Wanderlust Wendy

Saigon City Break: Cat Tien National Park, Nha Trang, Ho Tram, and More

In the 15 months that I’ve lived in Saigon, I’ve only managed a handful of weekend trips outside of the city. Mostly because during the first six months, we were still recovering from our year-long around-the-world travel and wanted to stay put. Saigon is chaotic and full of energy. A periodic trip away is helpful to decompress and reset. 

Here are the trips that I’ve taken and recommend. Hope you find this information useful, and they help you plan your own city break from Ho Chi Minh City!

Cat Tien National Park

Where to Stay

Located a 4-hour drive northeast of Saigon, jungly Cat Tien National Park is ideal for getting that dose of nature. We went with another couple of friends and split the private care that costs 1.4mil VND each way, arranged by our hotel, Green Bamboo Lodge. While there are lots of lodging options in Cat Tien, I recommend staying along the Dong Nai river. Visitors need to take a shuttle boat to cross the river to enter the national park. 

The Green Bamboo Lodge is basic but charming, with a spacious dining area next to the river for lounging and playing games. For more upscale lodging options, consider Cat Tian Jungle Lodge or Forest Floor Lodge inside of the park. The humidity in the jungle is sky-high, so I’d recommend rooms with AC. Prep lots of bug spray, as the mosquitos around the river, are fierce and relentless!

Bike and Hike to Crocodile Lake

We spent two nights in Cat Tien and only had one full day to explore the national park. We got an early start at 8am to avoid the heat. After paying for the entrance fee, we took the 5-minute boat ride across the Dong Nai river into the national park. The plan was to complete the bicycle and hiking loop to Crocodile Lake and back.

The bicycle rental was impressive, with a wide variety of choices. Get the mountain bikes, because some part of the path isn’t paved. We biked the 10km to the beginning of the hiking trail, and then hiked the rest of the 5k to Crocodile Lake. I was also quite impressed by the hiking path that’s completely paved in stone. 

We had heard that leeches were a real problem, but didn’t encounter any issues despite minimal preparation. Do layer on the bug spray, though. Upon arrival at Crocodile Lake, there is a family-run homestay and eatery that will serve up some basic fried noodles or rice, with a side of iced beverage. The locals will also take you out to the lake for crocodile viewing on a wooden boat for a small fee.

We opted out of the boat ride since the sun was relentless. The sun really beat down on us on the bike ride back, and we stopped at Forest Floor Lodge for lunch and an impressive view of the rapid. We were happy to have gotten an early start when the photo-centric tourists poured in as we left in the afternoon. 

Back in town, we had a walk in the village and grabbed some refreshing craft beer at Jungle Pub!

The Anam in Nha Trang

The first flight post-COVID was a girls trip beach jaunt to Nha Trang. The city’s reputation is that it’s typically filled with Russian and Chinese tourists/business people. We opted for a total escape, capitalizing on the post-COVID deals at The Anam Resort, a half-hour drive outside the city. From the moment the shuttle picked us up at the airport until drop-off 72 hours later, the service was top-notch and total luxury. 

Food at The Anam

I’m often wary of resorts where I don’t have any food choices other than offerings available on-site. The Anam ensured that every meal we had there was fantastic, from the plentiful and quality breakfast buffet to the grilled seafood and delicious Vietnamese cuisine. Truth be told, the breakfast buffet is so good that I only needed one small meal each day after the morning. 

A few breakfast buffet hacks that can be applied in other resorts around Vietnam: 

  • Ask for a poached egg in the bowl of pho – it’s a total game-changer. 
  • Put those pastries through the toaster – the increased crisp takes it to the next level! 
  • Arrive early to get the freshest selection and avoid the crowd. The resort is so spaced out that we often felt not many people are around, but they all come out of the woodworks for breakfast!

Outdoor Cinema

Besides the incredible beach and multiple pools (including an adults-only pool), the resort also offers an outdoor cinema, which is delightful. I recommend bringing your own snacks, though – the selection for sale is quit pitiful for the price. If you prefer indoor cinema to avoid the mosquitos, the resort has movie theaters on-site as well! 

