Backpacking Vietnam… If you are seeking epic adventures, unique experiences, mouth watering foods and ancient historical sights; Vietnam is the place for you. Once upon a time, the very mention of Vietnam conjured up images of war-torn destination but now Vietnam is a backpacker haven and travelling in Vietnam is a popular part of many Southeast Asian adventures.
Backpacking Vietnam offers an incredible opportunity to get off the beaten track… Explore dramatic mountains in the North, stop in for some corn wine and a friendly chat with the locals before heading south to party the night away…
Many travellers opt to explore Vietnam by motorcycle. Vietnam is a big country and there are lots of Vietnam backpacking itineraries on offer… The most popular backpacking route is heading from Hanoi to Saigon.
Backpacking in Vietnam is a great choice for broke backpackers on account of the super cheap cost of living and the plentiful adventures.
Table of Contents
- Where to Go Backpacking in Vietnam
- Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Vietnam
- Places to Visit in Vietnam
- Backpacker Accommodation in Vietnam
- Top Things to do in Vietnam
- Vietnam Travel Tips
- Staying Safe in Vietnam
- Vietnam Travel Guide - Getting In and Around
- Vietnam Backpacking Costs
- Must-Try Experiences in Vietnam
- Brief History of Vietnam
- Closing Thoughts
Where to Go Backpacking in Vietnam
Vietnam is generally split into two regions, the north and south. 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 neighboring country. For example, combining Southern Vietnam and Cambodia.
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.
Backpacking Vietnam 1-Month Itinerary #1: The Grand Tour
This itinerary can be complete in either direction, but I will discuss 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 quaint 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 Mue 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.
Below we’ve explained each destination on the itinerary in much more detail, including what to do, see, and where to stay in each place.
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 days exploring, on foot or by bicycle.
I recommend staying at the fantastic Babylon Garden Hostel. The dorms are comfortable and at only $5 a night, including breakfast, internet and free beer- they certainly know how to cater to those backpacking Vietnam.
As for my personal best places to visit in Hanoi
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.
Stop by the Temple of Literature; 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, it’s 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. The oldest temple in the city. If you only see one temple in 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.
Oh and be sure to check out the Old Quarter.
An explorers paradise, you are likely to arrive here early in the morning. Check into the Enjoy Sapa Hostel, leave your bags here, and go in search of Motorbikes for hire! It's around $10 per day to hire a motorbike, cheap for the freedom to explore some of the incredible sights around Sapa at your own pace.
Getting lost on a Motorbike, exploring the beautiful countryside is just one of the many fun 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 Cliff side 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 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 Ha Giang or better yet, motorbiking the Ha Giang Loop! It's one of the most under-appreciated areas in Vietnam and attracts far less 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.
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!
Backpacking Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island
A UNESCO world heritage sight, 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 to Halong Bay; we booked a two day, two-night tour from our stay at the Central Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. Check out my buddy Bradley's post for everything you need to know about picking a decent Halong Bay cruise for backpackers.
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 traveler vibes. Check into the awesome Hue Happy Homestay to meet other travelers and get some great local recommendations from the knowledgeable staff.
Check out the impressive Citadel on the other side of the perfume river. This impressive piece of history is made up of four separate citadel's and will take a full day to explore, 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.
Hoi An is THE place to get tailor-made clothes whilst backpacking Vietnam. There are loads of things to do in Hoi An but most backpackers come here to get a suit made. Clothes tend to take at least three days to make so you want to get measured as soon as possible... So first stop? Find a tailor! I recommend Mr XE II - possibly the best tailor in Hoi An!
Check into Hoi An Vietnam Backpackers Hostel -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 forty 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.
If you need to get a job or just want to have an awesome night out head to the Why Not Bar, they are often hiring. The work is easy and fun, it's a great way to replenish funds while travelling Vietnam. The beach at night is a great place to hang out with other backpackers and get royally pissed however it, can be dangerous and a few backpackers have been robbed there so avoid ending up there alone.
There are some great backpacker hostels in Nha Trang with awesome social vibes. heck into the iHome Hostel for as little as $7 a night they'll offer free beers in the evening and free breakfast to fix you up in the morning.
