The continued rise of Ho Chi Minh City ( known as Saigon) has been nothing short of remarkable. In 1975, the world watched the final chapters of the Vietnam War as, under its old moniker of Saigon, the city fell to the North Vietnamese Army and Vietnam was declared a united socialist republic. The years since then have seen an unmitigated ascension of Ho Chi Minh City to one of an Asian superpower, with business and trade at the heart of its soaring economy. Not many would have predicted that Saigon would rise from the ashes left behind after a chaotic evacuation of the city in 1975, but risen it has, and now it is a vital stop on any touristic or business trip to Vietnam.
The Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh City listed below are carefully selected tours in and around Vietnam’s most populous city. The city’s proximity to the productive Mekong Delta, along with several historical, natural, cultural and religious tourist attractions has returned Ho Chi Minh City firmly into the focus of tourists. Here are some of the destinations we visit on our day trips from Ho Chi Minh City.
Through resistance of the French, Japanese and Americans throughout the 20th century, Ho Chi Minh City, unfortunately, became synonymous with war. The countless battles that took place around the city now add to the rich tapestry of military history that one can soak up on any of these Ho Chi Minh City day trips.
By far and away one of the most popular full or half day trips around the old Saigon area, the Cu Chi Tunnels are the culmination of both engineering ingenuity and dogged fighting spirit that helped turn the tide of war for the Viet Cong against the South Vietnamese and U.S. armies. Conditions in the tunnels were horrendous; cramped spaces with very dim light and the constant threat of venomous animals like snakes, scorpions, and spiders, as well as disease and discovery by the Americans, made life incredibly difficult for the Viet Cong. Still, they managed to live, store weapons, heal the wounded and plot the eventual fall of Saigon, which was a dream they realized in 1975.
Day trips to the Cu Chi Tunnels from Ho Chi Minh City can arrive via bus or a boat along the Saigon River. Tunnels have been expanded by 30% to allow for western tourists, and traps and venomous animals have thankfully been removed, but a real appreciation of the unwavering determination of the Viet Cong can certainly be felt in the intricate maze of tunnels at Cu Chi.
The ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corps) don’t quite receive the recognition of their U.S allies, but several of their fights were incredibly hard-fought, earning them a reputation in Vietnam and in Australasia as some of the toughest fighters in the war. One such fight was at Long Tan, east of Ho Chi Minh City, and the site of an unbelievable show of grit and courage as a small regiment of Australians and New Zealanders successfully fought off a Vietnamese attack while outnumbered 20 to 1 in blistering monsoon rains.
Long Tan Battlefield and the ANZAC base of Nui Dat now form part of a famous Ho Chi Minh City day trip for Australian and New Zealand tourists, as well as international military enthusiasts who come to see the remnants of ANZAC’s most successful, but also most costly battle. Tours visit the jungles where the fighting took place, as well as Horseshoe Hill and the Long Phuoc Tunnels. The Long Tan Cross Memorial is an emotional pilgrimage for returning ANZAC veterans who come to pay tribute to the courage of their fallen comrades.
The lifeblood of much of Southeast Asia stems from the fertile alluvial soil of the Mekong River, which runs for 4,350km from China to the southern tip of Vietnam and its exit point into the South China Sea. The abundant area is perfectly located for day trips from Ho Chi Minh City as its many land and water-based marvels are openly available for tourists to discover. The huge amounts of rice, fruit and seafood grown, picked and caught in the Mekong Delta is unparalleled anywhere throughout the country, making the life and culture in the far south of Vietnam an unmissable spectacle.
The languid essence of the Mekong Delta is felt best in Ben Tre Province, specifically on a sampan boat along its beautiful backwaters, where coconut trees and water palms jut out of the water either side of narrow canals. Though you can easily reach Ben Tre on a day trip from Ho Chi Minh City, the difference in the pace of life between the two places is so great that you may feel like you are in a different country entirely.
The tropical paradise is also home to many examples of fine handicrafts, involving pottery, mat weaving and the making of hundreds of products out of the region’s ubiquitous and highly versatile coconuts. Tours usually involve an exploration of these along with a walk around Ben Tre’s jungles, which do a lot to strengthen the feeling of tropical exoticism. Vam Ho Bird Sanctuary lies in such a jungle, housing thousands of storks and other birds as they nest in the trees high above the river.
Frenzied activity at the Cai Be Floating Market shows the diversity of the Mekong Delta when compared to the languid, tree-lined canals of Ben Tre, merely 50km away. This market starts at about 4 am every day with a wave of busy selling, where vendors will sell products to other boats and tourists in the morning heat. Items for sale are hung at the tops of poles that extend from the boats, making it easier to determine what a boat is selling from far away.
Day trips to Cai Be from Ho Chi Minh City are about more than just shopping. Its neighboring islands of Tan Phong and An Binh are rich in the Mekong Delta’s unique lifestyle and culture, observable through the churches, pagodas and traditional houses that are speckled across their ancient banks on the Mekong. The abundant fruit orchards paint the perfect scene of a tropical wonderland; trees of longan, rambutan, coconut, pineapple and banana are just some of the fruits grown in this most abundant of Vietnam’s provinces.
Ho Chi Minh City and its surrounding areas have been a melting pot of religions over the course of the several attempts by missionaries and colonialists to convert the people of the land. With much of Vietnam being so close to the sea, missionaries were historically allowed easy access and the free will to turn the population onto Christianity. The churches of the south sit alongside traditional Buddhist and folk religions, with the specialized religion of Caodaism merging these influences and more into its many philosophies.
