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Vung Tau in a day

Saturday, December 03, 2022, 10:03 GMT+7
Vung Tau in a day
A beach in the southern city of Vung Tau. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

Editor’s note: English/Japanese Liam Langan, 24, moved to Ho Chi Minh City in late July for his English teaching job. Since then, Langan has spent time embracing a new life where he is greeted by strangers, wanders around the streets on his motorbike, hops on a trip out of the city for a day, and “loves every minute here.” Langan recalled his recent getaway to the southern city of Vung Tau to Tuoi Tre News.

I met my brother outside the Huy Hoang Limousine branch in District 1 at 8:00 am in the morning. He had a few days left on his vacation in Vietnam and we’d decided to take a quick day-trip out of town.

It was early November. The weather was warm and dry as it had been over the past few weeks, though the squalls still came as unpredictable as ever. It had been four months since I had moved to Saigon and the rain was still a mystery. Some people said the rainy season had ended in August, but a few more told me we were still in it and didn’t I know? This is Saigon, there’s only two seasons: rainy and dry.

I didn’t know but at least for today I hoped the weather would hold up. Stepping off my Grab bike and paying the old man the fare, I joined my brother outside a black limousine bus and got onboard. Rockaway Beach by The Ramones played in my head, lyrics switched out as the engine rumbled and went off.

Vung Vung, Vung-Tau Beach.

Vung Vung, Vung-Tau Beach.

Vung Vung, Vung-Tau Beach.

We can hitch a ride to Vung-Tau Beach…

“What time’d you wake up?” my brother asked, seated next to me. Wavy hair flowed out from under a cap as he rubbed the sleep still in his eyes. 

“Thirty minutes ago,” I said.

“Really cutting it short.”

“You?”

“I had the hotel breakfast so, like, six?”

“That’s too early.”

My brother was sleeping before we got on the highway. I thought about a nap but there was a lady sitting beside the driver whose phone kept ringing, and, besides, I wanted to see what was outside. I was yet to get out of the city and I’d heard so much about the beauty of the country but the view turned out to be a disappointment. 

Smog drooped over the buildings in the distance, faded apartments and office complexes standing like lighthouses in the drab landscape. Fields stretched out beyond the highway but I saw no farmers. For whatever reason I expected women wearing nón lá (conical hat) to be picking for rice and vegetables but why would there be? We’d only just left Saigon. I looked ahead, zoning out as the lady received another call and answered with a, 

“Alo?”

Vung Vung, Vung-Tau Beach.

Vung Vung, Vung-Tau Beach.

Vung Vung, Vung-Tau Beach…

The Thuy Van Beach (Bai Sau) in Vung Tau City, Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province, Vietnam. Photo: Dong Ha / Tuoi Tre
The Thuy Van Beach (Bai Sau) in Vung Tau City, Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province, Vietnam. Photo: Dong Ha / Tuoi Tre

Two hours later, I was sitting on a deck chair in Bai Sau beach after having paid an old lady wearing sunglasses and a nón lá. Here we were, the sky a clear and electric blue as the waves rolled on the shore, rolled on the shore while some teenage boys played football to our side. 

“Not bad, eh?” I said, taking off my shirt and pulling my deck chair out from the shade of our parasol. 

“Yeah,” my brother said. “I didn’t think it’d be so empty.”

“It is a Wednesday.”

My brother took a bottle of sunscreen out from his bag and began putting it on. The boys kept kicking the ball, never letting it touch the ground. Digging my toes into the warm sand, I leaned back and put a hand above my eyes. There wasn’t a single bird in the sky. I found it strange how there wasn’t a single bird in the sky but hey, I guess this was Vietnam and didn’t I know?

“You want some?” my brother asked, holding out the sunscreen.

“I’m good.”

“You’re gonna get burned.”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “Tomorrow.”

I went for a swim in the ocean. Tiny crabs skittered across the sand, digging holes while men pulled along baskets with nets attached to them. 

The shoreline stretched far on as I waded out, the brown, murky water lukewarm. To the left a cliff jutted and a statue of Christ stood with arms open, as if beckoning to the sun. 

Hotels dotted the shore, many still covered in a green mesh as cranes loaded materials to the top.

Back on my deck chair, another lady in a nón lá came around, offering us beer or coconut juice. We took both and said cheers, the beer ice cold which was a pleasant surprise. 

Vietnamese teens in hoodies and jeans passed by, chatting away. Every now and again a tourist came along, usually a shirtless older fella with a tattoo on his shoulder and a belly so large it seemed to be holding more baby than beer. I sipped my Tiger, it wasn’t even noon yet - What were we going to do for nine hours? I lay back, closed my eyes and felt the sun burn a hole in my head. 

Vung Vung, Vung-Tau Beach.

Vung Vung, Vung-Tau Beach…

We spent the day lounging. More people flocked to the beach and when we left in the evening, it was busy. My brother found out about a seafood spot on the other side of town so we called separate Grab bikes to take us there. 

The town was quaint. Large roads with little traffic and I rarely heard a horn. The stores were all open and ladies and men perched on stools outside, smoking a cigarette or just staring at those of us passing. 

An illustration photo shows vehicles commuting on Quang Trung Street in Vung Tau, Vietnam Photo: Dong Ha / Tuoi Tre
An illustration photo shows vehicles commuting on Quang Trung Street in Vung Tau, Vietnam Photo: Dong Ha / Tuoi Tre

The driver turned onto a boulevard, flanked on one side by a low wall where people sat and watched the sunset. Shards of purple sunlight came through the trees, and with a deep sigh I leaned back and felt the wind on my dry skin, wriggled my toes with their grainy touch of sand, smiled with a tipsiness at the thought of how little I’d done today and how pleasant it’d been, how pleasant it’d been at Vung Tau Beach. 

The meal at the restaurant was an assortment of seafood: from razor clams pan-fried with garlic to prawns grilled in a chilli sauce. A promotion for Tiger Platinum was going on and two ladies dressed in all white came to our table and offered us a free sample in exchange for a picture and purchase. We ate and drank more than our fill, paying 350k each before heading back to our pick-up point at around 8:30 pm.

An illustration photo shows a portion of stingray hotpot, a local delicacy, served at a restaurant in the southern city of Vung Tau. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News
An illustration photo shows a portion of stingray hotpot, a local delicacy, served at a restaurant in the southern city of Vung Tau. Photo: Dong Nguyen / Tuoi Tre News

On the ride back, our seats came with a built-in massage system. It didn’t work so well but I was past the point of caring. Sleep and my bed could never come soon enough, the view outside black as the driver sped along. 

My brother passed out beside me, and I thought about how nice it’d been to have this trip together. He’d be gone in a few days and then it’d be back to routine, back to Saigon and the noise that had a way of invading my dreams. But not yet. Not yet. I closed my eyes and drifted off to Vung Tau.

Vung

Vung-Tau Beach…

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