While enjoying the nightlife be aware of the many hookers strolling the street at night. They will try to pickpocket you by grabbing at your crotch with one hand and slipping the other into your pockets... Keep your hands in your pockets, no matter what.
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. Paddle out in a kayak and enjoy the still waters, beautiful scenery and explore the Jun Village; A Mnong settlement of wooden stilted houses.
Backpacking Mui Ne
From Nha Trang you can head to Mui Ne and check out the awesome sand dunes or you can hire a motorbike from Easy Rider for roughly thirty dollars and ride up the mountain paths to Dalat. There isn't much other than the sand dunes, beach & fairy stream in Mui Ne (although you can ride an ostrich!).
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. Most backpackers do this rather than riding themselves.
Although it's not as stacked with activities as a lot of other destinations in Vietnam, there are still awesome places in Dalat to stay for backpackers. It's a nice place in Vietnam to stay and take a breather for a few days.
The starting point for most backpackers travelling Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a crazy bustling city. 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 City, 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.
Like Vietnamese cuisine? Consider taking a farm-to-table cooking class in Ho Chi Minh.
From Saigon, 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. 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
Vietnam probably has some of the cheapest accommodation in South East 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. There are plenty of budget accommodation options like hostels, guesthouses, home-stays & budget hotels.
Read our epic review on the best hostels in Vietnam before booking somewhere to stay!
Where to Stay in Vietnam
|Location||Accommodation||Why Stay Here?!|
|Hanoi||Central Backpackers Hostel||One of the best hostels in Hanoi. Free breakfast, city tour, beer & pub crawl, what more could you want?|
|Sapa||Ta Van Hostel||Nestled in a small ethnic minority village away from the touristy Sapa town. You really get in touch with nature here & have incredible views of the rice terraces & Fansipan mountain range.|
|Ha Giang||Hmong Moonshine||A dreamy little villa built right on the edge of a lake. As the name implies, you can sometimes make your own moonshine here! Ask for guiding ace, Tuyen, to organize Ha Giang tours.|
|Cat Ba Island||Cannon Fort Cat Ba Hostel||Well located and surrounded by nature, this is the highest rated hostel in Cat Ba!|
|Hue||Hue Happy Homestay||Ran by the sweetest family who treats you like your part of it. Great location in town that's close to everything.|
|Da Nang||Travellers Nest Hostel||Cozy, warm, and stacked with facilities, this is a cool place to stay in Da Nang for a few nights. If you feel like splurging, the private rooms are sweet!|
|Hoi An||Vietnam Backpackers Hostel||Great party hostel & it has a pool. Loved the social scene here & prime location.|
|Nha Trang||iHome Hostel||Located just off the main strip & close to the beach. Love the social atmosphere, rooftop bar, buffet breakfast & free beer!|
|Mui Ne||Mui Ne Backpackers Hill||Dude, full-power. There's not one, but woo pool, and a roof-top jacuzzi! That's just the tip of the iceberg with all the goodies you get here too.|
|Da Lat||Mr Peace Backpackers||Great travel family vibes here, especially with their family dinners. The free breakfast & happy hour is awesome too!|
|Ho Chi Minh||The Hideout||Party vibes to the max! Cafe, rooftop bar, epic pub crawls, a sweet pool, and neon lighting... you can even top it off with a free breakfast after you get silly in Saigon.|
Top 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 from the comfort of the 'junk boats'. 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 an adventurers dream hike, 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. 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.
6. 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.
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. If its good enough for Obama, it's good enough for me.
8. Motor Bike across the Country
This is a fantastic way to see the countryside. Check out the motorbike travel section below for more info.
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 list for Vietnam right! On every adventure, there are six things I never go traveling without:
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2.Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
4. Headtorch: Every backpacker should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples, or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl Actik Core rechargeable headlamp - an awesome piece of kit! Because it’s USB chargeable I never have to buy earth polluting batteries.
5.Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colourful and tough.
