Wanna get out of Vung Tau? Up on Big mountain (Nui Lon) is a French-built fort overlooking the sea. Photo by Nick Ross 

I find there’s plenty to keep a person occupied in Vung Tau, but then not every expat would agree with me. I mean it’s all subjective, innit? One man’s Shangri-La is another man’s Dullsville. Here’s a little parable that illustrates this point.

 

Now, every parable has its obligatory wise old man hanging around the edge of town, waiting to dispense sage advice to passers-by, so when a traveller approaches Vung Tau on foot, he spies the old man.

 

“Say, Wise Old Man, how is this town I’m about to enter?”

 

“Well,” says the WOM, rather pleased he’s been asked for his sage advice on what has hitherto been a quiet day. “How did you find the last town you passed through?”

 

“Oh, just great! Nice town, friendly people!”

 

“Well, I think you’ll find this town exactly the same.”

 

The WOM then sits back on his heels to await the next inevitable traveller. Sure enough, another guy turns up 10 minutes later.

 

“Say, Wise Old Man, how is this town I’m about to enter?”

 

“How did you find the last town you passed through?”

 

“Oh, absolutely awful. The armpit of the world. Boring people.”

 

“I think you’ll find this town exactly the same.”

Seafood comes in all forms in the area around Vung Tau. Some of it is fresh, and some of it is well, erm, fermented. Photo by Nick Ross 

Attitude Adjustment

 

And that, Dear Reader, teaches us one thing. Which is… um… I don’t know really. An attitude to travel? Or perhaps it teaches us that wherever you go, there you are.

 

And so back to Vung Tau’s attractions, or the lack of them, depending on your point of view.

 

Like I say, this city has plenty to hold my interest most weeks of the year, but what of the other weeks when I feel the need to get out of town for a change of scenery? There are a number of places I’ve found to escape to that aren’t all that far from here.

 

Take Long Hai, for example. Half an hour away from Vung Tau by motorbike, Long Hai is an idyllic, sleepy beach resort. The broad sweep of its bay is mostly devoid of life except for a few fishermen fiddling around with their nets, and a slow-moving beachcomber or two.

 

The seafood cafes lining the beachfront are mostly without customers, the roads without traffic. A pleasant torpor envelops the township. Once you’ve visited the quaint pagoda nearby, there’s not much else to do, apart from sit yourself down at a café by the beach, listen to the lap of the wavelets, and gaze out at the endless horizon.

 

Oh, and gorge yourself on delectable seafood, of course. In Long Hai they do a scrumptious dish of small fried squid stuffed with chopped veggies that I’ve not come across elsewhere, and their prawns are whoppers.

 

A little further up the coast from Long Hai before you get to Loc An, there’s a long, pristine stretch of beach that’s even more deserted. There are no fishermen, no swimmers, no beachcombers, no sand to speak of; nothing but half a mile of small, crunchy seashells underfoot, and a thousand miles of sky overhead. For someone determined to get away from it all, this is the place to be. Cross your fingers that the developers don’t get their hands on it.

Nha Lon on Long Son Island is the home of a religious sect founded by the mystical Ong Tran. Photo by Nick Ross 

Spring Into Action

 

Here’s another getaway within easy reach of Vung Tau; Binh Chau Hot Springs. While the springs are never going to attract hordes of visitors, they are a pleasant enough place to devote an hour or so to, especially if you like to wallow in a mud bath. It’s also an ideal spot for a picnic.

 

And another place of interest just 30 minutes from Vung Tau is Long Son Island. Don’t be misled by the word ‘island’; it’s accessible by road. It boasts an ancient wooden temple — Nha Lon Long Son — a couple of floating villages, and four floating restaurants. However, the main attraction is oysters — oysters the size of saucers, oysters that literally melt in the mouth, oysters to die for. This is oyster-breeding country. A continuous line of trucks await to haul the mouth-watering molluscs away to Ho Chi Minh City, but there are enough of them left behind to stuff yourself to your heart’s content, and take a bagful home with you.

 

Now all of the places I’ve mentioned have one thing in common. Peace and serenity. For me that’s a definite plus, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If it’s fun and excitement you crave, go to Ho Chi Minh City.

 

Born in New Zealand, Don Wills lives in Vung Tau. He’s been writing his way round the region for decades

The area to the north and west of Vung Tau is a mixture of mangrove, beach, desert and mountain. Photo by Nick Ross

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