We traveled from Saigon south to Vung Tau on a 1 1/2 hr ferry ride at $12.50 each. Vung Tau is a beach vacation destination for Vietnamese tourist and was an RnR location during the Vietnam war. Over the years many ex-pats from the US and Australia have decided to open businesses or retire here. There is also a small international population that live in Vung Tau because of the oil industry. The town boasts the second largest “Jesus” statue in the world. The largest being in Rio. There is also a large statue of Mary on one of the mountain sides. All remnants of the 100 yr French (Catholic) occupation.
Our host, an old college friend, Andrew (from the states) met us at the dock on you guessed it, his moped. And, like Siagon, Vung Tau had a stream of mopeds weaving here and there, organized chaos. Andrew, a teacher at an international school, welcomed us to his home and introduced us to his girlfriend, Mi, pronounced Me.
Serendipity allowed us to arrive to Andrews on Thanksgiving and so that evening we were welcomed by Andrew, and his friends/fellow teachers to a thanksgiving celebration. There were folks from all over the world including, South Africa, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, the US, the Philippines and Singapore. It was a bit surreal to dine with them, sharing turkey and potatoes but we enjoyed our time and talked of meeting up again over the weekend.
The next morning Andrew had to work, so we ventured out on foot looking for lunch. We stumbled upon a little hole in a wall with a line out the door. It was open air with ladies cooking near the front of the stall. As we stood in line (the only westerners in the joint) we observed trying to discern what they were making in hopes of reducing our uncertainty, especially regarding all of the horror stories we had heard about street food and digestion problems. By the time we reached the hostess we had built up our confidence, had a basic understanding of the etiquette and were ready to dive into the experience. We were glad we did as the place turned out to be a goldmine! You know, the kind of place that Anthony Bourdain might showcase on an episode of his popular food show.
The venue, called Goc Vu Sua, served up Banh Khot, a speciality, only found in Vung Tao. It consisted of shrimp fried on a flour/egg batter, served with bean threads and herbs, wrapped in butter lettuce and dipped in fish sauce. We watched the packed house of locals eat and followed their lead using a combination of hands and chop sticks. We saw a frothy yellowish drink sitting next to many of the patrons and asked for them. Then turned to watch the server use a large press to make fresh sugar cane juice. The drink was served on ice and tasted sweet but not too sweet. It was delicious and we later found out (via Google) that the juice has major healing applications including cancer fighting properties. So we lightheadedly started skeeming ways to bring one of the juicing machines back to Australia or the States in hopes of making big bucks on this superfood.
Each of our meals including our drink 52000 Vietnamese dong ($2.50USD) Goc Vu Sua was top notch local fare and if you ever make it to Vung Tao you have to give it a try. Just make sure you keep your knees of of the table.
Another highlight of our time in Vung Tau was renting mopeds. We walked down to a guesthouse and found two mopeds available. We rented them for two days at 600,000 Vietnamese dong, which translated to $27 USD total. We had to fill out a release form and leave our passports to be picked up once we finished with the mopeds.
The driving learning curve was intense but quick. Within the hour, we found our way weaving in and around the roadways, flowing with the locals. At one point our daughter made a comparison to Mario Cart. We all laughed and concurred.
The mobility offered us more flexibility as we were able to move at our own pace and explore. Over the next few days we rode up Small Mountain and Big mountain, stopped for coffees and mango smoothies, went to mass at the local cathedral which was quite moving, specially hearing the choir. We visited the market, went to a movie in a cinema as well as enjoyed a day at the beach. But the highlight was riding our mopeds, instruments in tow, into the evening sun to a local bar called Haven where we performed for Andrew, his teacher friends, a handful of ex-pats and a few locals.
It was a blast to see an old friend and experience life in Vung Tau through his eyes. If we ever have the opportunity to visit again, we will. Firstly to see Andrew and all of our new friends but as a close second, we’d go back just ride mopeds and to eat Banh Khot again!