6 Great Weekend Getaways from Saigon

By: Barbara

Great weekend getaways from Saigon don't have to involve air travel. Beach lovers can sunbathe just 2 hours away from the city. Wild jungle trekking can be done in just 2 days.

Ho Chi Minh City is a place like no other, a seething and densely-populated mess of traffic, people, construction sites, pollution, narrow alleys and towering skyscrapers.

There are quiet spots and there are parks, but sometimes, visitors and expats are seized by an urge to flee the chaos and the noise.

But where to go? Especially if an overseas jaunt isn't financially viable.

Most people head to Mui Ne or Vung Tau for a quick getaway from Ho Chi Minh City. But there are other options.

Here's a 6 of the lesser-known places that can provide a soul-soothing return to nature or relaxing beach break, all just a few hours from Ho Chi Minh City.

Cat Tien National Park - 3,5 hours from HCMC

mekongImage source: Vyacheslav Argenberg

The last Javan Rhinoceros in Vietnam, which the Cat Tien National Park was set up to protect, was, sadly, killed in 2010. But there is still a range of interesting and exotic wildlife to see in this national park, 3.5 hours by road from Ho Chi Minh City.

The 720 square kilometer park is home to elephants, sun bears, several species of monkeys, deer, gaur, civets and dozens of bird species. The park can be explored on foot, by bicycle, jeep or kayak. It's also possible to visit the primate and bear rehabilitation centres, both close to the national park headquarters, and stay overnight near Crocodile Lake.

The Ta Lai Longhouse, 12 kms from the park headquarters, is a great base for exploring the national park and the nearby villages, which are home to people from the Ma, Tay and S’tieng ethnic minorities. The longhouse was set up in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and an NGO, and a portion of the profit goes to support the four Ta Lai villages.

The staff at the Ta Lai Longhouse can organise pre-dawn gibbon treks and half-day or longer treks, as well as visits to Crocodile Lake and other parts of the national park.

Ho Tram Beach Resort - 2 hours from HCMC

With or without kids, Ho Tram Beach Resort is a relaxing beach break only two hours from Ho Chi Minh City. The resort is a stylised traditional village, with winding stone paths leading to the various bungalows and villas, two swimming pools, a tranquil pond and the beach.

Relax on the beach, at the spa, the pool or the beachfront bar, or in your room, either on the balcony, in the four-poster bed or in the full-length bath, a standard feature in the jungle-ish outdoor bathroooms.

mekongHo Tram Beach Resort

The resort is quite isolated, with dining options limited to the in-house open air restaurant, which serves Vietnamese and Western dishes and overlooks the children's playground on one side, and a stream on the other.

Stu's Explorer Club - Two-day weekend activity

mekongImage source: Stu's Explorer Club

For a real back-to-nature experience, join Stu's Explorer Club on a weekend "rumble in the jungle" adventure that involves hiking, swimming, camping under the stars and eating hearty home-cooked Vietnamese meals. You can choose to drive your own motorbike to the Dong Nai forest, or opt for a transfer in a private car.

These jungle adventures are only overnight excursions but they leave you feeling as refreshed as if you've been away from the city for several days. As an added bonus, Stu provides free leech socks!

Victoria Cruises - 2/3 days cruises

mekongImage source: Victoria Cruises

Tune into the gentle rhythm of Mekong Delta life with a luxury cruise on your own private sampan. Victoria Cruises has several join-in cruises that explore the waterways of the Mekong Delta. But a most peaceful and private option is a private two- or three-day cruise aboard the Song Xanh Sampan, which usually includes a stop at the historic family home of Huynh Thuy Le in Sa Dec.

The character of The Lover in the book of the same name by French author Marguerite Duras was based on Mr Le. The house, built in 1895, remains much as it was when Duras' mother taught at the local school, with photographs on the walls of the actors who starred the 1992 film, The Lover, as well as the real Mr Le and Ms Duras.

