Whether it’s part of a two week trip through Vietnam or just a short city break, Ho Chi Minh City is one of the first places travelers look to when they are planning a visit to Vietnam. A bustling metropolis, you won’t have any problems filling several days of sightseeing in HCMC with everything there is to do there.
But southern Vietnam is so much more than just this one city. Allow an extra day or two in the city and you’d be surprised how many of the other best places to visit in Vietnam you can visit as day trips. To give you an idea of what is possible, we’ve arranged this list of the best day trips from Ho Chi Minh City.
1. Mekong Delta
Starting with one of the most popular day tours from Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta is a day trip many visitors choose to make. With a tour to the Mekong Delta, you’ll see this fascinating landscape made up of rivers, islands, and swamp land and what life is like for those who live there. You’ll first enjoy a boat ride through the network of rivers in the delta to different islands, where you can experience the rural lifestyles of the people. This may include wandering through local gardens or listening to performances of folk music. A highlight of a visit here is floating through canals lined with water coconut trees in a traditional rowing boat. After having seen the beautiful landscape by water, you may have options like going cycling or relaxing in a hammock away from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City.
Getting there: Since a visit to the delta involves boat trips and various different locations, it’s really best visited on a guided tour. They’ll handle all the transport and logistics so you don’t have to.
2. Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi Tunnels are often one of the first Ho Chi Minh City day trips many people hear about. A relic of the Vietnam War, this is a place for those who want to learn more about the conflict. Viet Cong soldiers used this extensive labyrinth of tunnels to fight against American forces, but also for shelter and as supply routes. Today the Cu Chi Tunnels are an open air museum with information on how the tunnels were used and examples of traps set for US soldiers. You also get to see how tunnel entrances were concealed and experience firsthand how confined the tunnels are by walking through one.
Getting there: The easiest way to reach the Cu Chi Tunnels is on a half day tour as they will handle transport and guide you around the site. Otherwise you can ride a motorbike to make the short trip from Ho Chi Minh City or catch the #13 bus for the hour-long trip.
3. Cao Dai Temple
Another of the best places to visit from Ho Chi Minh City if you want an interesting cultural experience is the Cao Dai Temple in Tây Ninh. The religion of Caodaism is exclusive to southern Vietnam and was founded there in 1926. Caodaism borrows elements from other major world religions. On a visit to the temple you can see all these elements in the design of the buildings and in the way religious services take place. From an upper balcony in the temple, you can sit in on a prayer service, listen to the Vietnamese music, and experience a formal service inside the brilliantly vibrant hall. Seeing the Cao Dai Temple is bound to be a wholly unique experience.
Getting there: The city of Tây Ninh can be reached from Saigon with the 702 bus, taking over 1 ½ hours. An easier option, especially if you also want to see the Cu Chi Tunnels, is to go with an organized tour.
4. Black Virgin Mountain
For those looking to escape the hectic city, a trip to Black Virgin Mountain ought to do the trick. Out in Tay Ninh province, northwest of the city, this extinct volcano is a popular spot for those seeking the outdoors as well as some hiking trails. Locally known as Nui Ba Den, you can either hike the full way up this 996-meter-high mountain or allow the cable car to bring you part of the way. Besides excellent views of the surrounding landscape, the area near the top of the mountain is also home to several pagodas and shrines. Like so many places in Vietnam, Black Virgin Mountain has its fair share of war history. During the Vietnam War it was seen as a crucial strategic landmark and was the focus of many battles and even had its own tunnels which were used during the conflict.
Getting there: Getting to Tay Ninh and Black Virgin Mountain by bus isn’t very easy, with multiple connections required and a taxi at the end. Simpler options are going by motorbike, private car, or by taking an organized tour there.
5. Cai Be Floating Market
The Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam is a large place, so several of the best side trips from Ho Chi Minh City take travelers there. Most visitors head to the area around My Tho and Ben Tre, but another option is the town of Cai Be and its floating market. Upon reaching the town of Cai Be, you’ll want to head out onto the water to see a mess of boats filling the river to sell their goods. Afterwards, tourists are able to learn more about the region’s food, whether by seeing it get made or by visiting orchards. You may even have the opportunity to take a local cooking class and make your own lunch. Otherwise, you may like to explore a little, whether by kayak or bicycle.
Getting there: A bus ride from Saigon to Cai Be takes around 2.5 hours with a few connections each day. Otherwise, you’ll be best off taking a guided tour there as you won’t need to worry about transport and they’ll also arrange activities for you.
