Vung Tau Travel Basics - From Ho Chi Minh City
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. The cost is about 200k VND or less and there are a few companies that leave from Bach Dang Station at the end of Nguyen Hue along the river on Ton Duc Thang Street / Ham Nghi Street. One such company is Greenlines. This is the best way to get to Vung Tau.
You can also take a bus for much cheaper. Busses to Vung Tau are plentiful and they depart from Saigon's Eastern Bus Station (Ben Xe Mien Dong) on Dinh Bo Linh Street, Binh Thanh District - Take note that it's a significantly far taxi ride from District 1. From there, the busses will head north out the city to Dong Nai province and then turn at the Vung Tau roundabout. You don't need to book a bus ticket ahead as there are plenty of busses leaving every hour. Some bus companies leave hourly while others leave more frequently. The price is about 90k VND and it should take 2.5 to 3 hours (depending on how many stops, including a meal break).
You can also take a motorbike. It will take longer than the bus although you can take a shortcut via the Cat Lai ferry in District 9 rather than going via Vung Tau Roundabout. Note that there are regular traffic patrols and if you get pulled over it will not be as easy to bribe your way out as in Ho Chi Minh City. The result is that they may impound your bike or take your license in which case you'll need to make a second trip back to Vung Tau sometime later.
Lastly, you can actually take a regular Saigon city taxi (like Mai Linh) straight to Vung Tau (this may only apply to taxi companies that also operate in Vung Tau). This way you can pile you and your friends into a 7-seater minivan taxi and get to Vung Tau in style for around 1 million VND with the meter running. You may be able to negotiate a better deal without the meter whereas some taxi companies, like Mai Linh, will only go by the meter.
Eating in Vung Tau
Vung Tau is a smaller city than Saigon so naturally it should be cheaper. But it's also a tourist destination which often means price gouging. Try to avoid the most blatant ripoffs and you can have a nice inexpensive time there.
You can eat cheap street food for as little or less than you'd pay in Saigon. So 16k VND for a plate of grilled pork and rice (com tam suon). Maybe a bit more for some banh khot, a sort of fried pancake speciality of the region (which you can taste at Co Ba Vung Tau restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City). The beaches are full of mobile food vendors at night.
If eating seafood at one of the many seafood restaurants all along the beach as well as within the city, make sure you know the prices, which you can find out by, for example, viewing the menu before ordering. If it's seafood sold by the kilo then make sure you ask how much it is per kilo (for example, 450k per kilo of crab would be a bit pricey) and have a look at the catch too. If they are out of common ingredients and want to substitute for more expensive ones take this as a bad sign and consider leaving. Seafood dishes are around 50-100k VND per plate at restaurants inside the city.
Tips: Don't go to restaurants along the beach (especially Thuy Van Street, Back Beach) where you see only tourists who have been bussed in or were advertised with flyers. It's easy to get scammed at these places. Instead head into the city and go where you see hundreds of locals eating, who arrived by motorbike, not bus.
Vung Tau Restaurant Recommendations
Hoa Sua Com Nieu - 569/19A Nguyen An Ninh - Vietnamese rice and other dishes
Banh Khot Goc/Cay Vu Sua - near 16 Nguyen Truong To - banh khot, fried cake delicassy of Vung Tau, wrapped in leaves and dipped in fish sauce
Nha Hang Ganh Hao - 3 Tran Phu - seafood restaurant
Mi Nghiep Ky - Ba Cu Street at Ba Trieu Street - Chinese ramen noodle stand
Cheap hotels in Vung Tau
As Vung Tau is a town that lives off tourism, there is no shortage of hotels there. Even in the peak season, you'll be able to find a room. Like I've said before, you don't need to book a hotel room before you arrive in most cities in Vietnam.
Bai Sau aka Back Beach
Thuy Van road which runs on the eastern seaside of the city and then up a steep incline has a number of large hotels in the $15-45 price range. These can provide ocean views. You can also find rooms in the off season for less, like 300,000 VND for a 3-bed room. They are close to the beach but this probably won't be a huge draw.
Phan Van Tri Street off of Thuy Van is a short street full of minihotels.
For cheaper rooms, go inland a bit. From Thuy Van, take the perpendicular road Le Hong Phong past a roundabout. There is an area on side streets on the left side of the road with minihotels with rooms in the 150-200k per night range with few services but with clean single bed rooms with A/C and wifi. This area is also near the Vung Tau Bus Station and where Phuong Trang busses will drop you off and pick you up.
Bai Truoc aka Front Beach
The lively part of town is at Front Beach, on the western side of the peninsula. The more town-ish part of town is here with more bars, restaurants, and people. But Vung Tau is such a small place that you don't need to stay there and can easily get there from other parts of town by bike or taxi in a few minutes.Read the rest of this article...