Imagine waking up and checking over your motorbike while buffalo roam the rice paddies surrounding you. The rolling hills are seaweed green; it’s already warm at 7 in the morning.
Welcome to backpacking in Vietnam.
Vietnam leapt into the 21st century so quickly, that much of its countryside is still buffering to catch up. So while you may spend weeks exploring Vietnamese jungle and villages where buffalo is the superior mode of transport, you will also encounter epic cities with high speed internet and commuter traffic.
Backpacking Vietnam is always a highlight of someone’s Southeast Asia travels. It’s cheap, it has the best street food in the world, and it’s fascinating.
It’s also easy to get around. There are trains, busses, motorbikes – and buffalo – that are easily available to the broke backpacker. The hardest decision when visiting Vietnam, is where to start!
Like so many other veteran travellers, Vietnam still stands out as one of my favourite places in the world. So while this guide will share with you the best places to visit in Vietnam – and a few budget tricks – its main message is to touch down in the country yourself. Inevitably, you too will fall in love with the chaos and the banh mi.
Avast! Let’s get planning to backpack Vietnam!
Why Go Backpacking in Vietnam
Travelling Vietnam has many of the classic markers of backpacking Southeast Asia. It still presents all the gorgeous sights: rolling green highlands, steaming jungles, twinkling azure coastlines, and ancient delights. There’s still an element of debauchery waking up still drunk in a city you don’t know. However, there’s an unshakable element of maturity that Vietnam asks of you.
I think it’s partly that the horrific history of this country is still in your face. Some of the mountains are still pockmarked from the insane bombing they endured in the war of the 1960s and 1970s. It’s also partly because Vietnam was not a well-visited destination until the 1990s. Even today isn’t full of cookie-cutter tours to the same degree as its neighbouring countries.
It’s also incredibly cheap to travel here. Vietnamese cuisine is sublime, the cities offer a metropolis-meets-charming-chaos style of living and the mountains? The mountains are damn fine. This has made it quite a popular base for English teachers, digital nomads, and other veteran traveller ex-pats.
I found Vietnam to be a heady collision of worlds. One day you might be chilling in a Vietnamese village that hasn’t seen foreigners in forty years, and the next you’re kicking it with Vietnamese students who deal weed to the ex-pats next door.
This all leads to this feeling that this is Southeast Asia. Or this is what Southeast Asia could be if there was a little more responsible tourism. Vietnam is a world away for most backpackers – and it sticks with them as a highlight of their years vagabonding Southeast Asia.
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- Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Vietnam
- Best Places to Visit in Vietnam
- Top Things to Do in Vietnam
- Backpacker Accommodation in Vietnam
- Vietnam Backpacking Costs
- Best Time to Travel to Vietnam
- Staying Safe in Vietnam
- How to Get Into Vietnam
- How to Get Around Vietnam
- Working in Vietnam
- Culture in Vietnam
- FAQs About Backpacking Vietnam
- Final Advice Before Visiting Vietnam
Below we have put together the grand tour itinerary. This is great if you have over 3 weeks to backpack Vietnam, and best completed by motorbike or bus! If you only have 2 weeks, aim to complete the first or second half of the itinerary.
Vietnam is generally split into two regions, the north and the south. Deciding on where to stay in Vietnam, and what the best area for you is, can be a pretty hard decision.
If you only have less than two weeks, you can focus on one region. Another popular way to backpack Vietnam is to combine a trip with a neighbouring country. For example, combining Southern Vietnam and Cambodia.
2-Week Travel Itinerary for Vietnam: The Quick Trip
This trip is best done over about two weeks. It lends itself to bus travel in between some of Vietnam’s most beautiful places. You can start at either end, but I will talk about it from north to south.
Flying into Hanoi will be an experience in itself. Hanoi is an epic blend of modern skyscrapers and streets full of mouthwatering foods. Be sure to check out the Temple of Literature while you’re there.
After spending a few days in Hanoi, pop down the coast to the old imperial capital of Hue. My love affair with Vietnamese food was truly consummated here. Yes, if I could bed with the bun bo hue, I would. From Hue, it’s not too far to another beautiful Vietnamese city – Hoi An.
Hoi An has a slow pace of living and it’s a good place to catch up on the first leg of your trip. You can stroll through the picturesque streets, and catch up on some market shopping.
The chill times continue in Da Lat. It’s well worth taking a motorbike trip through the mountains on the way here -it’s stunning! Finish up your trip in Ho Chi Minh City!
This trip has the best of Vietnam in one neat little 2-week package!
1-Month Travel Itinerary for Vietnam: The Grand Tour
This itinerary can be complete in either direction, but I will discuss it from North to South. Start your trip backpacking in Hanoi – Vietnam’s beautiful capital city. Make a side trip to the countryside of Sapa, where you can ride your motorcycle through the hills and explore waterfalls. Then arrange a trip to Halong Bay, a highlight on any Vietnam trip.
Head south, stopping to stay in the town of Hue, before moving on to visit Hoi An, where you can get an affordable, good quality suit made. Then go to Nha Trang to let loose, get a bit wild and have some fun on the water. A popular water sports area with the likes of windsurfing, paragliding and jet skiing on offer; there’s enough adrenaline here to keep even the most adventurous happy.
Head to Mui Ne and for a short stay in Da Lat, then on to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), the starting point for most backpackers travelling Vietnam. Saigon is a crazy bustling city. You can also go explore the Mekong River, a paradise for wildlife.
As I mentioned earlier, backpacking Vietnam is a collision of worlds. Some cities feel like old-world Asia, others still retain strong French colonial influences, and others are straight-up party hubs. Vietnamese cities are still among my favourite in the world – the heady mix of skyscrapers and good internet with carts selling pig ears and Chinese medicine peddled throughout them.
There is so much to unpack and discover that I can give you my favourite places to go in Vietnam, but inevitably you’ll discover your own hidden gems.
Always, there is colour and the smell of pho.
