Ho Chi Minh City might be one of the most insane cities on earth.
Its streets are surging rivers of scooters, taxis and buses. Its sidewalks are packed with throngs of people: locals, backpackers, expats, street vendors selling everything imaginable. And the whole, mad scene is blanketed by a thick, humid heat that commonly spikes above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Needless to say, Ho Chi Minh City can get a little overwhelming, and when it does, you’ll find yourself longing for a break. Luckily, you’ll find just the kind of slowed-down vibe you’re craving in the beach town of Vũng Tàu.
To get to Vũng Tàu from Ho Chi Minh city you can take a taxi over land, or a hydrofoil over water. When I visited, I took the later course. Hydrofoils depart hourly, throughout the day, are wonderfully inexpensive, and are a great way to get a bit of fresh air out on the water.
When I arrived in Vũng Tàu, I hunkered down at a hotel that would probably make a lot of pampered western travelers squirm, but more than did the trick for me. From there, I rented a scooter, and set out to explore the town.
There’s quite a bit to do in Vũng Tàu. There are, of course, beaches, though they are far from the best in Vietnam. There’s also some interesting shopping to be done, some great eating, and a surprisingly vibrant nightlife (they’ve got a pirate-themed nightclub).
Perhaps the most interesting of all Vũng Tàu’s attractions, however, is Lam Son Stadium, a greyhound racing track not far from the hydrofoil port. Provided you’re visiting on one of the days the track is actually open (and you have no ethical gripes with greyhound racing) this is one of the best ways to spend an evening in Vũng Tàu.
I visited Lam Son, alone, on a Friday night. After struggling to find the entrance to the place, I paid the modest admission fee (a little less than $5.00), and wandered in.
I was early, so I had a bit of time to kill. For me, this meant drinking. I found a concession stand and ordered myself a pair of Saigon beers. From there, I killed time by getting acquainted with a trio of greyhound puppies in a pen. Petting the pups was clearly acceptable practice. They all seemed to be happy and well-fed.
Before long, of course, it was almost race time. The first round of dogs and their handlers walked a lap of the track.
Though I had been to a horse-racing track in Vancouver about a year prior, I had pretty much no knowledge of animal racing sports at that time.
Most of my exposure to these sports was thanks to the legendary poet Charles Bukowski, a horse-racing fanatic. As I approached the betting window at Lam Son, eager to place a bet to make my experience authentic, I thought of a Bukowski poem that includes the line “I had this very strong feeling for the 9 horse.”
I looked down at the race program, which was conveniently printed in English, saw that there was a number-9 dog, and decided this is how I would bet. I don’t remember exactly how much I bet, but it was a significant enough amount that I felt very stupid when I realized that the dogs numbered 9 and 10 served as alternates, and didn’t actually race.
As the second race approached, I sheepishly returned to the betting window, embarrassed that I had bet on a dog that wasn’t even in the running. This time, I bet a similar amount on a dog I was sure was racing. Unfortunately, I lost again, as I did once more during the third race. By the time the fourth race rolled around, I decided it was time to stop throwing my money away and just enjoy the spectacle.
And it really is a spectacle. These dogs are absurdly fast – so fast that they’re really just blurs of fur as they pass you.
For the rest of the evening, I sipped on cold Saigon beer, watched the dogs run, and watched my fellow bettors celebrate wins, or crumple up their bet slips after losses. There were families with children, lonely drunks, couples out on dates, and more.
All ages and demographics seemed to be welcome.
Eventually I decided I’d had my fill – though there were still quite a few races to go when I left. I stuffed my program into my pocket (I knew it’d make a good souvenir), pet one of the dogs that just raced on the way out, and made my exit from Lam Son feeling very satisfied with the night I’d had.
The streets outside the stadium were quiet and cool. The ceaseless horn-honks and suffocating humidity of Ho Chi Minh city were far, far away. I went back to my hotel, had a few more beers, and fell asleep with the window open wide and the curtains dancing in the cool breeze.
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This article debuted on WildLives.co on 27/6/2017.