Reasons to Live in Vung Tau (or just visit!)
I spent over six years living in Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon). Those years were filled with adventure, work, and plenty of learning about the Vietnamese language, culture, and people. I don’t regret a single minute of it! But now that I have a family and am a little older, I find living in Vung Tau to be a very suitable place.
First I’ll go over the many things I like about living here, and then share a few negative things for you to watch out for. Perhaps the two things I like most about living in Vung Tau compared to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), which are related, are the far better pollution and traffic situations. Pollution and traffic jams are starting to be a serious problem in HCMC, especially if you have kids and are concerned about their health and safety. By living in Vung Tau, you are largely avoiding these issues, although you will still be ingesting your fair share of automobile exhaust out there on the roads here in Vung Tau as well.
Perhaps the next best thing about Vung Tau, from my point of view, is the beach! While the quality of the sand and water may not be on par with Hawaii or the Florida Keys, the city is doing a good job of keeping it clean compared to how it was a few years ago when I was visiting on the weekends from HCMC. There are also some nice mountains (relatively small ones but mountains nonetheless) around the coast and nearby outside of town, which can be nice to visit or just look at, especially when you’re used to the extreme urban environment of HCMC. On top of one of these “mountains” is Ho May Park, which is a small theme park that you get to by riding a gondola from the beach. It makes a good place to take visitors or to visit at least once for the gondola ride alone and the nice view of the ocean from the top.
For me, the size and population of the city are quite ideal (the combined population of Ba Ria-Vung Tau is nearly 500,000 but it feels much smaller!), as it’s big enough that you really aren’t lacking anything, but small enough that it only takes about 15 minutes to get anywhere in town, and less than that for most trips. For example, there are currently two modern cinemas/movie theaters, CGV and LotteCinema with another CGV to open up in 2018. There is a modern fitness center called Pro Fitness, with a California Fitness opening soon as well.
In addition to the decent selection of cinemas and modern fitness centers (there are loads of Vietnamese gyms, but they lack AC and can be uncomfortable places to work out in as you tend to get stared at a lot by the locals…but they are incredibly cheap, in some cases less than $10/month!), Vung Tau has some pretty good restaurants, both western and Vietnamese. The following is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will get you started:
Western Restaurants & Bars
- Lucy’s Sports Bar & Hotel-Lucy’s is nice because you can sit out on the deck and enjoy your food or drink with an ocean view. It’s also near to the Phan Chu Trinh area where a lot of western expats live, which makes it convenient. The menu has a very wide range of options ($$$)
- Matilda’s-Matilda’s is another sports bar with open air seating that has a large variety of Western and Vietnamese dishes.Their tagline is “We specialize in comfort foods from around the world”. It’s also located near some main streets not far away from Lucy’s, but it has no ocean view ($$$)
- Chaly Bar-This is also a sports bar with western food but it’s more of a “bar” and less of a “restaurant”. The servers are mostly scantily clad girls that give the bar a feeling of a “girlie bar” but with a sports bar twist. It is located on a strip that includes a whole string of proper “girlie bars”, which is one of Vung Tau’s features being a popular tourist destination for a lot of people taking a weekend trip from HCMC. ($$$)
- Haven-Haven has the same owners as Lucy’s Sports Bar & Hotel but the place is totally different. It’s located right on the beach about ten minutes up the road from Lucy’s on Tran Phu St (the main road that hugs the coastline for most of the city). Haven is aptly named as it can really feel like a getaway from the busier downtown areas due to it location on the beach as well as the fact that it’s almost never busy. However, it has a very limited food menu ($$$).
- David’s Pizzaria– David’s is one of the better Pizza joints in Vung Tau and is located right across from the ocean. It offers comfortable outdoor seating and very good Italian food to go along with the pizza focus. It also has a decent selection of wine ($$$).
- Yummy Yummy– Yummy Yummy is yet another restaurant with outdoor seating that offers western fare. Located right downtown just around the corner from Chaly bar it also has a decent view of the well-treed park across the street ($$$).
- Bistro 9– Located just around the corner from the Offshore Bar, Bistro 9 offers very high quality French cuisine and wines. It also has baked goods and gourmet homemade chocolate, which makes the restaurant stand out among more standard options in Vung Tau. But all of it comes at a price ($$$$).
- Offshore Bar & Hotel– The Offshore is a bit different than most other places on this list. It has good western food as well as plenty of TVs to watch sports. It also has outdoor seating. However, the main difference is that it is definitely also a “girlie bar” with the servers obviously providing extra service for those that are so inclined. One nice thing about the Offshore is that they offer Saigon Red beer for only 10,000vnd (less than fifty cents USD)! While I can’t speak to the quality of the rooms, the hotel is quite large and is located in a convenient area not far from the ocean ($$$).
- Vuvuzela Beer Club– This is a large beer club attached to the very high-end Imperial Hotel. It has a large variety of western sports bar type food such as steak, ribs, hamburgers etc. and an equally impressive list of cocktails. The men’s restroom has two-way glass so that you can see out into the restaurant from the urinals while nobody can see in, which is rather peculiar and interesting! There is often live music on the weekends when it is also jam packed full of customers. Be prepared to pay up ($$$$).
- Vung Tau Beach Club– The Beach Club is a Russian owned and operated bar (there is a large contingent of Russian expats in Vung Tau) and kite surfing school located right on the beach. You can order a drink and literally sit in a chair on the sand if you wish, or sit in the open air bar, which has a very earthy/surfing vibe ($$$).
