I have known Northern Vietnam for its breathtaking and spectacular natural landscapes. No one can easily forget the beautiful golden patches of terraced rice fields in Northeast Vietnam, especially in Sapa or Ha Giang. Even more so with Halong Bay, the two timed UNESCO World Natural Heritage. Central Vietnam is just epic with its heritage line of Hue, Hoi An and My Son – a true journey of discovering cultural values of this country. But to me, the trip to Southern Vietnam is different, in so many ways. It was a totally immersive experience in the way of life. A perspective I have never been given before. And here is my little tribute the vivid memories I have once indulged myself into – my own exclusive choice of the best things to do in South Vietnam.
- How to travel Vietnam in 10 Days
- Best places to visit in Vietnam
- North or South Vietnam – What to do and see?
About Southern Vietnam
The Southern Vietnam is one of the three geographical regions within Vietnam, including 2 administrative regions: Southeast or Dong Nam Bo and Mekong River Delta or Dong Bang Song Cuu Long.
As the largest region of the three region, Southern Vietnam can as well be the most attractive destination in Vietnam – with a lot of things to see and do from nature to culture, history to religion.
All the Fun Things to do in South Vietnam
Tour around Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh city, formerly known as Saigon and the capital of the South, is like no other major city in Vietnam. It’s like a vortex that sucks you deeper and deeper by every minute. The first time I visited the city, it chaotic flows swept me off my feet and the very next moment I already wandering the small, dark alleys of Saigon like I’m lost in some kind of kingdom.
Trust me, do not fear the alleys in Vietnam, they’re full of surprises and good food. I often find my breakfasts or lunches in some of them. Food in Vietnam is one of the most amazing things in the country you would enjoy. I recommend you to try Bun Bo Hue, Banh Xeo, Pho, Banh Mi, Bun Bo Nam Bo in Ho Chi Minh. They’re just so good.
Places to visit in Ho Chi Minh are mostly related to historical events and cultural significance: Palace of Reunification, War Remnants Museum, Central Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral.
Ho Chi Minh City is also the gateway to the real paradise of the South – Mekong Delta and one of the most popular day trip from Ho Chi Minh City – Cu Chi Tunnels.
Explore the underground Cu Chi Tunnels
Cu Chi Tunnels is the gigantic single underground tunnel system in all Vietnam. The complex is 40 kilometers away from the busy city, home to an expansive system of underground tunnels which was functioned mainly as shelters from bombs, living spaces and supporting routes.
This place, for me, is one of the most significant places in showing the strength of Vietnamese people even though in dark time. Nowadays, Cu Chi is simply an interesting historical tourist attraction for those who wish to understand the country more.
You can also try firing the real guns in the shooting range within the complex.
- Opening hour: 8:00 – 17:00 daily
- Fee: 90,000VND – 110,000VND/pax
Visiting Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho by boat
From Ho Chi Minh City, you can easily come to Cai Rang Floating Market – the gem of Mekong Delta. This market is the symbol and the focal point of Can Tho. The place is so iconic that when talking about top things to do in Mekong Delta, not mentioning Cai Rang Floating Market makes the whole thing seems so phony.
Located in Can Tho – the only city in Mekong River Delta region, you can visit the market by taking a boat from Ninh Kieu Wharf. With a history of more than a century, this is the oldest floating market in the whole region.
In the early morning, you can find here all kinds of stuff from fresh fruits, vegetables to steaming noodle soups, coffee, snack sold right on the boats. The world renowned chef Gordon Ramsay also fell in love with the taste of the noodle soup sold by a lady in Cai Rang Floating Market. And believe me, you can’t fall out either.
Trekking in Nam Cat Tien National Park
In Nam Cat Tien National Park, your true adventure expedition await. If you’re a traveler who yearn for a thrilling trekking and adventurous experience in Southern Vietnam, deep into the humid and thick forest of the land, then by all means, come to the Nam Cat Tien National Park.
Characterized by the lowland tropical forest with rich and diverse flora and fauna, Cat Tien has been recognized by UNESCO as ‘World Biosphere Reserve’. Once you have entered the park’s territory, you’ll feel like you’re inside a whole another world. Come to Bau Sau – Crocodile Lake where you can find crocodiles living under the water.
Get on a boat to visit the Endangered Primate Rescue Center to see the wildlife rescued from illegal trade. Gibbon Trekking Tour and Night Safari tour are available for those who want to see the animals up-close.
You can also visit Ta Lai Ethnic village which is home to three ethnic groups – Ma, Stleng and Tay. You’ll have the chance to learn about the lifestyle and farming techniques of the locals. Nam Tien National Park should be one of the most exciting, wholesome thing to do in South Vietnam.
Enjoy the flavorful and delicious southern street food
You know the names of the best Vietnamese dishes like Pho, Banh Mi, Bun Bo Hue… but do you know the differences between the cuisine in North and South Vietnam? In the end, Vietnam cuisine shines in its regional diversity.
Take the famous Pho for an example. Pho came from the North Vietnam, with its sophistication in perfecting the broth. While in the South, Pho gets spicier, the broth also is sweeter and bolder. The toppings are different too: in the north, chicken meat or minced beef are preferred while in the south, meat is the main.
