Vũng Tàu is Ho Chi Minh City’s nearest seaside mecca. Every week-end it is filled with thousands of holidaymakers fleeing to its long sandy beaches and breezy air from the big city.
It was equally very popular with the French colonialists who called it Cap Saint Jacques and built their villas there.
Vũng Tàu is also the centre of Vietnam’s off-shore petroleum industry which also explains the presence of a considerable community of Russians who work in it.
We had to take the bus to get there. I say “had to” because there is a rather more pleasant way of reaching Vũng Tàu and that is by hydrofoil. Unfortunately, due to an accident when a hydrofoil caught fire last February (no deaths luckily) the service has been temporarily withdrawn.
Some people say that because a new express-way has been opened this year, radically cutting travel time between HCMC and the seaside, the aging Ukrainian hydrofoils are no longer needed and, besides, cost twice as much as the buses. Be that as it may, it could have been fun to go down the Saigon River on one of them since there would have been chances to have insights into traditional river-side village life.
Regarding the expressway, it was amazingly gardened – the central reservation went on for many miles continuously with beautiful flowers and topiaries. I wonder how many people are employed to manicure it.
In Vũng Tàu we met up with an Italian friend who, married to a Vietnamese lady, and with two lively children, has lived here for many years. Originally a teacher in a technical college in Venice, he was attracted to this part of the world by the chance of participating in project involving blind children. C’s contribution was to start up Vietnam’s first computer course for the blind. These are some of the photos he took of his pupils some years ago:
And this is the website of the association:
We hired a motor scooter and, following C, we toured around Vũng Tàu. First we saw the front beach and rode up a peaceful hill where there is a lighthouse and a terrace with lovely views.
We continued up another hill overlooking the mouth of the Saigon River where there was a small Buddhist temple and various animals including pigs and monkeys. We stopped here to eat some delicious papaya.
Going to front bay we stopped at the very lively (and smelly) fish market which was a hive of activity as the latest catch was being unloaded, sorted and dispatched. I wish I could distinguish half of the species involved…
Incidentally, the town is also the centre for the production of the great Vietnamese fish-paste and many sheets of fish were being dried to produce this delicacy.
We stopped at C’s house in a delightful part of town for some refreshment:
Before returning with our bus in the evening we tried out a pizza at David on the seafront. I was wary about eating a Vietnamese pizza but I needn’t have worried. The owner and chef turned out to be from Florence (rione di San Lorenzo) who married a Vietnamese, and the pizza itself was superbly baked in a wood oven and tasted like the best ones I’ve tasted in Italy.
There could have been no more pleasant end to our stay at Vũng Tàu before boarding the bus than to savour that “David Special”, sip the cooled white wine and enjoy the quick tropical sunset over the bay.