One of my favourite cities in all of Asia, Hanoi is a beautiful combination of Old meets Modern: a gateway to the incredible mountains and scenery to the North and the warm beaches and bustling cities to the south. Hanoi is worth spending at least a couple of days exploring, on foot, or by bicycle. You could end up joining the ranks of ex-pats that call Hanoi home.
In Hanoi, it is definitely worth visiting the War Museum, easily spotted it has a great collection of weaponry marking the entrance. It costs just $3 to get in and it’s a good introduction to exploring Vietnam’s war-torn past. Oh and be sure to check out the Old Quarter. It’s here that the traffic looks most like schools of fish, and that the best bowls of noodles can be found.
As for my personal favourite places to visit in Hanoi? Other than the street carts selling banh mi until the early hours of the morning, it’s got to be the Temple of Literature.
The Temple of Literature was founded in 1070. It was Vietnam’s first university where the rich and incredibly brainy attended. Even if you’re not into the history behind it, its handcrafted architecture is pretty breathtaking. If you aren’t templed out, definitely head over to the ‘old section’ of the city and stop by Bach Ma Temple aka the oldest temple in the city. If you only see one temple while backpacking through Hanoi, make it this one.
Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as the ‘Lake of the Restored Sword’. The legend goes that once the Emperor defeated the Chinese from Hanoi, a giant golden turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared into the lake to restore it to its rightful owners. All traffic here is banned between 7 P.M. to midnight every Friday to Sunday turning this beautiful place into a meeting place for friends, giving it an almost funfair vibe. If you’re an early bird and like morning exercise, 6 am Thai Chi takes place every morning.
Hanoi is a popular place to buy and sell motorbikes from or to other backpackers. It functions as both an entry and exit point to this epic country. As such, there is a contagious and frenetic energy in the hostels. You bump shoulders with those that have got stuck and fallen in love with Vietnam and those who are moving on. What a place to trade travel tips over a pint!
An explorers paradise, you are likely to arrive here early in the morning. Check into one of the awesome hostels in Sapa, leave your bags here, and go in search of Motorbikes for hire! It’s around $10 per day to hire a motorbike. The price of freedom is cheap here.
Getting lost on a Motorbike, exploring the beautiful countryside is just one of the many adventurous things to do in Sapa. Drive to the beautiful Thac Bac Waterfall, around 15kms outside Sapa main town. A legend says if you look at the falls long enough, you will see a white dragon peering down into the valley below.
Get off the beaten track while backpacking Vietnam and take a day trip out of Sapa town and visit the incredible Ban Pho Village. One of the friendliest tribes in South East Asia, it stands out among others due to the Mongolian Ban Ha population here. Settled on a Mountainous cliffside these guys literally live life on the edge. Come and explore the culture, talk to the villagers and try not to get too drunk off the legendary corn wine they will insist you taste. Multiple times.
If motorbikes aren’t your thing, you can still make an awesome tour of Sapa Valley by bicycle. If you go with a company all of your food and extra transportation (not on a bicycle) is covered, but it is easy enough to organize yourself.
There are some truly awesome treks around Sapa and you could spend a few days (or a few lifetimes) here exploring. For the more adventurous, why not conquer Vietnams highest peak, Fansipan. Not quite Everest but standing at 3,143m it’s pretty impressive; it is possible to do in a day but most will recommend at least 2 days. You can do this hike solo or with trekking companies in the area.
Backpacking Ha Giang
If you fancy heading off on some even more adventure-fuelled forays, consider treks around the area or better yet, motorbiking the Ha Giang Loop! It’s one of the most under-appreciated areas in Vietnam and attracts far fewer Western tourists than Sapa.
Although it’s getting more and more popular every day, there are still some hidden gems here, like the remote lake of Na Hang. There’s plenty of ripe adventure material left to find travelling in this part of Vietnam.
When looking for accommodation in Ha Giang, be sure to check out our friends at Hmong Moonshine! They are great people (ask for Tuyen) and the property itself is very beautiful. You can also learn how to make local moonshine while staying here! Allegedly, this is where I was drunk under the table by a Vietnamese grandma… Turns out I can’t hold my moonshine as well as the locals – who knew!
Backpacking Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island
This UNESCO world heritage site, often known as the Eighth Wonder of the world, is an unmissable stop whilst backpacking Vietnam. Almost everyone who visits Halong Bay does it as part of a pre-arranged package. I’m not normally one for taking the tour option but it is pretty impossible otherwise. The tour’s not too expensive and it was totally worth it.
We had a great time and were surrounded by some awesome people. It’s essential to prebook your trip and accommodation in Halong Bay; we booked a two day, two-night tour from our stay at the Central Hanoi Backpackers Hostel.
Whilst exploring Halong Bay we stayed on a cool ‘Junk Boat‘ one night and in beach huts the other. Being part of a prepackaged tour meant all our food, transport and everything else was included, making it a hassle-free adventure.
Once the tour is over you can either stay on Cat Ba island and check out the rock climbing scene or head back to Hanoi for a night before travelling South.
This is a beautiful small town offering a great break in the journey from Hanoi to Hoi An. One of Vietnams most royal cities, Hue is littered with impressive historic sights, delighting the inner nerd in us all!
There are also heaps of cool backpacker hostels in Hue with bouncing little traveller vibes. It is one of Vietnam’s sticky spots – it’s just so easy to get stuck exploring and chilling out here. There is a slower pace of life compared with some of the other cities in Vietnam.
Check out the impressive Citadel on the other side of the perfume river. This impressive piece of history is made up of 4 separate citadels and will take a full day to explore. So you can hire a bike to get around!
There is a ton of things to do in Hue and you could easily spend weeks here. Check out the Thien Mu Pagoda; standing at 21 metres high and decorated with mind-blowing architecture this pagoda is a pretty spectacular eyeful.
If rest and relaxation are what you are after the beaches of Lang Co and the mineral hot pools of Phong An are just a short distance away.
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Backpacking Hoi An
Hoi An is THE place to get tailor-made clothes whilst backpacking Vietnam. There are loads of things to do but most backpackers visiting Hoi An come here to get a suit made.