A Mekong Delta cruise usually includes delicious food, cycling along narrow local paths and visits of local cottage industries. , 

Mekong Delta Homestay - 3,5 hours from HCMC

For a land-based Mekong Delta getaway, consider a homestay.

Green Village Homestay and Nguyen Shack Homestay near Can Tho, Mekong Riverside Resort near Cai Be and Mango Home Riverside near Ben Tre are all great getting-away-from-it-all choices with comfortable facilities and quiet country settings.

mekongFloating Market In Can Tho

You can use your homestay as a place to loll about in a hammock and recharge your depleted batteries, or as a base for exploring local villages on foot or by bicycle. Most homestays have fishing equipment, and some offer cooking classes and/or cooking demonstrations.

Phan Thiet - 4 hours from HCMC by train

Just 12 kms from Mui Ne is the fascinating fishing village of Phan Thiet, a completely different world to its resort-centric neighbour.

There's no tacky tourist trade here. Phan Thiet is a lively town that's perfect for a weekend of pottering about, eating well and strolling on the beach.

The cost of food and accommodation in Phan Thiet is a fraction of what it is in Mui Ne. So this town, just four hours by rail from Ho Chi Minh City, is ideal for adventurous types who prefer to spend less so they can see more of the fabulous country they're in.

mekongFishing Market

These are just a few examples of great weekend getaways from Saigon. Have you traveled to one of these destinations? What is your favorite spot to escape the city's stress?

About the Author

Barbara and her husband Vu lead street food tours in Ho Chi Minh City's back streets through Saigon Street Eats. Since their first bundle of joy arrived five years ago, Barbara, a former journalist, has become a family travel expert. Follow Barbara's blog here.

Banner image source: sapphireeliteescapes.com

Beautiful Vietnamese Women in 'Ao Dai'

By: City Pass Guide

Watching an elegant Vietnamese woman wearing an Ao Dai, Vietnam's traditional attire is magical. If you are traveling to Vietnam and only staying in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, you may still see some on particular days. They will manage to make you forget about the traffic and the pollution. For me, this only compares in beauty with the traditional clothes worn by Balinese men and women when they attend ceremonies.

We would like to bring to you a collection of photos illustrating just how beautiful Vietnamese women are when wearing an Ao Dai. It seems that Vietnamese women bring beauty to anything they do, whether they're working, shopping or simply walking to school. These are not sexy pictures of Vietnamese girls: They show that beauty can take many forms and that it can also last though times.

Buying an Ao Dai is one of the best gifts and souvenirs you can buy in Vietnam. If you need some advices on where to buy one, you can visit the following pages: Ao Dai Vietnam. We listed several shops and specialized tailors.

China: A Tourism Dragon in the Making

By: Patrick Gaveau

China: A Tourism Dragon in the Making

Chinese HighlandThis year, most local players in the hospitality sector have begun to realise the impact of Chinese travellers on their business activity. This might well be a foreshadowing of a major market shift that is in the making: a large increase in Chinese tourist arrivals in the coming years. If this trend is sustained, it could revolutionise the way Vietnam’s tourism industry does business.

I will attempt to summarize some of the available information concerning Chinese travellers’ attitudes, constraints and how they are using the power of the Internet to choose their travel destinations. These elements are drawn from personal experiences along with facts compiled from existing online data.

As most realise, the growth of both China’s and Vietnam’s economy is leading to a rapid increase in international travel from a burgeoning middle class. The World Tourism Organization predicts that outbound travel from China will reach 90-100 million travellers within the next six years.

Most Chinese outbound leisure travellers are:

  • Between 25-44 years of age
  • Well-educated (college or university degree)
  • Employed at a managerial level
  • Earning an average monthly income of USD1,499 or less; and
  • Married or living with a partner

The Chinese favour travel dates based around national holidays and prime holiday seasons. This includes early May (May Day), early October (National Holiday) and January to February (Chinese New Year).

