Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Things To Do In Ho Chi Minh – Best Day Tours

Day Tours are some of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Many great destinations are only a few hours from the city. We lived in Ho Chi Minh for several months. We’ve tried just about every day tour, and we want to share what we learned.

We’ve visited many places multiple times and in different ways. We’ve done big group, small group, and private tours with different companies. We’ve joined Vietnamese friends on day trips. And we’ve done independent visits on our own.

We’ve Had Some Great Tours and Some Flops

We know how difficult choosing a tour can be. The marketing photos and literature can seem wonderful, but the reality can be a disappointing waste of time.

For the most part, all the following destinations live up to the marketing hype. Of course, there is some misleading information in the travel literature. When needed, we point out the BS, so you’ll have an honest description and realistic expectations.

Day tours really are one of the best things to do in Ho Chi MinhClick To Tweet

In this post, we focus on destinations and experiences more than particular tour companies. The right tour company is important, but the destination is the priority. We’ll include a list of companies we like at the end, but we find that most are really similar overall.

Some of these places deserve longer stays, but we understand that there are only so many precious vacation days. Sometimes it’s a day tour or nothing.

So, here are our picks for the best day tour destinations from Ho Chi Minh – with tips on choosing the right tour for you.

Things To Do In Ho Chi Minh – Best Day Tours


Can Gio – Monkey Island & Mangrove Forest

Cu Chi – Tunnels and Machine Gun Range

Cao Dai – The Great Divine Temple

Mui Ne – Beach and Sand Dunes

Mekong Delta – Floating Markets

Binh Quoi Tourist Village – Oasis in the City

Some Tour Companies

Can Gio – Monkey Island & Mangrove Forest

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. Day Tours in Saigon, Vietnam.

Welcome to Monkey Island. Tickets Please.

Can Gio is the Wild Wetlands of south Vietnam. It’s our favorite eco-tourism site near Ho Chi Minh city. It offers Mangrove forests, wildlife encounters, hikes, boating, and other nature-loving activities.

Can Gio has exotic natural beauty, lots of fun activities, and historical interest. The best tours also include lunch at a coastal resort where you can enjoy a luxurious break from the wild adventure.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. Monkeys at Can Gio in Saigon Vietnam

Adorable Monkeys Everywhere

Known as Monkey Island, Can Gio’s biggest attraction is 1000 (free-roaming) monkeys, but there is a lot to love about this place. Can Gio is a UNESCO protected Biosphere Reserve with big biological importance.

Located where the Saigon River meets the Ocean, Can Gio is a wetland environment of Mangrove forests and a matrix of waterways. The winding waterways, intricate root systems, and shadowy forests have a haunting beauty and mysterious allure.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. Can Gio a Unesco site in Saigon Vietnam

Inside the Mangrove Forest – Boating and the Guerilla Base

These Mangroves are the perfect setting for boat rides, hikes, and seeing the hundreds of animal and plant species that live here. Can Gio is also home to crocodiles, otters, pythons, foxes, deer, and other exotic species.

As a UNESCO protected environment, development is minimal, but appropriate safety measures have been taken with dangerous animals like the crocs.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh the crocodiles at Can Gio in Saigon Vietnam

Croc Encounter – Safe but Scary

Top Experiences at Can Gio

Most tours are similar, but not all. Make sure yours includes the experiences most important to you.

  • Observe and/or Interact with Monkeys 

 Every tour includes this, just make sure your company prioritizes safety and ethical treatment.

  • Hiking

 Some of the animals can only be seen on a hike, but not all tours include hikes.

  • Boat Ride 

Most tours include a boat ride through the Mangroves, but there are motorboats and paddleboats. Paddleboats are the more authentic experience, but they’re less common, more expensive, and slower (so you’ll see less overall). Motorboats are cheaper, more common, and faster (so you can see more of the reserve).

  • Crocodiles Encounters 

All tours include the viewing platform over the crocodile area. A few also include the crocodile farm, where you can feed the crocs.

  • Vietcong Guerrilla Base

This is the place of bonus historical insight. During the war, the Vietcong set up strongholds to control the water route from the ocean to Ho Chi Minh city. Today, there are re-created camps and war monuments deep in the jungle.

