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Published: November 19th 2009
Sarah and Trang
Sarah went but never made it to the beach.
Vung Tau and the Con Dao Islands
If you are tired of the hot and sweaty HCMC and yearn for the beach, Vung Tau is the least expensive option. If you want to spend a little more money, Con Dao is a possible option.
Going to the beach, dealing with the sand, salt water, never gets me too excited. Getting out of HCMC does. So, Trang and family rented a car and off to Vung Tau we went.
Vung Tau is described as crowed, oil polluted beach. Not true, in my experience. You can see the off shore oil platforms from the beach and helicopters going overhead ferrying crews back and forth. The water was crystal clear the day I was there, good temperature and a pleasant experience. The highlight for the Tran and Nguyen families was food. Only Trang’s nephew and me ventured into the water. The rest of the family stayed under the umbrellas and ate food from the many beach venders plying the beach.
Many hotels are built close to the beach so when you get tired of the beach you can head for your air conditioned rooms. A common practice is for one family to rent one
room to get cleaned up and rest. Rarely do they stay the night. With HCMC just two hours away, it is a day experience.
I am told, but never experienced some nearby beaches near Vung Tau’s. Long Hai, Loc An Beach, Ho Tram Beach and Ho Coc Beach. All are described as more private, pristine water and some with white sand. I haven’t been to any of them and when I suggested it to Trang about going to a different beach than Vung Tau it when in one ear and out the other. We went to Vung Tau. That is one of my problems in Vietnam, being with other people, friends, who only listen to you if it fits their agenda. They make something’s easy and other things hard.
I have a little history with Vung Tau which means "anchorage" It was a safe haven from storms at sea, which sunk a lot of ships in those days. The cliffs are called Mũi Nghinh Phong (literally means “Cape of greeting the wind”). In 1967 we were anchored with about 200 ships waiting to go up the river to the Saigon port. With that many ships anchored, I thought I might
spend my whole combat tour on that ship anchored near Vung Tau. However, we had a high priority cargo, and we were going up the river the next day.
When we got to Saigon. we anchored and unloaded the ship at the old French Customs House “the Dragon House” so named for the Dragon's part of the roof’s architecture. This was the same port Ho Chi Minh left French Indochina in 1911 on a French freighter, hired as an aid in the gallery of that ship. Ho Chi Minh was on an odyssey to find support to free Vietnam from the colonial rule. The only support he found was the communist movement.
It is an interesting “what if” of history if the United States government had stayed with their anti-colonial policy formed with the American Revolution, Monroe Doctrine and American foreign policy. Furthermore, the friendship formed during WW II with the Viet Minh, Ho and the American Deer Team. Initially, the American government shunned the French and would not facilitate them coming back into Vietnam. Eventually, though, the conflict was seen as an anti-communist war and the American government was sucked in. Could history have been changed with cooler heads
and a better effort to achieve peace? We will never know but it seems to me that the world community must try harder to find peaceful solutions.
Other attractions in Vung Tau include the huge statue of Christ. Christ of Vung Tau is a statue of Jesus, standing on Mount Nho in Vung Tau. The Catholic association started building the statue in 1974, and it was completed in 1993. It is 32 meters (105 ft) high, standing on a 4 meters (13 ft) high platform, for a 36 meters (118 ft) total monument height with two outstretched arms spanning 18.3 meters (60 ft). There is a 133-step staircase inside the statue. I understand 6 people can stand in each arm giving them a tremendous view of Vung Tau.
At the beginning of the 20th century, The French governor of Indochina (1897-1902), Paul Doumer (who later became President of France), built a mansion in Vũng Tàu that is still a prominent landmark in the city. Although the building and gardens are notable in their own right, its main appeal is a selection of the exquisite Ching Dynasty Chinese ceramics salvaged in 1990 from the Vung Tau shipwreck off Con Dao Island
at the end of the seventeenth century. The bulk of the enormous hoard was auctioned in Amsterdam but the villa contains some splendid pieces, some still encrusted with coral.
Later, the last Emperor, Bao Dai, had a holiday palace built not far away - today it’s a luxury resort hotel.
Lastly, an old French built lighthouse, Vũng Tàu Lighthouse, On top of Small Mountain. First built in 1907 on the lower peak of Small Mount, it burned kerosene in its lamp. In 1911, it was rebuilt to 3 meters in diameter and 18 meters in height, and moved to the higher peak where it stands today.
If you find you can’t spend enough money at Vung Tau, book a flight to Con Dao islands. You can also go by boat. The flight I took was in an Airbus built 219 turboprop plane. It is a great plane. I talked to the French pilot after we landed in Con Dao and he was really proud of this plane. He said it is super fuel efficient and powerful.
If you want pristine beaches you can find them here, but you have to spend a little money to get to them. On the
Oil platforms in the distance
main island, I never saw a good beach. Outside my hotel, it was all rocks. Where I did see them was coming in to land. The outer islands are loaded with beautiful beaches. You have to hire a boat to get to them. You can also do Treks through the National Parks, some easy some hard and all requiring money to get to the places and be picked up. I rented a motorbike and headed out to the easy one. I got halfway through the Trek when I came to a cliff which I would have to climb down and of course when I came back, climb up. I decided, being an old man I had no reason to do this alone.
The main reason I went to Con Son was to see the prisons. I had heard a lot about the prisons during the American War, “tiger cages” and I wanted to see firsthand what it was all about. If you have seen Hoa Lo in Hanoi, “Hanoi Hilton,” to American pilots, Song La or Con Dao’s 19 prisons, you have seen them all because they for the most part were built by the French and showed no merci.
These prisons are considered halo ground to the Vietnamese. Many of the leaders of the revolution and later the government had spent time in these prisons.
A lot of the things at the prison I couldn’t understand even though I had a professional guide through the complexes. One, outside the entrance of one prison was a cross. Why was that there? This was a prison built by the French, and it seems they were always confusing religion with government. The least understood was in the middle of one old French prison, which was run by Americans a Christian Church was built in the middle of the compound. With a prison population of more than 80% Buddhist, what were we trying to prove? If anyone reading this blog worked in that prison, I would appreciate an explanation.
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