Clothes tend to take at least 3 days to make so you want to get measured as soon as possible… So first stop? Find a tailor!
Check into Mad Monkey Hoi An – dorms start from $7 USD a night, and it has an awesome pool! Spend a few days exploring the local area by bicycle. (The hostel provides them for free.) It’s located close to the beach which is great on hot days, as you don’t have to go far!
Looking to get back into the city? Da Nang is a great day trip, only a 40-minute drive from Hue; the sandy beaches, caves and Buddhist shrines among many other activities make for the perfect day out.
Backpacking Nha Trang
Nha Trang is a perfect place to let loose, get a bit wild, and have some fun on the water. A popular water sports area with the likes of windsurfing, paragliding, and jet skiing on offer, there’s enough adrenaline here to keep even the most adventurous happy. No need to prebook; all can be arranged from the beach.
The best area to stay in Nha Trang is down the side alleys and not on the main road. It’s quieter, cheaper, and just more chill.
Something I found interesting about Nha Trang was its popularity with wealthy Russian tourists. I wasn’t expecting to eat mystery meat soup next to a large Slavic man with a shiny watch but hey, that’s travelling! Some of the bars popular with backpackers here can err on the side of dodgy, so keep your wits about you.
There are some great backpacker hostels in Nha Trang with awesome social vibes. The beaches are beautiful and there’s a pretty laid back vibe to backpacker life here.
There is a strange feeling that hovers over Nha Trang that I can’t quite put my finger on. It made me love it all the more, but still, there’s an oddity to it.
I think it’s got to do with the availability of cheap drugs and the associated changes to locals – and tourists who get hooked – that this brings. Rumours of Russian mafia activity abound and some of the hookers are pretty good pickpockets too. This all contrasts with a stunning, postcard-perfect exterior to create the ‘odd’ feeling.
Nha Trang is one of those interesting places that you’ll be glad you went to, but also, probably glad you left.
Backpacking Lak Lake
Recover from the heavy nights in Nha Trang and break up the journey to Dalat by venturing out to the tranquil and beautiful Lak Lake, the largest natural body of water in central Vietnam.
This region of Vietnam is home to the Mnong people. An ethnic group indigenous to Vietnam (with a small population in Cambodia too), the Mnong people, rather curiously, are renowned for designing one of the world’s oldest instruments: the lithophone.
Paddle out in a kayak at sunset and enjoy the still waters and beautiful scenery. You can also explore Jun Village: A Mnong settlement of wooden stilted houses. It’s a very beautiful place to go in Vietnam and a slight departure from the regular tourist trail.
Backpacking Mui Ne
From Nha Trang you can head to Mui Ne which is home to one of the best beaches in Vietnam. You can check out the awesome sand dunes or hire a motorbike from Easy Rider for roughly 30 dollars and ride up the mountain paths to Dalat.
There isn’t much other than the sand dunes, beaches, and a fairy stream in Mui Ne. Ostrich riding is totally a thing though, which sounds totally awesome but it’s really kind of fucked. I am going to please ask you to consider your actions when engaging with animal tourism.
That is to say, please don’t ride the ostriches. Bombing the sand dunes is plenty fun enough.
Backpacking Da Lat (Dalat)
There is not a whole lot to do in Da Lat, but the ride itself is very scenic. I managed to crash and hurt myself quite badly because the roads are difficult, and if you have limited riding experience I suggest you hire a driver and just go on the back of the bike.
Although it’s not as stacked with activities as a lot of other destinations in Vietnam, there are still awesome budget accommodations in Dalat for backpackers to stay at. It’s a nice place in Vietnam to stay and take a breather for a few days.
I liked slowing down and getting to know the quieter side of Vietnam while in Da Lat. I couchsurfed here and we barbequed octopus and played hopscotch with the kids until late in the night. It’s one of those little memories that didn’t feel special at the time but has stuck out as a wonderful memory as the years have gone on.
Backpacking Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
The starting point for most visitors to Vietnam, backpacking in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon) is a crazy bustling experience. Expensive for us broke backpackers in comparison to the rest of the country, I recommend venturing into the ‘real’ Vietnam pronto.
Although there are plenty of cool things to do in Ho Chi Minh, many of the ‘must-see’ sights around are related to the terrors of the Vietnam War.
The War Remnants Museum is a haunting insight into the life of those fighting on the front line during the period of 1954 – 1975. It costs around $1 to enter.
Take a trip out of the city and tour the incredible network of Cu Chi Tunnels. Brave claustrophobia and crawl around the safer sections of the restored tunnels, popping (or squeezing) out at the other end. You can pre-book half-day tours of the tunnels through the Hide Out Hostel travel desk.
From Ho Chi Minh, it is easy to arrange a bus onwards to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. You get your Cambodian visa for a fee on the border.
Mekong Delta is often referred to as the ‘Rice Bowl’ of Vietnam (there are lovely rice paddies everywhere) this maze of rivers, swamps and islands are home to tiny villages floating on the banks of the Delta.
Paddle into the floating markets and pick up some cheap trinkets, you’ll find anything and everything. Unfortunately, the market is becoming increasingly popular and much of the trinkets being sold are aimed at those travelling Vietnam.
If you have a day to kill in the Mekong consider renting a vintage Vespa scooter and checking out the Delta countryside and local culture.
Moving past the ‘tourist’ trap section, the Mekong Delta is a paradise for local wildlife. The quiet and noise of nature is a refreshing change from the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh.
Trips to the Mekong can be as quick as half a day or a couple of days, depending on budget. However, I would recommend spending at least a day exploring the Mekong Delta. The best place to stay when exploring the Mekong Delta is Can Tho, just south of Ho Chi Minh
Getting Off the Beaten Path in Vietnam
Vietnam is certainly shooting up as a popular destination for both backpackers and holidayers. While you can stick to exploring the typical areas of Vietnam that most people visit, there is so much more to discover once you get off the tourist trail.