6. Toiletry Bag: I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super-efficient way to organise your bathroom stuff. Well worth having, whether you are hanging it from a tree whilst camping, or a hook in a wall, it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Books to Read While Travelling Vietnam
- The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
- Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram - An incredibly personal account of the Vietnam War. Translated from Vietnamese, it can be a bit choppy but a heart pulling read.
- Vietnam: Rising Dragon by Bill Hayton - Written by a BBC journalist, it's an informative book which will help you understand contemporary Vietnam. Very readable I found this really helpful in understanding Vietnam.
- The Dogs of Nam: Stories from the Road and Lessons Learned Abroad - A collection of short stories from over a decade of travel. This is no glamorous tale of #wanderlust, but a true and honest accounting of what it means to be a traveller.
- The Quiet American - A fantastic fictional novel set around the time of the Vietnam War, also a great movie. Moving and will keep you hooked. I highly recommend this one.
- Destination Saigon - A funny and fascinating book about backpackers travelling in Vietnam. If you are planning your backpacking trip to Vietnam, or just curious about the culture, this book is perfect!
- Vietnamerica: A Family's Journey - Read this on the plane and feel like you are travelling with GB on his adventure.
- National Geographic Traveler: Vietnam, 3rd Edition - A great book guiding you through Vietnam. Offers up some great advice, interesting off the beaten track experiences and information.
- When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (Tie-In Edition) - An account from a survivor of the Vietnam war who fled to America and then returned to her hometown many years later.
- DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Vietnam and Angkor Wat - An informative second 'back up' Vietnam travel guide. Also covers some parts of Cambodia, as well as Plenty of awesome maps and guides to the main 'tourist, must do's' you'll want to experience when backpacking Vietnam.
- Tunnel Rats - If you're a military history nerd, like me, this is a great book following the journeys of American GIs specially picked for their small stature to crawl into the Vietcong's network of tunnels and engage reconnaissance missions and often hand to hand combat in tiny spaces. This book, more than any other, shows just how nuts the Vietnamese War was...
Vietnam Travel Phrases
Below I have listed helpful travel phrases for Vietnam. It always pays to be able to communicate with the locals, or at least try!
Useful Apps to download before Backpacking Vietnam
- XE Currency - My go-to currency app when travelling, you will definitely need this when travelling Vietnam. If not, you have some fantastic maths skills! A great way to keep track of how much your spending and understanding the exchange rate.
- Google Translate - This app helped me out BIG time, especially when exploring the rural areas not yet blessed with English signs. Working offline you don't have to worry about a huge data bill. It won't necessarily help you learn the language but it's great for practical and quick day to day scenarios.
- Maps.Me - The most useful app you will ever download. Download the full map of the country before you go and use it offline while you backpack Vietnam. No data used and minimal amount of time getting lost means more time for fun stuff!
- HIDE.ME - I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide.Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.
Below we have covered tons of essential information for backpacking Vietnam, including books to read, what to wear, backpacking travel costs, and how to travel around Vietnam.
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.
Here are a few extra safety tips for traveling Vietnam:
- Check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking.
- Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe on the road.
- Check out this post for plenty of ideas on ingenious ways to hide your money when travelling.
- I strongly recommend travelling with a headlamp whilst in Vietnam (or anywhere really - every backpacker should have a good headtorch!) - check out my post for a breakdown of the best value headlamps to take backpacking.
Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll in Vietnam
The penalties for drugs are really harsh in Vietnam, like other neighboring countries in South East 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. It is around & you can definitely find it, read Blazed Backpackers 101 on tips on how to stay safe whilst getting fucked.
Picking up in Vietnam can be quite difficult if you’re chasing a traditional Vietnamese woman. Chances are you’ll have to meet their parents & marry them if you want to engage sexually. The women in big cities like Ho Chi Minh & Hanoi tend to be more western-influenced & relaxed. Just stay safe & use protection. Vietnam still has a big HIV problem.
Travel Insurance for Vietnam
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be traveling. Traveling without insurance is risky and you should consider getting insurance before you go. We use SafetyWing who specialise in covering digital nomads and backpackers.
