Formerly known as Saigon – and still colloquially known as such by most locals – Ho Chi Minh City is the largest in Vietnam, once serving as its capital and now remaining the modern day cultural, religious and political hub for most visitors.
Here, you can learn about everything from the war and the diverse religious backgrounds of Vietnam to the lifestyles of the average contemporary Vietnamese citizen. The city is truly alive and bustling with history and culture.
This can get overwhelming, so a great option is to take day trips to other areas in South Vietnam. The region is packed with natural beauty thanks to the Mekong Delta, Southern Highlands, and lush forests.
You can also discover more rural cultures or take a peek into Vietnam’s French colonial past.
These are the 15 best day trips you can take from Ho Chi Minh City.
1. Cu Chi Tunnels
The Cu Chi tunnels are a great place to learn more about the Vietnamese side of the war that took place in the ‘60s. Cu Chi was a highly bombed area, and what was once a vibrant town is now mostly rice paddies and fields.
To survive, the people of Cu Chi built a network of underground tunnels which you can still visit to this day. You will need to take a historic tour to understand the area better, but these are definitely worth it and well-priced.
Ben Duoc is the most famous tunnel; however, Ben Dinh is great if you are looking for somewhere a little less touristy.
2. Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta region is both culturally vibrant and naturally beautiful. The world famous river begins in this region before stretching throughout South East Asia.
There are rice and coconut farms throughout the region to learn more about rural Vietnamese life, and excellent boat tours that cruise along the river and its canals.
There are also floating markets in towns located along the river delta, with Cai Be being the most famous. The town also has some great places to listen to local folk music and the market itself is full of wonderful local produce.
3. Cao Dai Temple
In the nearby town of Tay Ninh, you will find Cao Dai Temple. Caodaism is the religion of the temple and is very unique to the region.
It is a sect of Buddhism, however, draws heavily from Christian and Confucian beliefs, making it an interesting religion to learn more about. You can visit a real ceremony if you make sure to be there at around noon, and learn more about the symbolism of the Left Eye of God.
The beautiful temple has unique Caodaist architecture and is a delight for any photographer or anyone looking to explore a culture that is not as well-known across the world.
4. Black Virgin Mountain
Known locally as Ba Den Mountain, this mountain is in a very historically and culturally important region and is great for hiking.
Hiking maps with details of the trails available can be picked up from tourist offices in Ho Chi Minh and in nearby Tay Ninh. Once at the top of the mountain, you can enjoy breathtaking views over the neighboring rice paddies and historic villages.
If you are looking for a more relaxing trip, take a cable car up the mountain. This is quite slow and shaky, but generally safe; it is an enjoyable experience if you can stomach the jolty movements.
5. Vam Sat Mangrove Forest
Vam Sat Mangrove Forest contains the UNESCO World Heritage site of Can Gio Biosphere.
This area of outstanding natural beauty is located just on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh. Previously destroyed by the Vietnam War, the beautiful mangroves have since regrown and are a haven for nature lovers and photographers looking for a unique spot in the world.
The area also has many traditional fishing villages, and you can guide your own boat through the waterways or go with a guided tour. There is a cool Bat Lagoon, which you can row into to explore the different bat habitats.
6. Vung Tau Beach
Vung Tau is a very popular day trip option from Ho Chi Minh City and it is easy to see why.
The picturesque cape is lined with a beautiful beach, with Big Mountain overlooking the area and adding to the breathtaking scenery. On the opposite side of the beach is Small Mountain, a popular hiking option for travelers who are not accustomed to larger hills.
There are some interesting traditional Vietnamese sailing options for you to enjoy from the beach, or you can simply choose to relax in this little spot away from the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh.
7. Nha Trang
Nha Trang is another gorgeous seaside destination only a short traveling distance from Ho Chi Minh City.
It is flanked with beautiful mountain ranges and the gorgeous coastline will delight hikers, photographers and regular tourists alike. Arguably the most famous seaside town in the country, Nha Trang is a popular area for scuba diving and there are facilities to cater to all levels across the town.