The Ha-Giang Loop (which I’ve already mentioned) is one such choice. It’s not one of Vietnam’s completely hidden gems anymore, however, it’s still far from touristic. Even attempting the Ha-Giang Loop by motorbike is going to give a feeling of real adventure material while simultaneously bringing you into closer contact with local communities.
As an extension of that, travelling Vietnam by motorbike (while definitely a common activity for tourists) brings even more potential for exploring the unseen sides of the country. The good thing about having your own wheels is that you can go anywhere! No village is too far off the beaten track.
I’m also going to throw the suggestion of the Ta Xua mountain range at you. Close to Moc Chau village (another underexplored locale), the Ta Xua mountains give the feeling of walking above the heavens themself. Mountain trails wind the ranges over oceans of rolling cloud formations – sunrise is a real treat.
And lastly, if you’re packing for a beach day but prefer the feeling of lost isolation, Vietnam has heaps of lesser-known beaches to explore too! Just heading north up the coast from Nha Trang is going to land you in some dope spots like Quy Nhon. If you’re still keen to branch out from there, just rent a bike and start looking!
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Top Things to Do in Vietnam
Vietnam is loaded with cool activities – both for lovers of tourist affairs and for lovers of the road less travelled. Here’s my top pick of the coolest things to do in Vietnam!
1. Cruise Halong Bay
No journey to Vietnam is complete without a trip to check out Ha Long Bay. Admire the breathtaking scenery of mountainous limestone rocks while cruising Halong Bay. When the humidity hits take a leap off the side and into the tranquil water below and splash around till your heart’s content.
2. Squeeze into the Cu Chi Tunnels
See how the Vietnamese used underground tactics during the Vietnam War. Squeeze yourself into the tiny tunnels, overcoming claustrophobia as you try to experience what the Vietnamese Soldiers once did back in 1954.
3. Trekking in Sapa
Leave the hustle and bustle behind and check into some of the most beautiful mountainous landscapes in Asia. Home to Vietnam’s highest peak Fansipan, Sapa is a dream to trek, and standing at 3,143m it’s pretty impressive. If this is a bit too adventurous, enjoy the day walks or simply kick back and take in the beautiful views.
4. Suit up in Hoi An
Thailand has Elephant Pants and Vietnam has incredible Silk Suits. Watch the talented tailors at work in Hoi An and get your own creation made cheaply, beautifully, and in just a few hours!
5. Water Puppet Show
Originating as far back as the 11th Century from the villages of the Red River Delta in Northern Vietnam, Water Puppet Shows are incredible. Lasting from as little as 5 minutes to hours, these are shows that you have to check out when travelling in Vietnam.
6. Bar Hop Ba Hoi
Friendly bars with cheap beer, laid back feels and even more friendly locals. Often located up sketchy looking side streets, these little bars are a great place for a laugh and cheap beer.
7. Street Food
For as little as $1 for a great meal, you really have no excuse not to try some of the local delicacies. We’re talking the classic Banh Mi and fetal duck eggs. There’s turtle soup, pho, and beef in every way you can imagine. This country is simply spoiled with the finest food in Southeast Asia.
8. Motor Bike across the Country
This is a fantastic way to see the countryside. Of course, more information is coming about exploring on 2 wheels in the motorbike travel section below.
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Vietnam has some of the cheapest accommodation in Southeast Asia. You can find a dorm bed for as little as $3 USD a night or a private room with a fan for $7 USD.
The hostel scene is pretty awesome. It’s super diverse with party hostel, co-working spaces, and grungy, old school hostels all in the mix.
You can expect to meet some interesting characters while staying in a hostel. This is where you can trade travel stories and pick up tips about where to go next. If hostels don’t sound like your thing – or maybe you just want to indulge in a double bed for a special occasion – Vietnam also has a range of great Airbnbs.
You can stay in whole apartments for less than $50 a night. When that one guy at the hostel has told you the story about how he almost became an international drug smuggler but then he remembered about his ethics so he just dodged taxes instead, an Airbnb can seem more appealing for a night. And even luxury Airbnbs in Vietnam is not out of the question for a solo backpacker in Vietnam looking to splurge for one night.
In between swanky Airbnbs and party hostels are a bunch of great guesthouses and homestays. Many of these aren’t listed online but are well known via word of mouth.
Wherever you choose to stay in Vietnam, it’s not going to be expensive – but it will be a great time!
The Best Places to Stay in Vietnam
|Destination||Why Visit!||Best Hostel||Best Airbnb|
|Hanoi||Hanoi is the bubbling metropolis that has everyone falling in love with Vietnam! Come for the pho, stay for the loveable chaos.||Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel||Peaceful Rental Unit in Hanoi|
|Sapa||Sapa still feels like the old Vietnam – the one of rolling rice paddies, moonshine, and friendly locals. It’s more than a little dreamy here!||Tavan Chopai Homestay||The Little Village, Sapa|
|Ha Giang||If you’re on your motorbike then get out to Ha Giang! It’s offbeat, beautiful, and an unforgettable experience.||Hmong Moonshine||Hmong Moonshine Local Homestay|
|Cat Ba Island||Cat Ba Island is not to be missed! Take in the other wordly scenery and enjoy a day on the water rather than in the jungle.||Cannon Fort Cat Ba Hostel||–|
|Hue||The old imperial capital beckons you to come explore the ruins of ancient palaces and enjoy days wandering the cobblestone streets.||Hue Happy Homestay||Private Terrace in Hue|
|Da Nang||Da Nang’s highlight is surely its Golden Bridge, although there is so much more to discover! A jungle city with a great food scene is always a good time.||Travellers Nest Hostel||–|
|Hoi An||Hoi An is Vietnam’s city of lights. Enjoy the slower pace of life along the river and soak up the romantic atmosphere.||Mad Monkey Hoi An||One Bedroom River Suite|
|Nha Trang||Nha Trang is an interesting must-see. From the Russian (mafia?) tourists to the delicious seafood, there’s always something to discover along Nha Trang’s coast.||Bondi Backpackers||Ocean View Apartment|
|Mui Ne||Mui Ne is a charming beach town with epic sand dunes. Unleash your inner child and bomb your way down the dunes as quickly as possible!||Mui Ne Hills Backpackers||Spacious Fairy Hills|
|Da Lat||Be careful on the motorbike ride into Da Lat, but be sure to enjoy the beauty and serenity once you do get here – this kind of quiet is hard to come by in Vietnam!||Mr. Peace Backpacker’s House||Valley View Home|
|Ho Chi Minh||Ah, Saigon! The hustle to Hanoi’s bustle. The beers are cheap, the music scene is thriving, and the markets are full of the best food in all of Asia. Hell yeah!||The Hideout||Colonial Flat|
Travelling in Vietnam can be cheap without you really having to think about it. I spent around 20 dollars a day in Vietnam, sometimes a little more when splurging on a day trip or imported beer. You could very easily travel on less than 10 dollars a day, while still enjoying yourself.
