The Vietnamese city of Ho Chi Minh City (also known as Saigon) isn’t just great for its museums and other must-see sights. You can’t stop by Saigon without going on a day trip to nearby attractions around Southern Vietnam.
There’s a wide variety of activities to choose from, all within four hours’ drive from the city. Whether you want to explore the Viet Cong experience at Cu Chi Tunnels, hike to towering heights at Black Virgin Mountain, or take a slow boat ride through the Mekong Delta, you’ll find an activity suited to your tastes and exertion levels.
Pick through the list below and plan your next excursion out of Vietnam’s southern gateway!
Cu Chi Tunnels: Dive Into Vietnam War History
This formerly extensive network of tunnels in the South Vietnamese countryside is a shadow of its former self, but the few remaining boltholes of Cu Chi do a great job of recapturing the dangers of the Vietnam War era.
In its heyday, the Cu Chi tunnels extended past the Cambodian border, creating a hidden supply line that sustained the Viet Cong (Communists) and helped them execute attacks like the Tet Offensive.
Visitors to the Cu Chi Tunnels can relive the Viet Cong soldiers’ daily slog by going through the remaining tunnels and trying to fit in a tunnel entrance. Other immersive experiences include a diorama presentation, exhibits of relics left over from the war, and a firing range.
Getting there: Book a package tour from Ho Chi Minh City, or take public bus 79 which stops near the Ben Duoc entrance. Entrance fee is 110,000 dong ($4.70).
Can Gio Biosphere Reserve: Marvel at a UNESCO-Recognized Wetland
One of Vietnam’s few UNESCO-recognized nature reserves, Can Gio Biosphere Reserve is just 25 miles south of Ho Chi Minh City. To best explore the area, hop on a tourist boat to navigate this wetland's almost endless mangrove forest and meet its exotic residents: giant bats and snapping crocodiles in a half-wild state.
For a unique simian experience, stop by Monkey Island and enjoy close encounters with the feral monkeys that walk around the town square. (Try not to get your valuables stolen; these monkeys have quick fingers.)
Getting there: Ride the 20 bus from Ho Chi Minh City / 23/9 Park and disembark at Binh Khanh Ferry at Nha Be. Fare costs 5,000 dong ($0.22).
My Tho and Ben Tre: Explore Market Towns Around the Mekong Delta
Two towns around the Mekong Delta are often seen on the same trip, given their close distance to one another.
The bustling market town of My Tho was founded by Chinese refugees in the late 17th century. As it’s one of the first stops for Mekong Delta tourists from Ho Chi Minh City, My Tho is a popular embarkation point for Mekong Delta tours that visit riverside houses, towns, and workshops. The sprawling Minh Trang Buddhist temple is a must-see in My Tho.
A few miles south of My Tho lies Ben Tre, a more rustic town known for its coconut candy trade. It’s another embarkation point for Mekong Delta tours, but it’s just as popular for its coconut candy factories, which you can visit to sample the sweet treats!
Getting there: Regular bus services from Ho Chi Minh City’s Mien Tay bus station make the hour-long drive to My Tho, some 37 miles south of the city.
Cao Dai Holy See: Learn About a Uniquely Vietnamese Religion
The Cao Dai religion is uniquely Vietnamese, with a syncretic belief system that draws from both East and West. (Elements like yin and yang draw from Chinese theology; the belief in a supreme being and Heaven and Hell comes from Christianity.)
The Cao Dai Temple (“Holy See”) in Tay Ninh is the perfect embodiment of this blended belief system, with elements borrowed from Taoist temples and Catholic churches. The dragon-entwined pillars reach up to sky-blue ceilings painted with clouds, as white-clad acolytes worship on the floor facing the Divine Eye at the very end of the Hall.
Worship services take place every six hours. Visitors must wear modest clothes (covering knees and shoulders) and take off shoes before entering; they may then watch the services from the galleries.
Getting there: Located in Long Than village in Tay Ninh (some 50 miles north of Ho Chi Minh City), the Temple can be reached on the 702 bus from the city; it takes about two hours to arrive.
Can Tho: Browse Largest Floating Market in the Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta’s biggest city offers a well-developed canal network; impressive colonial infrastructure; and the largest floating market in the area, Cai Rang.
You’ll find plenty to do away from the river, including visits to the Can Tho Museum, the Binh Thuy Ancient House, and Wat Pitukhosarangsay. The riverfront promenade surrounding Ninh Kieu Pier is awesome to see any time of day, with a Night Market, riverside park, and boat trips up and down the waterways.
Early in the morning, stop by the Cai Rang floating market to take in the picturesque view and watch the boat vendors throw fruits to each other. You can buy stuff here, but you won’t exactly get your money’s worth.
Getting there: Futa Bus covers the 105-mile distance from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho in four hours; tickets cost 110,000 dong ($4.75), inclusive of shuttle service to and from the main bus terminal.
Black Virgin Mountain: Hike to the Highest Peak in Southern Vietnam
The highest peak in Southern Vietnam (at 3,268 feet high), Black Virgin Mountain is an extinct volcano that serves up adventure to both hikers and sightseers.
A cable-car goes most of the way up the mountain, where tourists disembark at an area full of pagodas for local worship. A further two-hour hike up to the summit is possible from this point for more active travelers; the way there is composed of dirt paths interrupted by the occasional boulder.
Getting there: Black Virgin Mountain is located in Tay Ninh Province. It's about a two-hour drive northwest of Ho Chi Minh City; taking an organized tour is the easiest way to get there, hiring a motorbike is the second-easiest. The cable-car ride costs 85,000 dong ($3.60) one-way.
Vung Tau: Spend a Day at the Beach
This laid-back little beach town is a favorite weekend getaway for Ho Chi Minh City residents. Sure, Vung Tau’s Back Beach and Ho Coc Beach may not be as glitzy as Vietnam’s other beaches, but the destination’s humble charm is a selling point all by itself.
Visitors to Vung Tau can enjoy the beaches first, then head to other attractions nearby like the Binh Chau Hot Springs and the hundred-foot statue of Jesus towering over the city at Nui Nho (“Small Mountain”). Vung Tau seafood is fresh, rustic and good; it’s best enjoyed at Ganh Hao Restaurant, a long-standing local favorite.
Getting there: Take the bus from Mien Dong Bus Station in Ho Chi Minh City direct to Vung Tau, or take the fast ferry by transport provider Greenlines DP.
Cat Tien National Park: Try to Spot Endangered Animals
North of Ho Chi Minh City, this massive nature reserve sprawls over 277 square miles of lowland tropical forest. Cat Tien was combined from three separate national parks due to the discovery of Javan rhinoceroses in the area; in addition to rhinos, the park harbors other endangered animals as well, among them gibbons, crocodiles, sambar deer, and leopards.
Views of these animals are hard to come by if you hike the local trails, but you can also visit an ape rehabilitation center and a crocodile breeding area to see the park’s large vertebrates at a safe distance. Other local activities include biking trails, boat trips on Crocodile Lake, and encounters with tribal communities like the Stieng and Chau Ma peoples.
Getting there: Cat Tien takes four hours to get to by car from Ho Chi Minh City. Consider staying overnight at one of the lodges located in the forest.
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. "Can Gio Mangrove."