Quirky Vung Tau, just two hours from Ho Chi Minh City, is a great place for a family weekend away from the chaos of the big city. We list below the best things to do there with kids.
The traffic is laid back, the people are friendly and there's a range of accommodation options to suit most budgets. Vung Tau also has beaches for long leisurely walks (not necessarily for swimming - if you want to swim, book a hotel with a pool), temples to explore and terrific seafood to indulge in.
The city isn't as glitzy as other seaside tourist spots, such as Mui Ne and Nha Trang, and the locals like it this way. The local oil industry generates enough revenue so locals don't feel the need to chase the tourist dollars. Vung Tau's tourist infrastructure is more geared to the domestic market than to international visitors, and that's part of what gives the city its own unique appeal.
1) Mount Nho Jesus Statue
There's a host of rather oddball tourist attractions, the most famous being the giant Jesus statue on top of Mount Nho (Small Mountain). It's rather a long, hot and sweaty hike up the 847 steps to the Christ the King Statue, as it's officially known. But at the top hikers are greeted with cool sea breezes, amazing views and a small shop selling drinks and snacks.
Inside the Jesus is a small art gallery that's usually open in the mornings and afternoons (not during lunchtime).
2) Mary Statue
You can continue in the Christian vein with a visit to the giant Mary statue, Our Lady of Bao Dai, on the western side of Mount Lon (Big Mountain).
3) Thich a Phat Dai Pagoda
If you are more interested with Buddhism, explore the beautiful Thich Ca Phat Dai Pagoda, on the northwestern side of Mount Lon, which has a giant white Buddha perched at the top. Don't forget to read our 12 Beautiful Pagodas in Vietnam.
4) Dog Racing
More unusual family fun can be had at Vung Tau's Lam Son Stadium, which hosts greyhound racing every Friday and Saturday night starting at 7pm. It's one of the few places in Vietnam where Vietnamese people can legally gamble.
Each race is over in a flash, lasting about 30 seconds, but the real attraction here is the vibe, with the crowd cheering the winners and excitedly discussing their bets. For kids, the highlight is probably the dog parade before each race.
The minimum bet is VND10,000, so having a flutter won't break the bank, and it's easy to place bets because the program is printed in English, as well as Vietnamese and Chinese.
Children under 10 years of age receive free admission. The general entrance fee is VND50,000 while access to the air-conditioned VIP area is VND100,000.
5) White Palace Colonial Mansion
Pint-sized pirate-lovers can be entertained for an hour or so at the White Palace, also known as Bach Dinh, one of the many summer homes of the last emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai. The upper floor of the palace is much as it would have been when the royal family used it, but the lower floor is where the real treasure is. Cabinets display 17th and 18th century Chinese artefacts recovered from a shipwreck discovered off of Vietnam's Con Dao Islands.
6) Ho May Park with Cable Car
For a full day of family activities, take the cable car up to Ho May Park, which has a theme park with roller coasters, dodgem cars, and other rides, as well as a play area for younger children. A range of adventure activities are offered including horse riding, horse-drawn carriage, swan-shaped paddle boats, ziplining, paintball and rock climbing. The park is probably one of the most fun things to do with kids in Vung Tau.
7) Recommended restaurant: Lan Rung Resort and Spa
For family relaxation, take a break at Lan Rung Resort and Spa's ocean-front restaurant on Ha Long Street. The kids can play spot-the-cherub while the parents enjoy the view and a coffee. If you choose to stay here, you'll be able to use the kid-friendly pool, which overlooks the sea (and is much cleaner).
8) Street food on the waterfront
In the evenings, join the locals, snacking on street food sold from hand cars, getting weighed on mobile weighing machines (which also tell your fortune); and watching couples ride tandem "love bicycles" up and down the waterfront.
9) Let’s Talk Food
Vung Tau's dining options are as quirky as the town itself. The must-try local specialty is banh khot, and the best banh khot place in town is Banh Khot Goc Vu Sua at 14 Nguyen Truong To Street. Every morning, the lovely ladies at Banh Khot Goc Vu Sua ladle a creamy batter into cupcake-shaped moulds in a smoking-hot griddle, then place a peeled baby prawn on each little savoury cake. Each cake is topped with green onion and served with a platter of herbs, including mustard leaves and a sweet and tangy dipping sauce. Banh Khot is eaten by selecting a mustard or lettuce leaf, layering on a selection of herbs and one banh khot cake, then rolling it up and soaking it inthe dipping sauce. Delicious, quite messy, buta lot of fun.
The best seafood place in town is the seaside Ganh Hao at 3 Tran Phu Street. Make sure you include Ganh Hao's special spring rolls when you order your seafood feast. They may just be the best in Vietnam.
For more Western fare, you can go Australian at Matilda's Pub or English at Haven Beach Bar, which is a great spot for sunset drinks if you don't fancy bangers and mash or chicken pie. There's also a Ukranian restaurant, Kozac, which serves a range of Eastern European dishes, as well as Russian beer.
10) Stay in Family Friendly Hotel
Options include Lan Rung Resort and Spa, the more upmarket Imperial Hotel, both within walking distance to the beach and each with a pool, or the the family-run Sakura Hotel,a budget guesthouse which is a short taxi ride to the beach.
All in All, a quick trip outside of Saigon can turn into something much more than that when visiting Vung Tau. Off the beaten tourist path, this peculiar seaside city has something for every member of the family. If you have recommendations of things to do in Vung Tau with kids, don't hesitate to post a comment in the form below.
Barbara and her husband Vu lead street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City's back streets through Saigon Street Eats. Since their first bundle of joy arrived five years ago, Barbara, a former journalist, has become a family travel expert. Follow Barbara's blog here.