Today we got to travel to Vung Tau which is a beach town on the coast of Vietnam. We rose with the sun at around 5 o’clock AM and loaded onto the bus with our boxed meals from the hotel. We were headed off to hike the Christ statue and then have a beach day. As this is a trip about developing nations, I want to talk about the development on the way to the beach town and how it compares to what I’ve experienced. I found that the very coast of this beach had more expensive and fairly nice buildings and houses. As any beach I’ve been to, I imagine that to be the most expensive real estate for obvious reasons. It was nicer the closer we drove to the beach. It also was very large and from the Christ statue seemed crowded and developed with many buildings. However, the further away we got, the same style houses from HCMC started to reappear. They slowly seemed to get smaller and less put together the further we got from the beach. We got to a point when we were passing a lot of mountains and rice fields with houses fairly far apart. It seemed to be similar to America’s beach towns with the nicer real estate being closer to the beach, and then as we slowly crept in, the coastal wet region provided a good environment for rice fields and vegetation.
We arrived at 8:15 after around a two hour drive and pulled up to a mountain’s base. We had to hike up over 800 steps to climb to the top of the mountain where the Christ statue is located. WOW was it huge and beautiful. We had all loaded up on sunscreen and bug spray and after about 2 minutes we were all dripping in sweat. It was around 95° today and the humidity is around 90%. So, as you can imagine, this hike was a ridiculous climb. Half the group powered through to the top, but I decided to hang back with the other half and make frequent stops. In the beginning it was because I was so tired I could hardly stand it, but after a little while I started to realize that stopping at every resting area along the way allowed us to see each view and appreciate the climb, rather than to view it as something to get over with. There were blossomed trees that were in full bloom and had lost flowers so we put them in our hair as a decorative piece. Once we had (FINALLY) made it to the top, we then had to climb the Christ Statue. It was extremely strict. No hats, no sunglasses, no bags, no shoes, no shoulders showing, no knees visible, and no food or drink. What was killer was having to put on long pants and a t-shirt while being drenched in sweat from hiking. We had to take shifts to climb up the statue. While climbing, we realized why there was a no backpack rule, the more you climbed the tighter the stairwell got and it was essentially wide enough for a single person to fit, but of course people have to come down the same staircase so it got fairly tight at points.
Once at the top though the views were breathtaking. We could see the coast with an island pagoda on it and on the other side, we could see the colorful city of Ba Ria backed by rolling mountains. It was a beautiful view but I almost felt uncomfortable taking pictures there, as it is such a religious place. People would come to pray and walk out onto the statue and pray and I did not feel comfortable taking a picture and being a tourist in what seemed like such an intimate setting for those who were there to pray. After leaving the statue, we bought some souvenirs at a gift store and I got a nice ice cold Coca-Cola. I have never enjoyed a cold drink so much. It truly felt like I was opening happiness. We took a quick break at the top to rest and wait for everyone to cycle through the statue, and we started our treck down the mountain. The stairs were uneven and my calves were on FIRE by the end of the hike.
Back to the bus it was. This time with a much shorter trip, and a dream destination. We were going to a five-star resort/hotel that had its own private beach and pool. It was truly a paradise we had all to ourselves. We had a pool with an edge that was just a waterfall and we also had a beach with built in umbrellas and beach chairs. We all ran into the water in the ocean, but shortly after all became really itchy all over. We don’t know what it was but we ran to the pool and it did eventually go away. We swam and played frisbee in the pool. All this fun lead up to a four-course lunch where I had incredible salmon and some sort of buttery sauce that accompanied it. After lunch, I read my book and we all just hung around the pool. It felt good to relax after a busy four days. We got back on the bus and drove back to HCMC and the hotel for the night. We went to a Thai restaurant and I had beef pad thai.