Southeast Asian beaches bring to mind the salty breeze and crashing waves of Bali in Indonesia, pristine waters of Boracay in the Philippines and gorgeous sunsets and rowdy beach-side night markets of Phuket in Thailand. It is not often that anyone would recommend a beach getaway to Vung Tau, an hour and a half taxi ride from the raucous Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, but that’s what we did on our short weekend holiday to Ho Chi Minh City.
It was initially a toss-up between the swanky, five-star luxury beach resort life at Ho Tram Beach and the laid-back, up-and-coming Vung Tau. Both were popular with locals looking for an escape from Saigon, her crazy traffic and unrelenting crowds of both Saigonites and curious tourists. Vung Tau won out on account of its accessibility and the fact that we read of a brand new Pullman Hotel that had opened its doors there, so conveniently in the recent few months.
We carved out one night to be spent in the still developing city, blessed with a spectacular view of the ocean. What could we do there? We had no clue, but some research soon gave us an inkling that Vung Tau was less a city of things “to-do” and more a city to slowly savour and experience. Lengthy lists and itineraries were probably not required. We had about 36 hours and the three of us girls went in free-and-easy, without a care or plan. We agreed to play by ear. So here is my Vung Tau itinerary.
1. SPENT THE NIGHT AT PULLMAN VUNG TAU
The seaside destination’s hottest new hotel, Pullman Vung Tau is the first international brand name five-star hotel to open its doors in the former fishing village. Pullman Vung Tau caters to the youthful and success-driven individual who often balances work and play. With brilliant splashes of colour, thoughtful black-and-white photography lining the walls and astounding interior design, this hotel is beautiful and so generously spacious.
The rooms are not just clean, but also beautifully flooded with natural light. Staying here is a real indulgence at a relatively small price tag. Imagine sleeping on comfortable memory foam pillows, relaxing on plush beds, showering in spacious glass shower stalls with both rain shower and adjustable shower head or working at wide work desks!
All-day dining restaurant, Riviera
Comfortable bed and pillows in a spacious room
2. MUNCHED ON DELICIOUS LOCAL DELICACIES
When we first arrived, we were told to try Bahn Khot and skip the Vietnamese Spring Rolls in Vung Tau. “Save those for Ho Chi Minh City!” they all said, mainly because Bahn Khot was a specialty of this region. These are mini crisp pancakes topped with sweet and fresh prawns and a load of chives. While there’s plenty of Bahn Khot to be had everywhere in Vung Tau, we headed for the ones from Bahn Khot Co Ba Vung Tau which could be considered a “tourist attraction” because its highlighted on tourist maps. True enough, this was a trustworthy recommendation. I’ll never forget the Bahn Khot I had here. Wish we could get a bite of this, more readily, in Singapore!
I also mustered all the appetite I had to gobble down bowls of freshly prepped Bun Thit Nuoung as well during my trip! Clearly, I am a big fan of Vietnamese cuisine. The rice noodles is topped by thin slices of fatty and perfectly grilled beef and accompanied by a sweet sauce that’s drizzled over to your liking.
Vietnamese crispy pancakes, Bahn Khot
Enjoying a fragrant bowl of Bun Thit Nuoung
3. EXPLORED THE FRONT BEACH
Vung Tau is a quiet city. Everything feels slower here, traffic is sparse most of the time and there’s not as much “hustle” that I experienced in more developed cities or beaches like Bangkok, Phuket, Boracay or Ho Chi Minh City.
Honestly, the beaches aren’t magnificent or pristine, but it has great character and can be said to be serene. The sandy Front Beach (Bai Truoc) is teeming with little crabs scuttling back and forth and small fishing boats are found along the shoreline. Tanned fishermen covered by large fishing hats are seen working hard to bring in their catches while visitors admire the view and the occasional local runs into the sea for a cooling dip.
The winds are strong here and we took a leisurely stroll along the Front Beach. Vung Tau’s popular Front Beach is also next to a park which I have to admit is beautifully landscaped.
Small fishing boats lining the front beach
Taking a rest at the beautiful park next to the beach front
4. WATCHED THE SUNSET AT THE BACK BEACH
Vung Tau’s Back Beach (Bai Sau) is where the locals frolic on weekends. The 10km stretch sees many seafood restaurants, hotels and plenty of entertainment establishments.
After a day time stroll at Front Beach, we visited Back Beach to enjoy golden hour during sunset. We grabbed a map and took a walk from our accommodation to Back Beach with minimal difficulty. It’s not that difficult to get around Vung Tau and we advise against taking a taxi as fares can be expensive.
Watching the changing colours of the sky turn from varying shades of red to pink and purple, bathing everything in a beautiful glow right before dusk fell was something we were sure not to miss. Hopping into one of the many restaurants for a hearty dinner while looking out at the beach as the sun set was an option, but we had other plans.
High tide starts creeping in as night falls
Dusk falls at the Back Beach
5. HAVE A HEARTY SEAFOOD DINNER AT GANH HAO
The most amazing meal of my entire trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was at Ganh Hao, yet another highly recommended, must-visit tourist
trap spot. Our new-found trusted local “Trip Advisors” all unanimously shared that Ganh Hao was the best seafood restaurant in town because of its tasty and affordable seafood in a comfortable setting. The open-air restaurant also faces the ocean and if you’re lucky, you might just snag yourself a seat right next to the rocks overlooking the sea.
With half raised brows and disbelief, we quizzed them on whether they were seriously or this was just “another one of those places” to recommend and they all insisted that this was well worth the taxi ride. So that was where we had our first seafood dinner experience… and it was so good.
We had grilled crab which was sweet and juicy, stir-fried morning glory, grilled squid, butter chicken wings and steamed fish with ginger. What a feast! The food truly exceeded expectations.
An indulgent meal at the popular, Gahn Hao