Return to the Past: Vũng Tàu and Long Hải

After the wedding we were allowed one rest day before hitting the road again. This time, it’s a short day trip with the whole family. Destination: the beach.

Located two hours outside of Sài Gòn is the extremely popular beach destination Vũng Tàu. I used to come here every year as a kid with my family during summer vacations. I still have very fond memories of the quaint beach town, with its long stretch of beaches, the warm dark sand, strong sun and my nose peeling from it. I remember perching on the front of my mother’s motorbike and feeling the excitement as I tasted the salty wind in the air when we were close. This time, I’m traveling in a 16-seat van that my uncle Bi booked for us.

I’m sad to learn that Vũng Tàu is now filled with big resorts and you can no longer see the beach from the town’s main avenue. But we did not stop here for the beach today. This time we’re visiting Vũng Tàu for a special reason: Villa Blanche.  Villa Blanche, or Bạch Dinh, or the White Palace, was originally a fort made by a Nguyễn king and later rebuilt as a resort for French governors during the French colonization of Vietnam. This mansion-cum-museum holds a special meaning for us because it was where my great-great-grandfather, King Thành Thái, was placed under house arrest by the French for 10 years before being exiled to Réunion Island in 1916. This was my first time here, since it was not open to the public until 1992; I was very moved during my visit as I tried to imagine what my great-great-grandfather went through.

We could have lived here, my uncle said. It could have been ours had things turned out differently.

My regal uncle examining his lands below

The grounds are beautiful. And the view was to die for! Brandon said that there are worse places to be exiled, but I gently corrected him that my great-great-grandfather was a patriotic king. Living in a kickass mansion most likely did nothing to appease the fact that his whole country was under foreign rule! Although, I wouldn’t mind living there now. 😛

We toured the property for another hour then got back on the van to head to the next beach town over, Long Hải, to hang out for the day. The resort was almost empty even though it’s not the hottest time of the year. (Most Vietnamese people try to avoid the sun when they can.) We had the whole place to ourselves and went swimming in the pool (sadly the beach was dirty and littered), and ate a big seafood lunch.
After another swim in the pool and a refreshing nap, we started for home as the sun set. What car trip would be complete without a stop at the market for sugar cane juice and some deep fried bananas?

Brandon’s post script:

You will see a picture above of us toasting with shot glasses of homemade rice wine. (Again, “wine” is a generic term in Vietnamese–this stuff is more like highly alcoholic lighter fluid.) Not only did Uncle Bi make this himself, he also ground up some extraordinarily expensive antelope horn and mixed the powder into it. After drinking it, we were 90% more virile (even Misou’s aunt was after daring to down a dram). This meal also gave me my first taste of dragonfruit — delicious.

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