Vung Tau is a picturesque seaside city in southern Vietnam and a perfect weekend getaway from the busy metropolis lifestyle in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Vung Tau is an affluent and prosperous coastal city with a busy port, a stunning natural landscape lush green hills (affectionately called mountains by locals) and beautiful sunsets. Although it’s almost close enough to Saigon to visit as a day trip, there are plenty of things to do in Vung Tau to make it worthwhile spending a few days.
Perched on a peninsula lined with beaches, Vung Tau is considered the go-to coastal destination for city dwellers in Saigon. With water on three sides of the city, wide boulevards and colonial architecture, it’s easy to see why Vung Tau is so appealling.
Elena Tchijov from Traveling Bytes spent two months living in Vung Tau and has written this mini-guide with everything you need to know, including its history, Vung Tau weather and when to visit, what to do, what to eat and the best restaurants in Vung Tau as well as which Vung Tau beaches to choose.
As Vung Tau has the closest beaches to Ho Chi Minh City, it’s a popular beach getaway for those who live in that city, however, when judged on beaches alone, Vung Tau may not be considered worthwhile to a foreign visitor.
Fortunately, this coastal city has plenty to offer beyond swimming and sunbathing as there are some interesting things to do in Vung Tau that makes it an enjoyable and fun destination in Vietnam to visit.
- Vung Tau Travel Guide
- A Brief History Of Vung Tau
- Vung Tau Weather
- Things to do in Vung Tau
- 1- Relax on the Vung Tau Promenade
- 2- Meditate at Niet Ban Tinh Xa (Temple of Nirvana)
- 3- Climb the Jesus Christ Statue
- 4- Visit the Vung Tau Lighthouse
- 5- Ride the Vung Tau Cable Car to Ho May Park
- 6- Discover Vung Tau Cannon Fort
- 7- Explore the White Palace
- 8- Visit the Robert Taylor Worldwide Arms Museum
- 9- Buy fresh fish at Chợ Xóm Lưới (Fish market)
- 10- Shop at Quán Cô Nhung Thái Bình (Night Market)
- 11- Wander around Book Street
- 12- Play golf
- Vung Tau Beaches
- What And Where To Eat in Vung Tau
- How to Get To Vung Tau
- Getting Around Vung Tau
- Vung Tau Tips
Vung Tau Travel Guide
A Brief History Of Vung Tau
Vung Tau was initially known as Tam Thang, or “three boats” after the first three villages in the area.
The current name, Vung Tau, means “ships bay” or “anchorage” due to its use as a European trading port during the 14th and 15th centuries.
It was also called Sant’lago by Portuguese navigators, and then Cap Saint Jacques by French in the mid 19th century.
Some scattered remnants of battlements and cannons serve as evidence of the Vietnamese resistance to French colonization.
Those canons were first fired at French battleships, way back in February 1859, and are an important landmark of Vietnamese resistance to the French but despite all efforts, Vung Tau was ultimately colonised.
For centuries, the fishing industry was the primary source of income for the local population.
Suddenly, in 1981, Vung Tau’s fortune changed, thanks to off-shore oil deposits discovered nearby.
Since then, Vung Tau’s economy has taken off, fuelled by a booming oil and gas exploration.
The city has developed along with the industry, which is a leading contributor to Vung Tau’s current affluence.
Nowadays, Baria-Vungtau province is the richest in the country but thankfully, the influence of oil and gas has not interfered with the relaxed coastal vibe of Vung Tau.
During the Vietnam War, the city was a popular resort spot for in-country R&R for U.S. troops.
Years later, Vung Tau became the tourist destination it is today and is now visited by more than 10 million local and foreign tourists every year.
Since 2013, tourism has contributed almost USD$150 million to Vung Tau’s economy.
Vung Tau Weather
Overall, Vung Tau has relatively cool weather year-round but “relatively” is the operative word here – remember you’re in Vietnam.
The average temperature varies very little in Vung Tau, with day-time temperatures in the high 20s to mid-30C.
