Living or spending a long time in a big city is fabulously exciting and eventful but after some time don’t we all crave a little bit of fresh air, greenery, and maybe soil, rocks or sand under our feet?
Saigon has been impressively developing over the last decade and has become one of the best cities in the world to settle down in, expanding its well-designed residential areas and proceeding with plans for modern hubs, advanced public transport and hi-tech solutions. The entertainment, music, and art scenes are growing rapidly. All the city lacks is more green public spaces.
In the meanwhile, weekend trips provide a welcome escape from the noise, hustle and bustle for a quick reset. Where should we go from Saigon if we wish to feast our eyes and souls with nature? Here are some ideas for a change of setting and a little bit of adventure.
1. Life’s a beach
There have been some new getaways popping up in recent years, making it easier and more fun to catch some “sun and sand” time not far from the city. Between Vung Tau and Mui Ne, one can find multiple spots with accommodation for a taste of the high-life, as well as the budget-friendly bungalows and tent options.
The closest to Saigon is Long Hai, the resort town with sandy beaches and morning spectacle of seafood sellers hustling in the early morning hours. A place for beach dwellers who just want to do nothing but enjoy the sea.
Moving east along the coast you’ll find yourself in Ho Tram and Binh Chau, with some fancy resorts and colorful beach bungalows dotted along the 10km long sandy beach.
More than just a beach town, Ho Tram tempts visitors with its forest-shrouded hot springs – a part of the incredibly biodiverse Binh Chau – Phuoc Buu Nature Reserve filled with rare wildlife, tropical forests, swamps and lakes.
The next famous beach stop is La Gi established as a tourist destination only in recent years and still quite unspoiled with its fine white sand and blue water.
Next in line is famous Mui Ne with an abundance of hotels, high-end resorts, budget friendly home-stays, and hostels. This is already quite a trip from Saigon and most likely should be reached by bus or train.
2. Forests, plantations, and mangroves
Take a 3-hour bus ride to Nam Cat Tien Rainforest and book your stay at one of the forest lodges at the border of the National Park. Gear up on mosquito repellent and waterproof shoes for your rainforest hike, in search of gibbons and langurs, with a slight chance of wild elephants in the area (“they” say there still are some).
While there, go ahead and visit some of the pepper plantations or find the Chau Ma minority people at Bun Go weaving village project. The locals of Nam Cat Tien have been practicing the traditional medicine based on the plants from the rainforest – ask around and try to bring back some of the mystical rainforest cures.
However, there is no need to travel this far from the city to find yourself deep in nature, with strange trees and animals around. Why not head south to the mangroves of Cần Giờ, just 2 hours drive from the city. Can Gio is a UNESCO listed nature reserve not many people are aware of and even less visit. It’s a spectacular sight out of a fairytale (or a horror movie) with monkeys, gibbons, and crocodiles all around.
3. Mekong delta and a river cruise
The Mekong Delta is well known to many for its floating markets, lush greenery, and some great resorts at the river banks. There are the one day tours that are typically a variation of a local house visit, coconut candy making and canal sampan ride, but it’s very much worth staying a night or two and dive a bit deeper into the Delta living.
Cycle through villages, listen to the frogs at night, observe the river traffic, get on the boat with local fishermen, and marvel at their nets casting skills at the crack of dawn.
A whole other experience would be an overnight or multiple night Mekong River cruise, maybe even one ending in Phnom Penh. In just 4 days you get to see the spectacularly rich life on the Mekong, with a sudden change of landscape as you’re crossing the border with Cambodia and a brand new perspective on the differences and similarities between Vietnamese and Cambodian lifestyles.
4. Hiking, trekking, walking
There may not be any real mountains in Saigon’s proximity, but for trek hungry people this shalln’t be an issue as there is plenty to do to work those muscles.
Dinh Mountain and Waterfalls at Ba Ria, just 2 hours drive from Saigon are a splendid one day trip with a little jungle trek, a picnic, and a dive in the brisk waters under a picturesque waterfall. Maybe a date idea even?
Right outside Tay Ninh, there is Black Virgin Mountain – the highest peak in the South. Make it one day trip or stay longer and explore the area of nearby Dau Tieng Reservoir for an extended nature escape.
Off in the other direction is the Chua Chan Mountain with a forest mountain trail, although it seems most mountains in Vietnam start with an hour staircase climb before you enter a real trail.
For those who wish to combine a little bit of trekking with beach time – Vung Tau’s Nui Dinh mountain is the way to go. There are two lovely waterfalls – the Suoi Da and Suoi Tien to find along the trail – which are great to take a dip in after the hike! And since the hill is just a mere 30 km from Vung Tau, you can make a great active weekend of it.
It’s easy to get sucked in by the big city life in Saigon and forget the world outside, but every now and then a getaway to some very different landscape can be bliss, a way to reconnect both with the country around and yourself.