Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Day 3 - Local beaches near HCMC and a giant Jesus (Vung Tau)

Took a 1.5 hour boat ride from HCMC to Vung Tau, which is a popular and close vacation spot for many of the locals in HCMC on the weekend. Once a pristine beach resort, now it is a popular, developed beach area for locals as well as home to an offshore oil industry. The beach area gets pretty crowded on the weekends when the locals arrive. Since we went on a Tuesday, it wasn't crowded in the least bit. The roads were a very stark contrast to the roads in HCMC. There was very little traffic, and it seemed like a fun idea to rent a moped or motorcycle, which I don't think I would do in HCMC. Walking across the street didn't feel like a danger to your safety and you could actually jay walk! There were also cows walking freely along the highways.

We went to one of the Buddhist temples there - Thich Ca Phat Dai. Lots of climbing up stairs to see various religious statues. The inhabitants there seemed very poor and it was sort of depressing to see it all. I wonder how the temple is maintained and where these people who sell things in the temple live?

Leaving the temple, we went to get some seafood at a local restaurant since it was a beach town. Along the way, I saw many developed, ritzy hotels that didn't seem lively at all. It reminded me of visiting Miami, where some parts of the city resembled a ghost town due to overdevelopment. I don't know if this would be considered the first time we were scammed while travelling, but the seafood was incredibly expensive! For a vegetable dish, 2 small crabs, 1 lobster, and some beers and rice, the total ended up being over 4 million dong, or a little over $200 USD! We don't even pay that much in the states...which makes me believe we got the "tourist" price for the food. A tip to avoid this? MAKE SURE TO ASK WHAT THE MARKET PRICE OF THE SEAFOOD IS FOR THE DAY! I guess we were so used to paying so little for everything in Vietnam, that we didn't bother asking...

The highlight of the visit to Vung Tau was visiting a giant statue of Jesus! I hope to visit the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio, Brazil sometime at the end of the year, so this hopefully is a preview. The statue is located high above the rest of the city, and it only took about 15 minutes to get to the top. Once you reach the statue, you can climb inside the statue through a narrow spiral staircase to the shoulders of Christ, where you get incredible views of the entire city. Of course with the humidity, it was quite a feat just getting up there. The walls inside the statue were wet with everyone's sweat.

Taking the boat back to HCMC, we went to one of the restaurants that was featured on Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations". It was the first bowl of Pho I ate. I ended up filling my belly with two of those babies because it was so good! The meat was soft and the rare beef was tenderized. The soup base was perfect - not too oily and without that "Pho" smell that stays with you when you eat at any other Pho restaurant in California. 5 bowls of Pho ended up costing 110,000 dong, or about $5.50, Probably the best meal of the trip ironically, but it definitely helps ease the dent in our wallets caused by that seafood meal we had for lunch.

On the way back, I noticed that there were many popular street stalls selling quail eggs and balut (a boiled, fertilized duck egg). Definitely my next meal tomorrow...

Our transportation for the day trip to Vung Tau
Thich Ca Phat Dai Temple - The main statue of Buddha
Thich Ca Phat Dai Temple
Beaches in Vung Tau

Chronological glimpse of my trek up to the top of the Jesus Christ statue and back down
 A portion of the $200 meal in Vung Tao
A portion of the $5.50 meal in District 1 in HCMC


  1. omg that pho looks amazing. :) 5 bowls for $5.50? amazing -- you can't even buy one bowl here!

    looks like so much fun! good luck with the humidity... :)

  2. Just got a bowl of pho for 25 cents the other day. I'm definitely going to miss the food when I leave Vietnam...