Cloud cover and high humidity contribute to the balmy climate but, luckily, wind (from a light breeze to some pretty strong gusts) is ever-present in the city providing much-needed relief.
The hot and rainy season
The hottest and most humid months are April, May and June.
These are also the rainiest months, however, ‘rainy season’ in Southern Vietnam typically means a few afternoon showers.
The cooler months
The coldest and driest months are December through March, thus making this the “best time to visit” Vung Tau.
Best time for cheap accommodation
December is the low season for visitors and you may be able to find good deals when booking accommodation.
Best season for festivals
Like other popular destinations in Vietnam, Vung Tau is packed with tourists in February during the Tet Festival.
If you choose to visit Vung Tau during the busiest time, Tet Festival, you’ll be rewarded with the Bong Gon Flower Season when white flowers bloom in abundance everywhere.
They almost look like the Japanese cherry blossoms, which might make braving the crowds worth it.
Best days of the week to visit Vung Tau
It’s also good to remember that Vung Tau is a getaway from Ho Chi Minh City, so it’s a lot more crowded on the weekends and National holidays compared to weekdays.
If you have a flexible schedule, visit between Monday and Friday for an even more relaxed atmosphere.
Things to do in Vung Tau
As resort cities go, Vung Tau certainly offers more than just a beach experience.
The hilly landscape calls for hiking and there’s an adventure park at the top of the mountain will give you an adrenaline rush.
Legendary Vietnamese affordability makes golf lessons suitable for any budget.
For temple enthusiasts, Vung Tau is the place to go as in the hills above the city, there are at least half a dozen ornate and colourful temples and pagodas overlooking the sea.
Here are 12 things to do in Vung Tau to tick off your list.
1- Relax on the Vung Tau Promenade
Especially popular for sunset viewing, relaxing on the promenade is a favourite thing to do in Vung Tau for Vietnamese and visitors alike.
The Vung Tau Promenade connects Vung Tau’s Front Beach and Back Beach.
It is fair to say that the promenade is equally popular even after the sunset when the heat of the day goes down.
It is lined with street vendors serving fresh seafood and Vietnamese favourites, so sit and eat takeout or cross the street to have a meal in a restaurant or just grab a drink.
The promenade encapsulates the Vung Tau vibe and it’s nice to just sit on the parapet and take in the town.
2- Meditate at Niet Ban Tinh Xa (Temple of Nirvana)
Also known as Pagoda of the Reclining Buddha, this temple is a Vung Tau attraction about 3km from the city centre on a mountain and faces the ocean.
It’s a picture-perfect pagoda, with complicated granite and ceramic work and intricate architectural detail.
The temple is a bit off the beaten path and even local taxi drivers can get lost trying to find it, making it a quiet and secluded place for meditation.
3- Climb the Jesus Christ Statue
Rio, that you?
Smaller than its twin in Brazil, this Jesus statue on top of a mountain is the biggest in Asia but unlike the one in Rio de Janeiro, the Vung Tau statue has a 133-step staircase inside the figure that you can climb.
It’s a 1000-step walk from the base of the mountain right into Jesus’s arms and if you’re up for the trek, you’ll be rewarded with impressive views of the city.
Admission is free to this Vung Tau tourist spot and you don’t exactly need to dress in your Sunday best but do dress modestly.
You might be denied entry if you show up sleeveless or wearing shorts or skirts that are too short. Shoes, hats and bags are not allowed inside either.
Continuing with this theme, there is also a statue of Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus in a lovely park on a nearby hill.
4- Visit the Vung Tau Lighthouse
Built in 1862 by the French, this is the oldest of the 79 lighthouses in Vietnam.
With 360-degree views of the city, this is one of the most fabulous of Vung Tau’s many sunset viewing spots.
Come back there at night time to enjoy the lighted panorama of the city.
You can drive a motorbike or a car to the base of the lighthouse or opt for a more ambling path along the mountainside.