As I’ve (hopefully) made clear in this guide, I LOVE Vietnamese food! Mostly that’s because it’s so damn delicious, but partly it’s because it’s so cheap. If you spend $3 on a meal in Vietnam, you’re going to be full to the brim and overdosing on tastiness.
A local beer costs around 80 cents, although imported beers are still expensive. Going out for a night to see some music or have drinks in a bar can be done for less than $10! (And that’s drinking A LOT!)
Local transport is very cheap; though an airconditioned bus ride will be around $15. Generally speaking, the further from the city centres that you get, the cheaper life becomes.
A Daily Budget in Vietnam
|Expense||Broke Backpacker||Frugal Traveler||Creature of Comfort|
|Total per day:||$9-$34||$37-$67||$80+|
Money in Vietnam
Ever wanted to throw cash in the air and feel like a millionaire? Well, the Vietnamese Dong allows every broke backpacker travelling in Vietnam the opportunity to feel rich. As of 09/11/21, $1 US = 22,660 Vietnamese Dongs – crazy huh?
Plus the name is Dong… Which, when enjoying multiple dirt-cheap beers, is consistently amusing.
Don’t try to obtain Vietnamese currency before entering the country, it’s pretty much impossible. If you managed to snag some, you’ve probably had a pretty bad exchange rate. Take US dollars into Vietnam, you’ll find many shops and services accept US dollars.
Credit and Debit cards are widely accepted in the more built-up areas such as Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi but many of these, charge pretty insane withdrawal fees so it’s advisable to avoid small ATM transactions and get out a bunch of cash at once – just make sure you hide it well.
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Travel Tips – Vietnam on a Budget
Vietnam is one of the cheapest destinations in Asia. However, it is still possible to go a little out of control, especially when the currency makes you feel like a millionaire. Standard budget backpacking tips aside, here are my top tips to keep it for backpacking Vietnam on a budget…
- Camp: Vietnam has some incredible countryside and coastline, views that shouldn’t be wasted by sleeping inside. Camping is most popular within the National Parks up and down Vietnam. Pack up your best backpacking gear and take adventures outdoor.
- Take the Bus: The national bus service or ‘the chicken bus’ has great links throughout Vietnam, even into some of the more remote areas. For as little as $1 a ticket, I’d happily sit next to a chicken for a few hours.
- Eat Street Food: Seriously, the food here is so cheap – and so declicious – you might as well indulge! Cooking for yourself probably won’t end up saving you much when you can get a meal on the street for $2 USD. Plus, you can’t make pho like the grandma up the road can!
- Understand the Money: If, like me, you don’t have a great mathematical brain, use a currency app to help you understand how much you are spending. Knowing the value of the currency will help you avoid being ripped off or spending too much without realising.
- Couchsurf: To connect with the locals, try meeting people with Couchsurfing. You’ll get a free place to stay, and you’ll probably make a friend!
- Keep it Local: Where possible drink the local beer, eat the local delicacies, and for day trips, try to use local companies. By using local companies you can haggle a bargain price that larger, international tour operators won’t offer. Plus supporting local businesses thrive is awesome!
- Hitchhike: I didn’t hitchhike whilst backpacking Vietnam but I have a couple of amigos who have hitched the whole length of the country, no worries. Getting around by hitchhiking is a great way to travel for free, meet local people, and kick plans to the kerb!
- Budget-friendly Tours: If you do happen to go on any guided tours, at least make it a tour where you can pay it off in instalments. Global Work and Travel have the broke backpacker in mind with this one. You can even choose the amount per instalment! There are loads of Vietnam tour options to tickle your fancy.
Why Should You Travel to Vietnam with a Water Bottle?
Whilst there’s a lot that we can do when it comes to travelling responsibly, reducing your plastic consumption is one of the easiest and most impactful things you can do. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, don’t take plastic shopping bags, and forget straws. All of this just ends up in landfills or in the ocean.
There’s nothing worse than showing up to a picture-perfect beach, only to discover plastic bottles littering the sand. One way to get around this is by investing in a premium filtered travel bottle like the Grayl Geopress. You can filter any kind of water, save money on buying endless plastic bottles – and sleep easy knowing you’re not contributing to the plastic bottles lining our beautiful beaches.
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Best Time to Travel to Vietnam
Vietnam is a country with multiple weather patterns ranging from monsoon rains, cold snaps, and hot, humid sunny days. It can be hard to catch the whole country at a consistent time of year. But no fret, it is possible!
If you are planning to backpack Vietnam from top to bottom, the best time of year generally is September – December (Autumn) and March – April (Spring). These times of the year are your best weather window, where you might be lucky enough to see the whole country in sun!
Looking for specifics? Let me break down by regions, the best time of year for backpacking Vietnam:
- North Vietnam: October to May will give you dry weather the majority of months. Expect some colder temperatures in the mountains and from March onwards, a little more rain as it gets more humid.
- Central Vietnam: February to July is the best time of year to avoid heavy rain. Temperatures will hit the upper 30s in June to August.
- Southern Vietnam: December to April is the ‘dry’ season. Temperatures will rarely fall below 20 degrees and will reach up to 40 degrees come March/April.
