Home to more than 8.4 million people, Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC for short, though many locals still use the city’s old name – Saigon) thrums with activity. From locals huddled around street food stalls to storeowners beckoning you with their wares, HCMC is packed with colour and activity at every corner. While many visitors are drawn by the amazing food and rich history, however, few experience the natural wonders just outside the city limits. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing beach day or a more adventurous expedition, here are five nature-filled day trips from Ho Chi Minh City.
1. Can Gio Mangrove Biosphere Reserve
This UNESCO-listed mangrove forest is known for its rich diversity of mangrove plant species, invertebrates, fish and shellfish, as well as a population of saltwater crocodiles that live within the protected area. To arrive in style, book a speedboat ride from the heart of HCMC and enjoy a leisurely cruise around the mangrove forest before visiting long-tailed primates on Monkey Island and taking a trip to the crocodile farm.
2. Vung Tau
This coastal town is the closest beach destination from HCMC, and is easily accessible by car or bus in under two hours. Vung Tau has four main beaches – Front Beach, Back Beach, Pineapple Beach and Paradise Beach – but if you want to avoid the crowds, it’s best to skip the first. Pineapple Beach, in particular, has calmer waters and is great for families with young children.
3. Ba Den Mountain
Also known as Black Lady Mountain, this extinct volcano three hours from downtown HCMC is popular for locals and tourists alike. Standing at 996m, this is the highest mountain in south-eastern Vietnam. The hike up is not an easy one, marked by steep trails that are rocky in parts. However, the panoramic views at the top make the exertion well worth it and Ba Den one of the best day trips from Ho Chi Minh City.
4. Tan Lap Floating Village
About two hours outside HCMC, this tranquil floating village offers a chance to get up close with the natural surroundings. You can take a boat out on the pond to admire the lotus plants or enjoy a slow, meandering walk on the winding trail that takes you across the melaleuca forest. For lunch, stop by the Buffet Nam Bo, just across the ticketing area. The open-air restaurant serves a wide variety of dishes, from grilled fish and bánh xèo (crispy pancake) to grilled snails and frogs.
5. Cat Tien National Park
You’ll want to stay a couple of days at this vast national park, which is about a four-hour journey from HCMC. Spread over 72,000 hectares, this lowland tropical rainforest is home to an incredible variety of flora and fauna, including the endemic golden-cheeked gibbon, Asian elephants and the bison-like Gaur bull. Apart from birdwatching and wildlife spotting, the nature reserve also offers adventurous activities such as trekking and mountain biking. There are various accommodation options within the park itself, ranging from basic bamboo huts to more luxurious lodges.