TOP 5 Day Trips from Ho Chi Minh City

We recently put together for you an itinerary for exploring Ho Chi Minh City as part of our Custom Itineraries for Vietnam series.  After you have explored Ho Chi Minh City and if you have an extra day in your travel itinerary, short day trips are a great option.  Fortunately, outside of the city, there are several places where you can go to get away and experience a different environment.  Just hours away from Ho Chi Minh City, you can find beaches, jungles, swamps, islands, rivers, villages, and more.  Whether you are traveling alone, with kids, or in a group, there is a unique experience near HCMC for everyone!  Here is our take on the Top 5 day trips from Ho Chi Minh City. 


The Mekong Delta is the fertile region south of Ho Chi Minh City where farmers grow the majority of Vietnam’s supply of rice, durian, and other fruits and vegetables.  The Mekong River, which starts at the Tibetan plateau, flows into a series of 9 small tributaries which finally empty into the sea.  The delta region is home to farmers and small business owners who live a relaxed pace of life. 

This region is incredibly vast, but fortunately it doesn’t take too much time to really get a feel for the area.  The waterways and canals in the delta are what predominantly connect one area to the next, so much of the exploration in the delta is centred around the waterways.  Some activities you can take part in are fishing, canoeing down the canals, and eating fresh fruit from floating markets.  A trip on a sampan boat (a type of canoe) down the backwaters is especially fun because the surroundings are incredibly peaceful and mystical.  Many tours will also take you to durian orchards, rice paper factories, fruit candy factories, rice fields, and local markets.  Another sight that you may want to visit in the Mekong Delta is the ‘fish toilet’.  In this unique example of the ‘circle of life’, the fish toilet is a specific outdoor makeshift toilet where humans go to the bathroom in the river, and then the bottom feeder fish digest the excrement.  Ironically, river fish are an essential part of the human diet in this region… 🙂

The Details:  The Mekong Delta has many small towns where tourists can visit to get a feel for the region.  Some are closer to Ho Chi Minh City than others, while some offer more of an authentic experience than others.  For instance, Cai Be is one of the locations where you can do most of the Mekong Delta activities and is considerably less touristy than My Tho or Can Tho.  If you take a tour to the Delta, they will arrange a bus or car transport for you.  The best way to explore  this area is through a tour so that you can experience all the unique activities there, and you can easily do many of the activities in one day.  The drive from Ho Chi Minh City to the general delta region will be around 1.5 to 2 hours.  Take a look at our recommended unique tour companies that will take you out to the Mekong Delta.  

mekong delta canals


Also known as Monkey Island, Can Gio Island is actually a series of small islands just jutting out from the mainland near HCMC.  This nature reserve comprises of 80,000 hectares of mangroves and water coconut forests.  During the Vietnam-American war, this area was severely deforested by agent orange, resulting in a vast decline of native flora and fauna.  Today, a UNESCO recognized biosphere, this swampy mangrove forest is home to hundreds of monkeys and crocodiles.  Inside the nature reserve is Lam Vien Can Gio, the crocodile sanctuary where the island’s crocodiles live together.  Although this area is fenced so that the crocodiles can’t escape, the barriers don’t keep the monkeys out.  The interaction between the native crocodiles and monkeys can be quite unique; naturally, these creatures are this area’s main attraction as well.  

The monkeys here are comical at times, but quite mischievous.  They steal anything from anyone if they can, and they enjoy taunting the local salt-water crocodiles.   In the forest reserve, you can feed the crocodiles with eels or small snakes which may sound creepy but ends up being an interesting experience.  You can also fish for crabs, watch bats, and feed monkeys.  Can Gio island is also a historical site, as the mangrove forest was an important guerrilla base.  Many life-size models are dispersed throughout that show you some of the activities that were performed there during the war.  Finally, though there are beaches and a few beach resorts there, they are not especially noteworthy.  They may be worth a visit if you want to relax and get away from the heat, but they are hardly the best beaches that Vietnam has to offer.  Be sure to take plenty of insect repellent and sunscreen, and be careful not to have food or drinks as the monkeys may be tempted to snatch them away from you.  

Details:  Can Gio island can be done as a tour, but it is fairly straightforward so it can be easily visited on your own, as long as you are comfortable with the idea of public transportation in Vietnam.  To get there by public transportation, you need to take bus #20 at the Ben Thanh bus station (in front of Ben Thanh Market) to Nha Be district.  After about 45-50 minutes, you will arrive at the Binh Khanh ferry terminal.  This ferry ride across the Nha Be river will bring you to Can Gio district.  From there, in order to enter Monkey Island and the mangrove forest, you need to take bus #90 to Can Thanh.  The bus will pass mangrove forests on both sides and you will need to get down at Lam Vien Can Gio.  This is the entrance for the main attractions.  The entrance fee is 30-35,000 VND per person.  In order to visit the guerilla base, you can take a canoe ride which goes down the mangrove forest canals and takes about 10 minutes.  It will cost around 500,000-600,000 VND for 6 people. 

can gio island


Throughout the Vietnam-American War, the Viet Cong built an enormous network of tunnels that were used as meeting points, hiding places, supply routes and more.  The Viet Cong (north Vietnamese fighters) often spent many days or weeks at a time in the tunnels, speaking to their sheer strength and will power.  Not only were the tunnels elaborate, but the traps and unique weapons that they used in conjunction with the tunnels were astoundingly innovative.  Ultimately, their ability to use the tunnels as a means to house troops and move supplies greatly contributed to the eventual withdrawal of American troops.  

Today the Cu Chi Tunnels are a big tourist attraction near Ho Chi Minh City.  At the tunnels, tourists can get a greater insight into life in the area.  They show you how the residents and soldiers repurposed war materials to make everyday items, how they survived for long periods of time in the tunnels, and even how they passed supplies to soldiers within the tunnels.  They also have a shooting range there where visitors can shoot the military guns used at the time.  The tunnels are a great way to spend half a day understanding an integral part of Vietnam’s history.  On the way there or back, you can make the trip a little longer and stop at the Cao Dai church.  Cao Dai is a new religion created in Vietnam, but already has a massive following.  They have built a beautiful temple in Tay Ninh near Cu Chi, which is also the main centre for the religion.  If you time it right, you can view a service where hundreds of monks pray at one time.  It is quite a sight! 