5- Ride the Vung Tau Cable Car to Ho May Park
The most relaxed way to take in views of the city and the coastline is by riding a cable car to Nui Lon’s peak the top of the hill.
The trip is relatively short but gives you enough time to enjoy the scenery and take pictures.
The cable car ride costs 300,000VND, which is a bit more than your typical Vietnamese attraction but the ticket includes amusement park access to Ho May Park.
You can get to Ho May Park by road but it makes more sense to take the cable car.
Ho May Park covers an expansive territory at the top of an impressive hill.
The amusement park has a few smaller rides, a zip line, games and a peculiar collection of exotic animals.
If you are not in the mood for any of these attractions, you can still enjoy a lovely stroll under the shade of blooming trees along a few charming ponds in an almost Japanese setting.
Pay respects to a giant Buddha and enjoy even more stunning views of Vung Tau.
6- Discover Vung Tau Cannon Fort
If you’re interested in seeing historical landmarks, visiting this fort is one of the things to in Vung Tau as Vung Tau Cannon Fort was part of Vietnam’s coastal defence system.
Currently, you can see several large cannons at the site that were installed by the French in 1892 to prevent approaches up the Saigon River.
The fort is another historic site with panoramic views of the city and the sea in Vung Tau.
Located in a clearing on top of a small mountain, the path to the fort is a bit steep, narrow and bumpy.
You’ll need to walk or ride a motorbike, if you’re game, to the entrance.
The best time to explore the fort is in the morning before the sun gets too hot.
7- Explore the White Palace
Also known as Villa Blanche or the White Villa, the palace was a summer house of a French governor, Paul Doumer who later became a French president.
Built in the romantic style of the 19th-century French architecture, the opulent mansion is decorated with the ancient Greek designs and portraits of Greek Gods and Goddesses.
The palace overlooks the bay with sweeping views of the coastline.
The White Palace is one of the best places to visit in Vung Tau if you want to know what life was like for the elite in Vietnam during the early 1900s.
The interior is surprisingly modern with oriental touches while the garden has an open-air dance floor and is filled with frangipani.
8- Visit the Robert Taylor Worldwide Arms Museum
English engineer Robert Taylor spent over 50 years acquiring an enormous collection of 2,500 military artefacts from different countries.
One of the unique places to visit in Vung Tau is the Robert Taylor Worldwide Arms Museum, which is the largest private arms museum in Vietnam.
The museum has impressive displays of uniforms, weapons and guns from all over the world.
Unique artefacts include a rifle used in the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, 15th-century armour and Vietnamese swords.
Robert Taylor Worldwide Arms Museum is at 98 Tran Hung Dao Street, Ward 1, Vung Tau City.
9- Buy fresh fish at Chợ Xóm Lưới (Fish market)
Chợ Xóm Lưới is the biggest seafood market in Vung Tau and my personal favourite.
There are a few fish markets in Vung Tau but this one without doubts is the most colourful.
Fishermen bring the catch of the day around 4 pm in the afternoon, so that’s the time you want to be there for the freshest selection of seafood.
The prices are excellent and if you can bargain, expect to save about 10 to 15% of the asking price.
The unique, and obviously the best thing about this fish market, is that you can have everything prepared to order.
Visiting the fish market is one of the best things to do in Vung Tau is you’re a seafood lover.
10- Shop at Quán Cô Nhung Thái Bình (Night Market)
If your cravings weren’t satisfied by the fish market, head over to the night market for even more fresh seafood, prepared according to the menu on location.
This market is more visited by tourists, so expect the prices to be slightly higher than the fish market.
11- Wander around Book Street
Inspired by Saigon, Vung Tau opened its own Book Street in 2018.
Going beyond books, you can find lots of cute souvenirs and lovely coffee shops there.
The shopping street saw over 10,000 visitors over its first Tet Holiday.
12- Play golf
The Bluffs Ho Tram Strip Golf Course was designed by Greg Norman, a true legend of the game.