What to Pack for Vietnam
Make sure you get your packing for Vietnam right! On every adventure, there are 6 things I never go travelling without:
Osprey Aether 70L Backpack
Ya can’t go backpacking anywhere without a blasted backpack! Words cannot describe what a friend the Osprey Aether has been to The Broke Backpacker on the road. It’s had a long and illustrious career; Ospreys don’t go down easily.
Feathered Friends Swift 20 YF
My philosophy is that with an EPIC sleeping bag, you can sleep anywhere. A tent is a nice bonus, but a real sleek sleeping bag means you can roll out anywhere in a and stay warm in a pinch. And the Feathered Friends Swift bag is about as premium as it gets.
Grayl Geopress Filtered Bottle
Always travel with a water bottle! They save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl Geopress acts as a purifier AND temperature regulator – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
Every traveller should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. When you’re camping, hiking, or even if the power just went out, a top-quality headlamp is a MUST. The Petzl Actik Core is an awesome piece of kit because it’s USB chargeable—batteries begone!
First Aid Kit
Never go off the beaten track (or even on it) without your first aid kit! Cuts, bruises, scrapes, third-degree sunburn: a first aid kit will be able to handle most of these minor situations.
With these essentials, I still make sure to do a rundown of my full backpacking packing list.
Staying Safe in Vietnam
Vietnam is extremely safe for travel. Violent crime is almost nonexistent in Vietnam. Petty crime and pickpocketing can be an issue in the cities however, so just watch your valuables or leave them locked at your hostel. Where backpackers need to be careful is riding a motorcycle.
Vietnam’s cities are hectic, and the countryside has windy roads and animals roaming around. Even though road tripping with a motorcycle is a huge part of Vietnam tourism, I don’t recommend this for beginners.
Dense cities and tourist attractions are still questionable (as they usually are). Vietnam isn’t rife with petty crime, but keep an eye on your valuables.
Past that, Vietnam is pretty standard ‘travel in Southeast Asia’ stuff, and even by that metric, it’s very chill. Stick to the standard advice for safe travel and you’ll be fine.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Vietnam
The penalties for drugs are really harsh in Vietnam, like other neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia. Weed is the most commonly used drug throughout Vietnam, but you will get into a bunch of trouble for having it if you’re caught.
Let’s be realistic though, you’re probably going to try drugs on the road. In Vietnam, there are definitely underground scenes amongst locals – especially students – so having local friends helps when looking for a joint.
I’d advise against travelling even between cities with anything considered illegal. Once you arrive in a new city, ask around from there.
As for sex? Well you’re a backpacker, aren’t you? 😉 Of course, there will likely be a one night stand in your backpacker travels – whether you bone down in a hostel or have a sensuous encounter with a particularly beautiful local.
Through it all, you gotta be a good person. Free love is about love as much as it is about sex, y’know?
Also, I’d be remiss not to mention ‘sex tourism’. Everything is cheap in Asia, including the services of sex workers. This has led to an industry in Southeast Asia that can be very ethically murky. Regardless of your opinion on sex working in general – and whether or not you engage with sex working services – there is no reason for you to not have respect for another human being.
There are enough people in this world with bad intentions and rotten hearts – there’s no need to add your name to that list. But you know that.
Travel Insurance for Vietnam
Right, now let me be the first to admit that my travels sometimes involve some sketchy activities! But rather than ignore my wild side, I just insure in with World Nomads! That way, I can still have my adventures while knowing if shit hits the fan – I’m covered by insurance.
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.
How to Get Into Vietnam
Vietnam is one of Southeast Asia’s most accessible countries. Whether you are travelling the Southeast Asia loop and entering by land, coming down from China, or flying directly there, border crossings are relatively straight forward and the days of the tricky Vietnamese visa are now over.
There are long-distance bus/train services that you can use to get all the way from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, train it from Europe all the way to Vietnam…
For those backpacking Vietnam without the luxury of time, the best way in is to catch a flight to Ho Chi Minh City. There are flights with the likes of Emirates (via Dubai), Air China (via Guangzhou), and many more Airlines.
I’ve found Vietnam Airlines tend to have the best deals for flying direct to Ho Chi Minh City. Most flights will land in Ho Chi Minh but you can fly to other parts of the country.
You can enter Vietnam by motorbike easily and you can easily travel from Cambodia across the border to Vietnam using local buses. Or, if you fancy travelling in style, there are VIP bus services available for flash-packers.
Entry Requirements for Vietnam
Most countries require a visa to enter Vietnam, however, there is a shortlist of countries that are exempt for short stays. Past that, you’ll need to organise a Vietnam e-visa for a 30-day stay.
Thankfully e-visas are relatively straightforward to organise before you travel to Vietnam. If you don’t want to organise it yourself, there are many companies out there who can help you apply.
And if the 30 days in Vietnam just feels too short, no worries! You can extend once you’re there.
How to Get Around Vietnam
Comfortable long-distance transport and constantly improving road quality make travelling in Vietnam pretty smooth. Vietnam has a great coastal train line that extends up to the Chinese border making travelling onwards to China a snap! It’s a great way to travel across Vietnam on a time limit.
Most backpackers choose to explore Vietnam via bus network. Buses in Vietnam are cheap, plenty are hop-on/hop-off style tickets, and they have ever-increasing presence of Air Con. Basically, they are a broke backpackers dream.
A great way to get from one end of the country to the other fast and scenically. Vietnam Railways operates a single track train network running from Ho Chi Minh city all the way to the Chinese border with beautiful views of the countryside and coast. Slightly slow in places as much of the train line dates back to the colonial period – but that’s just part of the charm, right?
Ensure you book your tickets in advance. Hard sleeper class offers the best value. Be aware that if you buy a through ticket you cannot break up the journey along the way, you will need separate tickets for this. Hop on the Reunification Express for a breathtaking journey.