Details:  To get to Cu Chi, you have a few different options.  You can take a private car, open tour bus, or public bus.  If you prefer a full tour of Cu Chi tunnels and the surrounding area, many tour companies offer a car or boat tour, but keep in mind that tours to Cu Chi are offered for free as well.  When you arrive there, if you are not part of a tour group, a tour operator that works there will herd you into a group and give you a free tour, which is the exact same as the pre-booked tours although the operator’s language skills may be better in the paid tour.  Many of the open tour buses leave at 8 am and will cost around $5 for both the ride and a tour of the tunnels.  Or, if you want to go by public transport, you can take bus #13 from the BẾN CV 23/9 bus station (between Lê Lai and Nguyên Thi Nghia streets) for about 7000VND per person.  The last stop on the route is Cu Chi, which will take about 1.5 hours to get to. Once you are dropped off at the Cu Chi bus station, take bus #79 which is the bus will take you to the tunnels. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the tunnels using the #79 bus and costs 6000 VND per person. Make sure you tell the bus driver that you want to get off at the tunnels. Note that there are two tunnel sites – the main one is Ben Dinh and the other one is Ben Duoc.  Most tours will take you to Ben Dinh, but the public bus stops at a T-junction where you will get off and walk to the right to get to Ben Dinh.  It’s about a 20 minute walk from the junction to the Cu Chi ticket counter. Admission to the tunnels is 90,000 VND per person.

At the Cao Dai church, a mass is held at 6 am, noon, 6 pm and at midnight.  Most tourists go to the midday service.  They have built a balcony that overlooks the main service hall so that you can get a really good view of the ceremony.  Many tour companies, especially the open tour bus companies, offer a complete tour that takes you to Cu Chi, the Cao Dai church for the midday service and back for around $7-10.  Most tours start early around 8 am so if that doesn’t work for you, a private tour may be the best option.

cu chi and cao dai


Vung Tau has historically been an important sea port for Vietnam, especially during the French rule.  It was also a strategic military base during the Vietnam-American War. Interestingly, Vung Tau was one of the epicentres of the Indochina Refugee Crisis in the late 70s because of its access to the sea and its proximity to other countries in South East Asia.  This area was the launch point for many of the ‘Vietnamese Boat People’, the local residents who fled to neighbouring countries after the end of the war.  Despite its controversial history, nowadays Vung Tau is a small, yet bustling, coastal community and an important centre for Vietnam’s off shore oil drilling industry.

Only 2 hours outside Ho Chi Minh City, many locals visit Vung Tau as a quick beach getaway.  If you have been to many international beaches, the beach itself in Vung Tau may pale in comparison as it can often be dirty and littered.  That being said, Vung Tau is quite the charming town with plenty of other activities to fill your day besides a beach visit.  There are small mountains that surround Vung Tau and are a quick hike up.  If hiking is not your thing, there is a gondola ride up the biggest mountain for a great view of the bay.  And if you’re a foodie, Vung Tau is a great place to try out local specialties like ‘banh khot’ that can be hard to come by elsewhere.

Details:  To get to Vung Tau by bus or coach, many of the open tour bus companies run 12- to 16-seater air-conditioned vans which run every 15 to 30 minutes and drop you off in the centre of the town.  Many of them will even give you a free bottle of water for the trip.  Alternatively, you can hire private transport vehicles from the main taxi companies in Ho Chi Minh City (MaiLinh and Vinasun) or your hotel can easily arrange a private car for you.  The drive takes roughly 2 hours.  Until recently, there was a very convenient Hydrofoil that ran between the harbours of Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau but a fire on one of the vessels in February has suspended all hydrofoil travels.  

vung tau


Also located in the Vung Tau province, Ho Tram beach is possibly one of the best beaches within close proximity of Saigon.  The area where Ho Tram is located was originally known as a sanatorium where the diseased would be taken for holistic treatment.  Nowadays, it is simply a small fishing and tourism town with pristine beaches and very few hotels.  With plans to develop this currently underdeveloped area, many speculate that the Ho Tram area will become the next Nha Trang.  Recently, a Canadian development company built the magnificent hotel The Grand Ho Tram Strip, a Vegas-style resort and casino, the only one of its kind in Vietnam.  

Currently, Ho Tram is visited mostly by wealthy Vietnamese as a quiet retreat and by tourists looking for an escape from the bustling cities.  As a result, the Ho Tram beach and nearby Ho Coc beach are immaculately clean.  In fact, The Grand Ho Tram resort has flattened their proximate beach area quite far out so not only is the water clean but also relatively safe as you can go quite a ways into the water and still only be waist deep.  If you are traveling with kids, this resort on Ho Tram beach is a safer choice since the beaches in Vietnam are generally unmanned.  

Details:  Ho Tram beach is more remote than Vung Tau, so getting there can be arduous by public transportation – in fact, you would have to go to Vung Tau first and then find your way to Ho Tram from there, but it is still a 45-minute trip from Vung Tau.  The easiest way to go to Ho Tram beach is by private car or shuttle.  The hotels in Ho Tram can can arrange a shuttle or car for you from Ho Chi Minh City.  If you have a room booked, the shuttle is free of charge.  Without a booking, the prices vary depending on which mode of transport you prefer.  The Grand hotel even offers a helicopter pick up if that’s your style!!  By road, Ho Tram beach is 1.5-2 hours away from Ho Chi Minh City. 

ho tram


We hoped you enjoyed these Vietnam travel tips, brought to you by XO Tours – Vietnam Motorcycle Tours, winner of the TripAdvisor “Certificate of Excellence” for 4 years in a row!

How To Spend Two Days in Hanoi – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

Beware! XO Tours does not operate in Hanoi. If you book with a tour operator in Hanoi that claims to be XO Tours, you are being defrauded!

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, is an intriguing city for many reasons.  Though Hanoi is the second largest city in the country behind Ho Chi Minh City, it is far less cosmopolitan and traditional Vietnamese culture is much more apparent there.  In fact, aside from a recent construction boom in Hanoi, much of the colonial and post-War era infrastructure is still in use.  The wear and tear on old buildings and streets is what gives Hanoi its rustic and quaint character, and the relaxed lifestyle of the people there almost feels like you are stepping back in time.  That, coupled with Hanoi’s rich history, makes a visit to Hanoi a multi-faceted experience.

