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Bewitched by the sun and sea in Vung Tau

This charming place offers great seafood, beautiful beaches and a myriad of other attractions.

If you have had enough of bustling Saigon, Vung Tau is for you. If you return to your stuffy apartment with a sudden longing for the sea, Vung Tau is for you.

If you have a few spare days, and just need a suburban trip to recharge your energy, leave for Vung Tau.

Photo by Shutterstock/Hang Dinh

Photo by Shutterstock/Hang Dinh

Just a three-hour drive from HCMC, Vung Tau in the southern province of Ba Ria – Vung Tau is one of the important port cities in Vietnam’s southeast.

The city is reachable even by motorbike taxi and people opting for a quick 12-hour break from their daily routine.

At the crack of dawn: Xom Luoi fish market

Xom Luoi is a seafood market established by local fishermen in Vung Tau. It is located near Bai Truoc Park at the intersection of Phan Boi Chau and Nguyen Cong Tru streets.

Visit the market early in the morning to enjoy the best seafood of the day.

The seafood here is very fresh and reasonably priced. There is a wide range too: snail, shrimp, octopus, crab. During the vacation season, some stalls offer discounts for purchase of large quantities.

The market also has yummy souvenirs to take back home in the form of dried seafood and snacks.

The best thing is you could buy fresh seafood and have it cooked on the spot. Cooking services are available in the market, with grilling, boiling and steaming being the most popular styles. The simple cooking methods also help the foods retain their flavors. It just takes a 10-15 minute wait to enjoy an appetizing dish, so seafood lovers should definitely not miss it.

7 a.m. Breakfast

For the next hour you could fill your stomach with the famous “tossed” noodle soup in Vung Tau. The noodle restaurant, situated on Ba Cu Street, has been receiving the thumbs-up from foodies for years now, with a recipe passed down through generations.

When you walk into the shop, you can witness the spectacle of noodles being deftly tossed up and down without falling out. The noodles are first placed in a net ladle to dip in boiling broth. After that the cook tosses the noodles up and down for them to dry before putting them in bowls to serve customers.

A bowl of "tossing" noodle soup at a restaurant in Vung Tau. Photo by VnExpress/Vi Yen

A bowl of “tossing” noodle soup at a restaurant in Vung Tau. Photo by VnExpress/Vi Yen

While the sight of noodles being thrown dexterously is a unique one that thrills first-time visitors, the food itself is the reason for the place’s popularity. The broth is very nutritious since it is cooked from pork rib extract. The well-cooked ribs and beef meatballs add flavor to the dish. The wonton is also a must-try at this place.

8.30 a.m. Visiting ships and rigs

A tourism activity of recent origin in Vung Tau is taking a boat ride to visit ships and oil rigs.

From the colorful sail boats, you can see the importance of this port city as the hub of the country’s oil industry. The cost of an oil rig tour is VND120,000 ($5.13) per person.

Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi

Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi

10 a.m. Visiting Villa Blanche, Lighthouse and statue of Christ

The White House (Villa Blanche) was built in 1898 by Paul Doumer, governor general of Indochina at the time. It is 19 meters high with its back leaning against Lon Mountain. The place, at 10 Tran Phu Street, still has 19 old cannons for exhibition.

Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc

Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc

The next destination is Vung Tau Lighthouse from where tourists can get a panoramic view of the city. To reach the top, you have to follow the tunnel to a two-story house, which used to be home of the lighthouse guard. The lighthouse sits atop Nho Mountain, so get a decent pair of shoes for the trek.

Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc

Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc

Also on top of Nho Mountain is the Statue of Christ, a religious icon you may not want to miss. The statue, installed in 1794, is 32 meters high, with two outstretched arms extending 18.3 meters. Visitors can climb up 133 steps inside the statue to the observation area in an arm to enjoy views of the sea from a height of 170 meters.

12 p.m. Lunch time!