I did not travel via domestic flight within Vietnam. However, if you are on a time limit, a 2hr flight from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi is a lot more favourable than 30hrs + it can take on the train. Vietnam Airlines, the national carrier, and Jetstar both offer cheap and backpacker-friendly flights to many destinations within Vietnam.
Rather than just rocking up at the station in the hope they will have space to fit you on, you can now book tickets in advance for most of Southeast Asia using Bookaway.
To kick your backpacking adventure into the next gear, get a motorbike. Travelling by motorbike across Vietnam is often more cost-effective than paying for multiple train/bus tickets.
It gives you the freedom to really explore, get off the highway and go in search of raw adventure… Plus you look cool and you don’t have to deal with the drunken Aussie lads on the bus attempting to rope you into a game of ‘drink the beer’.
I picked myself up a Honda Win Manual Motorbike second hand from one of the many backpackers selling their bikes in Ho Chi Minh. I paid around $300 and, for the few weeks I had it, only some minor repairs were needed.
Before travelling to Vietnam, I had never actually ridden a motorbike before and I was, in truth, a little intimidated. Luckily, riding a motorbike is a lot easier than it looks and after about an hour of (somewhat, hilarious) practice, I was good to go.
I had this expectation that the roads in Vietnam were going to be dangerous dirt tracks. But for the most part, they are fairly decent besides a few potholes. The biggest threat to you on the road is your own lack of attention, other drivers and animals/people. Make sure your travel insurance covers you for riding a motorbike in Vietnam.
Unfortunately, accidents among travellers are common; I came off my motorbike myself in Dalat and got away with just cuts and bruises… The bike flipped and hit me in the back of the head, and my helmet almost certainly saved my life – always wear a helmet.
I’d also consider bringing a dedicated tent for your motorbike if you want to save money on accommodation. I usually rocked up to a restaurant for dinner & politely asked if I could set up there for the night. They always said yes and never charged me a dime.
Use Bookaway to find the best deals on transport – buses, planes, trains, and ferries. It’ll save you a load of time when organising transport and you’ll probably nab an EPIC DISCOUNT too!
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Onwards Travel From Vietnam
Vietnam is well placed for onward overland travel to Cambodia, Laos, and China which all border Vietnam. You can bus, motorbike, or hitchhike in a truck full of onions over any of these borders. There are also cheap flights to Thailand, Malaysia, and beyond if you want to carry the Southeast Asia party on that a-ways!
If your travel funds are running low, it’s well worth considering a flight Down Under to the famously high minimum wage of Australia! Or, if you want to chill out in some colder climates, why not try backpacking in New Zealand?
The long and the short of it is, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to onwards travel from Vietnam!
Working in Vietnam
Yes, yes, 1000 times, yes! I have no short number of long-term travelling friends that do a stint working a backpacker job in Vietnam to build up their cash supplies.
You will need a work permit to work in Vietnam though. A work permit/visa is valid for up to 2 years (non-renewable) and the pressure of the paperwork is off because the responsibility is on your employer! You’ll need to be sponsored by your prospective employer who will then be responsible for the organisation of your working permit.
Vietnam is also an up and coming digital nomad hotspot. It’s got fast internet, a good ex-pat science, and it is ridiculously cheap. There are not many other places in the world where you can get lunch for 2 dollars, and a beer for 80 cents while working with lightning-fast internet.
Teaching English in Vietnam
Teaching English in Vietnam is one of the most popular forms of work for foreigners in the country. With the right qualifications (i.e. a TEFL certificate), you’ll find a lot of doors opening to you with some decent wages too (relative to the standards of Asia).
TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world with one! Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses through MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR).
You’ll need a prospective employer to sponsor you (and to go on a contract too). However, then an expat lifestyle in Vietnam awaits! There are heaps of schools around Vietnam that are always looking for fluent English speakers willing to teach. There are even heaps of adults wanting to learn.
A lot of people end up working in the major cities (like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh) simply for the amount of work available and modern lifestyle. Of course, as I always tell people looking to teach English abroad, getting out of the urban jungles and into the villages and rural areas is going to offer a much more authentic and wholesome experience.
Volunteering in Vietnam
Volunteering abroad is an amazing way to experience a culture whilst helping your host community. There are plenty of different volunteer projects in Vietnam including teaching, construction, agriculture, and pretty much anything.
If the regular ol’ day job isn’t beckoning however, volunteering in Vietnam is a spectacular backup choice! You’ll lower your travel costs, connect with local communities, and give back all your best vibes and smiles while you’re at it!
If you want to find volunteering opportunities in Vietnam, then we recommend that you signup for Worldpackers – a volunteer platform that connects local hosts directly with travelling volunteers.
Whenever you are volunteering, do stay vigilant especially when working with animals or children. Volunteer programs run through reputable work exchange programs like Worldpackers are very well-managed and reputable.
Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.
Culture in Vietnam
Although only surpassed only by Indonesia as Southeast Asia’s most heavily populated country, Vietnam is the region’s most ethnically homogenous country with the Vietnamese making up about 85% of the population. Most of the remaining population in Vietnam is made up of a variety of minority ethnic groups and peoples with their own customs and traditions.
Being a communist country, Vietnam has no state religion and atheism is encouraged. In truth, the majority of the Vietnamese people either identify with folk traditions or are just straight atheistic. Buddhism and Catholocism are the other two big religions in the country. Across all beliefs, the family and ancestor worship remain pillar belief concepts.
Once you get to know a Vietnamese person, I can guarantee you that you won’t stop laughing. There’s a lot of banter and a kind of humour that’s a second cousin of sarcasm. I don’t know quite how to describe it, but there’s a lot of pointing out the randomness of life and having a good laugh about it.
You don’t want to start a friendship with a Vietnamese person with too much banter; you still have to respect that people do not want to lose face. But once you’re out of a formal situation – and after some rice wine has been consumed – then you can unleash the sarcasm!
I think this makes sense for a country that had a brutal civil war and then still has to navigate communist “niceties”.