Set on the coastline, The Bluffs provides the experience of playing golf among the dunes of southern Vietnam surrounded by dramatic ocean views throughout your round.
What could be better for a true golf enthusiast than spending a morning or an afternoon playing the 35th-ranked course in the world outside the U.S.?
Vung Tau Beaches
Compared to the many wonderful beaches in Vietnam, to a spoiled beachgoer, Vung Tau might not look like a prime destination.
Nevertheless, as they are the closest to Saigon, the beaches are of course still one of Vung Tau’s biggest draws, and worth mentioning.
In fact, the beaches here have improved a lot in recent years.
In 2016, the People Committee of Vung Tau passed a law that banned beach barbecues.
They also opened a training course for over 100 beach vendors with goals of enhancing tourism.
This has made a visible difference in pollution and the beach ambience now a lot more desirable.
There are four main beaches in Vung Tau.
Front Beach (Bãi Trước)
Think city beach – Front Beach lies below the promenade with motorbikes cruising up and down.
The sand is dotted with large clusters of umbrellas with families underneath them.
Front Beach has the most food stalls, restaurants and bars and with that, the most visitors and pollution.
This is the beach with the most visible improvements after the beach barbecue ban, where visitors were no longer allowed to bring uncooked food and alcohol onto the beaches in Vung Tau.
Back Beach(Bãi Sau)
For a typical beach day in Vung Tau, most people head to Back Beach.
It’s the biggest, stretching 3km, and the most popular.
Umbrellas, kite surfing, surfing, paddleboards and various water sports available here.
Pineapple Beach (Bãi Dứa)
Named after the wild pineapple trees that sprout along the shore, Vung Tau’s smallest beach is nestled at the foot of Nho Mountain.
It’s more of a rocky little cove than a beach, without umbrellas or any other beach frills, however the water’s calmer and cleaner than other beaches.
Pineapple Beach is a great spot to watch the sunset.
Paradise Beach (Bãi Dâu)
This beach is part of a resort park and there’s an entrance fee to Paradise Beach.
It’s actually just a paid section of Back Beach and has more of a beachside club feeling.
If you’re feeling fancy, you can pay the entrance fee for changing rooms and bathrooms.
There are refreshments for sale here that are also up charged.
What And Where To Eat in Vung Tau
It goes without saying, if you come to a coastal city, fresh seafood should be at the top of your mind.
Indeed, it is Vung Tau’s specialty, and the most popular way to enjoy it is a regional version of hotpot called lau.
Walking around Vung Tau, you will see the endless stream of eateries serving lau.
Every place has its version and all of them are delicious.
If there were an award for a foodie-friendly city, Vung Tau would be a worthy contender for the top prize.
From street food to cafes to restaurants, local chefs of all calibre are impressively skilled and treat you with scrumptious meals.
Yet, I want to share places that I frequented most since every one of them had that special something that drew me back over and over again.
David Pizzeria is an Italian restaurant with a sea view but don’t go there if you’re in a rush as the waiters have a laid back attitude.
David Pizzeria is a Vung Tau’s favourite, especially among expats and as you get to meet more people in Vung Tau, you’ll find that most locals will mention this restaurant sooner or later.
Its reputation is well deserved as the food is delicious and the selection of wine is fantastic.
Sitting at the table overlooking the seashore, it felt like I was back in Sicily.
David Pizzeria is at 92 Hạ Long, Phường 2, Vietnam, Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu, Vietnam Phone: +84 254 3521 012
Bistro Nine Bakery Cafe
Owned by a world-class French chef with a distinguished career, this restaurant specialises in a modern take on French cuisine enhanced by Vietnamese influences.
The wine cellar is exquisite.
The bread is baked daily in-house and the home-made chocolate is to die for.
Bistro Nine Bakery Cafe is at 9 Trương Vĩnh Ký, Phường 1, Thành phố Vũng Tầu, Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu, Vietnam Phone: +84 254 3511 571
Maybe because of the name or, perhaps, due to some dishes I ate there first, I always perceived Don Quijote as a Spanish restaurant.
