South Vietnam has long seduced travelers due to its contradictions: relaxing beaches, rolling hills, a network of waterways with floating markets, misty highlands and bustling hip Ho Chi Minh. South Vietnam is often characterized as relaxed, food heaven and friendly people. To help you plan your next trip to Vietnam I have compiled the 5 best things to see in South Vietnam for you. A suggested itinerary for 10-14 days of holiday pleasure.
1. Ho Chi Minh
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) as locals call it is full of hidden treasures. It is Vietnam’s largest and most chaotic city with millions of cars and bikes swirling around. It’s a city with a billion things happening at once. It has some great historical places as well as cafes and restaurants. It is already a pleasure to stroll around through the little alleys and take in the colonial past. If you are a foodie, then Saigon is THE place to be! There are tons of great cafes here. Most of them have good Wi-Fi and serve unlimited iced green tea for free.
Below we have mentioned some of the things you shouldn’t miss out on. In one of our earlier post Danica who has lived in Vietnam for many years reveals her Best Places in Saigon.
What to see
Saigon Central Post Office – Just across the street from the Notre Dame Cathedral, is one of the most impressive buildings of Saigon. It is a heritage of the French occupation and it is based on the design work of Gustav Eiffel. You will immediately enter the massive hall and on the walls you will see painted maps of South Vietnam. The Post Office is still active today.
Chu Chi Tunnels – During the Vietnamese War against the U.S the Viet Cong dug tens of thousands of miles of tunnels that acted as kitchens, storage space, living areas, hospitals. Some parts where even several storeys deep. The Chu Chi Tunnels are located around 30 to 40 minutes outside of Ho Chi Minh City.
In case you want to see something that is not in your guide book then I can recommend Lee who will show you a hidden side of this amazing city on the back of a motorbike with Longor explore little alleyways.
Where to shop
When shopping for the right fabric in Ho Chi Minh City go to Chợ An Đông (An Dong Market) Phường 9, District 5 for finding the best fabric. For the paradise of textiles go upstairs at the part that is some sort of urban flea market.
Looking for a good tailor for suits? Check Phi Phi tailor on 183 Le Thanh Ton, Ben Thanh Ward, District 1.
The House Of Saigon is the place where you can buy beautifully made handicrafts from local Vietnamese artisans. 16 Thủ Khoa Huân, Bến Thành Ward.
Where to eat
You don’t have to go to a fancy restaurant to eat out well. Actually the best food in Ho Chi Minh you will find at the local street food stalls.
If you want to eat delicious soup go to the Lunch Lady. You can find her stand at 23 Hoang Sa St., District 1. She rotates different kinds of soup depending on the day of the week.
Sư Vạn Hạnh street is famous for its delicious pancakes filled with bean sprouts and meat. Go to 004 Lô H for some fantastic pancakes. This family is already in the business for over 14 years.
Other great streets to stroll for some amazing Vietnamese food are Tran Khac Chan Street and Cô Giang Street, both in district 1.
Where to sleep
District 1 is where most of the major hotels are located. I recommend staying in either District 1 close to Pham Ngu Lao if you want to be in amongst the action or in District 3 for a more local feel.
Ma Mason Boutique hotel for example is a beautiful small-scale colonial hotel with a lovely and cozy interior.
2. Cruising the Mekong
The Mekong Delta is also called the “Rice Bowl’ of Vietnam that stretches from Ho Chi Minh to the South West to the Gulf of Thailand. The flat land is rich of fruit orchards, palm trees, floating markets and rice fields. What is so great about the Mekong is the every day scene you can experience. Farmers working on their land, children riding on the back of water buffalos, fruit vendors smiling, it simply gives you a great peek into Vietnamese countryside life.
Instead of taking a tour package it is nowadays possible to explore the Mekong on your own. Doing so means getting a boat to yourself, meeting more locals, and seeing more of the Mekong. The boats of both Lecochinchine and Jason Superstar are excellent.
Another great way of exploring the Mekong is staying at a homestay so that you can also experience daily life at the Mekong. you can for example stay in the house of a former Viet Cong fighter and his wife.
3. Chau Doc
Chau Doc is often the gateway to Cambodia and also the place to start the Mekong River cruises. The village itself is not so special, but the environment is beautiful.
Go hiking to the top of the Nui Sam (Sam Mountain)
This is one of the nicest hiking trails of the Mekong Delta. At the bottom of the hill is a bustling neighborhood, where you can buy food at the local market, but the higher you go the quieter it become. Follow the motor free walking trail at the north side (if you take the east side you have to watch all the scooters).
Cruise through an old swamp
National Park U Minh Thunog is an immense swamp and mangrove forest at CaMau that you can explore by boat. Especially for bird nerds this place is fantastic as there are more than 187 bird species.
Drink tea with the Hoa Hoa
The Hoa Hoa is a Buddhist sect with 1,5 million followers. They own the temple complex of Ba Chuc. The Hoa Hoa is extremely friendly, offer tea and sweets and provide a tour through the temples. They don’t speak English, but with non-verbal communication you will understand their message.
Tra Su Forest
Near Chau Doc lies the Tra Su Forest (30 km southwest). The forest is a former plantation that is now a wildlife reserve. It is full with birdlife and beautiful lotus flowers. It is a flooded mangrove forest that forms a beautiful contrast with the lush green plants of the park.
Entrance into the Tra Su Forest cost around VND 60,000 per person including all boat rides. There are a few huts selling coconuts and snacks, but bringing your own picnic lunch would be ideal.
4. Phu Quoc Island
Vietnam is not the country with the best white sandy beaches in South Asia, but Phu Quoc is a good place if you just want to relax in your hammock, take in some sun, and do nothing. It is becoming increasingly popular as it has some nice beaches, clear seas and great bars. In the northwest at Ghan Dau and the South East at Bai Sao you will find the nicest beaches and small bays. It depends on the time of the year which beaches are best to visit. If you are coming from Chau Doc then best is to take a bus to Ha Thien first (3 hours). From there you can take a boat to Phu Quoc.
5. Con Dao Island
If you are looking for some more activity than just hanging in your hammock on Phu Quoc then Con Dao Island would be a better fit. I recommend picking one of the two locations unless you just love beach.
The Con Dao Archipelago is one of the most beautiful and least developed destinations in Vietnam. It is situated off the southern coast of Vietnam, a 45-minute flight from Ho Chi Minh. The island group consists of mountainous islands, with thick canopies of forest and is a paradise for divers and nature lovers alike.
On the island you will find endangered species like the dugong, hawksbill turtle, long-tailed macaque monkeys, giant black squirrels, and the green turtle. The island also has some impressive ecosystems like mangrove, sea grass meadow, and coral reefs. Go for a hike from the park headquarters (29 Vo Thi Sau Street).
In recent years a number of resort hotels have sprung up on the islands and a short stay here is slowly increasing in popularity as the islands build a reputation as an ‘eco-getaway’. The best time to visit Con Dao Islands is from March to June, when the sea is calmest.
Visit the local market, it is small but cute and you can get a really cheap and tasty breakfast. Try banana rolled with rice (yum).
Rent a motorbike to find some of the best and most excluded beaches. Head east past Mui Ca Map to Nhat Beach for some of the island’s clearest waters.
Some great places for filling your tummy are Infiniti Café (serve fresh juices, own-baked bread, home-made pizza, coffee and ice cream) and Quán Ăn Thanh Huyền, just 5 minutes out of town by motorbike.
EVER BEEN TO SOUTH VIETNAM? WHAT WHERE THE BEST PLACES YOU’VE SEEN?
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