Just in time for Independence Day long weekend, Dana Filek-Gibson uncovers five worthwhile weekend getaways to escape Ho Chi Minh City.
Dong Nai Nature & Culture Reserve
Just beyond the tangle of factory complexes occupying the city limits, Dong Nai Nature and Culture Reserve stands in stark contrast to its industrial surroundings. Seventy kilometres from downtown Saigon, this is one of the closer – and cleaner – green spaces available to weekend travellers. Be prepared to dust off a few of your Vietnamese language skills and exercise some patience, as the centre still sees only a few foreign tourists, but those who go will be rewarded with views of Tri An Lake, its largest body of water, as well as the many aquatic birds of Ba Hao, a smaller lake within the reserve, or even the possibility of spotting one of the reserve’s wild elephants. The reserve’s tourism office has yet to design a specific elephant-watching tour, however several of the creatures roam its grounds, sometimes coming to the shores of Ba Hao Lake at dusk. Contact the tourism office in advance to arrange an overnight outing with one of the Dong Nai Reserve’s park rangers in order to visit the elephants in their natural habitat.
Hamlet 1, Ma Da Village, Vinh Cuu Ward06 13 86 12 90
Ho Tram Beach Resort & Spa
Though Vung Tau has long been a destination for weekend travellers, more thanks to its proximity than on account of its beaches, the seaside town’s less-famous neighbour to the east, Ho Tram, could give it a run for its money. Still a young tourist destination, Ho Tram is blessed with cleaner beaches and more secluded resorts, finally putting a worthwhile beach retreat within city dwellers’ reach. That said, this area won’t remain a secret for long; already, mega-resorts are beginning to crop up amid the area’s sleepy coastal neighbourhoods, so you are best to get there now, before the masses do. The striking Ho Tram Beach Resort & Spa offers beachfront access to its guests, not to mention two swimming pools – one saltwater, one chlorinated – a spa, a handful of bars and restaurants and access to nearby Long Hai fishing village.
Ho Tram Village, Phuoc Thuan Ward
Tel: 06 43 78 15 25
Victoria Nui Sam Lodge
When you think of the Mekong region, mountains don’t really come to mind. Instead, the watery flatlands of Chau Doc conjure up quintessential Delta images of floating houses, flooded rice paddies and on-the-water markets. But while Nui Sam doesn’t exactly tower above the countryside, its 284-metre-high peak offers a different, more secluded vantage point from which to appreciate Chau Doc’s waterlogged scenery. Opened late last year, the three-star Victoria Nui Sam Lodge sits on the side of a hill peppered with Buddhist pagodas and altars to Lady Xu, Nui Sam’s legendary protector. In addition to a peaceful escape from the bustle of the city, this rustic retreat provides guests with a host of outdoor activities, from taking a swim in the infinity pool to hiring mountain bikes for a jaunt around Nui Sam, exploring the lodge’s hiking trail, lounging in the library and spending an afternoon at the spa.
Vinh Dong 1, Nui Sam Ward
Te: 07 63 57 58 88
In a country where wildlife is not easy to come by, the 7,000-hectare Tram Chim National Park is a birder’s paradise. Home to over 230 aquatic birds, its flooded fields are a flurry of activity in the early morning with storks and weavers wheeling through the sky. Tram Chim’s most famous resident, the sarus crane, also holds the title of world’s tallest flying bird. Standing as high as six feet tall, these regal and increasingly endemic birds are heavily protected both at Tram Chim and across the border in Cambodia, where they migrate during the rainy season. As such, visitors are best to go between late December and early April when these stunning creatures are around. Twelve-seater boats come with a driver and guide. The park runs three separate routes around the perimeter of its flooded grounds. To get the full experience, you’re best to opt for either the 25-kilometre route (VND 800,000) or the 29-kilometre route (VND 900,000).
TT. Tram Chim, Huyen Tam Nong
Tel: 06 73 82 73 07
A subtle half-step between the sultry climate of Saigon and Dalat’s cooler highland temperatures, Bao Loc is one of the city’s most underrated weekend getaways. At the foot of the Central Highlands, this sleepy little town makes for a restful place to spend the weekend away from Saigon’s hustle and bustle. European touches like Bao Loc’s central lake and the requisite Eiffel-inspired radio tower nearby suggest a smaller, more laidback version of Dalat, complete with rolling hills, plenty of green space and breezy open-air cafes. Beyond the picturesque town, travellers can also stretch their legs on a walk out to Nam Phuong Lake, where it’s possible to putter around in a rented paddleboat (VND 40,000/hour) or simply kick back and watch the locals fish. Finally, Bao Loc’s best-known attraction is Dambri Falls (18k from town, VND 50,000 entry), said to be the highest waterfall in the province at approximately 60 metres high. While the nature alone is worth seeing, bear in mind that Dambri is surrounded by the Vietnamese brand of eco-tourism, complete with tacky statues and other man-made tchotchke.
Phuong Trang runs daily sleeper buses to Bao Loc from Saigon. Tickets cost VND 220,000. For more information on bus timetables, call 08 38 309 309