Hanoi is also the gateway to Northern Vietnam.  If you plan on visiting the northern rice fields near Sapa, Halong Bay or Ninh Binh province, it is convenient to travel through Hanoi.  Although many travelers simply think of Hanoi as a quick transit city, we urge you to stop in Hanoi for at least two days and truly appreciate all that this city has to offer.  Here are our suggestions for what to do and see if you have two days in Hanoi as part of our Custom Itineraries for Vietnam series.


A - The red bridge at Hoan Kiem lake, B - The infamous Egg Coffee; C - Bia Hoi Corner; D - Bun Bo Nam Bo; E - The Old Quarter in Hanoi; F - BBQ Chicken Street

A – The red bridge at Hoan Kiem lake, B – The infamous Egg Coffee; C – Bia Hoi Corner; D – Bun Bo Nam Bo; E – The Old Quarter in Hanoi; F – BBQ Chicken Street

1. Explore the Old Quarter

The Old Quarter in Hanoi is one of the most popular destinations in Hanoi.  It is an old merchant area of the city where the layout and many of the streets have been preserved over decades.  This part of Hanoi is what gives Hanoi the charming, old world feel.  It is a mish mash of French colonial and ancient Vietnamese architecture, manic streets with thousands of motorbikes, power lines above head that resemble giant birds nests, narrow merchant streets with shops selling the most random things, and other unique characteristics that make this area so lovable.

One of the best ways to see as much of it as possible is to simply walk around.  In fact, staying in this area gives you an opportunity to experience the Old Quarter fully.  One particular remnant of old Vietnam that you should take notice of is the street names.  Many of the streets in this part of town are named “Hang _____”, “hang” meaning something pertaining to selling.  Because this area was an important trading centre, the streets were named according to what was sold there.  For instance, “Hang duong” was sugar street, “Hang vai” was fabric street, and so on.  Some streets have kept on selling the same thing while others have transformed to meet today’s consumer needs… of course, they wouldn’t change a street’s name to “Metal household racks street” or “Imported toys from China” street, but these streets exist!! 🙂

Old Quarter Hanoi

2. Enjoy some Bun Bo Nam Bo

When it comes time for lunch, a great way to continue your Hanoi experience is to eat something that is true blue Hanoian.  This dish, Bun Bo Nam Bo, is said to have originated in Hanoi.  It consists of perfectly marinated beef in a sweet and salty concoction, round and thin noodles that don’t get soggy, crunchy peanuts and fried onions and a few other things that make this dish absolutely delicious!  Now, this dish can be found throughout Vietnam, though we can tell you with fair certainty that it tastes different in the North.  A must try!

3. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake

Legend has it that the Golden Turtle God claimed a magic sword from an ancient emperor, an important symbol of his fight against the Chinese Ming Dynasty.  This emperor named the lake “Hoan Kiem” meaning “Lake of the Returned Sword” and a small tower was erected on an island within the lake (Turtle Tower) to commemorate this event.  Today, large and rare turtles inhabit the lake, though there seems to be a controversy as to how many specimens there are in the lake.  One giant turtle in particular is said to be the direct descendent of the original turtle that claimed the sword, and is affectionately called Cu Rua (great grandfather turtle).  What’s more, if we follow the current understanding of  this giant turtle’s biological classification, then it is one of 4 remaining specimens of its kind in the world!

Around the lake, you’ll have an opportunity to see many vendors, small shops, people walking or running, and kids playing.  It will give you a different perspective on life in Hanoi, one that is a stark juxtaposition to the hustle and bustle in the rest of Hoan Kiem district.  A walk around this lake is a perfect escape from some of that chaos in Hanoi.  While you’re there, make sure to check out the red bridge around some of the small statues and temples around the lake.  The red bridge in particular makes for a great photo-op.   And remember to look out for giant turtles! 🙂

4. Sip on (Egg) Coffee

After making a round of the lake, we recommend that you take a quick break and enjoy one of Vietnam’s most profitable exports: coffee!  We have mentioned before on our blog that Vietnamese people love their unique take on coffee, and coffee culture has always been a huge phenomenon here.  In the north, Hanoians take coffee to another level altogether.  A particular type of coffee you must try while in Hanoi is Egg Coffee.  No, ‘egg’ is not code for milk or sugar… it’s actually ‘egg’!  Egg coffee is a unique blend of chicken egg yolk, coffee, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese.   Mr. Giang, the creator of the infamous egg coffee, developed it due to the scarcity of milk decades ago.  The tempered egg yolk acts as a substitute for milk because of its ability to thicken and add creaminess to the concoction.  Mr. Giang’s son now runs a small cafe called Cafe Giang in the Old Quarter where they serve authentic Egg Coffee.  As strange as it may sound, we urge you to give it a try!

5. Eat at BBQ Chicken Street

People always say that Vietnam has a specific street for everything, and for the most part this is very true!  Case in point – barbecue chicken street!  That’s right.  This street specializes in one thing and that is barbecued chicken.  A great dinner option, you can go there and specify exactly which part of the chicken you want and they’ll grill it up with an amazing sweet, salty and sticky coating.  You can also order the most delicious flattened and grilled bread and some roasted sweet potatoes to round out your meal.  A few beers and some great food is the perfect way to start your Hanoi nightlife experience!

6. Explore Hoan Kiem Bia Hoi

The Hanoi street beer scene is infamous!  A trip to Hanoi, or Vietnam rather, would be incomplete without spending some time sitting on small plastic stools and drinking the cheapest beer in the world (we’re not joking… a glass of beer will cost you about $0.15).     The beer is quite light, about 3-4% alcohol, and light in colour as well.  This beer is made of 50% rice to keep it nice and clear, and best of all it is preservative free.  Throughout the night, you will see trucks pulling up to each beer establishment and delivering barrels of beer.  Not surprisingly, this beer is usually finished by the end of the night.  Otherwise, it has to be disposed since it doesn’t contain preservatives to help it last past 24 hours.  Although these small beer ‘shops’ can be found throughout the city, the liveliest place to witness this interesting beer culture is at the corner of Luong Ngoc Quyen and Ta Hien streets, also known as Bia Hoi corner.

day 1 in hanoi


Day 2

A - Changing of the guard at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; B - Sunset at Long Bien Bridge; C - Aerial view of Hoa Lo Prison; D - Dong Xuan Market; E - Cha Ca La Vong

A – Changing of the guard at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; B – Sunset at Long Bien Bridge; C – Aerial view of Hoa Lo Prison; D – Dong Xuan Market; E – Cha Ca La Vong

1. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Vietnam has a vast and elaborate history, and there are plenty of museums and monuments in Hanoi to learn all about it.  With limited time, you wouldn’t be able to see every historical place but one place we recommend visiting is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum.  The embalmed body of the infamous leader Ho Chi Minh is on display here.  If you visit here, you have to abide by the rules, of which the most is to be respectful – no shorts, no tank tops, no drinking, no smoking, no hands in pockets, and no photography.  You will be ushered in by the guards in two straight lines and will only be allowed to see him from the moving line.  You cannot stop and see the embalmed body.  Though it seems like a tedious procedure to go through for a few seconds of viewing, it is still nonetheless an interesting experience.