However, they identify themselves as the French one.
In hindsight, I shall say they incorporate ingredients and ideas from both countries.
The chef takes local ingredients and transforms them into French-Spanish-inspired meals.
Their vegetable terrine is a stroke of genius.
Don Quijote is at 98 Đường Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh, Phường Thắng Tam, Thành phố Vũng Tầu, Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu 79000, Vietnam Phone: +84 254 6508 033
Sushi Tokyo Restaurant
At Vung Tau’s Sushi Tokyo Restaurant, I had the best sashimi outside of Japan.
If you want seafood served in a sophisticated way, this is the place.
Sushi Tokyo Restuarant is at 201 Thống Nhất, Phường 8, Thành phố Vũng Tầu, Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu, Vietnam Phone: +84 254 3807 066
Kozak Restaurant and Bar
Hearty home-cooked meals are the core of the menu at Kozak Restaurant and Bar.
Perhaps, not the most refined or sophisticated cuisine, but you never leave this place hungry.
They serve a mix of Ukranian, Russian, and Vietnamese dishes.
Kozak Restaurant and Bar is at 7 Nguyễn Tri Phương, P. 7, TP. Vũng Tàu, Vietnam Phone: +84 254 3563 776
Quán La Cà
Quán La Cà is a Vietnamese barbecue spot popular with patrons watching sports games while drinking beer.
This place has terrific grilled oysters at a low price. Coming there on weekends or during football game days is a fun way to experience local party culture.
You will need a ride to get there.
Quán La Càis at 600 Bình Giã, Nguyễn An Ninh, Thành phố Vũng Tầu, Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu, Vietnam Phone: +84 90 627 29 04
How to Get To Vung Tau
There are two major ways to get from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau: by land or by water.
Travelling from downtown Saigon to Vung by high-speed ferry is an experience in itself.
The Saigon to Vung Tau ferry goes down the river, past the Mekong Delta and out towards the South China Sea.
Ferry boats depart from Bach Dang Speed Ferry Terminal and the travel time is around 90 minutes but if you’re travelling on weekends and holidays, book in advance online.
Alternatively, take a bus, taxi, private car or motorbike. Some buses are slightly cheaper than the high-speed ferry and take about three hours.
If you’re travelling by taxi, car or bike, your travel time is about two hours.
A Vietnam river cruise is a relaxing way to explore the Vietnamese countryside.
Getting Around Vung Tau
Unless you’ve brought your own transportation or want to enjoy the nightlife, using Grab is the best way to get around as there’s no Uber in Vietnam.
Grab offers car and motorbike rides and works the same way as Uber does through an app, which you install on your smartphone.
The advantage of using Grab instead of a taxi is that you will not need to explain to your driver where to go (the language barrier can be challenging!).
Restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels will call a taxi for you but make sure you carry cash to pay for your taxi ride.
Renting a motorbike is not necessary and not really the most convenient form of transport as finding a parking spot in the middle of the city can be difficult.
Read this post to find out what it’s like to experience a motorbike tour in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vung Tau Tips
Cash is king in Vietnam, however, supermarkets and larger restaurants will accept credit cards.
Have cash for traditional taxi rides.
With Grab, you can either pay by card or cash, although add your card information into the app before booking a ride.
There are plenty of ATMs around but like most places in Vietnam, not all ATMs accept foreign cards.
Vietnamese ATMs are also likely to run out of money on the weekend or even late into the day.
To increase your chances of obtaining cash, hit the ATMs in the mornings.
Sometimes using ATMs in Vietnam are a trial and error process and you might need to try a few before you are successful at getting cash out.
Elena Tchijov is a full-time long-term traveller who has been combining a location independent lifestyle with circling the world since 2013. She spent two months living in Vung Tau and is not counting the number of countries visited but rather living through experiences taking photos along the way. She writes about alternative ways of exploring new destinations and is passionate about resolving issues related to over-tourism. You can read her stories at Traveling Bytes.