Cold War relic - the hydrofoil from Saigon to Vung Tau - Rusty Compass travel blog

Cold War relic - the hydrofoil from Saigon to Vung Tau

| 08 Aug 2016
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08 Aug 2016

The old Russian hydrofoils plying the Saigon river to the coastal city of Vung Tau, give an interesting experience of the river, and a fantastic experience of a seemingly invincible piece of Soviet-era engineering.

Relics of Vietnam’s Cold War era ties with the Soviet Union, were everywhere in the early 90s. Vietnam Airlines was all Tupolevs and Yaks. Volgas, Ladas, Russian Jeeps and Minsk motorbikes weaved between bicycles in Hanoi and the north.

Russian Jeeps and Minsks are still pretty common in Vietnam's north. But these days, the old Soviet stuff is mainly a niche interest.

One heavy-duty icon of the Soviet era remains in service, despite a dubious record of fires, sinkings and crashes. The Russian hydrofoils between Saigon and Vung Tau are constantly threatened with forced retirement, but then miraculously go on to fight another day. And they’re cracking pieces of Cold War heavy engineering .

The river ride can be pretty cool too - far more interesting than travelling by road.

I first started calling these hydrofoils, Tupolevs of the river, and death bullets, years ago, after an especially hairy journey between Haiphong and Ha Long Bay in a wild storm. These things look dubious at the best of times, but they feel especially out of their depth in rough seas.

Everyone on that trip assumed we were doomed. As we were tossed from side to side, there was no need to guess what fellow travellers had for breakfast.

If you want to do something a little quirky while in Saigon, head down to the port at Nha Rong (near the Ho Chi Minh Museum in District 4) and grab a ticket for the 90 minute ride to Vung Tau.

It's worth noting that the open-air spaces are small, and if the service is crowded, will likely be colonised by smokers.  So we offer this recommendation with health and safety as well as satisfaction caveats.

Vung Tau’s best days may be in the past, but this once-popular French colonial beach resort, is still refreshingly relaxed compared with Saigon. You can walk, cycle and enjoy delicious fresh seafood too. The swimming is less appealing.

Australians interested in their country’s Vietnam War history can explore the former base at Nui Dat and the cross at Long Tan.

For more on Vung Tau, click here.

Mark Bowyer
Mark Bowyer is the founder and publisher of Rusty Compass.
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