Banh khot, Vietnam’s mini pancake, is one must-try delicacy in Vung Tau. You can enjoy the shrimp-filled cake in Goc Vu Sua restaurant on Nguyen Truong To Street, Ward 2. The eatery’s original flour-mixing recipe makes it popular with foodies. The batter is poured directly on a metal oven where the cake gradually forms. The dish is then delivered to customers while it is still hot and crunchy.

Photo by VnExpress/Lieu Lam

Photo by VnExpress/Lieu Lam

This dish is served with vegetables such as lettuce, perilla, pickled papaya and a cup of sweet and sour fish sauce. Ground chili is available for guests to tweak the taste of the sauce. A portion of banh khot costs VND45,000 ($1.9).

13.30 p.m. Sail a boat to the island

In the afternoon you can tour around Vung Tau on a rented boat and visit famous islands like Go Gang and Ngoc. The trip is appropriate for a group of 5-8 people. If you travel alone, you can ask other visitors to share a boat.

On Ngoc Island, you can enjoy a visit to a mangrove forest, which stretches over an area of 61 hectares. It is home to many rare bird species and marine creatures. The tour costs VND100,000 ($4.3) per person. On the island, you can also try kayaking and fishing or simply take photos and rest.

Resting cottages on Ngoc Island. Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi.

Resting cottages on Ngoc Island. Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi.

Go Gang is a pristine island off Vung Tau. Here, visitors can enjoy the fresh air from the sea and a variety of unique seafood. Grilled oyster is one of the best dishes here, and costs only VND65,000 ($2.8) for a kilogram. Other items are also available at reasonable prices, like calappa crab VND195,000 ($8.4), squid VND400,000 ($17.2) and fish VND120,000 ($5.2).

16.30 p.m. Swimming and sunset

In this coastal city, you cannot miss the fun by the sea. Truoc Beach (the front beach) and Sau Beach (the back beach) are the most popular places in the city to enjoy typical beach activities. But they can get overcrowded during holidays, so you should be careful with your personal belongings and avoid swimming too far into the sea. After having fun in the water, you can take time to enjoy the sunset and just relax.

18 p.m: Stingray fish hotpot – Vung Tau specialty

Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh

Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh

Warming your stomach with stingray fish hotpot before bidding farewell to Vung Tau is not a bad idea.

The stingray is a marine fish with soft, crispy cartilage. The fresh fish is filleted, marinated and cooked with salt, sugar, lemon grass, chili and other spices. The fish slices are then cooked in a pot. The hotpot broth is rich with its sweet, sour and spicy tastes. You can put greens into the boiling pot and enjoy a bowl of noodles with the broth.

There are many eateries serving this delicacy in Vung Tau, but the best place is situated on Truong Cong Dinh Street.

The sweet aroma of the sizzling pot, the soft texture of the fish, especially the crunchy, soft cartilage, will leave you with a memorable dining experience.

Transportation tips!

Photo by Phong Vinh

Photo by Phong Vinh

From HCMC, visitors can travel by motorbike, bus or train.

Driving: There are three routes. You can take Highways 1 and 51 to reach Vung Tau. The second option is to go through Cat Lai (District 2, HCMC), Nhon Trach (Dong Nai Province) and Highway 51 to Vung Tau. People driving down in cars can also take the Long Thanh – Dong Nai Highway.

Bus: You can board a bus to Vung Tau at Mien Dong station (Eastern station) in HCMC or book a ticket online in advance. A ticket costs VND80,000 – 160,000 ($3.4-6.9).

Train: The final option is the Pacific Express train which takes one and a half hours. Tickets cost VND200,000 (8.5) for adults and VND100,000 ($4.3) for children.

Story by Phong Vinh, Bao Ngoc

Sourece: VNEXPRESS

  • Resting cottages on Ngoc Island. Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi.

    Resting cottages on Ngoc Island. Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi.

  • Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi

    Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi

  • Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh

    Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh

  • Photo by VnExpress/Lieu Lam

    Photo by VnExpress/Lieu Lam

  • Photo by Phong Vinh

    Photo by Phong Vinh

  • A bowl of "tossing" noodle soup at a restaurant in Vung Tau. Photo by VnExpress/Vi Yen

    A bowl of "tossing" noodle soup at a restaurant in Vung Tau. Photo by VnExpress/Vi Yen

  • Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc

    Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc

  • Photo by Shutterstock/Hang Dinh

    Photo by Shutterstock/Hang Dinh

  • Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc

    Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc

  • Resting cottages on Ngoc Island. Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi.
  • Photo by VnExpress/Huong Chi
  • Photo by VnExpress/Phong Vinh
  • Photo by VnExpress/Lieu Lam
  • Photo by Phong Vinh
  • A bowl of "tossing" noodle soup at a restaurant in Vung Tau. Photo by VnExpress/Vi Yen
  • Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc
  • Photo by Shutterstock/Hang Dinh
  • Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Sy Duc
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Food

A bowl of fish cake noodles that will leave you wanting for more

A Hanoi restaurant serves steaming bowls of various kinds of noodle soups with three types of vegetables to warm your stomach.

When the weather starts to turn chill, nothing can be as satisfying as slurping on a steaming bowl of delicious sour and spicy noodles soup. Besides bun rieu (salty tomato broth, served with crab or fish) and bun oc (snail noodles soup), another popular choice among Hanoians is bun ca (fried fish cake noodles soup).

When it opened a decade ago the fried fish cake noodles soup restaurant on Le Van Huu Street was just a small eatery, but it now has branches in several other places. But the original one still attracts the most customers.

A full bowl of noodle soup, fish cakes and fresh boiled carp.

A full bowl of noodle soup, fish cakes and fresh boiled carp.

For just VND35,000 ($1.5), each bowl is served with a plate of vegetables, including giant elephant ear plant, water dropwort and mustard leaf. Customers can ask for just one kind of vegetable if they want.

Like most fish cake noodles soup restaurants in Hanoi, this one serves crunchy fried fish cakes to eat with a variety of noodles like rice vermicelli, flat rice noodles and cassava vermicelli.

At the restaurant, the cake is made with climbing perch fish. The pieces of cake are about match-box size, the outside is fried to a crunchy golden color while the inside remains soft and flavorful.

On order, the soup also comes with pieces of freshly boiled carp. They are firm and don’t taste fishy. This is what makes the restaurant stand out for its regulars.

Another signature dish of the restaurant is the fried fish cakes dipped in sweet and sour fish sauce. Since the fish is fried on order, the pieces remain thick and tasty

The fried fish cakes are made on customers' orders. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dao

The fried fish cakes are made on customers’ orders. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dao

With a little bit of kumquat, chili sauce and pickled garlic, there is a delicious bowl of noodles soup that customers usually polish off to the last drop. The restaurant owner said since the broth is made from fish bones and marrow bones, the broth is clear and naturally sweet without needing any added artificial flavoring.

Duc, a first time customer, said: “I think the broth here is really nice. The fish cakes are thick and warm, and not shriveled like at other places.”

The restaurant also does takeout of fish cakes, fried eel cakes, crunchy fried fish, boneless fish and more.

This small restaurant has been attracting a large number of customers for a decade. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dao

This small restaurant has been attracting a large number of customers for a decade. Photo by VnExpress/Tuan Dao

Source: Tuan Dao(VNEXPRESS)

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Food

Coconut sticky rice a rare treat on Hanoi streets

The dish emerged decades ago, but it remains difficult to find a place in Hanoi that makes it really well

On the outside, the coconut sticky rice, xoi dua, is a very simple, tasty dish, one of several varieties of the dish that is a popular breakfast choice of many in Vietnam, including Hanoi.

However, there’s more to this particular variety that makes it difficult to get one that has the right taste.

Basically, the dish is a combination of glutinous rice with sesame, shredded coconut and a dash of brown sugar. It has a light sweet taste, great fragrance and does not “fill” you like other, more well known sticky rice varieties.

