I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Saigon is hectic AF. Luckily, travel in Vietnam is cheap and there are a ton of places to go when you’re desperate for a breath of fresh air (literally. Pollution here is a big problem.) Here’s a rundown of the best places to visit near Ho Chi Minh City, starting with my absolute
What’s the hype? Located in Vietnam’s central highlands, Dalat makes for very scenic Saigon weekend trip. It’s a major Instagram hotspot for the Vietnamese; its rolling hills, winding roads and waterfalls certainly make for a pretty picture. The weather here is a lot cooler than the sweltering heat of Saigon and the air is certainly cleaner.
How long to stay: 2+ nights. I wanted to stay forever.
How to get there: You can fly or take the bus; I’d recommend the former unless you’re balling on a serious budget. Flights usually cost around 1,000,000 (£32/$43) return and it only takes 35 minutes each way – as soon as you’re in the air, it’s almost time to descend. However, if you’re making every penny count, the 8-hour bus ride will only cost you 300,000 (£10/$13) return.
Top things to do: Dalat is one of those wonderful destinations where you can tick off the main highlights in a day or two but stay for longer without getting bored. I definitely recommend driving out to the Golden Temple and Elephant Falls, either on your own bike or as part of an easy-rider tour. As well as being beautiful attractions in their own right, the mountain scenery on the way is stunning – especially for a Saigon-dweller.
We also visited the (admittedly morally ambiguous) Me Linh weasel coffee farm, which, ethical considerations aside (sue me) was a wonderful place to enjoy some coffee with a serious view.
Head to Datanla Falls for a waterfall hike and a spot of bobsledding through the forest. Remember to say ‘cheese’ for the camera!
In the evening, getting a few supermarket beers and hiring a swan pedalo on Xuan Huong lake is a fun (if slightly tiring) way to enjoy the sunset. We finished our night in the Maze Bar which was a ton of fun and surprisingly cheap. The Maze isn’t a mere gimmick – you’ll spend a good chunk of your time there trying to figure out where the hell you are. Happy exploring!
Tips: Take a jacket! Who’d have thought you could get cold in Vietnam?
Black Virgin Mountain
What’s the hype? Black Virgin Mountain – aka Ba Dinh – is the highest peak in southern Vietnam. It’s hands-down the easiest day trip from Ho Chi Minh City – until you begin the hike, that is! It’s a challenging climb but very doable as long as you’re reasonably fit. (Actually, I’d describe myself as reasonably UNfit and I was still ok.) You’ll sweat buckets, but the views are worth it. This is also the most budget-friendly trip on the list – if you spend more than đ500,000 (£16/$21), you’ve gone wrong somewhere.
How long to stay: This is definitely a day trip – but leave early in the morning!
How to get there: Drive! Leave at the crack of dawn. Rush hour begins early in Saigon and you definitely want to avoid that. If you set off at 5.30 am, you’ll avoid the hectic morning traffic and be back in the city before the evening jams begin. Even as someone who finds rising before 10am positively painful, I can assure you that it’ll be worth it. We left at 7 and spent a hellish hour trying to escape the madness. The journey should take around two hours each way and pretty much involves driving in a straight line for most of the way. You’ll use roughly a tank of petrol for the whole day, which costs around đ70,000 (£2.30/$3).
Top things to do: Well, climb the mountain, duh. Take the cable car halfway up and then get bouldering! The cable car costs đ160,000 ($6.90/£5.20) for a return ticket and park admission is đ10,000 (£0.32/$0.43).
Tips: Take snacks and a big bottle of water – you won’t regret it. It’s a long and sweaty trek and there’s virtually no refreshments available, even at the foot of the mountain. Oh, and if you’re unsure of where to climb next, just follow the trail of trash (yes, really.)
What’s the hype? It’s close to Saigon and it has beaches!
Ok, so Vung Tau isn’t the most beautiful tropical paradise you’ve ever seen in your whole life, but if you want a quick and easy seaside getaway then it’s your best bet. It’s got a much slower pace of life than Saigon but there are still enough bars and restaurants to keep you busy. And hey, a beach is a beach.
How long to stay: 1-2 nights, but you could do it in a day if you wanted!
