Last week I met my Dutch besties for one week in Ho Chi Minh. Since I’d already been there, we included trips to Can Tho and Vung Tau. Of course we had an incredible time after I hadn’t seen them for nearly 10 months! They would’ve made a trip to the local supermarket unforgettable 😉
Day 1 and 2: Can Tho, Mekong Delta
In one word: amazing! The definite highlight of our trip.
Oh, wait.. You need some more information?
How to get there?
The best way to visit the Mekong Delta is probably from Ho Chi Minh. Good chance you are staying in Ho Chi Minh’s district 1, the backpackers’ area. If you want to be sure of a fantastic bus service, book a ticket at Futa Bus Lines. Their offices are spread throughout the city. When we lost a bag in the taxi, the whole staff dropped their activities to help us get it back. The buses are comfy and leave right on time. No hassles, no scams, just relaxation and constant amazement about their friendliness. A ticket from HCM to Can Tho cost us 110.000VND (around $5) one way.
Where to stay?
From the bus station, a taxi to the hotel is the best option. Taxi’s are cheap and generally honest. No need to be on your guard too much here. We stayed at Nguyen Shack. A wonderful quiet place where the welcome is warm and everything else seems to be for free. Although it’s a little more expensive than other places, they offer lots of extras like doctor fish treatment and cupping massage which makes it completely worth it. Bicycles are for rent costless and the daily floating market / food / sunset boat tours are to be enjoyed for just a few dollars. Additionally, you’ll be guided by the sweetest guides.
The combination of peacefulness of the Mekong delta, the insanely friendly staff and all extras they offer, made it our highlight of the week. The cupping massage was interesting: Getting your skin sucked into hot cups while listening to the squealing pigs outside: wouldn’t wanna miss that! I’m not sure if ‘You look like a pepperoni pizza’ is meant to be a compliment. And man, did we look like that, for the rest of our week at the beach The doctor fish made our hands and feet softer than soft and even though it was raining (our guide in her most serious being: ‘Today we will have a rainy tour instead of the sunset tour’), cruising over the water surface in our little boat and covered in our flowery raincoats, staring at the local people living their life, was relaxing. Their food is fine and they offer some enthralling things like snake juice to try. The presence of hammocks always tends to make my life better. So we spend our evening swinging in our hammocks, enjoying the sight of fireflies lighting up like Christmas lights in the trees across the river. In the morning we woke up surrounded by jungle (or Mekong delta?) sounds, beautiful!
Day 3 – 5: Vung Tao
How to get there?
This cute city lies about a 2-hour bus ride away from Ho Chi Minh. I was about to put down village, because it has a way more villagy-vibe than HCM. Again we used Futa Bus Lines, our favorite company! Another option is a 2-hour boat ride over the Saigon River. We took the Greenlines ferry back (one-way ticket: 250.000VND). The Ferries leave about every hour, but check a travel agency (or the ferry pier – Cáp Treo – in Vung Tau) for up-to-date times. Try to take the last one around 4.30pm, as you might get lucky and witness a fairy tale sunset.
Where to stay?
Everything around Hồ Bàu Sen lake can be considered the center. Vung Tau isn’t big so you can get anywhere by foot or taxi easily. We stayed at Vung Tau Homestay Container, which is great if you’re traveling in a small group. Be warned: It’s not ON the beach, as we thought when booking. A hostel might be more fun if you’re a solo traveler and there are plenty of more luxurious hotels with swimming pool if you’re willing to spend a little more.
Where to eat?
Even though it’s not THAT touristy, there are enough places to pick from. We found some with our friend Tripadvisor’s help and asking the hotel reception might get you end up in some nice Vietnamese places.
@ Tran Phu Street: A lot of cafes and restaurants along this coastal street offer the prettiest and most relaxing sea views. Very romantic!
@ Blue corner – If you’re looking for something mixed. Everything was delicious, except for the rib eye wasn’t that special. They have wine, it’s just not on the menu.
@ Partea – They have the best noodle soup breakfast and normal (read: non-Vietnamese) coffee!
Furthermore, there are lots of Australian places, since a good number of Australian veterans settled down in Vung Tau, out of which some volunteer at Vung Tau Veterans & Friends Children’s Fund now. We met some of them during breakfast at Belly’s Watering Hole.
What to do?
