February 11th, 2013

Vacationing before Vacation!

Vung Tau is a popular destination for short getaways. An hour and a half away from HCMC, the city used to be known as a petroleum capital of Vietnam, but also boasts a strong fishing industry and its beach resorts are a draw for tourists. This was our first spontaneous trip out of  the city that we Loyola students took of our own volition. While our roommates helped us book places and figure out what to do, we were going to be on our own there.

We traveled via hydrofoil to get to Vung Tau and were bombarded with sales pitches, persistent taxi drivers, xe oms, and rickshaw peddlers the moment we stepped off the dock. Most likely because of the impending Tet holiday, much of the resort city was already empty as people returned to their hometowns. This made us as fresh a group of tourist bait as possible. Between figuring out where our hotel was, gathering our return bus tickets, and finding out that the hotel reservation was actually for a “Tinson D.,” it was quite an experience.

However, the rest of the day and weekend were phenomenal. We explored the whole of the peninsula, and even ended up at the exact same beach that I visited with my family 5 years ago! Friday evening, we sat down for dinner at Ganh Hao, which nearly every local we met suggested to. Sitting nearly 5 meters away from the sea and literally have our pick of the day’s best catch available, it is nearly impossible to describe the ambiance as anything more than splendid.

We capped out trip by scaling the local religious/tourist attraction known as Christ the Redeemer of Vung Tau. Finished in 1993, this larger-than-life statue of Jesus stands over 32m as one of the tallest of its kind in the world,  larger than even the famousCristo Redento in Rio de Janeiro! Getting to the statue is a pilgrimage in and of itself as it is located at the summit of a 270m hill. Scaling the the hill, there are rest areas every 20-30m that showcase sculptures of prominent figure in Christianity such as Moses, the 12 Apostles, Angels, and etc. As a Catholic, it was really inspiring for me to see how my faith is practiced in my parents’ homeland.

When we finally reached the Jesus statue, we also found out that inside of the statue is actually a small chapel and a 133-step winding staircase that took you up to the shoulders of Christ! Unfortunately, shoulders and knees were required to be covered before we could step in, so many of us shorts-wearing Loyolans had to improvise.. By tying some of my extra bandanas to over my knees and throwing on an extra shirt over my tank top, the elderly gentlemen watching over the door nodded their approval, and I began my ascent to one of the most breathtaking views ever. Nearly 300m above the ground, on top of Christ’s shoulder, I saw city, land, air, and sea all at once. I did my best to take photos and video, but nothing could do that view justice than being there yourself.

A couple hours later, we caught out ride home at the hotel. As my friend Brian goes to detail to say, the ride home was very much like a ride on Harry Potter’s ‘Night Bus!’ Being the only Vietnamese speaker during the Vung Tau trip was an enlightening experience I’ll never forget. I have to personally commend tour guides and other bilingual professions on their efficiency in facilitating and helping large groups have as much fun as they do when abroad. However, I can’t say that I’ll miss being our psuedo-tour guide as it could be frustrating and difficult at times to navigate unfamiliar territory with such a large group. It was a fun and successful weekend though!  With the Tet holiday coming up, I’ll be venturing out on my own with my roommate to his hometown of Phan Thiet for another adventure and vacation.

If you haven’t had the chance already, you should really check out fellow Loyola blogger and friend Brian Priddis’ recap of our previous weekend in Vung Tau!

 

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