisherman’s village. It’s worth coming here to browse the exotic produce and to people-watch – especially early in the morning, when the fishermen bring in their catch.
Vung Tau has four main beaches – Front Beach, Back Beach, Pineapple Beach and Paradise Beach. The most popular is Front Beach (Bãi Trước), which for many is enough reason to stay away. In addition to the crowds, the water is rather polluted and doesn’t offer the best beach setup. However, you can still enjoy some fresh seafood at the many stalls and restaurants that have set up shop – they serve some of the most delicious seafood in the south of Vietnam.
For a better beach experience, head to any of the other three beaches. Back Beach (Bãi Sau) is much less dirty, and perfect for surfing. As the beach gets some wonderful wind swells, kitesurfing shops have appeared over the years, offering rentals and classes for all levels.
Pineapple Beach has calm waters and fantastic sunset views, while Paradise Beach belongs to a resort park – with a rather exclusive crowd. You’ll have to pay an entrance fee, which grants access to luxuries such as showers, and a fancy strip with high-end dining options.
Giving its best Rio de Janeiro impression, Vung Tau boasts a giant 105-foot-tall statue of Jesus Christ. Standing atop Núi Nhỏ mountain, this statue overlooks the city from a clear vantage point – it’s especially beautiful at sunrise. It’s not an easy hike to the top – there are exactly 847 steps to conquer – but in the end you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the coast. Head a little higher, inside the statue itself, and you can take a look at the city from behind Jesus Christ’s shoulder. However, to get inside you need to be dressed appropriately – so make sure to pack a wrap that you can tie around your waist to keep cool during the hike up.
On the other side of Núi Nhỏ mountain is Vung Tau’s lighthouse. Said to be the oldest lighthouse in Vietnam, it was built by the French in 1862 as a lookout point for incoming trade ships. To get there, hike up the opposite side of where you’d climb to the Jesus statue. Luckily, if you plan on visiting after the statue, you can descend and travel back up by car or motorbike if you’re not up for the walk again. The lighthouse is extremely photogenic and worth heading to for the perfect Instagram shot. It’s open 24/7 – making it excellent for a night adventure. On the slope near the lighthouse is a yoghurt spot called Cô Tiên. Make sure you grab a cup, it’s cheap and extremely refreshing.
Thanks to the influx of tourists to Vung Tau, an ecotourism park has sprung up in recent years. Hồ Mây Culture and Ecotourism Park is a great place for a day of fun. Perched atop a hill – a consistent theme in Vung Tau – you can reach this attraction by cable car, which is a real highlight. With bumper cars, rollercoasters, go-karts, water games and even paintball and archery, this is ideal for a group of friends looking to let their inner child out.
One of the biggest reasons people visit Vung Tau is to indulge in the town’s delicious seafood. Bánh khọt, a little round seafood pancake and one of Vung Tau’s specialities, is known to cause mass pilgrimages here from Ho Chi Minh City. It can be found in various markets throughout the city, but for those looking for a little more ambience head over to Bánh Khọt Gốc Vú Sữa, known to serve the best version of these little treats.
Vung Tau has many markets to explore, offering a wide range of local delicacies and handicrafts. Chợ Hải Sản is the biggest one, closest to the city centre. Here you can find endless varieties of seafood freshly caught that day and cooked up on the spot. Trần Phú fish market is a particularly fantastic experience – and a little out of the city, making it more local. The other option is Xóm Lưới market. If it’s hard for you to tolerate the overwhelming smell of seafood, it’s best to wear a mask as you wander through the maze of stalls.
Alex Robinson contributed additional reporting to this article.
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