Of course, travel occurs throughout the year, but these aforementioned dates are key travel times. Mirroring the actions of tourists from other emerging foreign markets, Chinese travellers initially venture to destinations close to their homes.Chinese Hanoi

Vietnam, more attractive and accessible than China’s pricier and politically sensitive neighbours Japan and South Korea, has the potential to attract the bulk of this emerging market.

This idea that Vietnam could attract high volumes of Chinese tourists is frightening for most Vietnamese who see this opportunity as an actual danger to their identity – or even as an invasion from their gigantic northern brother.

Over time, I believe that most locals and travel industry stakeholders will recognise their tangible potential and value.

Knowing more about any market is an important first step for those who dare try to snag a piece of it. As examples, consider the market factors that China is predominantly a smoking nation and that Chinese often chat loudly with their friends while eating.

Chinese enjoy foods similar in nature and presentation to Vietnamese fare.Congee, pickles, duck’s eggs, tofu, bamboo shoots and nuts are all popular breakfast choices – perhaps pho wouldn’t be too much of a stretch? For dinner, Chinese traditionally eat in the Vietnamese style of multiple dishes.

Meals include a soup, a meat/fish course, a noodle or rice dish, and conclude with fresh fruit. Possibly the only dissimilarity between Chinese and Vietnamese diners is that Chinese are willing to try local specialties.

Traditionally the Chinese palate does not appreciate cold food at any meal; however this is changing with the younger generation.Drinking water should not be served ice cold, but rather at room temperature or warmed. The same goes for juice and milk. Even beer and soft drinks are preferred served at room temperature.

Although many Chinese travellers love to try local wines and Scotch, many will opt for juice, tea, Coca-Cola, or soymilk given the choice. (From this, one could imply that the bar/club scene isn’t a priority on the itinerary of the typical Chinese traveller.)

As it is in Vietnamese culture, negotiation and asking for a deal when transacting business are part of the Chinese mindset.Being prepared with additional value considerations and some Mandarin words to help you communicate is to your advantage. In the same vein, the concept of tipping is not familiar to Chinese.

Ensuring that any requirement for tips is included in the cost of the meal or other service is a good idea. If you have menus or other documentation written in Mandarin, this is a big plus as most Chinese travellers do not speak English well.Chinese Deals

When it comes to hotel accommodation, Chinese value flexibility on late bookings and last-minute name adjustments. This is the way that business is done in China, as it is in Vietnam. Twin or double/double rooms are most preferred. Lodging providers should not expect to see much or any consuming done on site as outside consumption is the preferred choice.

When it comes to attracting Chinese tourists, don’t underestimate the online power of blogs and social /media. China has legions of Internet users, and your web presence (or lack thereof) could make or break your business.

According to a recent report published in 2013 by Tourism British Columbia, the Canadian authority on tourism, “40 per cent of Chinese travellers post travel reviews and upload photos and videos.” This is a staggering figure, well above any other known market.

Furthermore, the report states:

User-generated information is responsible for 59% of all purchase decisions. Blogs are actively read by 90% of Internet users and a remarkable 81% actively write blogs.

And this is not a recent phenomenon.

China has an estimated 384 million social /media users! As a result, remember that the chances are high that travellers’ experiences in Vietnam will be showcased back in China long before they board the flight home.

Ban Gioc Waterfall in Cao Bang

By: City Pass Guide

Video source: Amazing New Life

Hidden Havens: Vietnam’s Up and Coming Destinations

By: Mark Gwyther

Trying to get away from the crowds? Try these alternatives. Hurry. They won’t stay secret for long.

Vinh Long Province instead of Can Tho

Can Tho is the fifth largest city in Vietnam. Although it is not a major tourism hub, you may want to find a place nearby that’s quieter and easier to manage. Vinh Long Province is on the Mekong River and has a floating market and many pagodas just like its busier neighbour.

