These incredible experiences can be done as day trips from Ho Chi Minh city and we would highly recommend each one. Not only do you get a full immersion in the Mekong River itself (not literally!) and Cu Chi Tunnels, but the trips to these destinations and the stops along the way are just as interesting and culturally intriguing.
We had a couple of individual days away from the city for these excursion and they were such eye-openers and a very different perspective on this region of Vietnam. With an early start one day and a late evening return to our hotel the other, we felt the trips were such a contrast to the other experiences we had on our stay in Ho Chi Minh and added such depth to our overall stay.
Vinh Trang Temple
Our first major stop of the morning, was at an incredible temple. This temple was a working temple, and we were lucky enough to arrive when the resident monks were beginning a prayer session. Adhering to cultural practices, such a covering our shoulders and removing shoes before entering the prayer area, we could observe the monks and their fascinating rituals during this session. This was something I had never witnessed in reality before and I really enjoyed the calm environment created within the scared space. We were given plenty of time at this stop to explore the grounds of the temple and take pictures in the exquisite gardens dotted with incredible towering buddas.
Tip: As there weren’t many options to purchase food along the way, it would be advisable to take some little things with you to snack on throughout the day. There are some little nibbles at some of the stops and a large meal in the evening, but just in case you feel peckish earlier, it’s nice to have some familiar options.
Our final destination or region, for the afternoon, was the Mekong River Delta. This part of the trip encompassed a few different elements, each with its own charm and unique purpose in the area. The region itself is made up of a network of rivers and islands, all of which we got a good sample. First, we were taken across the river on a boat while we sipped on our complimentary fresh coconuts! We were taken to a small island where we were greeted by some local bee keepers and got to sample some of the delicious by-products created from their honey.
After a little stop and the delicious refreshments, we carried on through some local village fruit stalls to what resembled a pub or bar. Here we were treated to a show of traditional folk music and were given fruit platters to snack on while we watched. We met some of the local animals while in this village too!
Further along this track, we came to a coconut candy factory. We wandered through the factory while the workers skilfully focused on their particular element of the production line and we even got to sample the wares before we indulged at the gift shop. This was another interesting element of the trip we hadn’t anticipated and enjoyed it for its authentic flare.
After we meandered through this little village, we came to the edge of a river where we were taken upstream on traditional boats while sporting our grass hats. This was an incredible part of the day and a river ride we will never forget. The casual greetings between the local Vietnamese ladies and the tall bamboo shoots lining the waterways as we floated along, highlighted the authentic scene we could only have imagined.
Our day came to an end with a delicious meal prepared, cooked and served to us at a restaurant we reached by horse drawn cart. We had the most amazing spread of Vietnamese cuisine, from whole fresh fish to stir fry vegetable dishes and all the delicious sides and accompaniments we could have thought of. There was certainly more than enough food for us at this point in the day and we couldn’t even finish all they had prepared!
The next day trip we took, had a later start and our first stop was at a factory on the outskirts of the city. On route to this destination, our tour guide, gave us a very detailed history of how this facility had come about and the importance of it for the well-being of so many Vietnamese located in Ho Chi Minh. The factory had been a government initiated scheme to assist those effected by the chemical aftermath of the Vietnam war. Many people in this region of the country, are still being born physically or mentally maimed by the chemicals that were dropped on Ho Chi Minh so many years ago. As a result of their disabilities and consequent difficulties in terms of employment, many are left homeless. The government created this facility and a huge number of job opportunities for these people who are at a disadvantage within society.
On our arrival at the factory, we were given a tour and shown the incredible work undertaken inside. The items being produced were varied in their purpose, from dishes and chopsticks to elaborate vases and wall mounted pictures. The intricate steps to produce each piece was explained to us as we meandered through the floor of the factory and watched the talented craftspeople at work. They were using extraordinary materials in such a delicate way, such as cracked egg shells and mother of pearl, and techniques I had never seen before. At the end of our tour, we had the opportunity to browse the finished products in the factory’s gift shop and the chance to purpose anything if we wished. We purchased a beautiful finger bowl embossed with coloured egg shell, something our friends always comment on when we take it out at dinner parties. Not only is it a unique and stunning piece, but the money made in the shop goes directly to the workers, making the purchase all the sweeter.
Cu Chi Tunnels
The next stop of the afternoon and was certainly one to remember and an iconic experience when in this part of the world. The Cu Chi Tunnels hold many heartbreaking realities of the inhumane lengths the Vietnamese people had to go to during the war just to survive. But they also show that this society survived in spite of all they were up against and found clever ways to do so.
The tunnels themselves are frightening in terms of the space available to the people manoeuvring through this network. We had the opportunity to experience the actual size of the tunnels during the war but due to the minute dimensions, these particular tunnels were only for standing and photographic purposes.
There are other tunnels (that in my opinion are still tiny!), but have been expanded for the purpose of tourism and to allow people move through them to experience something similar to what may have been the reality all those years ago. Although these tunnels are now larger in size than the original passages, we still struggled to make our way through.
Tip: If you are at all claustrophobic, perhaps think this activity through carefully before entering the tunnels. Also, if you have a backpack with you, either leave it outside with a friend or take it off your back while crawling through the tunnel.
Another interesting fact we learned at the Cu Chi Tunnels, was how this society survived underground for such a length of time. Food would have been an obvious challenge during this time but to avoid detection by soldiers, the Vietnamese people in this region lived off tapioca or cassava root. They could cook this underground and had small chimney-like vents located far away from the tunnels entries to help avoid detection. Adding to the authenticity of our trip, we were served cassava chips as a snack before we departed this stop.
As well as the tunnels, we also got to see others elements of the war at this destination. From intricate traps to huge machinery used by the American soldiers, this was another side to the war we hadn’t experienced while visiting the memorial sites in the city.
These were certainly day trips we will never forget and highly recommend to anyone visiting Ho Chi Minh city. There is so much more to experience in this region of Vietnam than just the city life and what a shame it would be to miss out on such a diverse experience when you are so close to it all.
I hope this post can be of some assistance to anyone planning a trip to this region and perhaps it may even entice some people to consider this little addition to their itinerary. If there are any other elements of a trip to this part of the world that you might be interested in, why not take a look at our previous posts on Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh.
For the moment, that is all we have for you but we will be back again soon with more exciting adventures. Our Instagram
We hope to see you then!
Richard and Michelle.