6. Vũng Tàu
While HCMC locals look at Vũng Tàu as a weekend escape, tourists have the option of making this day trip any day they like. As a seaside city, Vũng Tàu is best known as a beach destination, but there is a bit of a city center here as well. Because the city sits along a peninsula, it’s home to several beaches, although the most accessible and popular are Bãi Trước and Bãi Sau. The back beach Bãi Sau is considered the nicest of the beaches here, with a long stretch of beachfront. Bãi Trước however is right in the city center, making it easier to reach, but expect it to be busier because of that. As for other attractions, Vũng Tàu is home to a 105-foot-tall statue of Jesus Christ and a picturesque lighthouse on top of Núi Nhỏ mountain.
Getting there: It’s actually possible to reach Vũng Tàu on a 2 hour ferry ride making it one of the more easy trips from Ho Chi Minh City. The slower alternative is regular buses that make the 2.5 drive there.
7. Ho Coc & Ho Tram Beach
Another option for those seeking a bit of time by the sea is to make your way to the beaches at Ho Coc and Ho Tram. If you’ve been picturing golden sand beaches and palm trees as part of your Vietnam holiday, then you’re in luck. Both spots are home to resorts with their own private beaches, but there are public sections of beachfront as well. The surf here can be quite rough, so swimming depends on the weather. Sunbathing though won’t be a problem and you can rent sunbeds from the resort beaches. Inland from the coast, past the Phuoc Buu Nature Reserve, it’s also possible to visit farming communities and try fresh local fruits including dragonfruit and jackfruit.
Getting there: To reach Ho Coc Beach from Ho Chi Minh City, take the ferry or bus to Vung Tau, then travel the rest of the way with taxi or motorcycle taxi. A less stressful alternative is to visit the beaches on an organized tour which will handle the transport.
8. Cần Giờ Biosphere Reserve
If you’d like to spend your spare time experiencing Vietnam’s flora and fauna, head to the Cần Giờ Biosphere Reserve. One of the better things to see in Vietnam outside of Ho Chi Minh City, this biosphere reserve has been recognized by UNESCO for its wildlife and biodiversity. The main attractions for visitors to this wetland reserve are the Giant Bat Lagoon and the Vam Sat Mangrove Forest. Through a mix of walks and row boat rides, you’ll get to see the ecosystems of Can Gio and have the opportunity to see all sorts of wildlife, including birds, monkeys, and crocodiles.
Getting there: The best way to reach the Cần Giờ Biosphere Reserve and to see the most, is to visit with a guided tour. Otherwise, you’ll need to make your own way there, taking an hour or so to get there.
9. Tan Lap Floating Village
To see more of Vietnam’s serene natural landscapes and support local ecotourism, consider a visit to the Tan Lap Floating Village. Despite its name, Tan Lap is a culture and nature reserve now as no one actually lives in the floating village due to conservation efforts. Start your visit to the Tan Lap floating village on a boat cruise past water lilies. Next, take a walk through the forest of melaleuca trees which fill up this wetland environment. For the best views of the melaleuca forest and to take it all in at once, climb up the village’s 38-meter-high watchtower.
Getting there: Taking public transport to the floating village requires changes in Cholon Station and Long An, with the trip taking almost 4 hours. Otherwise you’ll have to find your own way there, with the drive taking close to 2 hours.
10. Cat Tien National Park
One of the largest nature reserves in Vietnam, Cat Tien National Park is another place you don’t want to miss. If you’ve been wanting to experience some real jungle while in Vietnam, then this is it. This reserve is home to a vast area of lowland tropical forest in which all sorts of animals can be found, including elephants, leopards, and gibbons. Of course, these animals are wild and as such are not so easy to spot, so temper your expectations. Still, the park is home to an incredible diversity of plant life, with trees that are centuries old. Bau Sau, aka Crocodile Lake, is a popular spot for a cruise in a small boat. Other common activities include hiking, visiting ethnic villages, and animal rescue centers.
Getting there: At four hours each way by car, Cat Tien is a long day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. It’s generally recommended to stay overnight but if you don’t mind a long day, then it is possible.
Those are the best places to visit when looking to make a day trip from Saigon. As you can see, there’s quite a nice variety of destinations for you to choose between. No matter where you go, you’ll be glad to see more of beautiful Vietnam.