A traditional river barge.
The main point of interest in the southern part of Vietnam is the former capital of the partitioned country of South Vietnam, Saigon, or as its now officially known, Ho Chi Minh City. The city itself can be explored in two or three days, and additionally makes a good base for day trips to nearby sights.
Around Ho Chi Minh City
Several interesting places are within an easy day trip from Ho Chi Minh City. Although you may of course may want to spend more than a day at th beach!
Cu Chi Tunnels
About 35 kilometers (22 miles) northwest of Ho Chi Minh City, on the way to Tay Ninh, is a preserved section of what was once a network of nearly 200 kilometers of underground passages which included hospitals, factories and living quarters. A section of about 50 meters is open to the public. The tunnels themselves have been enlarged a bit to accommodate western tourists.
Not quite 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City is the small provincial town of Tay Ninh. The town is rather unremarkable except in that it is the headquarters of the Caodai religion, which combines eastern and western thoughts. The Caodai Great Temple in Tay Ninh is a fantastical structure built between 1933 and 1955. It also combines east and west, being part pagoda and part cathedral.
Vung Tau Beach
Vung Tau sits at the end of a promontory of land marking the north end of the Mekong and Saigon deltas. Its only 128 kilometers (80 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City by road, and so has become a favorite weekend getaway destination for the residents of Saigon. The development this has lead to has not been entirely for the good, but Vung Tau is still a nice beach, although far from the best Vietnam has to offer. You can conveniently get to Vung Tau by hydrofoil from Ho Chi Minh City. The trip takes just over an hour.
Phan Thiet & Mui Ne Beach
Further up the coast from Vung Tau, a total of 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Ho Chi Minh City, is the town of Phan Thiet with its nearby beach of Mui Ne. Its stil not very developed and has become popular among those seeking something more natural than Vung Tau. In addition to its beautiful beach, there are some Cham towers nearby, as well a mountain-top temple at Takou Mountain.
Beyond Ho Chi Minh City
Called a "liquid maze" by one guidebook, the many rivers of the Mekong delta, joined by man-made channels, is Vietnam's rice bowl. Travellers wishing to settle down and see as much of the scenery as possible usually stay in My Tho or Can Tho. Can Tho is more central, with quicker access to the rivers and canals that make up the delta.
Siting near the "apex" of the Mekong delta, not far from the Cambodian border, Chau Doc is the meeting place for several cultures and makes an excellent base for exploring the upper delta. From here you can visit floating villages and the pagodas of Sam Mountain.
Phu Quoc Island
This idylic island just off the coast of Cambodia boasts what are perhaps Vietnam's best beaches. White sand, clear turquoise waters full of marine life, and a beachside bungalow. Who could ask for more?