Find out why we recommend SafetyWing; check out the SafetyWing Travel Insurance review.
Vietnam Travel Guide - Getting In and Around
Vietnam is one of Southeast Asia's most accessible countries. Whether you are travelling the South East 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...
You can enter Vietnam by motorbike easily too. 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 easily cross the border from Cambodia 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
The visa situation in Vietnam has changed a lot in the last few years and it can be a little confusing. For UK citizens you can enter into Vietnam without a visa and travel for a maximum of 15 days. Which is great if you are paying Vietnam a quick visit, but if you want to stay any longer than this you will have to organise a visa before arrival.
Not as simple as just doing a quick border run I'm afraid, if they catch you out you'll be paying a pretty hefty fine.
Thankfully visas are relatively straightforward to organise before you travel to Vietnam. Just pay a visit, or call your local Vietnamese Embassy to apply and ask any questions. The last time I checked it's around $70 for UK citizens. If you don't want to organise it yourself there are many companies out there who can help you apply. I've used iVisa previously to get mine done quickly and to generally avoid the dreaded paperwork.
NOTE that as of 2019 there is now an official portal for obtaining your Vietnam visa online. Check out the Vietnamese visa webpage here for more information.
How to Travel in Vietnam
Comfortable long-distance transport and constantly improving road quality make travelling in Vietnam pretty smooth. Vietnam has a great coastal train line, reaching all the way up to the Chinese border and is a great way to travel across Vietnam on a time limit.
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. Motorbiking 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 fucking helmet.
You might think you look cool without one but, frankly, you look like a twat. Once in Hanoi, I managed to sell my trusty companion (the motorbike, not my friend) to another backpacker, making my money back with just a thirty dollar loss.
There is no greater feeling than whizzing through the beautiful countryside on the back of a Motorbike. Consider bringing a special 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 & never charged me a dime.
The feeling of complete freedom is awesome, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face the entire time. For anyone backpacking Vietnam, I highly rate buying a Motorbike to explore this beautiful country.
Travelling in Vietnam can be cheap without you really having to think about it. I spent around twenty dollars a day in Vietnam, sometimes a little more when splurging on a day trip or imported beer.
If you are staying in hostel dorms, trying the local delicacies on the street, catching buses and trains (rather than domestic flights) and enjoying the odd day trip; you can expect to spend no more than forty dollars a day, if that.
A Daily Budget for Vietnam
|Expense||Broke-Ass 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. $15 US Dollars = 341,219.29 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. If you need to transfer money internationally, use Transferwise, it's the fastest and cheapest way to move money around when travelling.
Top Tips for Visiting 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 my top tips to keep it for backpacking Vietnam on a budget...
- 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.
- 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. Check out this post for a breakdown of the best backpacking gear for outdoor adventures.
- Couchsurf: To connect with the locals, check out Couchsurfing. You'll get a free place to stay, and you'll probably make a friend!
- Cook your own Food: Stock up on some simple basics at the market/supermarket and cook your own feast. I have a small backpacking stove which I take throughout my travels. It saves you more money than you'd think!
- 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.
- 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!
- Pack a travel water bottle: Save money - and the planet - every day!
Joining an Organized Tour in Vietnam
For most countries, Vietnam included, solo travel is the name of the game. That said, if you are short on time, energy, or just want to be part of an awesome group of travelers you can opt to join an organized tour. Joining a tour is a great way to see a majority of the country quickly and without the effort that goes into planning a backpacking trip. However—not all tour operators are created equal—that is for sure.
G Adventures is an international, solid down-to-earth tour company catering to backpackers just like you, and their prices and itineraries reflect the interests of the backpacker crowd. You can score some pretty sweet deals on epic trips in Vietnam for a fraction of the price of what other tour operators charge.
Check out some of their awesome itineraries for Vietnam here…
Another option for organized tours is through a local tour operator like Vietnamtours.com who also offers some unique and authentic itineraries.
Volunteering in Vietnam
Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in Vietnam whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.
In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.
Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.
Worldpackers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world. We’ve tried and approved them ourselves - check out our Worldpackers in-depth review here.
