Many travelers have precious little time to spend in Ho Chi Minh City or even Vietnam as a whole, and wish to see as much as possible within a matter of days. Fortunately, beyond the sights the city itself has to offer there are a number of day trips from Saigon that will give a short term visitor the opportunity to sample a bit more of what Vietnam has to offer, and more often than not to tempt them back.
1 â€“ Beach life â€“ Vung Tau
Vung tau can be visited with ease in the space of a day â€“ it only takes one hour on the hydrofoil from downtown Saigon, and is small enough to get a feel for the town and the coast within a day. Although the beach may not be the prettiest in Vietnam as its location at the mouth of several major rivers affects the clarity of the water, the hills surrounding Vung Tau are very picturesque, and there are numerous attractions to visit like as the statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the bay, a scene reminiscent of Rio de Janeiro which offers great views of the coast from the top.
2 â€“ History and Culture â€“ Cu Chi + Tay Ninh
One of the most popular day trips from Saigon is to the famous Cu Chi tunnels, where the Viet Cong resistance forces tunneled underground to hide from the US forces and to launch surprise attacks, with families spending months or even years living beneath the earth. It a remarkable example of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese people.
On the way most tours make a stop at the Cao Dai temple in Tay Ninh, a religion unique to Vietnam that brings together elements of Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Confucianism and Islam. It has had an eventful history in its short existence; during occupations by foreign powers the religion formed its own nationalist struggles against colonialism. The temples are brightly colored and very distinctive, and the monks are very happy to sit with you and explain more about their religion.
3 â€“ Life on the Water â€“ My Tho in the Mekong Delta
Wherever you are in Vietnam you are never far from the coast or a river, and so water forms an integral part of life in Vietnam. The Mekong Delta is known as the rice bowl of Vietnam due to the extremely fertile flood plains, and is responsible for growing massive quantities of fruit as well as being one of the major sources of Vietnamâ€™s rice exports.
A day trip to the Mekong Delta will normally only take you as far as My Tho, the closest city to Saigon that is within the delta, and although a boat trip through the canals may be brief and not explore as deeply as other trips further into the delta, it certainly offers you the chance to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery as you gently row between the palms and bamboo.
4 â€“ Rural Vietnam â€“ Can Gio and Thu Thiem
Although amongst the hustle and bustle of central Saigon it can feel like the concrete goes on forever there are two places that allow a complete escape from noise, concrete and chaos of the inner city, and they are surprisingly close to the center.
Thu Thiem is literally just across the water from downtown Saigon and can be accessed by ferry. As soon as you land on the other side it is like being in a small village rather than a bustling metropolis, and itâ€™s a great place to explore on a bicycle, stopping off at small coffee shops and stretching out in hammocks. Be quick though â€“ the area is changing fast and within a few years this place will be redeveloped beyond recognition into the new central business district of Saigon.
Can Gio is a province thick with dense mangrove forests that is best explored by boat. Full of wildlife and known as the lungs of the city, a trip to Can Gio can convince you that Ho Chi Minh City could be a million miles away. The few villages here are small and quiet, and the forest that was near destroyed during the war is making a considerable comeback, teeming with bird life.