2. Visit the Hoa Lo Prison

The Hoa Lo Prison is another historical sight worth visiting during your time in Hanoi.  This prison was first built during the French occupation in Vietnam and then later used for American prisoners during the Vietnam War.  Over the years, it gained the nickname “Hanoi Hilton”, named by the American POWs held there.  Although there isn’t much to see at this prison now, it held a very relevant role during the war so it offers a unique perspective and feeling in comparison to a museum.  An interesting fact is that US Senator John McCain was held at this prison for sometime when he was an American POW during the war.

3. Eat Lunch at Cha Ca La Vong

After a heavy morning full of learning and reflecting, you will be just about ready for lunch.  Close by, you will find “Cha Ca” street, which is a street named for a famous dish invented there.  About a hundred years ago, a restaurant was established here that served up a unique type of fish dish, which featured fish marinated in turmeric and pepper and fried with dill, green onions, and other greens, all served over rice noodles.  Seems simple enough but this particular dish is so famous that it was even featured in the New York Times!  Many restaurants serve this special dish now, especially on “Cha Ca” street, but the original restaurant is still there.  Keep in mind that they are well aware of the appeal of eating this dish at the original spot and therefore charge 3-4x as much than the other restaurants on the street.  However, there is a certain charm to eating at the original spot if you can look past the occasional mouse or rat crawling around your tables.  It is, after all, an incredibly old building which has seen very little in the way of restoration over the years!  And if you think you can go there just to take a look and maybe order something small, think again – there is only one item on the menu and sharing one portion is not allowed! 🙂

4. Go Souvenir Shopping at Dong Xuan Market

Dong Xuan Market is the biggest and most central market in Hanoi.  For anyone who is unfamiliar with Asian markets, it can be a unique experience.  It’s chaotic, hot, sweaty, loud and full of people.  This market sells everything under the sun – anything you need you’ll find it there.  Unlike Ben Thanh market in Saigon or other markets throughout Vietnam, Dong Xuan market doesn’t pander as much to tourists so souvenir stalls make up a very small portion of the market.  You may find a souvenir to take home there but if you don’t, you’ll still walk away with a unique experience.  If you don’t have any luck with souvenirs at the market, take a look down Hang Gai or Hang Hom streets.  For a detailed list of what to buy in Northern Vietnam, check out our previous shopping blog.  Remember to bargain!

5. See the Long Bien Bridge

After a short afternoon stroll through the market, we recommend that you take a trip to Long Bien bridge before sunset.  Just a short taxi ride away from Hoan Kiem, this bridge connects two parts of Hanoi and goes over the Red River.  This bridge has a very interesting history – it was designed by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame) and built by Dayde & Pille of Paris during the French occupation of Indochina.  It was at that point one of the longest bridges in Indochina and an architectural marvel.  Many parts of the bridge were destroyed during the Vietnam War and some of that damage can still be seen today.  Restoration efforts have been ongoing for many years, but the bridge has remained in use almost the entire time for small vehicles and pedestrians.

What’s more interesting about this bridge is that the surrounding area is one of the poorest areas of Hanoi.  Impoverished people live on boats underneath the bridge.  Many of these people come from other parts of Northern Vietnam looking for work in this urban capital.  The lifestyle is unique and completely different from what you see in the centre of Hanoi or even elsewhere in Vietnam.  The best time to visit the bridge is just before sunset and then stay for sunset before heading back.  That way, you get to see some of the surroundings in daylight and then get some beautiful pictures of the sunset over the Red River.  It is a breathtaking sight in more ways than one, and a perfect way to round out your Hanoi experience.

Day 2 in Hanoi

I hope you enjoyed this Vietnam travel guide by XO Tours.  We currently do not offer any tours in Hanoi, however if you are in Ho Chi Minh City and would like to go on fun and unique city tour, please check out our “Sights” city tour.

Top 5 Tips for Traveling with Children in Vietnam

The tourism industry in Vietnam has grown tremendously since the mid 90s.  Previously thought of as a war torn and inaccessible country, it is now a thriving tourist destination in Southeast Asia.  When traveling in a large group of people with varying ages, interests, and tastes, it can be difficult to plan a cohesive trip that suits everyone.  In Vietnam, you have the opportunity to create a family trip that suits everyone’s needs because it is still relatively cheap to travel here and easy to find activities that the whole family will enjoy.  Here are our top 5 specific Vietnam travel tips for those of you traveling with children.


An easy way to keep you and the kids happy during a trip to Vietnam is to plan activities that are ‘hands-on’, but still appeal to both the younger and older crowd.  Vietnam has many opportunities to do just that.  Here are specific places that the whole family can enjoy doing activities while still relaxing and enjoying the surroundings:

Northern Vietnam – Halong Bay is a great spot for family friendly adventure in Vietnam.  During most cruises in Halong Bay, there are plenty of opportunities to kayak in the bay, swim in the ocean, lay on the beach, go squid fishing or take cooking classes.  Some cruise lines are more family friendly than others.  Bhaya, Au Co, and Indochina Sails have some of the biggest decks, giving your kids plenty of space to run around.  Paloma cruises offers the Paloma Family Cruise, which is a private cruise with a 6-person capacity.  The tour can be more catered to your family’s individual needs if the standard activities don’t appeal to you.  Some cruises also have adjoining cabins with a connecting door so you can stay accessible to your kids – Jasmine cruises, Paloma cruises, and Starlight cruises are some of the companies that offer adjoining cabins.