Despite its great taste and looks, the coconut sticky rice is not a ubiquitous presence on the street because making it is a relatively difficult, time consuming process.

The cook has to steam the rice twice after adding a pinch of salt. Then, the white strands of grated coconut and the sesame, essential to the dish, have to be roasted carefully. If the fire is too strong, they will get burnt, and the taste and fragrance of the dish will be lost. The second steaming happens after the rice has been mixed with the grated coconut and coconut milk.

Following the second steaming, the roasted and ground sesame, is sprinkled on top of the rice with a little touch of brown sugar and all this is mixed up before the dish is served.

A dish is both shiny and bright, with both the dark rice and white coconut having a glossy finish.

One of the few places that aficionados of this dish will recommend is Hoa’s coconut sticky rice stall on Ngo Van So Street. She also sells other sticky rice varieties including the xoi gac (with gac fruit ), xoi do den (black beans), xoi lac (peanuts) and xoi dau xanh (mung beans).

Hoa highlighted one more “difficulty” in making the coconut sticky rice. “Preparing the rice is what takes the most effort, you have to wash very carefully to make sure that every single grain is of good quality.”

Source: Viet Nguyen (VNEXPRESS)

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Food

Coffee that’s been brewing for 50 years in south Vietnam

Customers of a nameless, unassuming coffee shop in An Giang are drawn by the ‘scent of time’ it exudes.

Near the Long Xuyen canal and Ong Manh bridge, Ho Thi Hanh has been running her coffee shop for 50 years. Her café has no sparkling billboard or even a clear address, but its simplicity, neatness, unchanged ambience and special coffee flavor have won the hearts of many customers.

Local patrons refer to the shop “Muoi Ngau café”.

Hanh prepares the coffee after the customers place their order, so that every cup has a fresh, strong flavor. She brews the coffee in an earthen pot on a brick stove fuelled by rice husk. She uses an aluminum spoon to take the coffee powder from a tin container. None of her brewing tools are made of plastic.

Once the coffee is brewed it is strained through cloth mesh before being poured into cups.

Many customers said they can smell the “scent” of time as they wait for and enjoy their coffee.

Before pouring the coffee, Hanh warms the cups by dipping them in boiling water, so the beverage retains its heat and warmth for longer.

There is also a tea pot in the café that is usually refilled with boiled water. Hanh only uses one stove to boil the water for brewing coffee and tea. She is always busy brewing, pouring and serving. In the morning when the place is packed, she seeks some help from her two children.

Despite the incessant work flow, Hanh attends to each and every one of her customers. She can notice who has finished their drink, and promptly refill their cup with coffee for free.

“Should drink some more for fun,” she said, smiling.

At the end of the day, the cloth filters are washed and placed on the side of the house to be dried by the sun and wind that blows from the nearby Hau River.

The café’s takeaway options are simple, too. The coffee is poured into a plastic bag tied with rubber bands. A bag of tea that is double the size goes along.

The shop is part of an old house, with unpainted walls. It can accommodate just three sets of wooden tables and chairs, all weathered by time.

The aroma of coffee has been lingering on the ceilings walls for more than 50 years.

People usually order a hot black coffee with some sugar and ice. The milk coffee here bears the southwestern coffee style: the milk portion almost equals that of the coffee, creating a refreshingly sweet drink.

“In the past, when we first came here and asked her permission to take pictures, she would give us free coffee,” said Phi Thong, 22, a local resident.

A cup of coffee costs just VND5,000 ($0.2). Most of the customers are local workers, who drop by for a takeaway drink in the morning, or sit and relax to get some rest during a long working day.

The café is also the rendezvous for everyone from different walks of life to gather, have breakfast and engage in some chit-chat.

The milk coffee.

Ut, 44, a vendor living nearby, has had coffee from Hanh’s café for more than 20 years. “Every day I buy a takeaway coffee bag. In the past I used to buy it for my dad, but now, I myself enjoy the drink.”

Source: Linh Tam (VNEXPRESS)

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