Jesus statue you can climb : XXL catholicism in Vung Tau

The head of Christ the King statue in Vung Tau, Vietnam, overlooking the South China Sea, with a little island, and dark clouds in the sky, photo by Ivan Kralj

In one of the least religious countries in the world, an enormous Jesus statue was erected in 1993! According to the last official statistics (from 2014), only 6,2 % of Vietnamese people consider themselves Catholics! Still, among the strong traditions of Buddhism and Vietnamese folk religion, Christian minority pulled the incredible stunt – after 20 years of building and constructing, the concrete Son of God appeared on the southern cape of the Vung Tau peninsula!

The monumental statue of Christ the King in Vung Tau, Vietnam, stretching his arms in front of the dark clouds, photo by Ivan Kralj
The clouds might be dark, but aureole of Jesus statue in Vung Tau is grounded
No samba in Vietnam

Built more than six decades after the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, the Vietnamese Christ monument never gained the same touristic momentum. Stretching his arms over the Mount Nho (Small Mountain, 170 meters high) and gazing into the distance of the South China Sea, it might not have the same grandiose aura as the South American icon looking over the colorful Brazilian metropolis from the 700 meters high Corcovado mountain. But that doesn’t make the Vietnamese Christ a no-trump racehorse!

Vietnam and Brazil might argue about who loves fresh coconut better, or whose coffee wins the race, but when comparing oversized Biblical monuments, Vung Tau’s Jesus statue is the clear winner

OK, on the streets of Vung Tau you might not see barely dressed Vietnamese ladies shaking their bottoms and feather headpieces like tomorrow doesn’t exist. On the streets of Vung Tau, you won’t see kids skipping school classes to play street football while dreaming of becoming the next Neymar. Vung Tau people appreciate pho over moqueca, and would never trade rice wine for cachaça. The two countries might argue which one loves fresh coconut better, or whose coffee wins the race, but when speaking about oversized Biblical monuments, Asian Christ the King clearly deserves his crown! With its 32 meters of height (2 meters more than the Redeemer), Vung Tau Christ might only seem smaller, as his pedestal is just 4 meters high.

However, Jesus statue of Vung Tau provides a very particular benefit – one can climb into it and admire the views of the town and the whole coastline from Christ’s perspective. You won’t get these divine views even at the base of the statue, due to the overgrown trees. But Jesus sees it all! The trick is only that you need to climb the mountain and Christ’s interior yourself, there is no cable car you can pay to do the physical work for you!

Christ the King statue in Vung Tau, Vietnam, photographed from the bottom of one of the sets of staircases, in total more than 800 stairs one needs to climb to get to the monument, photo by Ivan Kralj
Jesus statue in Vung Tau awaits after 800-plus stairs
Small step for a pilgrim, giant Jesus statue for mankind

Available data disagrees on how many steps you need to climb to get to the monument’s platform. Some say there are 1000 steps, some exaggerate with even 1200, but the closest guess would be 800-ish. I haven’t counted them myself, but I am certain the numbers stopped being presented after the 800 mark. From my point of view, the obstacle is not the number of steps, but their relative shallowness. As 185 centimeters tall guy, I felt that the steps, sometimes just 10 centimeters high, are more tiring than the steps you would normally find in the buildings of the Western civilization. The pro-Asian-foot design gave me the feeling that I am always lifting my legs but not achieving much. And that’s what felt tiring! Some Westerners would disagree with me. They think more small steps is less tiring than less of the normal-size ones. Well, you be the judge!

Cannon near the Jesus statue (in second plan), in Vung Tau, Vietnam, photo by Ivan Kralj
Vung Tau’s Christ the King is protected by – cannon!

In any case, resting stops are provided along the way. As this is a religious site, one might use the stops to pray, and I guess Biblical statues, chubby angels, apostles, and pietas could be inspiring for that call. Otherwise, just take a moment to breathe in, admire the fake deer drinking from the artificial lakes, enjoy the floral gardens and bonsai trees, or just rhetorically ask yourself why the chickens are caged.

Christ the King – only for decently dressed!

The Jesus statue is well hidden behind the hill’s topography and trees growing on its slopes. Its whiteness will reveal to you only at the last set of the steps (this is the set when you forget to count the stairs and start to take selfies with outstretched arms, like so many before you). The admission to the statue is free, but beware, if not properly dressed, you might need to do some unplanned T-shirt shopping at the hilltop. In the monument sleeveless shirts and tops, short pants and miniskirts, but also shoes, hats and bags are prohibited. Omnipresent warnings about pickpockets operating in the area make you think twice whether you should leave your valuables at the entrance of the statue.

Pipeaway blogger Ivan Kralj holding the camera inside of the Jesus statue in Vung Tau, Vietnam, photographing 133-step staircase from above, photo by Ivan Kralj
Me inside of the Jesus statue, at the top of the 133-step staircase

I have visited Vung Tau on Monday, so the monument area did not seem as crowded as it might get on the weekends. The day was cloudy enough that I didn’t mind climbing the hill at noon. If you want to take a picture of the Christ without random strangers protruding their heads through his shoulders, the lunch break between 11:30 and 13:30, when the statue closes to visitors, is truly your safest bet! Also, the tourists don’t crowd it at 13:30 exactly, so this is the moment you could get lucky enough to not having to wait in the queue for the balconies in Christ’s shoulders.

The staircase where you’ll need to wait is narrow. And the balcony is maybe an oversized word – let’s just say that on the top of the 133-step spiral marble staircase inside of the statue two hollows let you squeeze out to get that nice sea breeze. Two, maybe three friendly strangers can fit in at one time.

Glow-in-the-dark Holy Family, the phosphorescent souvenir sculpture in the shop at Christ the King monument in Vung Tau, Vietnam, photo by Ivan Kralj
Glowy Family – beat the dark forces with some phosphorus!
Vung Tau Christ has rules for you!

Besides expected signs for no smoking and no littering, they will also advise you that running, loud speaking, writing or drawing on the wall, consuming food and drinks, and spitting is forbidden. Also, “no getting drunk and vomiting”. Maybe you could pass with just being drunk or just vomiting, not sure. For the rules they couldn’t find the adequate pictogram, the full sentence is provided, for instance: “Do not show unworthy and profane acts between couples in this sacred place.” Then again, I think even the solo profane acts would not be that welcomed! It makes you wonder how did they come with this being a potential issue.

When leaving the mountain, do drop by at the souvenir shop! You can have your own miniature Jesus statue for already 10.000 Dongs (40 Cents!). The price grows with the size of the Christ, and some of them come in the phosphorescent form, which means they glow in the dark! For 240.000 Dongs (10 Euros) you could get the whole Holy Family that will enlighten your room in green. If they pulled it off in Medjugorje with the Madonna miraculously glowing in the dark, just think what kind of profitable investment the whole glowing family could be!

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Ivan Kralj

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Award-winning journalist and editor from Croatia

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