If you’re ready to create a life-changing travel experience and give back to the community, join the Worldpacker community now. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll get a special discount of $20. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $29.
If you'd like an example of what it's like to be a part of such an experience, then read our in-depth report on volunteering through a work-exchange program in Vietnam!
Teaching English in Vietnam
Speaking English is a highly-valued skill all over the world. For locals, it opens up whole new worlds of employment opportunities and travel.
Perhaps one of the best options for backpackers wanting to explore Vietnam long-term and experience living in this truly incredible country is to get a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certificate online.
TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR).
To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read our in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Make Money Online Whilst Backpacking Vietnam
Keen to live the digital nomad dream while travelling the world? Damn right you are!
Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate), you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills! It’s a win-win!
Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online or learn what it's like to be a teacher with VIPKID, a top company in the field of online English learning.
Whether you are keen to teach English online or in a foreign country, a TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Internet in Vietnam
In major cities and touristy areas you shouldn't have a problem finding free wi-fi. The national parks will be more isolated.
Must-Try Experiences in Vietnam
People in Vietnam
The population is surpassed only by Indonesia as Southeast Asia's most heavily populated country. However, Vietnam is the region's most ethnically homogenous country with the Vietnamese making up about 90% of the population.
Buddhism is undoubtedly the most common religion, but Vietnam has a rich and wide variety of religions including Catholicism, animism, theism and ancestor worship.
Food in Vietnam
Vietnamese food is popular all around the world. I would be gobsmacked if you have yet to try Spring Rolls, or Bread Rolls? 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!
Fresh from the sea or fresh from the rice paddies, the food in Vietnam is sublime. Here are a few you should definitely try whilst backpacking Vietnam...
- 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
In the late 19th century, Vietnam became a French colony. The French built infrastructure in Vietnam such as the Saigon to Hanoi railway through taxation, and the Vietnamese wanted independence.
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.
Being a Responsible Backpacker
Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.
Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.
Don’t pick up single-use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.
Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.
Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single-use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.
Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.
Be Good to Vietnam
Writing your name in black marker on temples, chugging beer 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.
It’s easy to get carried away in South East Asia, everything is so damn cheap and so much fun. I’m in no way the perfect traveller; I’ve been the drunken idiot on the street. I know first hand just how hard it is to be the one person in a group to say no when somebody comes up with a stupid idea that, for some reason, everybody is down for.
By no means am I telling you not to drink, smoke and party. Do it and love it. Just don’t get so drunk you turn into an imbecile your mum would be ashamed of. If you can’t handle drinking buckets, then stick to beer.
Wear a helmet when you hop on a motorbike in Asia. Despite being an experienced driver, I've had a total of three crashes in South East Asia over the last ten years. On the one occasion, I wasn't wearing a helmet, I split my head open and had to go to hospital. It was an expensive mistake. The local people are sick of scraping foreigners off the road and, trust me, you don't look cool for not wearing a helmet.
Humans are humans; treat people you meet along the way with the same respect you would show your friends and family back home. You are not superior to anyone including the girls/guys walking the streets. Sex workers in South East Asia are people like you and me; they may enjoy what they do, or they may be on the darker side of it.
Regardless of your beliefs and thoughts on prostitution, remember this is another person with thoughts, feelings and a life outside of the sex industry too. You are not superior to these people, you just happen to be from a more privileged background.
Go to Asia and have the time of your life, do the things you’ve dreamed of but be respectful along the way. Travelling the world makes you an ambassador for your country, which is awesome. We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with your country...
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Need More Inspiration?
- Laos Budget Travel Guide
- Backpacking Cambodia Travel Guide
- Honeymoon backpackers guide to honeymooning in Vietnam
- Travel Route Ideas for Southeast Asia
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Writer and entrepreneur. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will has been on the road for thirteen years, travelling to far-flung lands on a budget. Today, he runs a number of online ventures, including The Broke Backpacker – the world’s largest budget travel blog. He is passionate about solving the plastic problem and cleaning up the oceans. Currently, Will is based in Bali where he plans to open his first Tribal Hostel in 2020.