The beach is nice, though not as spectacular as others in the region. However, it is a good place to soak up local culture and sample some of Vietnam’s finest street food.
8. Long Tan
Long Tan is a popular site to learn all about the war – especially for tourists from Australia and New Zealand.
One of the largest ANZAC led battles in the Vietnam War took here; you can learn all about the efforts made by both nations during the major conflict. The Long Tan Memorial Cross is a popular site commemorating all the fallen soldiers from the conflict.
Take a tour of the old Australian army barracks and wander along the former battlefield, which has been somewhat preserved – unlike many others in Vietnam.
9. Ho Coc Beach
Though Vietnam is not usually thought of as a beach destination – especially when compared to Thailand and the Philippines – there are some very secluded surprises dotted along the coast that can be more rewarding than the busier tourist beaches nearby.
Ho Coc is a five-kilometer long beach that sees a lot less tourist traffic than many others – even in Vietnam – and still benefits from golden sand and crystal blue seas.
If you are looking to minimize crowd sizes, we suggest coming during the week where there’s every chance you will have the beach to yourself.
10. Tay Ninh
Located in the south of Vietnam, many people ignore Tay Ninh whilst on their way to the Black Virgin Mountain or Cao Dai Temple, but the town itself has many cultural delights to merit a day trip of its own.
You can visit the Long Hoa market to check out local clothing, food, and other trinkets. Be sure to bring your best bargaining skills with you, as the locals love it.
The local delicacy, banh canh trang bang, is a variety of noodles which is turned into other dishes such as griddle cakes and soups. Simply sitting at one of the many restaurants will give you a good feel for local culture.
11. Suoi Truc
Suoi Truc is not very well known to tourists but is definitely a hotspot for local Vietnamese residents.
The area is located in a lush, secluded forest with many man-made hiking trails that have formed naturally from decades of human foot traffic. Once you are deep in the forest, you will find beautiful waterfalls and rock pools.
You can bathe under the waterfalls and swim in the somewhat warm waters of the pools. It is much quieter during the week, however, if this is your first visit, we suggest going when it is busier so you don’t get lost.
12. Can Tho
Can Tho is the largest town located in the Mekong Delta region and is perfect for soaking up some unique Vietnamese culture without the tourist traps of Ho Chi Minh to distract you.
The Quang Duc Pagoda is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world. It is well worth a visit to learn more about the religion and come face to face with monks.
The Xuan Khanh quarter of the city is famous as a great market area and a place where the youth of Can Tho unwind – particularly students from the local university.
Dalat is located in the Southern Highlands of Vietnam and is a popular place to get away from the stifling heat of Ho Chi Minh City. Once a popular resort for French officials, it is still an interesting place to check out some colonial architecture. It is known colloquially as Vietnam’s Paris for this reason.
There are three colonial-era palaces that have been well maintained where you can learn all about how the powerful French colonists lived whilst in Vietnam. Enjoy the surrounding natural treats with hiking, canyoning and cable car options allowing people of all abilities to take in the views.
14. Ben Tre
For the more adventurous traveler, Ben Tre is a Mekong Delta town that is not frequently visited by tourists.
As a result, the few that do venture in this direction are treated to an incredibly warm welcome. Enjoy peaceful boat rides down the Mekong with locals who will be more than happy to show you around.
The town is known in Vietnam for its coconut production; watch this happening all across the streets of the town. Everything from coconut oil and coconut milk to furniture made from coconut shells can be found in Ben Tre.
15. Rach Gia
Located on the southern coast in the Mekong Delta region, Rach Gia is another town that does not see many tourists. Locals here can also be very friendly with the few who do come.
If you decide to spend your day in the town itself, you will be treated to some of the most authentic restaurants in this part of the country – and great Vietnamese hospitality. If you arrive early, you can also take the hydrofoil boat to Phu Quoc, which is a bit more popular with tourists and has some great natural attractions.