INTRODUCTION TO VUNG TAU
130km (81 miles) SE of Ho Chi Minh City
Just a hop, skip, and a boat ride from Ho Chi Minh City, Vung Tau is a popular playground for Saigon's expatriate community. It is sort of a low-luxe version of the usual beach resort, popular mostly for its convenience to the city. You wouldn't fly around the world to get there, but if you have an extra day or so in Ho Chi Minh and want some beach time, Vung Tau is a good choice, short of going to the more picturesque Mui Ne Beaches (about 3 hr. by car) or on to Nha Trang.
Originally called Cape Saint Jacques by French colonists who once vacationed and sailed out of here, the small peninsula and town area today is just a port, but more and more vacation villas are popping up in the beachside hills in the surrounding area. The better hotels in Vung Tau City proper are geared to serving European and regional petrochemical workers -- offshore oil and gas deposits are mined, shipped to offshore refineries, and then reimported for domestic use. The town also has a thriving hostess-bar scene catering to the same set; in fact, the area is notorious for sex tourists. But there are a few fine beach developments just a short ride from the city, and you'll find good, fresh seafood here.
For some reason, the town has inspired builders of oversize sculpture. Look out for the giant statue of Jesus, a smaller version of the statue in Rio De Janeiro, and to the north of town, a grand Madonna and Child, plus a big Buddha on a lotus leaf. A sizable Christian population accounts for the Christian statuary, as well as the town's large central cathedral.