The Three-Boats Island is a rare jewel within a two-hour drive from the Pearl of the Orient. Located in the zone between the equator and the Tropic of Cancer, this area is a tropical paradise, mostly for the locals due to its close proximity to Sài Gòn.
I’ve been wanting to write about this island for the longest time, but have been hesitant to do so for a couple of very good reasons. Leave well enough alone.
I’ve been told by many people NOT to make a big splash about this prized scenic area because once the world knows about it, there goes its pristine nature and fairly quiet scenic locations. Nobody wants this tourist destination to become the IT place to visit because once it becomes IT, it turns into something not so desirable.
It has already happened to several prized locations in Vietnam, such as Nha Trang and Phú Quốc, and I do not want it to happen here.
As late as the early 1900s, this prized scenic area was called Tam Thắng, which means Three Ships (as in seafaring vessels) in memory of the first three villages in this area. There was Thắng Nhất Village (Boat Number One Village), Thắng Nhị Village (Boat Number Two Village), and Thắng Tam Village (Boat Number Three Village), within the province of Biên Hòa under the Nguyễn dynasty.
Once the Nguyễn dynasty ended in 1945, with the final King of Vietnam went the three boats, to be replaced with various names, including a brief foreign-sounding stint as Cap Saint-Jacques under the influence of the French. It stayed with the French name until the French left, whereupon it was promptly rename Vũng Tàu, its present-day moniker.
Vũng Tàu means ‘ship harbor’, a completely insipid name for such a jewel of a place. When a name revolves around more or less a description of its formal function: a harbor that could accommodate a ship at anchor, either for quarantine, queuing, or discharge.
I can’t rag on that name too much. After all, calling villages one, two, and three would be even more uninspired.
Seriously, doesn’t it sound to you as if three ships landed on this island and docked in those very same spots, and those names were simply designation spots for the individual ships? I could see this happening, using my very vivid imagination. I could tell a huge fictional narrative about it.
But I’m not going to bore you with fictionalized accounting. The place itself is more than exciting enough, especially for the adventurous traveler.
Vũng Tàu is officially called a peninsula, but I feel a very strong need to refute this. I’ve been there many times and I’ve always had to cross bridges to get there.
From above, using a Google map depiction of the area, it clearly shows that Vũng Tàu is surrounded by water. Without those bridges that connect it to the mainland province of Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu, you’d have to swim to get there, so it most definitely is NOT a peninsula and is, in fact, an ISLAND.
Just look at the map! Do y’all see water encircling the entire land mass that Vũng Tàu City occupies? Heck, all the other islands around Vũng Tàu are also similarly situated, encircled by water, and they are all called ISLANDS.
The Islands Surrounding Vũng Tàu
Not counting Vũng Tàu there are actually sixteen islands of varying sizes in and around that area, collectively called Côn Đảo which means Côn Island, of which the largest of this grouping is called Côn Lôn Island.
This grouping of islands, all within easy reach of Vũng Tàu, includes one of special interest: Hòn Bà Island.
I wrote about Hòn Bà Island in one of my previous posts, Hidden Path to Hòn Bà Island in which I detailed its amazing ancient history and exactly how you can walk out to that island at certain times of the year, when conditions are PERFECT.
Aside from Hòn Bà Island, there are also Côn Sơn Island, Gò Găng Island, Long Sơn Island, Bông Lan Island, Bảy Cạnh Island, Cau Island, to name a few. they are all designated with the classification of ‘island’.
All except Vũng Tàu of course. For whatever lame reason it happens to be, it is legally designated–a fricking peninsula.
For me, however, it will always be Vũng Tàu Island because I love to tell people I own a condo on an island in the tropics of Vietnam. Sounds decadent and delicious, doesn’t it?
It is. I mean–what’s not to love?
It’s an island city, made up of gorgeous beaches, with a central mountainous region, and lots of fun things to do. It’s like Santa Cruz, but without the huge crowds and university students. And did I say it’s warm? You can swim. snorkel, or scuba in the waters, day or night because it’s like swimming in bath water.
You can also surf.
Although traditional board surfing is quite popular on all the beaches of Vũng Tàu, what’s making all the waves nowadays is kitesurfing.
Every day, except during bad weather, there are always plenty of people out on the waters doing kitesurfing (aka windsurfing) along the length of the beach. Instead of being pulled by a speed boat, the surfers get pulled along by a huge kite.
Definitely not something that can be attempted without plenty of experience (or at least an experienced trainer nearby–and there are plenty of them for a very nominal price).
In fact, Vũng Tàu is one of the most popular surfing destinations in Vietnam. Every single beach is surf-able, but the Back Beach (Thắng Tam area) is best for surfing–again with those plain vanilla names for such breathtaking vistas!
If I was the reigning monarch, I would rename those places with names that would make people swoon and want to visit–names like Crystal Isle, or Lapis Paradise. Of course, I don’t have any say-so or naming rights, so we are just going to go with Back Beach.
Speaking of Back Beach, One of my favorite restaurants to visit in the Back Beach area is La Sirena Seafood Restaurant.
Yes, it’s a Spanish name for what looks like an Italian venue, but trust me. It is essentially a Vietnamese seafood restaurant which serves amazing food.
Because it is situated right on the beach, there is no bad spot to sit. You can literally sit at any dining spot and be guaranteed an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean.
One of the best times to visit is at sunrise, where you can actually watch the sun rise up from the waters. That’s gotta take a bit getting used to since my usual view of the Pacific is a glorious sunset.
From my usual table at that restaurant, I can watch the waves dancing along the shore as I enjoy platters of seafood, fresh coconut water, and plenty of beer for anyone else joining me in the sumptuous seafood feast.
but that is only a secondary reason why I have a second home in this area.
The real reason why I am so drawn to this area is because it was at this place that I departed my birth country to sail into the big blue unknown on a tiny little fishing boat. Decades later, when I returned to visit, I fell in love with the area and decided to purchase a condo there, making it my official second home.
My new home is located smack dab in the middle of the third boat (Thắng Tam) area, surrounded by a number of five-star hotels catering to visiting guests. I would say more about it, except that I have to finish packing. I have a plane to catch.
My next post will be written from Three Boats Island itself, as I continue to share with you, the beauty of this corner of paradise.
Until then. Au revoir!
2 thoughts on “Three-Boats Island”
For decades now I have pushed via my website articles and books that Vung Tau is an island. An exotic, historic island. It does not fit the boring definition of a lame peninsula. Recently the tourism industry has started calling it an island in their ads. I have a 1600s Chinese pirate map which labels Vung Tau as Mekong Island. You are going to love your new second home.
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Looks like a beautiful place. Glad to see you make it home. Enjoy.
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