There are a lot of things you can do in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
I went there four times from 2009 to 2012, staying 2 weeks at a time, and indeed, I never ran out of things to do, whether it’s just sipping iced coffee (ca phe sau da) in one of its numerous sidewalk restaurants, enjoying a bowl of pho (soup), or sitting in a park watching people go by.
For the tourist on a frantic pace to see everything and do everything, a whole week in HCMC may be fine. However, appreciating the beauty of Saigon is better done slowly, one day at a time.
For travelers who have settled in and grown tired of the millions of motorbikes on the streets, some day trips from HCMC may be the answer. Here are a few that I’ve done.
Explore the Cu Chi Tunnels
Cu Chi, a district of Saigon, was counted as among the most famous battlegrounds of the Vietnam War.
Its huge network of interconnecting underground tunnels was the Viet Cong’s base of operations in the Tet Offensive in 1968 and had been used by guerrillas as hiding spots, serving as their communication and supply routes, their hospital, food and weapon storage, and even as their living quarters.
Nowadays, Cu Chi is a major tourist attraction. When visitors arrive at the site, they are first shown a film of the Vietnam war, then the guide would bring them to various spots in the area, showing where the trick entrances are and even giving a chance for those who are not claustrophobic to try navigating the tunnels.
There are also exhibits of the traps used during the war, and the guide would show visitors how these are triggered, describing a horrible death to those who are caught in it.
The trip to the Cu Chi Tunnel is just for half a day. People usually buy a whole day’s package which then includes a half-day tour of HCMC. (Check out my post: Things to Do in HCMC)
Visit the Mekong Delta
While I spent two days in the Mekong Delta, spending one night in a homestay by the river, a lot of people just take day trips from HCMC.
The one day tour usually brings people to Cai Be and Vin Long. From Saigon, you will go to the floating market in Cai Be (around 2-3 hours), where you can buy fruits and vegetables, foods and other items from the numerous boats selling them on the river.
For those who like photography, it’s definitely a treat.
Aside from visiting the local market, you will also be divided into small groups and go around the small canals in a row boat.
My tip: sit on the frontmost part of the boat. It’s nice to sit in front and pretend you’re not with hordes of other tourists.
You’ll also get to visit some candy factories, see the My Thuan suspension bridge, and get a glimpse of the only Catholic church in the area which is by the riverbank.
Rides at the Dai Nam Amusement Part in Binh Duong
Around an hour from Saigon is what tourists call an amusement park for Buddhists, although in truth, Dai Nam is much more than that.
This huge theme park complex can practically cater to everyone, with the largest artificial sea (and waves) in Southeast Asia, a large zoo, a 4-D cinema, temples, shopping area, hotels, and several rides including a roller coaster and electric car racing.
The complex is so large that visitors go around in buses and electric trains. The open zoo alone is over 12 hectares, with its numerous residents ranging from rhinoceroses and lions, to tigers, elephants, bears, ostriches, zebras, gnus, squirrel-monkeys, and others, most of which could not be found in Vietnam.
Disclosure: I went there together with the residents and staff of a shelter for girls, so I don’t really know how to get there using public transportation. Also, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have gone there on my own. Still, it’s an option, especially for those who are traveling with kids!
Day trips from HCMC are best arranged through travel agencies for cost-effectiveness and convenience. The Sinh Café in District 1 in Saigon is popular with foreign tourists.
Visitors are encouraged to stay in Vietnam longer; these day trips from Saigon are but a glimpse of what travelers can experience in the country.
I wrote this article for Suite101, a now-defunct website.
What other day trips from HCMC can you recommend?