Front Beach Home to an unusual array of statues and fishing boats

Vung Tau is a go-ahead kind of place. In the first six years that I lived here, the city hosted the World Youth Chess Championships, the International Women’s Beach Volleyball Championships, Mrs World, the International Kite-flying Championship, the World Food Festival, and the Russia-Vietnam Surf Championship.

But, as I said, that was in the first six years. Over the past few years there hasn’t been so much as a hint of a championship, a world tournament, or an international event of any kind on the horizon. Search the internet for ‘Vung Tau Events Calendar’ and you’ll come up with zilch, nada, nowt, nil. The slate, it seems, is clear. Why is that, I wonder? I mean, this is National Tourism Year, after all.


Has the oil money that funded the events dried up? Hardly. Admittedly, oil revenues have dropped over the past decade, but run out entirely? No. Despite low oil prices, Vietnam is still making a pretty penny exporting the black gold. Has a more conservative planning committee taken over the reins of the city’s administration? There have been no reports of any such move. So what is behind Vung Tau’s seeming disinterest in staging any more international events?


Flying High?


Down the Dogs If you want some real competition (and some legal gambling thrown in for good measure), hit the Dog Racing


Could it be negative public opinion? Quite possibly. People are wary of attending these events if the organisation is below par. And, yes, organisational foul-ups have dogged a number of the past events. Let me give you an example or two.


In Belly’s Bar and Restaurant I fell into conversation with an Australian woman who was a competitor in the week-long International Kite Flying Championship.


“You can’t complain about the organisation — there is none,” she said. “The other morning we’re on the beach at Long Hai, right, laying out our kite, getting the struts and strings straightened out, checking and double-checking, then one of the organisers announced there’d been a change of venue for that morning.


The event, they were told, was to be moved down the coast to Vung Tau. What’s the problem?


“Our kite’s five meters from wingtip to wingtip,” she explained. “Refolding it, repacking it, and arranging transport for it is a time-consuming task, let me tell you. And that hasn’t been the only time this sort of thing has happened.”


Such organizational shortcomings were a pain in the backside for the competitors, but remained largely unknown to the general public. Not so for the much-heralded World Food Festival.


The days leading up to the festival were a whirlwind of activity. T-shirts and baseball caps bearing the festival logo were on sale everywhere, shops and hotels had been issued with booklets of food vouchers to sell to interested takers, Thuy Van Street on Back Beach had been blocked off for half a kilometre as stalls and mini-cafes were being set up. It was proudly announced that the Vung Tau World Food Festival had secured a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s largest food festival. To all appearances, preparations were well thought-out, well oiled, and well under way.


Food fast



Then came opening day. Thousands of eager food fans streamed onto the venue. The variety of food outlets was mindboggling. Middle-Eastern food, Japanese food, Italian food, French, Greek, German, Korean, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian food… you name it, it was there for the taking.


After the salivating visitors had wandered the length of the street, they made their decisions and spent their vouchers on plates of whichever exotic taste treat had taken their fancy. All went well for the first hour, then, one-by-one, the outlets ran out of food. The crowd had now swollen to hundreds of thousands, but most of them returned home still clutching their unspent vouchers, and still hungry.


The second day was a repetition of the first, only this time the food supply lasted just half an hour. And so it was for the rest of the week, resulting in a multitude of frustrated, bitterly dissatisfied customers. The event quickly became known as ‘The food festival minus the food’. I’ll bet that never made it into the Guinness Book of Records.


What of the future? Will the city see any more international events, or will we no longer thrill to the sounds of “Ladeez and gennelmen… all the way from sunny Vung Tau Vietnam, we proudly present [drum roll] the one, the only, international extravaganza of the year, the…?”


Only time will tell.

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