The first mentioning of the settlement on the cap where Vung Tau is located now was in 14th century. There was quite busy navigation and ships use Vung Tau bays for anchorage during storms and bad weather.

This ships activity inspired the name “Vũng Tàu”, which means “anchorage”. Portuguese navigators passing Vung Tau many times named it after Saint Jacques and the French invaded Vietnam afterwards called it “Cape Saint Jacques”.

But before the town get its official name “Cape Saint Jacques” and later “Vung Tau” the place was originally referred to as “Tam Thắng” (“Three Boats”) in memory of the first 3 villages in this area: Thắng Nhất, Thắng Nhị, Thắng Tam.
From 1761 till 1820 it was within the province of Bien Hoa under the Nguyen dynasty.

Once Malay pirates built a base here and this place became a danger for navigation, the king sent 3 troupes of army to crack down on the pirates. The pirates were ousted and solders of these troupes were given the land as a reward.

10th February 1859 marks the first use of cannons by Nguyen’s army, when they fired at French battleships from the fortress of Phước Thắng, located 100 m from Vung Tau’s Front Beach. This marked an important period in Vietnam’s war against French invaders in South Vietnam (then called Cochinchina).

In 1876, according to a decree by the French colonialists, Vungtau was merged in Ba Ria county, a part of Saigon administration.

On 1st of May, 1895 the governor of Cochinchina established by decree that Cape Saint Jacques would thereafter be an autonomous town.

In 1901, the population of Vung Tau was 5,690 of which 2000 persons were immigrants from North Vietnam. Most of the town’s population this time made their living in the fishing industry. On April 4th 1905 Cape Saint Jacques was made an administrative district of Ba Ria province. In 1929, Cape Saint Jacques became a province, and in 1934 became a city (commune).

The French governor of Indochina, Paul Doumer (who later became President of France), built a mansion in Vung Tau that is still a prominent landmark in the City.

During the Vietnam War, Vung Tau was home to the Australian Army and American support units, and was a popular resort spot for in-country R&R for U.S. combat troops.

The last American soldier left Vung Tau in 1975.

In 1981 Baria-Vungtau province cames into new era. The first oil deposit in offshore was discovered by Russian-Vietnamese Joint venture “Vietsovpetro”.

After some years two unique oil fields have been taken into exploitation – “White Tiger” and “Dragon”.

From this time Vietnam became one the largest oil producer in the region and Baria-Vungtau the richest province in the country.

At the end of eighteens there were around 5 thousand Russians living in the City that create specific subculture around Russian compound with number of restaurants, cafes, shops with specific food and drinks.

At this time foreigner specialists presence in the City is around two and half thousands but anyway many years of influence of foreign culture made its deal – now Vung Tau can be considered as a most foreigner-friendly city in the country.

At the beginning of nineties BP, Shell, Chevron, Texaco, Caltex, Occidental, Exxon, Total, Conoco, Petronas, KNOC and other international oil companies also got involved in oil production here and great number of overseas specialists brought with them the multicultural mix. Many foreign specialists stay in the City after completion of work for employer opening their own business and acquiring mix families here. By unofficial data there are more then 1,5 thousands expats living in Vung Tau now.

On August 12th 1991, the province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau was officially founded and Vung Tau town officially became Vungtau City.




15 Responses to History

  1. David Cooper says:

    Liked the history lesson, and the pictures. I was stationed there as an MP and started looking up the history when I got back. One thing in error on your site, the Americans found the oil in the 1960s, and where starting to develope. I still have the article from 1972 printed by the Asssiciated Press.

  2. Dmitry says:

    It would be very interesting to read this article (could not find any archives in internet).
    Who find oil in Vietnam first? Good question.
    By the information I got (from geologists working here more then 20 years), before the war and during first some years American oil giants – such as Shell, Mobil and Exxon were working on exploration of South Vietnam shelf but did not find any sufficient deposits.
    After the war Soviet-Vietnamese Joint venture – Vietsovpetro continue work offshore Vungtau. They were trying to find oil in the sediments structures (sandstones) on the depth 1500 – 3000 meters. There were some low debit structures founded those did not attract much attention. Then Russian geologists proposed theory that oil deposits can be located in crumbling granitic rocks.
    In result first deep well (near 4000 m) was drilled which gave good flow rate. Later more wells were drilled in this area and big oilfield – “White Tiger” was discovered. This oil field is still under exploitation.

    • Mikey L says:

      Agree with Dmitry. You can read article “Oil in bedrock granite” published in Abundanc&Capital in 2005:
      “… Western oil companies refuse to drill on the shelf of Vietnam unless they find “source rock” – sedimentary rock that can contains oil the petro-geologists believe derived from decaying ancient biological debris, dead dinosaurs and pre-historic forests. That the Soviets and the Vietnamese have found oil in granite structures is revolutionary…”

  3. J. Lee says:

    Shell and Mobil (not Exxon) were involved in oil exploration in the South Vietnam in the early sixties ..

  4. Matt says:

    Great photos! I’ve read a lot about the history of Vung Tau in books but to see such great photographs was a real bonus. Great job!

  5. Ern says:

    The Image directly following the sentence “and was a popular resort spot for in-country R&R for U.S. combat troops.” has been flipped (reversed negative) apart from that great history

  6. alex dobrov says:

    hello David Cooper
    Could you send me copy of the article about oil exploration in Vung Tau published in 1972 by the Asssiciated Press?
    its very interesting for me.

  7. thanks vungtau-city.com about Vung Tau.

  8. LesNicholas says:

    I arrived in Vung Tau on the 26th April 1966 with the advanced party of the Australian Task Force. We were the first to set up camp on back beach. A week later 3 of us were moved up to what was then called VC Mountain to set up a rebroadcast station for the landing of the Australian Task Force. I have many fond memories and photos taken of Vung Tau at that time. I am returning on the 15th August 2012 for a reunion and many more photos.

  9. Kalvin says:

    One thing that is sad about Vung Tau history is that they don’t take care of it. All the old French bunkers are look like dump sites, as well as Big Jesus. The Vietnamese don’t understand about littering, which is easily seen everywhere. Then they are all overgrown and not maintained so that they could be a real tourist attraction. A real shame. Other than that it is a great place to live. Besides the excessive honking and crazy driving taxi drivers. lol

  10. Roy says:

    As far as who first discovered commercial oil on the VN continental shelf it was indeed Mobil Oil who tested the Bach Ho discovery at 2400 BBls/day!As with most exploration wells it was abandoned and further exploration ceased as Saigon was falling in April 1975.
    VietSov and PV just twinned that well for their “discovery”!

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