How to get there: Buses and minivans tend to take around an hour and a half and start from đ90,000 (£3/$3.80) each way. We went for a little luxury and booked a ‘limo’ (aka fancy minibus) from Hoa Mai for đ150,000 (£5/$6.50). It was definitely worth it – the aircon was on blast, we had tons of space and the van was brand new. Some even have massage chairs!
There’s also the hydrofoil which leaves every half an hour and costs đ200,000 (£6.50/$8.60). It takes roughly the same amount of time as a bus. It’s also possible to drive from Saigon to Vung Tau but it takes a good few hours and the route isn’t terribly pleasant.
Top things to do: There are two main beaches in Vung Tau – the Front Beach and the Back Beach. There’s also a Giant Jesus statue up on Mount Nho, which actually stands taller than the one in Rio de Janeiro. As well as paying a visit to big J-man, you can watch dog racing or ride the ferris wheel in Ho May park.
Tips: Try some of Vung Tau’s delicious seafood, especially Tri Hai sauce, which can only be found there!
What’s the hype? Mui Ne is a microclimate and gets the least rain of anywhere in Vietnam – a blessing during the wet season, trust me. It’s about four hours from Saigon and it’s lovely and quiet with gorgeous natural scenery. Some of the beaches are pretty dirty, I can’t lie, but the resorts usually keep their areas clean!
How long to stay: 1-2 nights. I did do it in a day but it was TIRING AF.
How to get there: The four-hour bus trip to Mui Ne only costs 350,000 return (£11.50/$15), making it one of the cheapest Saigon weekend trips available.
Top things to do: Mui Ne is famous for its sand dunes, which look especially gorgeous at sunrise and sunset (just think of those ‘gram pics). For an extra đ400,000 (£13/$17) you can tour them on an ATV.
Mui Ne’s other well-known attraction is the fairy stream, a red-sand creek you can spend an enjoyable hour-or-so paddling along. You should also pay a visit to the fishing village and see the traditional fishing coracles! You can do all of the above by yourself or take a Jeep or Easy Rider tour.
Mui Ne is also popular for its watersports. Jibe’s beach club has windsurfing, supping, sailing and more!
Tips: I highly recommend Mr. Binh’s easy rider tours – our experience was absolutely fantastic and he’s a really cool guy. Click here for his Facebook page!
Cat Tien National Park
What’s the hype? Camping and nature and forests, oh my! Cat Tien is home to over 1,500 species of exotic birds, insects and endangered animals. Choose this one if you’re longing for a nature-filled Saigon weekend trip.
How long to stay: 1-2 nights
How to get there: You can take the bus from Mien Dong bus station for đ85,000 (£2.75/$3.60), or turn it into a road trip! I’d say the latter’s more fun, provided you know how to drive and don’t mind a sore butt at the end of the day.
Things to do: There are several animal rescue centres in Cat Tien National Park. The Bear & Wild Cat rescue station cares for sunbears that have been rescued from poachers and bear bile farms (I know – horrific). There’s also a gibbon sanctuary which rehabilitates gibbons and slow loris. If you’re willing to get up at sunrise (I wholeheartedly apologise for continuing to advocate such behaviour) you can take part in a gibbon-spotting trek. If you don’t see any, the park will let you do the tour again for free!
Tips: For more on Cat Tien National Park, check out this post by Frances at sotheadventurebegins.com – it’s a super-duper comprehensive guide to taking a trip there. (Seriously. She has thought of EVERYTHING!)
Giang Dien Waterfall
What’s the hype? This pretty waterfall is probably the quickest possible day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. Lush, green and fit for swimming, Giang Dien waterfall is a super convenient way to get your nature fix.
How long to stay: You can do the whole thing in a few hours, or hire a tent and camp overnight for đ100,000 (£3.25/$4.30). The choice is yours – personally, I’d rather shit myself than stay in a tent…
How to get there: Drive! It’s about an hour from Thao DienLINK, or a little longer if you live in a more southern part of the city. You can also take the number 12 bus from the Ben Thanh market bus station from 5am onwards – just remember that the last one back is at 4.45pm!
Things to do: Swim in the waterfall, explore the eco-tourist park by bicycle and camp under the stars.
So there you have it – my top picks for a sweet escape from Saigon! Is there anything I should add to the list? Let me know in the comments below!