  • Lunch and Relax at a Coastal Resort

Most tours include lunch, but why not enjoy the natural beauty of the coast from the comfort of a nice resort. Our favorite resort here is Phuong Nam.

Price Range and Distance

$25 – $30 USD – We prefer a small group tour for Can Gio. The price includes hotel pick up, lunch, and all other fees. As with just about everything in Vietnam, haggle and shop around. We find that booking and paying in person is the best.

**2 hours from Ho Chi Minh City**

Cu Chi Tunnels

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. Cu Chi Tunnels in Saigon Vietnam

Tunnels and Displays at Cu Chi

This is the most popular day tour from Ho Chi Minh city – with good reason. The Cu Chi Tunnels is a site of big historical importance that’s also fun and interactive. The setting is a lovely forested area.

There’s a gun range where you can shoot machine guns. And it’s the most affordable day tour. Good half-day tours are as cheap as $5 USD!

During the war, the Vietcong used an extensive network of underground tunnels to move around people and supplies undetected. The tunnels of Cu Chi were part of that network. The tunnels were small but strong enough to support tanks driving over them and even light bombing.

They are really impressive to see and amazing to crawl through. Squirming through these tunnels for a few minutes is claustrophobic. Thinking of the people who spent years living in them boggles the mind.

We’re not generally fans of big group tours, but at Cu Chi, they’re a good option. In fact, being in a big group and feeling a bit crowded is probably a more authentic experience for the tunnels. And these big group tours are really cheap.

Top Experiences at Cu Chi Tunnels

All tours of Cu Chi are virtually identical. The only variations here are the number of people in your group.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Inside one of the tunnels at Cu Chi Tunnels Vietnam

  • Crawl Through Tunnels 

This brief experience really brings the history of tunnel warfare to life. Reading about them or seeing a documentary is great, but actually getting inside the tunnels takes it to another level.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Death Traps at Cuchi Tunnels Vietnam

  •  Seeing Deathtraps

There are dozens of different deathtraps on display and demonstrated on site. These are various booby-traps invented to kill and maim invaders. They are primitive devices with horrifying effects.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Shooting a machine gun at Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam

  • Shooting Machine Guns 

There is an added fee for this, but it’s a bargain for the rare experience.

Tour Options

You can visit the Cu Chi Tunnels as a stand-alone half-day tour.

Since there’s a fair amount of driving involved, the better option is to take a combo tour with another nearby destination included on this list.

There are many Cu Chi Tunnels combo tours. Our favorite pairs the Cu Chi Tunnels with the Cao Dai Temple, which we’ll present next.

Price Range and Distance

$5 – $10 USD. We prefer a big group tour for the Cu Chi Tunnels. The value is too hard to beat. And the experience is not diminished by a larger group in this case.

**90 minutes from Ho Chi Minh City**

Cao Dai Temple (And Cu Chi Tunnels)

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Cao Dai Temple near Saigon Vietnam

The Great Divine Temple of Caodaism

Visiting Vietnam includes seeing lots of temples, but this one’s special because it’s NOT Buddhist. It’s the “Great Divine Temple” of Caodaism. The Cao Dai religion was invented in Vietnam, fuses aspects of different world religions, and has a central message of tolerance.

This temple is gorgeous and unique in the world. There are other, smaller Cao Dai temples, but this is the most spectacular and special place for the whole religion.

Tours are scheduled so you can also witness a worship ceremony. We were worried about intruding, but the people here are incredibly warm and welcoming. We had to stay in designated areas, but we felt right at home.

The ceremony is wonderful. Traditional music and choral voices fill the sanctuary. A multitude of robed followers kneel in prayer. And the general mood is serene yet happy.

What The Tour Companies Don’t Tell You

When you take the Cu Chi Tunnels / Cao Dai Temple combo tour, they treat the sites as completely separate and never point out the connection between them. We think the tour companies are missing a big opportunity here – one that would improve the experience for visitors.

As a combo tour, these 2 sites show the transition from the horrors of war to the wonders of peace and tolerance – with the same individuals! Most of the worshippers at the temple are elderly.

The irony and triumph of this combo tour is that the warm folks at the Cao Dai Temple are likely the same individuals who fought in the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels, 50 years ago.

Seeing both places in the same day, meeting the actual people involved at both, and witnessing the radical change that can happen in the course a life is nothing short of inspiring. But you’ll have to draw those connections for yourself.