Kayaking and squid fishing are just two activities in Halong Bay that are a lot of fun for kids.

Kayaking and squid fishing are just two activities in Halong Bay that are a lot of fun for kids.

Hanoi, being the capital of Vietnam, has many museums and landmarks that you can visit.  If that gets a bit dry for some members of your family, you can take a trip to the Bat Trang pottery village where everyone in the family can paint a piece to take home.  Your kids might also like “toy street” in Hanoi, located on Luong Van Can street.  If you want to enjoy some open space, the parks near Hoan Kiem lake are usually not too crowded and there is plenty of room for kids to run around.

Toy Street in Hanoi is an interesting place to see with kids... kind of like a Southeast Asian version of Toys'R'Us!

Toy Street in Hanoi is an interesting place to see with kids… kind of like a Southeast Asian version of Toys’R’Us!

Central Vietnam – The culture and environment in central Vietnam can be quite diverse from city to city.  Along the coast, you will have many opportunities to enjoy water sports.  Nha Trang is famous for scuba diving and Mui Ne is known for windsurfing and parasailing.  If your family enjoys water sports, we recommend visiting these destinations.  Nha Trang also has the Vinpearl amusement park which can be a fun activity to enjoy as a family.  To get to the park, you take an impressive gondola ride, which is one of the longest gondola rides over water in the world.  In contrast to Nha Trang and Mui Ne, Hoi An is a much more relaxed town and is a place to experience a different city vibe in Vietnam.  That being said, it is a very touristy town (and therefore, very tourist friendly) so if you and your family need a break from the hustle and bustle of life in Vietnam, Hoi An is a great place to visit.  Visiting the countryside near Hoi An is also a great option and many tours offer the opportunity to float down canals in small bamboo fishing boats.  You can also engage in some cultural activities like taking lantern making classes or taking a bike tour to the surrounding villages.

Southern Vietnam – One of the biggest appeals of Ho Chi Minh City is the bustling and chaotic nature of the city.  If you want to take some time away from the chaos, we recommend visiting Dam Sen Water Park or Suoi Tien Amusement Park.  Both places have plenty of rides, attractions, and activities geared towards children and is a great way to keep them active during your vacation.  Dam Sen Water Park is, as the name states, an aquatic themed park with lots of themed water slides and pools for kids to play.  It is not too far away from the centre of town and the admission to the park is based on height.  Suoi Tien Amusement Park is a Buddha themed amusement park which may seem strange but is a lot of fun for kids.  Besides the rides and activities, they have shows, go kart rides and boat rides.  This amusement park is about 30 minutes outside of town.

The Dam Sen Water Park and Suoi Tien Amusement Park in Saigon are a fun way to spend an afternoon with kids.  (The elephants are not real).

The Dam Sen Water Park and Suoi Tien Amusement Park in Saigon are a fun way to spend an afternoon with kids. (The elephants are not real).

The Mekong Delta is also a nice family friendly destination.  Most tours in the delta are hands-on and engaging for young kids because they entail canoe trips down the backwaters, visits to rice paper factories, and visits to fruit candy manufacturing shops.  Large tour companies with multiple groups of people on the same tour can get very ho-hum for kids.  The itinerary is more rigid and not all activities may appeal to your children.  Instead, we recommend private tours through Water Buffalo Tours.  Or, you can even go to Mekong Delta and Cu Chi Tunnels through Saigon River Express, where you travel by speed boat, which can be a fun experience for your kids.


It is well known that the lifestyle in many parts of Vietnam is chaotic, to say the least.  Here are some tips on how to stay safe with young children in the city:

Transportation – There are many transportation choices available to you in Vietnam.  When you’re traveling as a family, we highly recommend taking planes or trains from city to city rather than a bus.  Often times, roads in remote stretches are not very developed and can be treacherous.  Also, the journey by bus can be very long because buses tend to travel quite slow, and the long and bumpy ride can be very frustrating for children.  Fortunately, most cities, even small ones, have airports so very few places in Vietnam are inaccessible by plane.  As for overnight trains, they are also quite safe.  If you are a family of more than 4, you will have to split between two cabins as one cabin only holds 4 people.  Within cities, we recommend taking taxis or cars for longer distances rather than bikes or cyclos.  You should especially exercise caution when deciding whether to hire a cyclo in Saigon, though there are safe to hire in Hoi An and other cities in the North.  It seems like a very quaint way to see the downtown area of Saigon, but cyclos have been confined to smaller areas of the city recently and that has made many drivers more desperate and aggressive.  In fact, there have been reports of cyclo drivers threatening the safety of tourists and this is not a situation that you want to be in, especially with children.

Crossing the Road – Crossing the road in Vietnam is a bit of an art.  It may be alarming at first, but the best thing you can do is prepare your kids.  They may be used to wandering around on the side of the road at home, but many roads here don’t have side walks and wandering can have grave consequences.  Make sure that they walk between the adults, and all of you cross in a straight line.  It is usually easier for drivers to navigate that way.  Be alert and cautious, yet definitive, in your movements and you all should be just fine.

Local children crossing the road in Saigon, although we recommend that they have adults on either side of them.

Local children crossing the road in Saigon, although we recommend that they have adults on either side of them.

Interacting with Locals – Vietnamese people are fascinated by kids, foreign kids in particular.  They show their affection towards kids very freely so your kids will not only get treated really well here, they will also be touched, prodded, hugged, played with, and generally be adored.  Don’t be alarmed if this happens to you as it is very innocent on the locals’ part.  With babies and very young children, you do have to be careful that you carry wipes and clean their hands if too many strangers play with them.  And, make sure that they are not wearing anything valuable that may be easy to snatch.  Even if they are wearing something inexpensive which could mistakenly be taken as a valuable item, leave it off them so they don’t become a target of theft.

Getting Lost – Losing your children in a sea of traffic and people is a parent’s worst nightmare.  Take every precaution to avoid this predicament and keep a piece of paper with them with all the necessary information for them to find their way back to you.  Here are some important phrases you can print out, fill in, and keep with them:


When traveling with kids to Vietnam, it is important to travel with a plan.  It’s very easy to travel here with a relaxed, non-scheduled pace, but that requires a certain amount of flexibility, which is sometimes difficult to have with kids.

