Vung Tau Travel Basics - From Ho Chi Minh City

Submitted by tomo on January 30, 2013 - 12:55am

Any important city on the planet exists either because it was a port on the sea or was at a strategic point on a river. Few historic cities exist in the middle of deserts or forests not near any major water sources. Saigon is a river town not a seaside town. It lies near the mouth of the mighty Mekong River, but still some distance from the ocean. But for most of history, being on a strategic trade route was more important to a city's growth than being by a nice beach. Most cities worldwide therefore aren't built around beach resorts nor was being a scenic beach a big economic draw until recent decades.

And so, from time to time, when the residents of Ho Chi Minh City want to get away to the beach the closest option for them would be Vung Tau, a small seaside town that was also a popular R&R destination for American troops stationed in Saigon during the Vietnam War. It has changed a lot since then.

Getting from Saigon to Vung Tau

From downtown Saigon, one can take a water taxi/hydrofoil to central Vung Tau City in just 90 minutes or less.

Read the rest of this article...

Vietnamese people love gambling. If there's anything Vietnamese people are famous for it's (in order):

1. Nail salons
2. Pho
3. Gambling
4. Maybe a long off 4th would be: Billiards

The surprising thing is that there aren't really that many nail salons in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese government, probably rightfully so, have decided that Vietnamese people should not be allowed to gamble. But unlike America, where casinos are banned from existing in most cities and states (which is why Las Vegas, a place in the middle of the desert, initially attracts people from across the country), there are actually a lot of casinos legally operating in Ho Chi Minh City - in all, 43 gambling establishments concentrated in Hanoi and Saigon. But local Vietnamese are not allowed to step foot in them except to work inside them. Viet Kieu who have foreign passports can come though. Casinos are inside many of the big 5-star (down to 3-star) hotels like Caravelle, Majestic, New World Hotel, Equatorial Hotel in District 5, Movenpick Hotel in Phu Nhuan, etc. Saigon's casinos are all fairly small and nothing like Vegas (or even Macau). They are usually empty when I randomly check them out - purely for research purposes. They may be completely electronic, including all card games.

As I was saying, Vietnamese people love to gamble. Poor people don't need to beg for money in Vietnam because they can instead sell lottery tickets which everyone buys. Vietnamese people don't consider buying lottery tickets gambling. You can see card games, what they do consider gambling, in action at Tet. For the few days of Tet, every house in Vietnam turns into a casino. Kids are taught how to gamble (but not necessarily how to gamble well) and they gamble away the "lucky money" they receive from parents and other elders. For those few days, people are allowed to concentrate in small alleys and play card games for money and the police don't care.

The rest of the year, Vietnamese who want to bet on cards have another choice: make a run for the border town of Bavet (remember to enable 3G on your Cambodian MetFone account) in Cambodia's Svay Rieng province, just across from Moc Bai, which itself is just outside of Ho Chi Minh City. You can take a Saigon city bus from downtown Ben Thanh Market to Moc Bai and then walk across the border. What you'll be greeted with is a single drag with almost nothing but shabby casino buildings with names like Le Macau. In this area, your phone's Vietnamese sim card will probably still work, people will be fluent in both Khmer and Vietnamese, and stores will accept Vietnamese dong as well as riel or dollars.

Inside a Bavet casino you'll find the standard casino card games like blackjack (or Vietnamese "xi dach" / "xi lac"), poker, baccarat, and slot machines. At the casinos for rich gamblers the food and drinks will be free. You'll also find cock fighting (da ga) inside the casinos! Vietnamese people also love betting on sports and there are also a number of online Vietnamese sites where they can transfer money and bet on football matches. Strangely, these websites are very popular yet aren't blocked by the ISPs...

The downside to having a mini-Vegas right across the border of the country's largest and richest city:

Many Vietnamese gamblers are not very successful at it. They borrow money to go to casinos in Cambodia and then lose. When they lose, they either try to borrow more money (loan sharks right there in Bavet are willing to lend losers money) or they find some other way to access money. When they lose all that money then they have to deal with the mafia elements common to any numbers racket. They will be held for ransom. If they have daughters, people will be sent into Vietnam to kidnap the bettor's daughter who will then be sold into prostitution to pay off her father's debt. If they win, they can use their winnings to pay for the favors of the daughter of another past gambler. You can also buy drugs (mostly ecstacy) to ply your short-time lover with.

I guess this is what Hanoi's morality police want to discourage by banning casinos from serving Vietnamese people.

Booking a hotel in Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia is a lot different from back in the States. In the US, online hotel booking is quite competitive and hotel inventory in any city is high. You can find some great deals by searching and booking hotels online. In developing countries like Vietnam it's quite different. Most hotels aren't online and can't be booked online. The ones that are online charge higher rates if booked online than if booked in person! That never happens in the US. On my first trip to Southeast Asia, I made the mistake of booking hotels online for the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. and either then or now I found out that I paid way too much for my rooms. I booked online because I didn't think I could just arrive in a foreign country and easily find a hotel. In the US, if I flew to another city and didn't book a hotel first, I would have a hard time finding a reasonable hotel (first I would have to rent a car) and I would surely pay more than what I would pay if booking online. Now I've traveled all over Vietnam and stayed in dozens of different hotels without reserving rooms in them first.

Finding a hotel in Vietnamese cities

Tourism is a large and important industry in Vietnam. This includes domestic tourism. This means that there are hotels everywhere, ranging from run down no-star "motels" to backpacker-friendly guesthouses to medium-sized 2 or 3 star business hotels on up to the large, branded 5-star hotels. When you arrive in a Vietnamese city, head to the center of town and you should find an area with a high concentration of hotels. For example, in Hanoi you might head to the Ho Hoan Kiem (Hoan Kiem Lake) area. In Ho Chi Minh City, you would head to the Pham Ngu Lao backpacker district, or Bui Thi Xuan Street, or the area around Ben Thanh Market. In Dalat, you would also head to the lake and main market area, or Bui Thi Xuan Street. Without knowing the names of any hotels (and not letting any touts take you to their hotels) you can quickly look at several hotels and make a choice.

I've since traveled by bus, plane, train, bicycle, and motorbike to cities from Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Quy Nhon, Nha Trang, Phan Thiet, Da Lat, Vung Tau, and many others and found cheap hotels using this "method". Just go to the center of town where there's a concentration of hotels competing with each other, investigate a few, negotiate the price (90k VND and up for a "nha nghi" guesthouse, 200-300k VND and up for a large room with a big bed or two and bathtub), and leave your passport with them - this is Vietnam.

When investigating rooms, here is a short checklist of things to look for:

1. Turn on the A/C. Is it blowing out cold air or is it just a fan?
2. Run the hot water. There will probably be a water heater attached, if not make sure hot water comes out. Is there a hot water tank? It may need to be turned on for awhile before there's hot water - good luck.
3. Do you smoke? Are you bothered by stale smoke?
4. Is the fridge unplugged? Is there melted ice?
5. Do you want a mosquito net?
6. WIFI - Most important. Check that it works and the signal is strong enough. This is why you should have a smartphone in order to quickly check the wifi connection in a room. Except for expensive hotels, ironically, most hotels have free wifi. Some hotels don't have any wifi, but it's rare for hotels except the luxury hotels to charge for wifi.

Syndicate content
© 2010-2014 Saigonist.