Top Experiences at Cao Dai Temple

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. The Altar at the Cao Dai Temple near Saigon Vietnam

Sanctuary and Altar of the Great Divine Temple

  • Exploring the Temple

Before the ceremony, visitors are free to explore the vast and ornate temple.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Cao Dai Worship at the temple near Saigon Vietnam

Cao Dai Worship

  • Witness a Ceremony

The music, costumes, and tangible devotion are beautiful to experience.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. The Gardens at the Cao Dai Temple near Saigon Vietnam

Gardens

  • Exploring the Grounds

The temple’s exterior is also very impressive. Be sure to walk all the way around and check out the various gardens.

Price Range and Distance

$10 USD. As mentioned above, this is a combo tour with the Cu Chi Tunnels. Every visitor enters the same temple at the same time.

Don’t waste money on a private tour, you’ll just end up standing next to everyone from all the tours anyway.

**3 hours from Ho Chi Minh City**

Mui Ne

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Relaxing by the beach in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Relaxing at Mui Ne Beach

Mui Ne is a beach town in southern Vietnam with some surreal surrounding geography. The beaches are nice, but the Sand Dunes and Fairy Stream changed how we think about Vietnam.

Tropical Vietnam has a desert? We could also spend hours simply watching Mui Ne’s beachside fishing village.

Mui Ne actually deserves several days, but if you’re short on time, a quick visit is still rewarding just to see the Sand Dunes and Fairy Stream (and have a little beach time).

Mui Ne has 2 sets of Sand Dunes: the White Dunes and the Red Dunes. The White Dunes are awesome, but the Red Dunes have some litter. Both dunes are beautiful and interesting as natural phenomena, but the Red Dunes are covered with enough litter to diminish the experience.

Much of the Red Dunes are clean, but seeing the litter is really frustrating. The Red Dunes are still worth seeing, just be prepared.

 Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Litter at the Red Dunes in Mui Ne, Vietnam

Sad Truth – Litter at the Red Dunes

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Mui Ne Red Dunes near Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

Littered but not Ruined – Much of Red Dunes is still Clean

The White Dunes are clean and much larger, with a more diverse set of dunes. They’re like a big sandbox playground. You can ride ATV’s, Jeeps, and Sandboards.

“Sandboarding” is like riding a sled on snow, except you coast down a sandy slope.

These activities are lots of fun, but Sunrise over the White Dunes is magic. It’s totally worth getting up 4:30am.

Top Experiences in Mui Ne

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Watch the sunrise on the white sand dunes in Mui Ne

  • Sunrise over The White Dunes

It’s rarely foggy around Mui Ne, making for spectacular sunrises.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. ATV on the white Sand Dunes in Mui Ne, Vietnam

  • Play in the Sand Dunes

We think the ATV rides are overpriced, but they’re not totally outrageous. And the Sandboard rides are really cheap.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. The Fairy Stream in Mui Ne Vietnam near HCMC

  • Visit the Fairy Stream

You won’t believe you’re still in tropical Vietnam.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. The fishing village in Mui Ne Vietnam.

  • See the Fishing Village

Mui Ne has only become a tourism hotspot over the last decade. It was originally a fishing village and that tradition continues. The fishing village is a fascinating mix of beach, boats, and a beautiful bustle of activity.

Tour Options for Mui Ne

There are a couple options for day tours to Mui Ne. Some are actual day tours, where you leave Ho Chi Minh city early in the morning and return late at night. These are OK, but feel a bit rushed.

Our favorite is the overnight tour. It lasts about 20 hours and includes a resort stay and all meals. You take the sleeper bus to Mui Ne, spend a few hours in the hotel, get up early for a sunrise tour of major sights, and then spend a few hours on the beach (playing or napping).

This tour leaves at 8pm and returns at 4pm the following day. You do a lot quickly, but you don’t feel rushed. The ride to/from Mui Ne is in a large sleeper bus, but the sunrise tour is only a small group (about 10). Then you have 4 hours to explore the area independently, before going back to Ho Chi Minh.

Again – we recommend spending a few days in Mui Ne if you can, but we know that Vietnam has a lot to see and do. If you can only spare 20 hours, you can definitely still have a great experience in Mui Ne.

