SAIGON (1954-1960)/ 14. Development of Vung Tau
Vung Tau is a coastal city 125km South of Saigon. It had been a favourite getaway for the French colonials and a holiday location for wealthy Vietnamese from Saigon since the 19th century1. The role of the city as a major port for receiving refugees from the North from 1954 to 1955 has changed the city in great extent.
In August 1954, the USOM traveled to Vung Tau to “examine existing refugee camps and explore the possibility of additional resettlement areas for the evacuees from the North”2. It was concluded that the existing village of Thaung Nhut could accommodate 50,000 refugees, while another smaller area near the city limits of Cap St.Jacques (Vung Tau) had potential to be transformed into a refugee resettlement area. Due to its geographic position at the gateway to Mekong delta and its existing facilities as a port, Vung Tau was an ideal spot for setting up reception centres.
By the end of August, the camp at Vung Tau “held 6,600, with more expected, and a 150-bed hospital had been set up to provide medical care”3. The capacity of the camp was 9,000 in overcrowded conditions. The size of the camp was well-maintained with an organised schedule established for the arrival of U.S. Navy ships. The camp remains well planned with electricity, pit privies and medical facilities until the influx of refugee was out of control.
Following the priests, some of the refugees left the reception centres and build their villages in nearby areas. The growth of the villages was described as follows:
New villages sprang out of nowhere close to the Vung Tau area with easy access to the ocean. Travellers who drove from Saigon to Vung Tau had to face the memorable and Nauseating stench of decaying fish.4
Since then, Vung Tau was no longer only a holiday resort town for the wealthy. The growth of villages brought about urban development, also due to the fact that the city becomes a popular rest and recuperation (R&R) area for the U.S. Navy. Increase in immigrants provide work power for the development of R&R industries such the resorts, bars and clubs, while the setting up of several U.S. military unit provided sufficient customers to support the industry. Also, the conflict of different religions had physically impacted the city. The Christ Statue, located in the Southern Cape, was built in 1974 by the Catholic Association5. The location of the statue at the top of the mountain made it highly visible from most places in Vung Tau, making it an icon to the identity of the city. The construction of a catholic symbol was apparently in rivalling the Buddhist power in the city. There were already a couple of temples and a Buddha statue, the Thich Ca Phat Dai (Platform of Shakyamuni Buddha) on the north coast. The competition between the Catholic northerners and the indigenous southerners had taken the form of physical statues.
- Conte, Jeanne. “Vung Tau – Vietnam’s Hottest R&R Destination.” HistoryNet.com, 8 Dec. 2008, http://www.historynet.com/vung-tau-vietnams-hottest-rr-destination.htm. Accessed 17 Dec. 2016.
- Frankum, Ronald B. Operation Passage to Freedom: The United States Navy in Vietnam, 1954-1955. Texas Tech University Press, 2007, pp. 104
- Frankum, 2007, pp. 105-106
- Nghia, M. Vo. The Vietnamese Boat People, 1954 and 1975-1992. McFarland, 2006, pp. 38
- “Giant Christ Statue.” Agent of Communist Party of Ba Ria – Vung Tau Province, 9 May 2004, https://web.archive.org/web/20090509025804/http://www.baobariavungtau.com.vn:80/en/tourism/2309/index.brvt. Accessed 18 Dec. 2016
- Pha. Le. “The most famous pagodas in Vung Tau.” Vietnamnet, 3 Sep 2016, http://english.vietnamnet.vn/fms/travel/162443/the-most-famous-pagodas-in-vung-tau.html. Accessed 17 Dec. 2016.