Hotels – Definitely book your hotels beforehand, as accommodations fill up quickly, especially during busy season.  Even if you find last minute hotels, be aware that you may not get the amenities that you want.  For instance, if your kids are young enough and you want them in the same room as you, many hotels here only have double beds and little room to put another cot or bed in the room.  Or, if you need a microwave or fridge to store perishable food, that is often difficult to find in hotels here.  Some hotels in busy tourist areas have also have swimming pools, but if these hotels are booked up or outside of your budget, many of them allow outside guests to use their pools for a fee.  In Saigon, The Grand hotel and The Renaissance hotel, both in District 1, allow public access to their pools if your kids want to go for a quick swim to get away from the heat!

Pre-arrange Transport – The standard car taxis in Vietnam are big enough to fit 4 people (but 3 comfortably).  Van taxis can fit more, but it can sometimes be a struggle to find vans.  They are also more expensive.  In any case, with a family, it’s best to arrange transport beforehand through the hotels so that you can be more certain that it will be safe, will fit all of you, and will take you to the right destination without long detours or go-arounds.  The less time you spend sitting in traffic in a stuffy car in Vietnam, the happier you and your family will be.  The rates are usually competitive and you can check online for average taxi rates for whichever city you will be in to compare.  On top of that, taxi scams run amuck in Vietnam so it’s best to avoid the situation altogether.

Check the Weather – The weather in Vietnam is incredibly varied not just by latitude but also by time of year.  It can get quite miserable at certain times of year depending on the time of the year and the last thing you want is to be stuck somewhere that is blazing hot or currently in typhoon season.  Please note that many parts of Vietnam are consistently hot so prepare your kids for what to expect because children can be less resilient to weather that they are not accustomed to.


Short vacations can be easily ruined when children get sick, and changing plans is often difficult when you have less flexibility.  Use these tips to keep your kids happy and healthy during your time in Vietnam:

Include Down Time:  As we mentioned earlier, Vietnam can be a very hectic place.  That, combined with the heat and pollution, can really wear you and your family down.  Vietnam has so many amazing places to see and explore that it can be easy to go overboard and plan every activity imaginable.  But be sure to include some rest periods so that you and your family don’t fall ill.

Food Safety – When traveling with kids to a new country, eating healthy is a big issue.  Check out our previous blog on how to travel in Vietnam without getting sick.  We encourage you to be smart with food choices.  Children can be more susceptible to food borne illnesses so being careful is all the more important when traveling with kids.  Street food can be safe to eat, but you need to be careful where.  Banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich) is usually a safe item that kids can try because it’s mostly bread with whatever fillings you like.  It’s also very hearty so it keeps them full for a longer period of time.  If your child is not too fond of strange fillings, many Banh Mi stands also have processed cheese – you can’t go wrong with bread and cheese!  It may be a good idea to bring non-perishable food items that your kids are familiar with if they decide not to eat local food.  Be careful not to bring anything that will melt because it will turn to mush in the heat here.  In any case, if your kids need a break from Vietnamese food, there are plenty of fast food options like MacDonalds, Burger King and Lotteria where you can find familiar food.

Kids usually love the Vietnamese sandwich (Banh Mi).

Kids usually love the Vietnamese sandwich (Banh Mi).

Water Safety:  This is another big concern when traveling with children.  First of all, please ensure that your family, and kids especially, have received all their recommended shots before coming to Vietnam.  If you have travelled substantially before or have been exposed to this kind of climate, there is a chance that contaminated water may not bother you.  But children often have lower immune defenses so getting vaccinated for diseases that are transmitted by contaminated water are a must.  Once you are here, be sure to drink bottled water only and even brush teeth with bottled water.  Brushing teeth with tap water may not do a lot of damage if your kids do it accidentally but it’s best not to take the risk.  Ice is also usually safe in Vietnam but use your best judgement when ordering cold drinks.


The elements can be just as big a factor in children becoming ill as food and water, and require just as much attention.  Vietnam can have an extreme climate which can be bothersome without proper preparation.  For a more comprehensive list of what to bring and what not bring to Vietnam, check out our previous blog entry.

Insect Repellent:  We have mentioned before that dengue fever is fairly common in Vietnam, and though it can affect anyone, immunocompromised people and children are more likely to contract this disease.  What’s more, children are less likely to show restraint when scratching mosquito bites so even if they don’t contract dengue, those bites can become infected easily in the hot climate in Vietnam.  Some areas in Vietnam like the Mekong Delta are quite swampy and mosquito ridden, so use strong insect repellent with DEET to avoid any issues and bring anti-itch cream with you.

Hats and Long Sleeves:  Both heat and pollution can cause a lot of body stress for children so keep hydrated, bring a hat and breathable material long sleeves if you plan on spending a lot of time outside such as significant beach time or hiking in the hills.

Medicines:  Vietnam has many long and windy roads and even short distances can be nauseating.  Some foods and smells may also give you nausea, even if they are perfectly safe to eat.  Many people comment that the wafting smell of fish sauce or strange meat is too different for children to handle.  Because of this, we recommend that you pack anti-nausea medication and Pepto Bismol.  Note that although you can find these medications here, they are often marked up significantly and special versions specifically for children can be hard to find.


Good luck on your travels in Vietnam.  To learn more about us and how we can accommodate you on our tours, read our FAQ section.

How to Spend One Day in Hoi An – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

Hoi An is the one of the most unique cities in Vietnam.  The Old Town portion of the city is a UNESCO heritage site and the old architecture is superbly preserved and displayed.  Hoi An is an extremely popular destination for tourists, but because of the high number of tourists here, it can be overwhelming.  Nevertheless, we recommend having one full day in Hoi An as it is definitely worth visiting.  As part of our Custom Itineraries for Vietnam series, here is a guide on how to spend one day in Hoi An.

hoi an

1. Tailor some clothes, bags, or shoes

Custom tailoring is a huge industry in Hoi An.  Hoi An is home to more than 400 tailoring shops and thousands of tailors who are not only talented at making clothes but are skilled in making shoes and handbags as well!  Average turn around time for full suits is a day and about 4 hours for handbags or shoes!  If you are interested in getting custom made items, try to find a shop of your liking as early as possible during your visit.