Price Range and Distance

$50 USD for the overnight tour we mentioned above, including hotel room at beachside resort, all meals and entrance fees. $30 USD for the same day tour.

**4-5 hours from Ho Chi Minh City**

Mekong Delta

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. The Mekong Delta near Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

The Mekong Delta is one of Vietnam’s most awesome destinations. The Mekong Delta is iconic Vietnam – lush countryside landscapes, traditional river lifestyles, rustic boat rides, and floating markets. Anyone would enjoy a visit to the “real” Mekong Delta, but many short tours are disappointing.

It deserves several days, but we know, sometimes time is short. The problem is that many Mekong Delta day tours promise authenticity but deliver superficial experiences.

We’ve found some Mekong Delta tours to be the most disappointing that we’ve had, after more than a year in Vietnam. We don’t want to discourage you from taking a short tour of the Mekong Delta. We just want you to know exactly what to expect from them, so you can make the best choices for yourself.

First we’ll highlight the best experiences to have at the Mekong Delta. Then we’ll cover some of the many (often misleading) tour options.

Top Experiences on the Mekong Delta

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. The Mekong Delta near Saigon Vietnam

  • Floating Markets 

Cai Rang and Cai Be are the best known. These floating markets seem to be a dying tradition. See them before they morph into just another grocery store. Timing is extremely important.

The real local trading happens from 5-7am. After that, it’s mostly a show for tourists. When choosing a tour, make sure they arrive early enough – which requires an overnight tour.

Some overnight tours take you to floating markets in the late morning and say it’s still “busy.” This is not true. The only selling is to the hordes of tourist boats.

Many day tours from Ho Chi Minh city will take you to the markets late into the afternoon. This is almost criminal. It is certainly a rip-off.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Our stay at a homestay on the Mekong Delta near HCMC Vietnam

Authentic Commercial Homestay

  • Homestay

We’ve been lucky to have a Mekong Delta “homestay” as invited guests of Vietnamese friends. It was a real home, not a business. It was one of our best experiences in Vietnam.

We’ve also done commercial homestays in the Mekong Delta, and they were surprisingly authentic. Most overnight tours give you the option of a hotel or a homestay. We recommend the homestay.

While not completely authentic, they’re very close. It’s a great way to spend some time with locals – even if you can only communicate with smiles and nods. Make sure that the homestay is located on the river and not in the city.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Hanging out with locals during our homestay at the Mekong Delta

  • River Life 

In the traditional way of life, the Mekong was used in every way possible. In addition to irrigation and transportation, people used the river for bathing, washing dishes, laundry, and generally playing around in.

These traditions are still alive today. This is especially true in remote areas, where they have access to fewer resources. But you can even see river life close to Can Tho city too.

Pick a tour that includes boating tours that show off this way of life.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. The countryside of the Mekong Delta near Saigon Vietnam

  • Countryside

The Mekong Delta is the most fertile area in Vietnam. It has lush farmlands that stretch as far as you can see. Be sure to scope out Vietnam’s picturesque rice paddies filled with grazing water buffalos.

This one is a bit tougher for tours. Sometimes this is part of a boat ride. Sometimes it’s part of a bus tour. Sometimes your homestay will be in farm country. If it’s important to you ask and clarify.

Tour Options

WARNING – The travel literature and marketing descriptions paint a picture of rural life on the Mekong. You’ll see pictures of traditional life in the remote backwaters, but since those places are remote you won’t actually visit them on tour. They’re too hard to reach for tour groups.

The tour companies often take you to the city of My Tho and the Ben Tre islands. This is technically on the Mekong, but they only have staged reproductions of traditional, rural life. These look great in photos. But in person, they are clearly fake and a big let down – if you’re expecting the real thing.

There are countless variations of short Mekong Delta tours. We cant’ discuss them all. We’ll just mention a few of the most common.

1 Day Tours

We don’t recommend 1 day tours to the Mekong Delta. In our opinion, this would only be a last resort, if you had NO other way to see this area. We’ve experienced this ourselves and spoken to many other travelers. Most are fairly disappointed by the 1 day tour because of misleading marketing and false expectations.

My Tho and Ben Tre are the most common destinations for day tours. My Tho is a small city on the Mekong and the Ben Tre islands are a group of 4 islets in the river. Day tours here are very cheap. They typically visit 3 of the islands and include a decent lunch.

