Last Thursday, in a hunt for sun and consistent warmth, we flew from Da Nang (near Hoi An) to Ho Chi Minh and stayed in a cheap hotel that smelled of cigarettes (Vic loved it). We had heard there was a town called Vung Tao just outside HCM on a peninsula in the South China Sea where locals would go on weekends.
So, the next day, we went by hydrofoil (aka fast ferry) to Vung Tao. We had read that boat was the best way to get there but we're shocked by the amount of litter in the river leaving HCM. While still in port, a gentlemen leaned over the rail of the boat to admire the scenery with his coffee and once finished, threw his coffee with its plastic bag into the river. (Vic howled in offense but the man simply stared and moved on.)
Vung Tao has a few notable features, perhaps most notable is the population of overweight, middle-aged white males who haunt the transplanted Australian cafes by day and by night, slip into entrepreneurial establishments with names like Hot Lips, Hungry Duck or my personal favorite, the Bearded Clam. Through Victoria's sleuthy googling, we have come to understand many are Australian Vietnam vets, who upon returning home decided they no longer fit and divorced their wives to come back to start local Aussie restaurants, hitch up with locals and allegedly volunteer throughout the community to make amends for the war. Overall, the coexistence seems complacent if not unsavory, with a common sight being a man holding hands with a woman, who had it not been for race, could easily be confused as his daughter.
Our hotel however was marvelous, set back on a small jungle mountain with a beautiful pool and motorbikes to rent. We spent three days speeding around the peninsula, working hard on our tans and gawking at poorly matched couples. Compared to everywhere else, the food was what you would expect from a holiday town as it was overpriced and overly catered to foreign tastes. One bizarre detail worth mentioning is the style of Asian holiday restaurant that I only describe as neon food barns. They are HUGE with neon lights, loud music and servers on walkie talkies to cater to the groups of up to 20 (mostly Chinese) tourists at a table, taking down platters of seafood like nothing I've ever seen. Needless to say we opted for smaller establishments but couldn't help being impressed by the young Vietnamese serving staff who executed their mission with precision and tenacity.
After three days, we returned to Ho Chi Minh to spend a night before flying to Sri Lanka, and see an Australian couple we had really enjoyed whilst in Ha Long Bay. We ate lunch at this incredible spot that only served beef pho. We were seated table with a basket heaping with mint and spouts as well as an array of chili sauces. The pho was steaming hot and perhaps the best we've had in Vietnam. After lunch, we walked around Ben Tanh Market (we bought a basket purse, a fake wedding ring for when we're in India [Vic left hers in UK, the saucy tart] and a bag of Weasel coffee) and met an Aussie couple for a few rooftop drinks that turned into more drinks until eventually they had to catch their 2 am flight to Sydney. Luckily, we had enough wits about us to call a cab rather than walk and slept like the dead (as we have done every night since landing as unemployed travellers).
Words - Sam Campbell & Photographs - Victoria Campbell