Visit Nha Trang City

We did spend an afternoon in Nha Trang. After all, it’d be a pity to fly all the way to this city only to hang out at the resort. The Anam has a daily shuttle that takes guests into the city, leaving at noon and picks up at 4pm to return to the resort. 

Initially, I had thought four hours would be too short in the city, but it was actually a perfect amount of time to explore. Upon arrival, we took Grab cars around and visited the Po Nagar Tower, a Cham temple built in the same era as Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We then headed to Long Son Pagoda but opted against climbing up to the giant Buddha under the afternoon sun. Instead, we walked to the Nha Trang train station to check out its architecture. We then enjoyed a coffee and dessert at the delightful Alpaca Homestyle Café

The city was otherwise eerily dead due to COVID, with many businesses shuttered. We were quite glad with our decision to not stay in the city. A half-day visit gave us the best of both worlds. 

Indulge in the Spa

A girls’ getaway wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the spa. The Anam offered great deals to entice visitors post-COVID, and we were happy to oblige. I recommend booking in advance and allow yourself plenty of time to indulge in the sauna, steam, and spa treatment. We made the mistake of booking at the end of the day, and the experience felt unnecessarily rushed. 

Melia in Ho Tram

Since I turned 30, I’ve opted for either a staycation or a trip to celebrate entering another year of life. This year, we spent two nights at the Melia Ho Tram Beach Resort. I’m a firm believer in taking time off for your birthday to reflect and reset, and this year opted to be on airplane mode during the trip.

Getting There

Ho Tram is roughly a two-hour drive from Saigon. I “rented” a driver on Grab, and when he arrived, asked him to take us to Ho Tram, and paid the difference in fare in cash. The driver was more than happy to oblige. This leads to a win-win situation! Melia offers a shuttle from Thu Thiem in Saigon to the resort, but it doesn’t leave HCMC until 2pm, taking up precious beach and pool time. We did take the shuttle back to the city, leaving Ho Tram at 11am. 

Quality Pool Time & Seafood

We spent two nights at the Melia, and most of the waking hours were spent next to an expansive infinity pool that overlooks the beach. The beach itself, unfortunately, isn’t all that clean or great for swimming. The pool, however, is divine. The best part is that the Vietnamese guests typically want to avoid the sun and don’t come out until around 4pm, leaving the pool all to ourselves for most of the day! 

I can’t comment on how the meals are at the resort other than its incredible seafood platter, which was so good both in taste and value that we had it both days at the beach club! The breakfast buffet is decent as well. I also especially appreciated the birthday gesture from the staff!

Les Hameaux de l’Orient in Cu Chi

Unlike the previous two resorts, Les Hameaux de l’Orient is much more down to earth. Run by a Vietnamese couple who had spent most of their lives in France, this rustic resort is a lovely getaway from bustling Saigon. 

A Grab ride for 700k VND will take you directly to the resort, and the hotel can arrange for a car back into the city at the end of your stay. The area is relatively peaceful, surrounded by quintessential Mekong Delta villages. If you want to visit the Cu Chi tunnel, you can combine it with a stay here. 

The food was fairly average, though we’ve heard from others that they’ve experienced incredible meals! Perhaps it’s just the weekend that we were there, which included a group of retired French tourists stuck in Vietnam due to COVID. The resort somehow also dubs as a retirement home, so you do see some elderly folks milling about, adding to that tranquil vibe. 

Aside from lots of pool time, we also enjoyed taking the free bicycle around the villages. Beware, the village propaganda announcement does come blaring at 5am, which was the first time I experienced it! On Sundays, the karaoke game from the village is strong, adding to that very authentic experience! 

La Holista Monthly Hikes

For a day hike away from the city without the fuss of overnight stay, I recommend joining one of the monthly hikes with La Holista. The trip is well organized, entailing an early meetup for bus departure, a healthy lunch, and a group hike. It’s a nice opportunity to meet some new friends, or go on your own and enjoy a nice day outside of the city! 

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