Getting to the Vung Tau Jesus statue proved difficult. We ended up in Vung Tau due to the unfortunate timing, for us, of Reunification Day in Vietnam. We had intended on going straight to Mui Ne, but with the prospect of accommodation being sleeping under a swampy tree we opted to instead head to Vung Tau and wait out the weekend. In my experience these unexpected trip changes lead to the best experiences. Unfortunately, Vung Tau didn’t really deliver.
We arrived in the seaside town to have our hopes of glorious beaches dashed. Instead of golden sand, there was a lovely seaside path that followed the water’s edge. However, in 38 degree Celsius weather we had little demand for an outdoor stroll. Our taxi took us to our hotel, albeit using the longest path possible. The taxis in Vietnam generally charge by the kilometre with no time charge, so the further they drive the higher the fare. Despite my attempt at pointing at Google Maps with the more direct route he used his lack of English to feign innocence. At twice the fare, we parted with the money (I guess at the end of the day it was only $5), but we began our Vung Tau experience with a bitter taste.
Our Hotel, Golden Sea Hotel, was the first one where we had to take our shoes off at the door. We were given blue sandals to wear instead. Ben’s feet again defied the Vietnamese understanding of a foot. He was left to wear bare feet, although not before the check-in lady assured him that his foot would fit if he just tried a little harder. Our room was large. It was the only one available for the long weekend, so we were living in luxury for a few days. At first appearance it came with a full kitchen. We went to the store and bought some noodles for dinner and cereal for breakfast. With lavish plans of home cooked meals, we were feeling better about our stay. However, on our return home we discovered the cupboards were all empty. There was a range-hood fan, but underneath was a curious lack of cooking devices. A rummage through the cupboards discovered a box for a hot plate. Of course, we thought to ourselves, it must just be new. However, the box was empty. We had been duped again.
Perusing Trip Advisor for somewhere to eat dinner, we found only Australian pubs. This was unusual. We were sure we would come across something on the way, so we headed to Back Beach for a look. There were more people in the water than I had ever seen before. The sea was flat, a murky grey colour and umbrellas and loungers dotted every inch of sand. The beach-goers were oddly fully clothed. Most of the women wore jean shorts and sweaters. The men wore long pants and T-shirts. I could only suppose that swimwear was a luxury and also a little risqué for the local people. Although even if I didn’t have swimwear I don’t think jean shorts would be first choice.
We walked for what felt like many miles, starting with the length of the beach and then over to Front Beach. The two beaches are about 3km apart. Arriving at Front Beach just before the sunset, we watched the sky darken and the boats bob on the horizon. We had very few sunsets in Vietnam due to the thick smog and even this one wasn’t one to write home about (the irony is not lost on me here). Searching the waterfront for a watering hole we came across one of the Aussie bars, Lucy’s Bar, from Trip Advisor. We wandered in and were greeted with a throng of Great White Aussies. We ordered a burger and fries, one of our few western meals to date, and a beer. The bar was your usually western fare and was playing soccer on the many TVs in the background.
Having conquered nearly all the “must-dos” of Vung Tau, namely the two beaches, we wandered aimlessly and headed down the road for lunch. Lo and behold, we came across another Aussie bar, Adam-Troy. Again, oddly, the bar was filled with the same demographic of Australian men. One of them was the owner and sat down to chat with us. He explained the Australian retired male population in Vung Tau was high. This was apparently their idea of bliss, with weather too hot to do anything but drink beer and a beach you don’t want to swim in. I guess it was just like Australia. This was also why all the places on Trip Advisor were Aussie bars; because that’s all there is demand for. Drawn to the familiar accent we stayed too long in the bar drinking beer. This inevitably led to a need for nap time.
Later in the evening we attempted to climb Small Hill (I wonder if the Aussies named all the places too) that had a Jesus statue on the top. We used our expert path-finding skills, i.e. looking around stupidly until someone tells us where to go, and followed a narrow road up a hill. The road was inundated with scooters flying past at warp-speed. I assumed we were on the trail to something good. The road weaved around old shacks, with what appeared to be the poorer people of Vung Tau. However, as we climbed I realized they might not have the most possessions, but they sure had the nicest view. At the top of Small Hill we reached a plateau, with views over the whole town. We could see the Jesus statue above, but there was no path from the viewpoint up to it. I had walked the whole way in the sweltering heat in long pants and a cardigan so as not to disrespect the locals at the statue, only to find we weren’t going to reach it. I know I’m not the most religious person, but literally trying to find Jesus seems a little unfair.
The next day we left Vung Tau on what can only be described as a chicken bus, without chickens. The bus itself had air conditioning and was quite nice. However, when the seats filled up they proceeded to put tiny chairs in the walkway and kept filling up the bus with people. There were no emergency exits (a common theme in Vietnam) and the bus was well-overloaded. Luckily we didn’t get anywhere near fast enough to crash, as we had to stop every 100m down the road to pick up more rice, coconuts, and who knows what else. It was actually quite unbelievable, as we were picking up items from men asleep under trees out in the sticks that seemed to materialize out of nowhere just to pass us another sack. The five hour trip was quite exhausting, but at $5 each and the only way out of town, we had to grin and bear it.
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