Travel VietnamImage source: imgix.net

Phu Quy Island, Binh Thuan instead of Mui Ne

Have you been in Mui Ne and wished you were Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach? Then do not go to Phu Quy Island. If you want an adventure away from the crowds, hop on the boat.

Phu Quy is a four-hour to several-day boat ride from Phan Thiet. By several days I mean if you are on the island and a storm comes, get comfortable. The island houses a fishing village of 25,000 people and there are places to stay and eat. It has a beach.

Travel VietnamImage source: foody.vn

Phan Rang, Ninh Thuan Province instead of Nha Trang

Almost all of Vietnam is spectacularly crazy, but Phan Rang is kind of normal. Phan Rang is the geographical centre of the province and the societal centre of Vietnam. It’s not a modern-day city, nor is it undeveloped. It’s not busy, but not quiet either. It’s not touristy, but still easily accessible to tourists.

Travel VietnamImage source: miendatphanrang.com

Ninh Thuan Province developed infrastructure for tourism before the tourists. The coastal road is 116 km that begins in CaNa and ends near Cam Ranh. On that drive you pass deserts, seaside cliffs, undeveloped beaches, a mid-tier city, salt farms, fishing villages, vineyards, spectacular bays and jungles meeting the sea.

Buon Ma Thuot, Dak Lak Province instead of Dalat

Same cool weather and waterfalls, but with 44 different ethnic groups in the area. Vietnam’s coffee capital is a perfect base for exploring the Central Highlands.

Vietnam's HighlightsImage source: vntrip.vn

Tuy Hoa, Phu Yen Province instead of Danang

The capital and base for exploring Phu Yen’s beautiful beaches and bays. No internationally managed five-star resorts along the beach: you have the beaches to yourself. Resorts are creeping north from Nha Trang so now is the time to go.

Vietnam's HighlightsImage source: dmanews.net

Phong Nha Caves, Quang Binh Province, no other place like it on Earth

An absolutely amazing recent discovery, the Phong Nha caves bring Vietnam to a crossroads.

The government can choose to develop it in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner with low impact to the surrounding area and limit access to those who are willing to pay a high price, or develop it for mass tourism by adding a cable car, mega hotels, and the transportation infrastructure to bring in thousands of tourists per day in order to bring in as much money as fast as they can. This is a litmus test.

Travel VietnamImage source: ilovevietnamtour.com

You better book your tickets soon, and if you can’t afford it, wait and pounce when you can.

Ninh Binh Province instead of Halong Bay

Nicknamed “Halong Bay on land”, it should be changed to “Halong Bay on land and without tens of thousands of other people”. This is where the movie Kong: Skull Island was mostly filmed.

Travel VietnamImage source: vnmedia.vn

Ha Giang Province instead of SaPa

All the ethnic minorities, dramatic landscapes and mountains as around SaPa, but without all the construction, garbage and masses. Ha Giang is the province closest to the Chinese border.

Video source: City Pass Guide

Banner Image source: vinavivu.com

Up with Hot-Air-Balloon in Phan Thiet

By: Quang Mai

Unless you have a great plan for this weekend, City Pass advices you to enjoy the first Vietnam International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (VIHABF) 2012 in Phan Thiet City from August 29 to September 3.

Around 50 international balloonists from the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, U.K., U.S., China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and of course Vietnam will take part in the festival, performing in hot-air balloons in varied shapes and sizes. Many site-activities such as trade and tourism fair, musical show, performances of kite flying and parachutes, art shows and glowing night show will thrill you and your family and friends during weekend. At night, you will enjoy watching the splendid balloons decorated with lanterns as well as nice musical background.

According to Binh Thuan Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism, there will be nearly 300 accommodations establishments with more than 10,000 rooms and homestay supply available during the fiesta.

Local Insight: On September 1 evening, the city will host a street festival as well as a fireworks display on Vietnam National Day


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