The Ben Tre islands are pretty places. You can have some fun. You can take a “traditional” paddleboat ride down a lazy stream. You can see demonstrations of some traditional ways of life. You can sample some traditional foods and drinks. But it’s all staged just for tourists.

Being staged reproductions is NOT the problem. The places are actually lovely and nice to visit. The problem is that they sell them as an authentic experience. If you know it’s not authentic and all for show, then you’ll likely enjoy a day a cheap entertainment.

Can Tho is most often included on 2 or 3 day tours, but there are also 1 day tours. Some of these are expensive speedboat tours. Most of these visit a floating market, but you get there too late to see anything interesting. We think these will likely disappoint as well.

2 Day Tours

2 day tours visit My Tho, Ben Tre, and Can Tho, before returning to Ho Chi Minh city. The 2 day tour is not completely authentic, but if you take one with a homestay, it can be satisfactory. Not awesome, but exponentially better than the 1 day tour.

Most of these spend the Day 1 in My Tho and Ben Tre, and Day 2 in Can Tho. You stay overnight in Can Tho and get up early to visit the floating market.

If you want the most authentic experience possible for a short tour, choose one with a homestay on the river, that visits a floating market between 5-7am, and that visits some farmland and river life.

It won’t be exactly the same as going deep into the remote backwaters, but it will expose you to some traditional ways of life that are passing away with modernization.

Price Range and Distance

$10 USD (or less) for a 1-day tour including boat rides, lunch, and more. As mentioned, it’s not authentic, but at least it’s cheap.

$30-50 USD for a 2-day tour with meals, overnight accommodation, and the things outlined above. Shop around and haggle. In Vietnam tourism, price does not always reflect quality.

Personally, we wouldn’t spend more than $30 pax for this tour.

Binh Quoi Tourist Village

 Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. The Binh Quoi Tourist Village

Binh Quoi Tourist Village is a better-staged reproduction of the Mekong Delta than the Ben Tre islands. As the name clearly states it’s a “Tourist Village,” which is a refreshing bit of honesty.

Consider it as an alternative to the 1 day Mekong Delta tour. Or as an independent things to do in Ho Chi Minh.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Exploring the Binh Quoi Tourist Village in Ho Chi Minh Vietnam

We think Binh Quoi Tourist Village is one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh city. It’s not authentic, but it’s honest and the place is beautiful.

It’s located within the city, about 20 minutes from downtown. Entrance is free. There’s a big buffet in the evening. And there’s a rustic resort next door if you want to spend the night. Rooms are only about $22 USD.

Things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Exploring the Binh Quoi Tourist Village in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam

There are a number traditional spectacles around the sprawling grounds including a bamboo water wheel, a lotus pond, lakes, streams, bridges, gardens, and vast grassy fields.

Mornings are the best time to visit. Almost no one is around. It is really peaceful and postcard pretty. They open at 9am.

Tour Companies in Ho Chi Minh City

Here are some tour companies that we’ve used and like. None of them are perfect. We’ve had some mediocre tours and some great ones. These companies are dependable and affordable.

We almost always find better prices in person than online, so we’ve included their street addresses in Ho Chi Minh City. Many of these are located close to each other, so shop around. Beware overpriced tours!!! Some companies charge 5 or 10 times as much for the exact same tour.

Sinh Tourist
248 De Tham St.
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

TNK Travel
220 De Tham St.
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Nam A Chau
219 Pham Ngu Lao St
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Website is only in Vietnamese, but they speak English in their office.

Urban Adventures
149/42 Le Thi Rieng St.
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City

Hello, Xin Chao Tours
250 De Tham St.
District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
Small agent, no website.
This is a convenience store that also sells tours. She is basically an agent who books tours with different companies for you. Sometimes these small offices can be scams, but we’ve booked many tours here. She’s totally legit, speaks good English, and has great deals.

Day Tours – Still One of the Best Things to do in Ho Chi Minh

Wow, this post turned out a lot longer than expected. Day tours really are one of the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh. Choosing can be complicated, but it’s worth the effort. We hope this helps you choose the right destination and the right tour at the right price.

Which day tours interest you the most?

Follow our Blog at BlogLovin’

186 Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

The Travel Ninjas
error: Content is protected !! Copyright © 2016 www.thetravelninjas.com