Of course, the quality of the goods comes into question when the turnaround time is so quick.  The truth is that the opinion on this varies from person to person, item to item, and shop to shop.  Even shops with a solid reputation have been known to make sub par products.  A lot of times, the key is to be completely clear on what you want and to communicate it effectively with the shop owners.  If you happen to be in Saigon before your visit to Hoi An, we recommend that you buy the fabric and materials in Saigon as the choices are more plentiful and usually of better quality.  More information here: Custom Tailoring in Saigon.

Here are recommendations for where to go for custom made items (these are places where we have had good luck, and as much as we want you to have the same positive custom tailoring experience as us, we cannot guarantee it):

Shoes, Handbags:  Friendly Shop Hoi An

Shoes, Clothes, Jackets, Suits: Ms. Anh (093 570 5655).  She works independently and sometimes collaborates with different shop and stall owners.  Her tailoring knowledge and knowhow is superb.  She will meet you at your hotel once you contact her.

2. See the countryside

The countryside and rural areas of Vietnam are simply stunning.  Visiting these areas gives you a glimpse of the romanticized vision of Vietnam – the rice fields, the conical hats, the quaint architecture, the friendly faces… As the cities have become more industrial and cosmopolitan, these rural areas have become more remote and harder to reach.  Fortunately for Hoi An, it is still quite small in size compared to other big cities in Vietnam so the countryside is more accessible.

There are several types of tours which take you to the country side for sunrise or early morning glimpses of Vietnamese rural life.  This is also an opportunity for you to pursue some of your interests while traveling.  For instance, if you are fond of photography or of biking, there are tours that are catered specifically to your needs.  Alternatively, a university students’ association also runs free city tours.  Our recommendations:

Hoi An Photography Tour
Bike Tour
Free Tour

hoi an countryside

3. Go for a stroll and explore the Old Town

Once you return to the city after the tour, the afternoon is the perfect time of day to see some of the famous sights within Hoi An.  But first, before you set out on foot to discover the city, we recommend that you grab a Banh Mi sandwich to fuel you for the afternoon.  The Banh Mi sandwich in Hoi An is both famous and different from a sandwich that you will get in other parts of Vietnam.  The bread and fillings are unique to the region and is a great first insight into local cuisine.  We highly recommend Madam Khanh’s stand, who has been dubbed the Banh Mi Queen in Hoi An!

After you grab a quick bite, check out the famous bridges in Hoi An.  The first is the historic Japanese covered bridge built by Japanese merchants when Hoi An was an important trading port.  The second famous bridge is simply a foot and motorbike (and whatever other vehicle fits) bridge that connects two parts of the downtown area.  The architecture of this bridge isn’t historically relevant but the way that the bridge is situated makes for a great photo-op!  If you are a museum enthusiast, you can visit any of four famous museums in the old town area.  Or, for a greater insight into the history of Hoi An, visit some of the Assembly Halls built by Chinese merchants.  You can buy a composite ticket that allows you entry into one bridge, one assembly hall, one old house, one museum and one other place of ‘intangible culture’.  All these sites are within the Old Town of Hoi An and are within walking distance from each other.

4. Enjoy the scenery

Hoi An is surrounded by a series of inlets and small channels and some residents of the town have capitalized on this by offering boat rides along these channels.  Although this may initially seem like a very touristy thing to do, it is actually one of the best ways to view the old colonial architecture from afar.  Many boat owners sit along the boulevard closest to the water and offer boat rides.  Feel free to ask several different boat owners to find the one who offers the best price.  Often times, their initial price will fall dramatically if they feel that you will take a boat ride with one of their competitors.

hoi an boat trip

If boat rides don’t interest you, you can enjoy the scenery in a different way.  The ocean is not too far away from the main city so a 100,000 VND cab ride will get you to An Bang beach, one of the best beaches in Vietnam.  This particular beach was also named in CNN’s 100 Top Beaches in the world so if you happen to be in Hoi An during the right time of the year, we recommend checking it out!

5. Enjoy Hoi An’s regional cuisine

As we mentioned earlier, the regional cuisine around Hoi An is unique, and we recommend that you take the opportunity to try it out.  Hoi An has an eclectic mix of restaurants and you will have plenty of dining options.  Look for Cao Lau on the menu, which is a noodle soup unlike pho and other noodle soups you will find in Vietnam.  Also be sure to try white rose dumplings, which are shrimp dumplings shaped with the translucent cover formed in the shape of a rose.

Though Hoi An has both famous and budget eateries where you can try these dishes and more, we recommend Streets Restaurant Cafe.  Not only is it a restaurant serving up delicious food, it is also a social enterprise that helps disadvantaged youth to develop new skills and solid work experience.

6. Visit the Lantern Market and enjoy the nightly entertainment

After dark, the Old Town in Hoi An transforms into a mystical row of lights and lanterns.  In fact, Hoi An is a big centre for paper lantern manufacturers and merchants.  Every shop or establishment will have a few lanterns outside, but the real sight is the lantern market.  Here you’ll be able to see how these lanterns are made and will have a plethora of choices should you wish to take some home with you. (Location of Lantern Market)

After a stroll through the market, check out the outdoor traditional theatre.  You will have a chance to see Vietnamese folk dancers and musicians perform traditional pieces.  The theatre runs from 9 pm to 10 pm at a square on Nguyen Thai Hoc street.  It is completely free and open to the public so it’s interesting to see, even if it’s just for a few minutes as you pass by.  Before you retire to your hotel, be sure to light a candle box and set it in the water.  Many kids sit along the banks of the channel and offer candles to you – remember to make a wish!

hoi an lanterns

For more custom itineraries or Vietnam travel tips, check our XO Tours Blog frequently.

How to Spend One Day in Ho Chi Minh City – Custom Itineraries for Vietnam

If you had unlimited time in Vietnam, you would surely be able to explore every facet of what makes this country unique.  Unfortunately, many people who travel here have limited time and want to make the most of it.  As part of our new “Custom Itineraries for Vietnam” series, we will guide you through the various cities in Vietnam and help you experience the country to its fullest.  We will also show you how to get off the beaten path and see the country in a unique way.  The first of our “Custom Itineraries in Vietnam” series – Ho Chi Minh City!

