Firstly, I need to apologize profusely for leading my travel buddy, Mak Sri, astray. I hope that she will forgive me.
Vung Tau is located not far from the capital city and actually, it takes only two hours to travel there. Maybe that was one of the reasons why I persuaded and convinced her to stop in Vung Tau for two days. Or maybe it was because almost all of the travel agents in Vietnam kept wildly promoting the beauty of this area in their brochures and banners.
Eventually, after creating some effective methods of brainwashing my friend, we decided to stay for a while in this area of ‘unknown beauty’. At that time, we both had a super imagination about Vung Tau - a long, pristine, sandy beach where a bevy of tourists are sunbathing and minding their own business on their vacation. It's a tropical beach where we can spend our lazy day enjoying the clear, turquoise water for swimming and all that other 'fun in the sun' stuff.
How was it? Did our dreams come true?
After spending two days in Mui Ne, we bought a one-way bus ticket to Vung Tau. The buses in Vietnam are always cheap and cheerful, it cost only 77,000 VND (3 USD) and the vehicle was somewhat executive-like with reclining seats, a clean floor, good driver, and they also provided a shuttle bus to the hotel. I love Vietnam…
The problem only began as we stepped inside the shuttle bus. Our driver asked for our destination in Vietnamese and when we could only explain it in English, he frowned deeply.
As a girl with a really bad sense of direction, I always bring a map, the address of my accommodation in my bag, pocket, or even my phone in case I suddenly forget where my hotel is or where the location of my destination is. And this time my hotel booking confirmation in Vietnamese with the hotel’s address on it really came in handy. Thanks to a cheerful, warm-hearted woman on the shuttle who helped us to translate to the driver, we eventually reached the hotel. Don’t worry, the Vietnamese are so friendly and helpful that anytime you get lost, no matter how bad your communication is with rusty English and their special accent, they are always ready to help you with directions.
Vung Tau information based on the guidebook
Based on the explanation which I looked up on the internet, Vung Tau is divided into two sections, Back Beach and Front Beach. At that time, I didn’t even know in which section we would spend our time - Back or Front, it didn’t really matter.
Using only gestures to ask the local people where the beach was, we found out in no time at all that the beach was just a short distance from the hotel. Briefly speaking, the Vung Tau Road at noon on work days was amazingly noiseless with less crowds and fewer cars than in the capital but is also a good place for jaywalkers. They walk like models on the runway with no fear of being run down by vehicles.
Back Beach, as was promised in the guidebook, was clean, with a huge sandy area where people can do fun ‘sunsational’ things. Yet, unfortunately, they were too many beach chairs along the beach and of course, where there are beach chairs, there is bound to be rubbish!
Overall, in spite of this situation, I thoroughly enjoyed the open view, overlooking the beach, while sitting on the seaside where the locals normally spend their leisure time playing ‘feet badminton’ or some other 'summer fun' games like that.
Food in Vung Tau
Food became the main problem for us in Vung Tau. Not only because the menu itself was written in the local language but also because we don’t eat pork, no matter how famous pork is in this country. So, we had problems finding a good, simple lunch. The menu of every restaurant there served local cuisine with at least a handful of pork in it. We came to a café, thinking and hoping that we could get some sandwiches or something similar as in any other café (in Moscow). We asked ignorantly whether they had croissants or not, and they politely answered with a broadening smile that they only sell coffee…
After searching far and wide for restaurants, we made a serious decision. We decided to visit a family mart and make some purchases there - popcorn, noodle cups, biscuits, cakes, all that good snacking stuff. But still, we continued our adventure and somehow found a restaurant. The restaurant building was attached to a hotel and was situated at the rear of the hotel, in the middle of a small backyard, where possibly they pamper their guests with food and music. But, you know what: we had a misunderstanding as we could only use gestures to describe the food we wanted to order.
Believe me, it was the most awkward situation ever when we tried to describe to the restaurant owner that the meat was still medium rare, which we didn’t like. They still didn’t understand and we decided to let it go and eat only what we could...
Afraid of starvation, we stopped a cab on the street with high expectations that we would find restaurants in the shopping center. But, again, we were out of luck, we went to one where they only sold fruits and vegetables (RAW). And only after spending our 100,000 VND, did we find a KFC, Lotteria, and other western restaurants on the FRONT BEACH!
AMATEUR SUMMARY: What is the difference between Back Beach and Front Beach?
Back Beach is dedicated to backpackers who want to travel on a shoestring budget. Back Beach provides a smattering of hostels that are very reasonably priced and have good facilities. The beach is cleaner and much better than Front Beach.
Front Beach is for the 'man of means' that travels to Vung Tau with their healthy bank accounts. So here you will find some costly hotels and lush restaurants (including KFC and Lotteria), but the beach is a big 'No, No', the area is too rocky and too polluted to swim.
So, which one should you choose?
If you love local culture and don’t mind munching on local dishes, you can choose Back Beach, but if you're a "spoiled” (like me actually) traveler who likes to stay in an exclusive hotel and eat in executive restaurants, and swimming isn't important to you - choose Front Beach.
If your preference is a mix - not a wealthy traveler but don't mind paying for good food, depending on your economic situation, you can stay in the Back Beach area and eat in the Front Beach area.