When my Vietnamese friend and I went on a bit of a street food bonanza, we joked a lot about things that only made sense in Vietnam – like the couple wearing matching pyjamas while dining at a fancy coffee shop. Also, she found it far too funny that people would stop to take selfies with me because I had blue eyes. Obviously, she had to start calling me “Miss America” despite the fact that I am Australian…
Useful Travel Phrases for Vietnam
Below I have listed helpful travel phrases for Vietnam. It always pays to learn a new language as you travel to be able to communicate with the locals. At the very least, try!
On my first days in Vietnam, the only word I could remember was sorry – sin loi. This was lucky, as it’s something I found myself saying a lot as I tried to navigate the dense city of Ho Chi Minh.
Thankfuly, the Vietnamese people are some of the most gracious and good-humoured people on the planet. Nobody cared that I was in the way, although it was pretty funny to hear a little, white foreigner saying sorry over and over!
- Hello – Xin Chao
- Goodbye – Tam biet
- Thank You – Cám on Ban
- No Problem – Khong Van De Gi
- I like to Eat – Toi Muon An
- What is this? – cái si te nài?
- I am Sorry – Toi Sin Loi
- No plastic bag – Không có túi nh?a
- No straw please – Không có r?m, xin vui lòng
- No plastic cutlery please – Không có dao nh?a xin vui lòng
- I’m Hungry – Tôi Doi
- What is your name? – Tên cua ban là si
- I don’t understand – Toi khong hieu
What to Eat in Vietnam
Vietnamese food is popular all around the world! I would be gobsmacked if you have yet to try rice paper rolls or noodle soup.
The Vietnamese know how to cook something mouthwatering out of thin air. As well as tasting absolutely wonderful, Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest foods in the world. Prepared with fresh ingredients, vegetables, herbs, and either rice or noodles, each dish is different but delicious!
And I will begrudgingly pay the French a complimen: they know how to cook some damn fine food. So, if you can imagine salivating snacks a la Vietnam with just a hint of French influence left over from the colonial days.
Yes, the food is the best reason to backpack Vietnam!
I remember sitting in a sliver of an alleyway deep within the bowels of the old imperial capital of Hue. I was sweating my sweet tushy off and thought the best way to combat sweat is with sweat, so I proceeded to order the most memorable meal I had in Southeast Asia. Bun Bo Hue.
I don’t believe in God, and neither do most Vietnamese people, but how do you explain such divine flavours?
While in Vietnam, I would suggest eating out at every opportunity. It’s cheap and delicious. You’ll understand, first hand, why McDonalds has never caught on in Vietnam.
Popular Vietnamese Dishes
- Buncha – One of my favourites! This is basically a Pork Meatball Noodle Salad. Yum!
- Goi Cuon – The famous Vietnamese “Summer Rolls” are a perfect light bite. Normally filled with shrimp and/or pork, herbs and vegetables. They are wrapped in rice paper and served with Peanut dipping sauce.
- Pho – Basically noodle soup. There are many varieties of Pho, perfect for those slightly unsure about Vietnamese food.
- Banh Mi Thit – Or in other words, the best sandwich in Asia! Basically, a well-sized baguette stuffed with yummy treats such as ham, cheese, fish, vegetables etc.
Brief History of Vietnam
People have been living in Vietnam for thousands of years. It was one of the first places in the world where rice was cultivated! There were several dynasties that ruled over a unified Vietnam – although alongside this dynasty were many other indigenous groups who never fully assimilated into any dynasty.
The Chinese often invaded and were periodically rulers of Vietnam. The Mongols did invade as well but were driven back. When the French showed up in the 19th century though, a unified Vietnam was not willing to be a colony of yet another foreign power.
When France was losing in WWII, Japan took advantage and occupied French Indo-China. The Vietnamese Communists or Viet Minh fought the Japanese and by 1945 they controlled parts of North Vietnam. Viet Minh took control of most of Vietnam and declared Vietnam independent by 1945, but France ignored this. With no intention to give up power, fighting broke out between them and the Viet Minh.
After a siege lasting 57 days, the French were forced to surrender.
In North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh introduced a Communist regime while in the south Ngo Dinh Diem became ruler. Gradually, the USA became involved in the Vietnam War during the Cold War. First, they were sending military advisers to South Vietnam. Financially, they supported the French and later the South Vietnamese government.
Then in 1964 two US ships were supposedly subject to ‘unprovoked’ attacks by the North Vietnamese. The Americans then bombed the north and Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution allowing the president to take ‘all necessary measures’ to prevent ‘further aggression’.
As a result by December 1965, there were 183,000 US soldiers in Vietnam and by the end of 1967, there were nearly half a million. However, the Vietcong continued their guerrilla war.
Americans withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, but the South Vietnamese continued to fight the Vietcong alone until 1975 until the North Vietnamese captured Saigon. Vietnam was reunited under Communist rule.
FAQs About Backpacking Vietnam
Every first time backpacker to Vietnam has a few questions that they are dying to know! Luckily, we’ve got you covered…
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Final Advice Before Visiting Vietnam
Be good to Vietnam.
Writing your name in black marker on temples, chugging beer in Saigon while shirtless, swearing loudly, and visiting unethical animal attractions? You, Sir, are a twat. Luckily, most backpackers don’t fall into this category but, when you’re out and about and have had a few too many drinks, it can be easy to embarrass yourself.
By no means am I telling you not to drink, smoke, or party. Do it and enjoy it. Just don’t get so drunk you turn into an imbecile your mum would be ashamed of.
Go to Vietnam and have the time of your life, but be respectful along the way. There are mountains to hike, cities to explore, and some delicious bun bo hue to try along the way. You are sure to experience a very special slice of the world when you travel to Vietnam.
When we travel, we make choices that not only impact ourselves but the local communities around us and the travellers that come after us. When we are privileged enough to experience a country like Vietnam, it’s up to us to make sure it stays special for those that come after us.
Vietnam has had it rough over the years. Just be good to it, is all.
Now all that’s left is for you to book your ticket and get trying that banh mi!
Updated November 2021 by Indigo Atkinson.
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!