Vietnamese/Asian Restaurants & Bars
- Caribbean Lounge– The Caribbean Lounge is a large outdoor nightclub/restaurant with nightly live music (a DJ spinning mostly EDM/pop-fusion) and very comfortable seating that includes a few large beds. Located a few minutes out of town and situated right on the ocean this beach club is one of a kind in Vung Tau. If you’ve ever visited the Sailing Club in Nha Trang, then you get the idea ($$$$).
- Cu Chuoi– This traditional Vietnamese restaurant offers a Hanoi-style decor with a wide variety of Vietnamese dishes and open air seating. Located on Hoang Hoa Tham street near Yummy Yummy and Chaly Bar, it is easy to get to and great for when you’re feeling like trying some high-quality local fare ($$).
- Ốc Tự Nhiên– This is a local snail joint with very good shellfish at reasonable prices. You’ll sit in plastic chairs among very noisy locals drinking beer and having a great time in the open air right across the street from the beach. You’ll find a large variety of snails, oysters, clams, and other mollusks and crustaceans! ($$)
- Gành Hào– This is a more high-end seafood restaurant that is popular among the locals. The restaurant is located up Tran Phu road near Salsa Mexicana and is humongous. It gets pretty slammed on the weekends but is located on the ocean and has a very large variety of all kinds of Vietnamese seafood dishes ($$$$).
- Mr. Park Korean BBQ– This is a very large restaurant located near Lucy’s across the street from the ocean that offers Korean style BBQ. It has open air seating as well as private rooms where you can grill your meant yourself if you are so inclined ($$$).
- Sushi Lounge– Sushi Lounge is located on the opposite side of town from most restaurants on these lists but is worth the trip (an extra 5 minutes oh no!). The decor and overall vibe of the place is akin to what you may find in the west and the sushi is very good ($$$).
- Taj Grill– The Taj Grill offers really good Indian food with a nice selection of vegetarian and vegan options for you non-meat eaters out there. They play relaxing Indian style music to set the mood ($$).
- Nathalie’s– Nathalie’s is one of the only Thai restaurants in Vung Tau (the only one that I know of actually, but I’m sure there will be more in the future…comment if you know of another one). It’s located a little ways out of town past Haven on Tran Phu and is also a hotel. It has a great view of the ocean and pretty good food but a little bit of a weird vibe as there are rarely any customers there besides you! But if you’re craving some decent Thai cuisine, Nathalie’s is the place ($$$).
- Salsa Mexicana Restaurant– Salsa is a Mexican restaurant with a seafood twist. While it’s rather pricey, you get a pretty awesome ocean view to go along with your tacos and live music most nights to boot. It’s located about halfway between Lucy’s and Haven so it’s not right downtown but it’s not too far out either. They have a pretty decent selection of wines as well, which can be hard to come by in Vung Tau ($$$$)
- Tokyo Sushi– Tokyo Sushi is another choice for sushi that has quite a different vibe than Sushi Bar. With more of a traditional Japanese theme to the decor, it also offers private rooms in the traditional Japanese style. The quality of the sushi is decent and fairly priced ($$).
Those restaurants and bars will get you started as you begin to explore Vung Tau. For those of you looking for nightclubs and other late night oriented spots, your best bet may be to simply take a stroll through the Hoang Hoa Tham/Truong Cong Dinh area mentioned above and see if there’s anything to your liking. Those of you with knowledge of this side of things can perhaps help out by commenting below.
As you can see, there is a pretty good selection of food and drink for such a small city, and my list is really just the tip of the iceberg. The city is growing rapidly and since a large part of the local economy is based on oil (you can see several oil rigs from the beach), the city tends to do very well when oil prices are on the rise. That being said, as a resort town located only two hours from HCMC, the economy is all but certain to thrive in the years ahead as Vietnam’s economy continues to march steadily toward “developed” status. In fact, according to one report, Vietnam is on track to become one of the world’s 20 largest economies if they can keep up their current pace!
On the Other Hand
I really love the city of Vung Tau, so for me it’s pretty hard to think of anything negative to say about it. But if I’m being objective, I would say that there are a few minor cons to the city, especially if you are living here as an expat. The first and most obvious, is the city’s lack of quality health care. This is a major concern for those of us that either have families, or are retiring here and may be in need of health care in the future. While there are a few okay options, such as the Vietsopetrol (Russian) Hospital, the rest of the local clinics leave much to be desired, to say the least. I have had several disheartening experiences where the doctors or nurses that were treating me at one of the local clinics seems to be pretty much completely incompetent. So we are currently having to make sporadic trips to the city for our healthcare needs (very inconvenient!). However, I am hopeful that this will change in the near future as there is a lot of investment coming into the city and this is one area with a glaring gap in the market.
Another potential disadvantage of Vung Tau for those with families is that there are few educational options for those on a limited budget. There is one international school called Singapore International School (full disclosure-I currently work there as a teacher!), but as with most international schools, where the standards are roughly comparable to what you would receive at a private school in the West, there are significant fees. My daughter is currently attending the school and she loves it. But for those of you without deep pockets or working for a company that includes tuition as part of your pay package (my daughter can only attend because I teach there), homeschooling may be your only option. However, there is also a Filipino run elementary school called Vung Tau Kiddie Group International that teaches in English. It seems to get decent reviews and the tuition is less.
Also, as someone with young children, I do find the very large number of “girlie bars” and the like to be a bit disappointing, but as with most things like this, it isn’t too difficult to simply ignore them. My concern is when my kids start to get older noticing these places and finding out what goes on there. For some readers, this may be a pro and not a con so still a lot to like about the city! Since I am comparing the city mostly to HCMC where I spent the vast majority of my time in the country, I really can’t think of too many disadvantages of Vung Tau.
Watch for my next post, which will include a review of some of the many hotels and resorts in Vung Tau. Please leave a comment or question below if you want to know something more specific about living in Vung Tau.