Christ the King, AKA ‘The World’s Second-Tallest Jesus Statue,’ stands atop Nui Nho (Small Mountain) on the tip of a windswept peninsula in Vung Tau, a laid-back (by Vietnamese standards) resort city a few hours southeast of Saigon.
It’s a pilgrimage site for daytrippers and weekend warriors vacationing from Saigon, and a centerpiece of Vung Tau’s explosive local tourism industry.
Bible: The Theme Park
The deep-pocketed Vietnamese Christian organizations spared no expense building up the mountain, and today your journey to the top careens through a twisting menagerie of Biblical scenery flung across the mountain paths anywhere they could fit.
The climb is a dizzy, shade-free gauntlet of ivory-white statues–Moses, Mary, grinning cherubs and more—that culminates in the fortress-like mountaintop, complete with leftover artillery emplacements from the war.
Small Mountain is part holy site, part theme park, and part citadel of God.
If you plan on visiting Christ of Vung Tau, get your ass here in the morning. Shade is mercilessly sparse, the sun is homicidal, and you don’t want to come down with the ol’ vertigo climbing the steps—all 900ish of them.
Being a religious site, you shouldn’t roll up to Christ the King in a bathing suit or flip flops. There are certain standards you must observe. The list of rules is staggering, but as a foreign tourist you’re only held accountable for a few—chiefly, cover your knees and shoulders inside the statue.
WarningDon’t make the mistake of climbing to the top and realizing you can’t actually go inside the statue because your pasty white knees are showing.
Because you listened to me, you’re going to get here early, well before the heat turns the torrent of tourists into a horrible molasses spill.
Trying to wade your way to the top through this quagmire of moist bodies is a nightmare. You’re up against throngs of restless children, girls stacked high on 6-inch stilettos, and the infirm gasping their last breath before they succumb to heat stroke.
Fight your way to the summit. Rise, rise up above the oppression of the surface dwellers and ascend into the heavens.
Catch fleeting glimpses of Christ above you through the trees, arms outstretched, almost daring you to reach the peak.
Come at me, pilgrim.Christ the King
On the way, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. There are plenty of great overlooks of the sea and nearby beaches.
You’re in the home stretch when you reach the longest continuous flight of stairs, a straight shot to the top. Keep going, you can do it.
Alright, I lied. You’re not really done yet. There’s still the matter of climbing the actual statue, and you’re not going to like it.
On the Shoulders of Giants
The statue staircase is the real bottleneck. The stairwell isn’t built for big people, or even normal-sized people. If you told me the stairs were actually a much smaller model for what the real steps are supposed to look like, I’d believe you.
And since these stairs are protected from the sun, old people just sit down and rest on them. Ignore the fact that there’s barely enough room for a single foot on each step. Just deal with it. Shimmy past, and don’t worry if the sweaty seat of your pants grazes a nose or two as you squeeze through.
This is your moment. Embrace it.
Your reward is close. The stairs emerge onto a precarious platform atop Christ’s shoulders, where you can clench your asshole and drink in the panoramic view of Vung Tau.
After a few minutes of exercising your sphincter, head back to the stairs. Shuffle past a red-faced child covered in melted chocolate, and try not to trip down the steps as the darkness blinds you.
The old women from before are still here massaging their feet. They also remember the dank, earthy smell of your humid body all too well. Smile and nod as you give them another daily dose of sodium, then collect your shoes from the base of the statue.
Congratulations, now you’re a bonafide pilgrim. You can Tweet about your religious experience in designated Twitter zones to your left.