Ho Chi Minh City.
Traveling there never really felt like traveling to me.
Sure, we had amazing street food and Bến Thành Market was such an experience, but my favorite food memories were eating home cooked meals made by my friend’s aunt.
Yes, we spent time admiring the views from Bitexco Financial Tower, but I loved more the days we spent hanging out, playing cards, and sharing stories with loved ones.
And okay, yeah, the Independence Palace and War Remnants Museum were really sobering and eye opening- especially as an American, but that was only two days of our ~50 in Vietnam!
That’s why I’m writing about our adventures outside of the city. Inside Ho Chi Minh City, we were mostly just living our normal lives, not “traveling” in that sense of completing bucket lists, or navigating through itineraries, or checking off sights and experiences. When we left for day trips or weekend trips from Ho Chi Minh City, we did a lot more of that type of stuff and had a ton of fun!
Here are a few of my favorite ones to help you explore more outside of the city!
Backpacking in Vietnam is incredibly popular and relatively easy/cheap. Check out this post for a comprehensive guide on backpacking in Vietnam.
For getting around between cities, many people rent motorbikes, which is a really fun way to explore Vietnam- especially if you’re traveling solo and potentially if you’re on a budget. For more information, check this post out.
If you are tighter budget, check out the bus system. I haven’t used this personally, but my super ultra budget friends loved it for getting around all over Vietnam. Read here for more info.
Since we were traveling with a bigger group of all ages (young kids, grandparents, etc) from the area, we usually rented a car with a driver who took us around. Splitting the cost with 8 people, the most I ever paid including tip was $20 USD. If you’re interested in doing this but don’t have someone local helping, read more details here.
And for a couple of these, you’ll need to fly to make it a weekend trip. We usually flew Vietnam Airlines which was highly recommended to us by friends living there, and we had great experiences with them. Like, even on a 45 minute flight, we got full service meals!
Bình Châu Hot Springs
For the people who just want to relax
Distance from HCMC: ~96 km
After a few weeks of being in the lively (and smoggy) city, escaping to the natural hot spring resort in Binh Chau is my favorite way to rejuvenate.
The legend behind the hot springs is that a wife was waiting for her husband’s return, but he didn’t come back. In her anger, she threw a pot of boiling water, which then created different hot springs and then she became the goddess of boiling water. Note: I read this from a sign there.
Thank goodness the springs exist because it’s perfect relaxing in the hot water, exfoliating in the mud bath, and playing around in the pool. Even just walking through the resort is super peaceful with the fresh air and forest-y vibes! You don’t need to stay in the resort to enter (but there is a fee). If you do stay in the resort, you won’t need to pay for the pool, and depending on the room, you also may not need to pay for the mud bath.
Don’t miss: Seeing and feeding the animals! Somewhere in the resort, there’s an area with ostriches, flamingos, and other random animals. We found it totally by accident (and after eating an ostriche burger…).
For the people who want to relax by the beach
Distance from HCMC: ~121 km
Vung Tau is a beach area nearby that makes for the perfect, quick, ocean-y escape from the city.
It has a mix of family friendly in the morning and party nightlife at night (well, we’re not big partiers so were usually up drinking smoothies and people watching at night, which is also fun). There’s also a few sights, hikes, pagodas, and temples around the town. You can read more about those here. But for me, I was so content just playing in the ocean again after being in the city for so long.
Technically you could visit both Binh Chau and Vung Tau over a weekend since they’re close. We’ve done this before over a weekend but also spent time in each separately.
Don’t miss: Water sports! You can rent jet skis in Vung Tau.
For the people who want to see a different way of life
Distance from HCMC: ~172 km
You’ve probably seen the pictures of the floating markets and homes along the Mekong Delta, where people boat through the rivers and canals to get around. But actually seeing it in real life makes for a totally unique experience!
We hired a local guide to navigate through the streams to different islands, where we tried different fresh fruits and unique candies. I know some people don’t like the idea of traveling on a tour. I didn’t either, until I realized that depending on which company you choose, it’s actually a great way to give back to local communities. Plus, you get a lot of info that you would normally miss on your own.
Most of the tours are just a day, but you could easily spend a weekend or longer exploring the different villages and islands along the Delta. Read this article for more information on the Mekong Delta and especially if you want to do your own trip without a tour.
Don’t miss: Stopping by the city of Mỹ Tho for Hủ tiếu Mỹ Tho!!!!! If you haven’t had hu tieu before, it’s a tapioca noodle dish that can be either eaten dry (soup on the side) or wet (soup included). Hu Tieu My Tho is a type of hu tieu from My Tho, and it’s absolutely one of the best things I have ever eaten.
For the highkey adventurers
Distance from HCMC: ~219 km
This beach area is really popular with most people traveling to Vietnam because it’s so gorgeous. In addition to the ocean, there are red sand dunes and white sand dunes that you can dune buggy, sled, kitesurf, etc on. There’s also a river you can walk through called the Fairy Stream that ends in a waterfall, and if you drive an hour away, you can hike up Tà Cú Mountain. This site talks about all the different types of activities.
It’s a bit further than the other two and there’s so much to do, so you’ll definitely need a whole weekend.
Note: Da Lat is another popular adventurous place with hiking, waterfalls, and canyoning, but I haven’t been here even, though it’s on the bucket list! For more information on what to do, check this post out.
For the people who want both relaxing and adventuring
Distance from HCMC: ~388 km
This island is a popular getaway, and I can see why- you can do both relaxing and adventuring in one place! We rented motorbikes to get around the island. If you don’t have a license, it may be okay- this is an actual quote from the lady we rented from: “avoid the police, and you’ll be fine.”
Anyway, beach hopping is fun, there’s a night market, you can tour fish sauce or pepper factories, and of course there are lots of adventure/diving/rafting etc stuff you can do on the island. We spent a lot of time playing in the white sand beaches, lounging in the resort, eating at large family style seafood restaurants, and getting the best massages ever for $4-10.
Tips: Get a SIM card! If you don’t actually know how to ride a motorbike (like me), you will probably get stranded (like me). Getting a local SIM card to contact my friends from the middle of a deserted road saved my butt.
Bonus: Hanoi, Huế, and Da Nang
For everyone who needs a smaller, exciting, and unique city
Distance from HCMC: ~859 km – 1618 km
These are bonuses because depending on your itinerary, you’ll probably want to spend more time in these amazing cities! Unlike the above, they’re all in different regions of Vietnam, so you’ll need to fly to make it a weekend trip. Some people do train or motorbike to get to these cities and that itself can be its trip! Each city is incredibly unique in its own way, but these are my highlights (with links to other posts with more detailed highlights).
- My favorite thing in Hanoi besides the history is hands down its food. Check out these local dishes you can’t miss.
- Huế is home to my absolute favorite food, bun bo hue. Though each region of Vietnam does this soup slightly differently, Huế is its homeland. You need to try it in Huế. Another dish I love from Hue that you need to try is bánh bèo, a street food made with rice and tapioca flour and topped with shrimp.
- Da Nang is a smaller coastal city with unique mountains and temples. Here are a few things to do. Also, it’s close to Hoi An, an absolutely gorgeous city famous for beautiful lanterns, among other activities.
And those are my favorite weekend trips from Ho Chi Minh City! Have you done any before? Which ones would you add? Which ones are you excited to do?
Note: All distances came from Google Maps. Also, the temple is on the way to Vung Tau.