Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vung Tau 1 - Big Mountain

It's not all air-conditioning and suicidal housekeepers around here.

This weekend we decided to have a short seaside holiday, and so we went to Vung Tau. You can find out more about Vung Tau from the wikipedia entry here, but all you really need to know is that it's the closest beach town to Saigon.

There is apparently a good road now between Saigon and Vung Tau, but we are still a bit afraid of roads in this country, so we chose to go by boat.

The hydrofoil looks like a torpedo and takes 75 minutes.
We left early on Saturday morning so on Friday I tried to go and buy tickets.  What a fiasco!  I went to what I thought was the address of the ticket office, and found a building site.  This is not the first time that this has happened to me in Vietnam, actually. Building sites are going up faster than websites can be updated.

So I went back to the apartment and explained my dilemma to the girls at the reception desk here, who were more than helpful. One of them insisted on accompanying me to the ticket office at the ferry terminal, and when we got back, the other had found a map of Vung Tao, and marked all the attractions on it.  She had even marked out the race-track.  "Racing dogs." She said, knowingly.  "Very exciting!".

Martin studying the map at a beach-side cafe
I got tickets for 7 am because we wanted to get as much time away as possible. Even at 7am the hydrofoil was full.  But the problem with 7 am means that we had to get up a full 2 hours earlier than we usually do.  And, we didn't get time for breakfast.  By the time we arrived at Vung Tau we were STARVING.

It was only 9am, but the hotel let us check in as soon as we got there - we were expecting just to dump our bags.  Love you, Rex Hotel!  The Rex is kind of old and maybe a tiny bit expensive for 3 stars, but everything worked, and it was reasonably clean, and the facilities were fantastic. And by that, I mean the swimming pool was fantastic, and the business centre was staffed and had working computers and printers*.  We did a lot of stuff in our two days, but actually we probably would have been quite happy just to hang around at the hotel swimming pool.

Not immediately seeing a restaurant anywhere, we consulted our bible (Lonely Planet) and decided that Black Cat would be just the place to go.  The taxi dropped us off and of course it was closed, because - duh - it was 9am. So we went to the restaurant next door, which was open and asked for the menu.  Foiled again! This place only serves drinks...

Vietnamese Iced Coffee

 Vietnamese iced coffee really deserves a post all of it's own, so I'll only allude to it here with this tantalising picture.  Suffice it to say - it was delicious enough to make me smile, despite literally not knowing where my next meal was going to come from.

Look at all that beautiful sunshine!
 The current issue of the Lonely Planet is getting to be a bit out of date. So imagine our surprise when we realised that the Black Cat restaurant and the Cafe Without Food were parked right underneath a cable car ride to the top of Big Mountain.  After the man at the ticket office ($5 each, return) assured us that there was FOOD AVAILABLE at the top, we went for a ride.

At the top of Big Mountain is a kind of amusement park. I thought it had a very odd feel to it. It's like a park still under construction, but also it has a kind of sense of decay.  There are some areas that are clearly being worked on and built still, but other areas look like they were good once long ago and now are forgotten. For example, there is a man-made lake at the top of the hill.  Construction of the lake and waterfall appears to be complete, but the water is brown and full of  clayey sediment.  There are areas for feeding the fish, but no fish. Were there fish once?

That area on my back Martin later dubbed the 'frying V'.

Here is the Giant Buddha who oversees the whole site, including the lake. Great photo, right?  You can click on the picture to make it bigger.  Martin had the camera for most of the day.

The trees and shrubs are still quite small. 

When you go right up to the Buddha, there is a path lined with statues of (I don't know - are they gods?).  They are huge, and it feels quite whimsical to walk down that path. But lots of them are broken - with fingers missing and stuff like that. And at the end of the path, it is just rubble. The giant Buddha is designed for people to climb inside and peek out of his belly-button, but it's all blocked off, and either unfinished, or collapsed so you can't get in.

Can you see me walking down the path?
I feel like Alice in Wonderland must have felt after drinking the potion.
The sense of foreboding hopefulness was most highlighted for me at the Christian Cave.  There is a cave cut into the rock on the side of the mountain, and it is set up as a Christian shrine, with a very Christmassy theme - including the most forlorn Santa I've ever laid eyes on.

Maybe he's too hot in that red suit.
There were some pretty hilarious things at the theme park.  Firstly: our selected mode of transport was bicycle-built-for-two.

 A second thing that made me giggle was the Musical Stage.  Literally, there is a stage. And it plays music. Loudly. I didn't get a photo, but it's just your average small outdoor stage, with a couple a massive speakers, and presumably a DVD player.  But it seemed funny to me, to see a stage just sitting there by itself on the lawn, blasting out music, with the signs all pointing to the Musical Stage. OK, maybe it's not that funny.

And Mr Martin was fascinated by this, though we weren't allowed to go up and see it.

Some kind of WWII era gun emplacement at the very top of the hill.
If you're in Vung Tao I would seriously recommend checking out this weird place - if only for the cable car ride. But be smarter than me and pack sunscreen and a nice big hat.  THere is very little shade, and I got badly burnt.  It's easy to forget about sun protection when you're in the big city, because the smog does it for you, but at the beach the air is much clearer and the sun is STRONG.

* Don't forget to bring your passport with you when travelling domestically in Vietnam. Hotels are required to hold your passports while you're checked in, and can't accept guests without suitable ID.  Lucky for us we had scanned copies of our passports on google docs, and they let us print them out and use them as a substitute.

1 comment:

  1. The time I was in Vung Tau sucked. 1968 we got hit with rockets a few times at the air field. Spent 2 weeks at the field hospital at Vung Tau. Accomadation sucked. The morgue was right outside the door too.