Tourists often transit through Ho Chi Minh City before moving on to a packed itinerary in Vietnam.  Though Ho Chi Minh City has a lot to offer in terms of attractions and cultural experiences, it is difficult to take part in everything when you have limited time here.  We have compiled a thorough itinerary that helps you maximize your time here.  If you only have one day in Ho Chi Minh City, we recommend that you…

Eat Soup for Breakfast

Vietnamese people love their noodle soup dishes.  You may already be familiar with pho, but there are countless more noodle soups that are in fact not pho!  What’s more, with a generous helping of various meats, veggies, and noodles, these soups are a breakfast of champions.  So start your day off Vietnamese style and devour a bowl of Pho, Banh Canh Cua, Bun Bo Hue, or whatever the guy next to you is having.

Recommendation:  Ben Thanh market has a huge section in the middle with food stalls.  The turnover is quite high here so it is usually a safe place to eat.

Eating inside Ben Thanh market is safe, exciting, and delicious!

Eating inside Ben Thanh market is safe, exciting, and delicious!

Visit Ben Thanh Market

Ben Thanh market is the iconic central market in Ho Chi Minh City.  It wouldn’t be a complete trip to the city without seeing this wonder.  They sell everything from souvenirs to kitchen supplies to groceries and meat.  It’s a one stop shop!  Or, just a great place to people watch.  This market is not air conditioned so it gets hot and muggy here during the day.  And the sellers can be quite aggressive with both tourists and locals – that’s just the nature of this market.  Having said that, it’s important to give this place a chance.  It is more than just a tourist grab.  Even for people who live here, the market sells things that are ordinarily hard to find otherwise.  The market is a lot bigger than it seems so make sure you leave some time to navigate through and really explore all that it has to offer.  Be aware that the prices here are very marked up so be sure to negotiate.  If a sign says ‘fixed price’ and the seller is hesitant to budge, you will most likely find the same items at another stall.

Marvel at the Architecture

The architecture in the city is a mish mash of new skyscrapers, old tube houses, and French colonial buildings.  The old colonial buildings in the centre of the city have a lot of character and hold a lot of history.  Fortunately, they are all quite close together so a short walk offers you the opportunity to enjoy most of them.  If you walk between the Notre Dame cathedral and the Saigon River along Dong Khoi street, and wander around Nguyen Hue and Le Loi streets, you will be able to appreciate many of the beautiful old buildings of downtown Ho Chi Minh City.  If you have time, walk into the main historical post office for a closer look at colonial style architecture at its best.

Colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City.  The Notre Dame cathedral, the Saigon Opera House and the Post Office are some of the most popular tourist sights.

Colonial architecture in Ho Chi Minh City. The Notre Dame cathedral, the Saigon Opera House and the Post Office are some of the most popular tourist sights.

Sip Some Coffee

Vietnamese people really pride themselves on their coffee and there is no shortage of coffee shops in Ho Chi Minh City.  Coffee culture was huge here well before Starbucks and other big name coffee brands arrived.  If you’ve been walking around the city for a while,  sipping on coffee and people watching is the perfect break from the hustle and bustle.  Fortunately, most coffee shops have excellent regional fare.

Recommendation: One of the coolest coffee shops in the city is L’Usine at 151/1 Dong Khoi.  The entrance is through an alleyway and up two flights of stairs.

Get a Massage and Hair Wash

Ho Chi Minh City may be chaotic but Vietnamese people sure do know how to provide a serene escape to the chaos.  Cheap foot massages can be found everywhere and for $5-10, you can achieve complete relaxation for an hour to 90 minutes.  If you are in the mood for a more authentic spa service, get a hair wash (Goi Dau).  This isn’t a regular run of the mill hair wash – a proper Vietnamese hair wash includes a head massage, face wash and mask, and a shoulder massage!  They will even blow your hair out and style it for you after.  Read our blog on massages in Vietnam to understand the ins and outs of getting a massage here.

Recommendation:  Get a 70 minute foot massage at 118 (adequately named since its address is 118 Pasteur) for $7 including tip and then go around to Jasmine Spa (45 Ton That Thiep, at the corner of Pasteur and Ton That Thiep) for a relaxing hair wash.

Go on a Motorbike Tour

Soon after arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, you will notice that motorbikes are the vehicle of choice.  What better way to see the city than to experience it on the back of the bike?  XO Tours is a leading motorbike tour company in the city.  We have a range of motorbike tours to suit your taste, but by far our most popular is The Foodie.  Not only does it take you to several different districts of the city that are not generally visited by tourists, you will also have the opportunity to try the best street food Ho Chi Minh City has to offer.

The Foodie Tour takes you to see and eat in 4 other districts besides District 1.

The Foodie Tour takes you to see and eat in 4 other districts besides District 1.

See the Backpackers’ Area

Ho Chi Minh City is a popular destination for backpackers because it is relatively cheap to travel around here.  Over time, this small area around Pham Ngu Lao and Bui Vien streets has become a magnet for budget accommodations, colourful restaurants, and lively watering holes.  Even if you aren’t traveling as a backpacker, this particular area in the city is a tourist attraction in itself.  It is quite lively at night when hundreds of people sit on child sized plastic stools, drink local beer and mingle with the crowd.

Get a View

The city has very few tall buildings so going to the top of one of these buildings gives you an excellent view of the city.  Luckily, there are a handful of bars on really high floors so you can enjoy the view and sip on a drink at the same time.  After a long and activity filled day in the city, this is the perfect way to end your night.  It is mesmerizing to look out onto the streets hundreds of feet below and truly appreciate how the city moves.

The different kinds of nightlife in the city - backpacker style with watering holes on the street and upscale rooftop bars with an amazing view of the city.

The different kinds of nightlife in the city – backpacker style with watering holes on the street and upscale rooftop bars with an amazing view of the city.

Recommendation:  The Heli Bar in the Bitexco tower (52nd Floor, 2 Hai Trieu) is one of the highest viewing points in the city, but the perspective is much better from Chill Skybar (AB Tower, 76 Le Lai).  Both these places have a strict dress code and shoe policy.

Our recommended locations within District 1 to visit during your action-filled day in Ho Chi Minh City.  For sights outside D1, we recommend taking a motorbike tour.

Our recommended locations within District 1 to visit during your action-filled day in Ho Chi Minh City. For sights outside D1, we recommend taking a motorbike tour.

We hope you enjoyed the 1st part in our “Custom Itineraries in Vietnam” series.  To help you make the most of your time in Ho Chi Minh City, XO Tours offers many day tours with the most professional tour guides in Vietnam.  To learn more about our tours, please visit our main tour page by clicking HERE.