There are fewer truly unique day trips from Ho Chi Minh City than one that goes to Cao Dai Temple. The appearance of the temple is simply incredible; a collaboration of Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Buddhist architecture that is as colorful as it is eclectic. The exterior is matched by a garish interior and its elaborate statues depicting writhing dragons, with an all-seeing eye that stands at the head of the church to watch followers as they pray.
Ho Chi Minh City day trips that head here usually feature Cao Dai as a morning or afternoon excursion as part of a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels, which lie in between the temple and Ho Chi Minh City.
Aside from the lush tropics to be found in the Mekong Delta, there are many other natural assets to the south of Vietnam. Not much can be found in the way of nature in Ho Chi Minh City itself, but day trips can be made from the city to the mountains, forests and beaches around it.
A true haven for animal and plant life, the Cat Tien National Park to the northeast of Ho Chi Minh City is a great weekend destination for locals, who swap Vietnam’s most traffic-intensive city for 725km2 of tropical wilderness. Cat Tien is currently making amends for its negative history when pesticides were sprayed during the American War to flush out the Viet Cong, and logging in the 1990s took a large chunk out of the beauty of the national park. Animals are slowly returning to the park, including big mammals like sun bears and Asian elephants, but many have devastatingly become extinct here due to continued poaching.
Activities around the park are numerous, including trekking, mountain biking, a night safari, visits to various rescue centers or cycling to ethnic hill tribe villages. Day trips from Ho Chi Minh City only have time for one or two of these activities, given how far the park is from the city.
As a long outcrop into the East Vietnam Sea, Vung Tau enjoys beaches on two sides of the city, making it a popular destination for Ho Chi Minh City locals on the weekend. It has served as an important center of trade and commerce and, during the American War, was the base for many Australian and New Zealand army factions. Its most notable landmark is a giant statue of Jesus, called the ‘Christ of Vung Tau’, which watches over the city from a 170m peak.
Aside from visiting the long beaches, Ho Chi Minh City day tours make use of Vung Tau’s ‘small’ and ‘large’ mountains for short treks. Tours see both sides of the city’s religion through visits to the Christ of Vung Tau as well as Whale Temple, where villagers used to pray to the whale god of the sea for protection before fishing expeditions.
Vietnam’s largest and fastest growing city is worth a thorough exploration, but those short on time can consider a day tour around Ho Chi Minh City to take in the sites and essence of the city over the course of one day. The ancient roots of Saigon reach deep and the city can name Chinese, Japanese, ethnic hill tribe, colonial and modern Western culture among its current make-up, noticeable in the architecture, food, religion and atmosphere to be felt here.
The French wasted little time in making Saigon the capital of French Indochina, from where they conducted their various operations through Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Such huge administration demands required a huge staff, and so thousands of French colonialists sailed over to make Saigon their home throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, bringing with them French culture, food and grand architectural plans. We still see many of these today, and no day tours around Ho Chi Minh City would be complete without a visit to some of the most famous French buildings such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Saigon Central Post Office, to name just a few.
Chinatown Long before the arrival of the French, the Chinese had set up shop in a separate city called Cholon, just west of Saigon. Saigon’s gradual expansion eventually swallowed up Cholon, which became part of a city called Saigon-Cholon before French administration deemed it unnecessary and just incorporated the Chinese community into Saigon city. Cholon, meaning ‘big market’ in Vietnamese, is now a thriving and vital element of Ho Chi Minh City, where plenty of Chinese live and practice their culture on the street, at home, and in temples.
Given the turbulent history of Vietnam, it is no surprise that the city is speckled with many museums, ranging from as far back as its earliest origins, but naturally focusing more on the American War. The War Remnants Museum is the biggest and most controversial because of its notably anti-American stance, but it gives many accounts of the war and the devastating effects of Agent Orange which are still being felt today. The Ho Chi Minh Museum and the Museum of Vietnamese History are two other interesting delves into the life of the city and the country as a whole.
Listed below is the Dinner Cruise on the Saigon River, one of our wonderful evening trips in Ho Chi Minh City that shows you the beauty of the city’s skyline from a luxury boat while you enjoy a fabulous meal and traditional entertainment. The Saigon River is a very romantic venue for such an occasion, but also a very practical waterway that takes passengers all the way to the Cu Chi Tunnels if they would prefer to travel to the historical destination by boat.
The many international influences experienced over the course of Ho Chi Minh City’s history have given it a diverse palette that is hard to find anywhere else in the country. You can get a feel for the depth of Ho Chi Minh City’s food culture on the Saigon Motorbike Street Food Tour mentioned below, which takes you around the city the local way, eating only at small stands and tiny restaurants to be found on the street.
• A friendly and professional English-speaking guide
• At least one meal, usually lunch, but in the case of longer tours and evening tours, dinner
• All transportation to and from destinations
• Boat rides and bicycle rental, depending on the tour
• A camera is always a welcome accompaniment for getting great snaps of Ho Chi Minh City and its surrounding wonders
• Extra money for tips and services that aren’t included in our itineraries
• A raincoat or an umbrella if traveling in the wet season
• Comfortable walking shoes for any tours involving trekking
• Mosquito spray if taking a tour to the Mekong Delta or anywhere involving a jungle
• Sun cream for any long, sunny days spent outside