# Vung Tao beach. Stretched out along the east coast you’ll find Back Beach, with it’s sunbeds for rent (we paid 100.000VND for 5 beds and 2 umbrellas), little shops and some Vietnamese restaurants. If you’re ‘lucky’ there’ll be some outdoor karaoke. Although it’s no bounty beach, the sun is strong, beers are cold and the water refreshing.
# Sunset at the Nghinh Phong Cape, with just the peaceful background sounds of crickets, waves and wind.
# Visit Jesus on top of his hill (shoulders and knees need to be covered; visit is donation based), for a good view over Vung Tau. Try not to go there during weekends, since the stairs can’t be called wide. More like one-way. There are some nice cafes for drinks on the way up.
# Touristic market & funfair (address: 157 Thùy Vân, P. Thắng Tam, Tp. Vũng Tàu). Souvenirs and food, but not just food. Great Vietnamese sea food. There’s a variety of restaurants to pick from. To our surprise there’s also a funfair next to it with some amusing rides for 40.000VND a ride.
We spent our weekdays in Vung Tau and thus enjoyed an almost empty beach and quiet bars. It’s supposed to go a little crazier during weekends, which means full bars and beaches but also more things going on. When I said the sun is strong, I mean REALLY strong. Within short time it added some marinara and bechamel colors to my pepperoni pizza look. Not so charming, so bring that baby skin SF50 sunscreen. All in all, a very relaxing experience.
Day 6 and 7: Ho Chi Minh
How to get there?
Ho Chi Minh is not that stretched out, which make a lot of things easily accessible. The airport is only a 15-minute taxi ride from district 1 (if no traffic jams; around 150.000VND) and most touristic sites are within walking distance or just a short and cheap taxi ride away.
Where to stay?
District 1 – backpackers district. We tried various places in the lower price ranges and were not very impressed with the quality. For a private room BetterU Charming Room & Juice Bar is a good option (double room: $23).
Where to eat?
Numerous options, from home cooked Vietnamese to all kinds of Western food, from super cheap to a little too pricey, from fully prepared for you to cook-it-yourself, from the coziest atmospheres to bare walls to stare at. You pick it. Some recommendations:
@ Food market at September 23 Park (Pham Ngu Lao street, near Ben Thanh market). It’s just in the weekends. The food stalls prepare a variety of small dishes to try.
@ Barbecue garden: Lovely outdoor décor, BBQ your own! Above Vietnamese prices but worth it.
@ Secret garden: Home cooked Vietnamese, again in a beautiful setting.
What to do?
For first-timers it’s easy to plan one or two full days of activities.
# Cu Chi tunnels: A must-see. I recommend booking a half-day tour from district 1. There’s an enormous amount of tour operators offering it (for around 90.000 VND pp). I took local bused to it once and it’s not worth the hassle.
# War Remnants Museum: For anyone slightly interested in history. I can’t call myself a hardcore museum visitor, but this was impressive; partly due to the fact that the Vietnam War took place just decades ago. Even though historically correct, it’s quite propagandist.
# Skybar: There must be a thousand places calling themselves a skybar in HCM. The EON Heli bar on the 51st floor of Bitexco Financial Tower is the highest one. The ambiance is great, the view is great, the cocktails are great and the music is great, my company was great. Just great. What more does one need?! (no entrance fee, cocktails for 220.000VND – check their website for up-to-date happy hour times!)
# Other things to visit: the Ben Thahn market, the Central Post Office, one (or more) of the many massage places, rooftop bars,..
Ho Chi Minh.. City of motorbikes. The ever chaotic traffic can be overwhelming. It’s beautiful to watch, but in case you grow tired of the chaotic and busy street life for a while, there are plenty of escapes. Luckily this city has a little of everything. Ho Chi Minh is a great place to organize some (few) days trips from. Think: Mekong delta or (Vung Tau) beach.. Or rest your senses with a frappuccino in a a pretty rooftop bar..
So what’s on my bucket list for next time? (I wasn’t lying when I told you: The more you travel, the longer your bucket list gets!)
2 weeks Mekong Delta
(It’s a huge area of about 40.000km2, so a 2-day exploration is not nearly enough!)
(Sapa & Ha long bay, which I skipped during my last visit)
We booked everything through Booking.com. It’s one of my favorite booking sites, because it’s clear and they often have some good discount deals.
* Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means I get a small commission if you book through it, with no extra costs for you at all!
** Also: Any tips are welcome for my next visit of Vietnam 😀