And there are dishes that are originated from South Vietnam you can enjoy everywhere you go: Bun Bo Nam Bo, Hu Tieu, Banh Canh, Com Tam, Bum Mam…
Once you dig deep in the food scene of the place, you can find many more dishes that are singular, unique and downright delicious with a little twist from other cuisine like Khmer and Thai as well.
|How to find the best street food in Hanoi|
Taste fruits in a Mekong fruit orchard
Back to Mekong Delta region, one of the experience you should not miss is visiting a local orchard and tasting the fruits right from the tree branches. Mekong is blessed with not only the maze-like water system and bustling floating markets, it’s also the paradise of fresh fruits. Here are the best three fruit orchards in Southern Vietnam:
- Cai Be Fruit Orchard in Tien Giang
Not only is this fruit orchard a large fruit basket of the regions and the whole country, but it also a famous tourist site in Mekong Delta. Come to Tien Giang to feast the freshness and the flavors of pineapples, Cai Be oranges, grapefruits and durians…
This is also the only fruit orchard I had the chance to visit and I must say the most worthy one.
- Cai Mon Fruit Orchard in Ben Tre
Cai Mon Orchard is known for many kinds of fresh fruits in Mekong delta like durians, rambutan, pomelo, mango, longan, plum or its specialties like Hai Hoa green grapefruit and Chin Hoa flat seed durian in March.
- Vinh Long Fruit Orchard
Located only 2 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City center, Vinh Long fruit orchard would a wonderful day trip from Saigon for you. Nurtured by Tien and Hai rivers, the orchard bears fruits every seasons. Come to taste Binh Minh Nam Roi grapefruit, Binh Hoa Phuoc rambutan and many others.
Learn a handicraft in a local village
Living on water means that you will have to make the most of the nature and surrounding environment. That’s why Mekong Delta has the most authentic and active traditional handicraft villages in Vietnam. Visiting traditional handicraft villages is also an ‘off-the-beaten-track’ things to do in Mekong Delta.
I recommend you to visit the coconut product handicraft village in Ben Tre where the village residents use coconut shells and other parts to make into utensils and everyday usable products. It’s a fascinating sight to see the meticulous work going on and the transformation in the end.
Or you can visit a conical hat making village after visiting Cai Rang Floating Market in Can Tho. Thoi Tan A Hamlet in Thoi Lai preserve the craft of making Vietnam’s most iconic fashion item – the conical hat. You can buy these pretty, graceful, unisex hats to bring back home as souvenirs.
Cruising through the mangroves in Tra Su Forest
A place to enjoy the greatness of nature and take a lot of Instagramable pictures, Tra Su is one of my most favorite places and things to do in Southern Vietnam. In the wet season, the vivid green carpet of water ferns return to the place, bringing life along with it.
At Tra Su, you’ll be given the typical look of how Mekong Delta’s wetlands and mangrove forests look like and enjoy the atmosphere of the wildlife here, the trees, the water, all seem to be breathing.
Only 30km from Chau Doc – another things to do in South Vietnam, Tra Su forest covers an area of 850ha, home to an ecosystem of cajuput trees, flooded mangrove forest and many species of flora and fauna.
Entrance ticket costs 130,000VND per person including boat fee for a round trip, but cheaper when you travel in group.
Play with the waves on Phu Quoc Island
Let’s travel off shore. Southern Vietnam isn’t just all about lowland cities and waterway network and floating markets. It has pristine islands that offers luxury tourist accommodation and services. Phu Quoc and Con Dao are the best islands to put in this category. I didn’t have chance to visit Con Dao – one of the most secluded with most beautiful beaches in Vietnam – however, I had a great time in Phu Quoc Island.
Much more busy and crowded than Con Dao, Phu Quoc still has the charms of a far-off island. Sao Beach lived up to the reputation, the sand is so white while the sea water crystal clear. The special thing is you can see the star fishes on the beaches.
Other beaches like Khem Beach and Ong Lang are also great places to relax and work on your tan. Ganh Dau is the beach I like the most – it’s rather wild, isolated and the sunset is just breathtaking.
Dong Duong Town has all the great things for a traveler – motorbike rental, night market, cheap street food and a lot of local farms and workshops.
You can always go on a tour hopping to nearby islands like Pineapple Island or Fingernail Island. Activities like surfing, swimming, fishing and diving.
Families also can enjoy their time on Phu Quoc at Vinpearl and Phu Quoc Safari.
Best Things to do near Southern Vietnam
Slide down a sand hill in Mui Ne
Mui Ne, the paradise of sunlight, blue waves and sand dunes, is located only 215km away from Ho Chi Minh city. The town is known for its gorgeous coastline, strong winds and red sand dunes. You might find it quite inconvenient since major parts of the beaches are occupied by the resorts and hotels.
However, those who love exploring the local life would find the activities at fishing village more interesting than staying in a luxury hotel. Come to the coast at early morning, you’ll catch the sights of boats coming back with baskets filled with fishes and a morning market gathered right on the spot.
Mui Ne is also a place for kitesurfers, thanks to the strong winds all year round. Swimming, diving and surfing are most suitable to do in Mui Ne.
Trekking in Nui Chua National Park
Nui Chua National Park is truly an ‘off-the-beaten-track’ destination near southern Vietnam, boasting a beauty not everyone has the luck to know about. Located at Ninh Thuan Province, Nui Chua has the beauties of both the ocean and the mountain scenery, all combined with a wide biology diversity.
A trek to Nui Chua National Park would bring you to a truly experience to immerse in the beauty of nature.
Southern Vietnam gives a new perspective into the life of Vietnam which was not something I see at other regions. The nature, or the Mekong River never really became a part isolated to the life of the people. The Mekong is always present in every breath of the delta dwellers, in the food, in the market place, in the waterways. Only with a boat trip, I totally immersed in the rhythms of the river life. And yet, Southern Vietnam is so much more than just rivers, floating markets or fresh fruits. It’s a lifestyle no words can describe unless you come and live it for yourself.
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