BACKPACKING IN VIETNAM:
All you need to know
Vietnam is one of the popular destinations for backpacking in Southeast Asia that you wouldn't want to miss. The beautiful scenery of Sa Pa, the capital city Hanoi, the historical and interesting caves in Phong Nha, the charming town of Hoi An, the beautiful beach of Nha Trang, and of course, the young lively city of Ho Chi Minh city or also known as Saigon. There is no reason why you should not visit Vietnam when exploring Southeast Asia.
It is also voted to be one of the cheapest destinations and the easiest to travel because of its archaeological design. Vietnam offers more than just an affordable destination, but it offers its authentic Vietnamese food, cold fresh beer, hospitable locals, and a history that affects the world.
If you either have decided or have not (yet) decided if you are going to do a backpacking in Vietnam, this article should help you come to a decision and should answer all your questions. From where to go, where to stay, how to travel, safety for a solo and female travellers, cost of travelling and other tips – this is basically your ultimate guide.
NOTE: All prices are in US Dollars
BACKPACKING IN VIETNAM TIPS
When is the Best Time to Go Travel in Vietnam
When you are deciding when to go to Vietnam, you may want to look up and consider it s climate throughout the year. The interesting fact about this country is that the climate in the north can be very different from the south.
The north faces all four seasons; summer between April to June, rainy or typhoon season from July November, winter from December to February, and spring but carries hot temperature between end of February to April.
While in the south, it's hot during most time of the year but the highest humidity is between February to May. The rainy season starts in June and can last until August. Then it will be back in hot weather. The temperature drops a little in December to January but not too cold to even require a jacket.
The central of Vietnam is a little tricky, it rains frequently but also sunny in most of the time of the year. The temperature can be hot during summer but cools down a little because of the shore line.
What to pack for Vietnam
For a backpacking trip in Vietnam, a packing list is a must both to make sure that you are only bringing the essentials but also packing the right clothing and accessories. Because not many backpacking don't know when to bring a winter jacket. Depending on what time of the year and where you will be going, you might need one.
If you are planning to drive a motorbike, you also need to know what are the essentials. Vietnamese wear pretty casual clothes however, if you are going to visit sacred places, you need to make sure that you have clothes that cover your shoulder down to your arm and your entire legs down to ankle.
For a more detailed information about what to pack for your trip, check our article Vietnam packing list for travelling.
What is the Cost of Travelling in Vietnam
Depending on your style of travelling and your preference, you can budget and spend as little as $600 or as much as $1000 for a month of backpacking.
One of the cheapest options are to volunteer/work in hostels where you can live for free and get on trips for free/discounted price in exchange of few hours of work. You can also check out the idea of motorbiking in Vietnam, you can save some money if you travel this way too.
To give you a little bit of day to day necessities that you will be spending during your travel in Vietnam:
- Hostel dorm bed - $5 with breakfast and a bottle of beer in smaller towns/cities, $6 in bigger cities
- Transportation: $5 per day to rent a motorbike, $8 to take a 4-hour bus, $12 to take a 9-hour bus
- Food: $1 for a streetfood, $2.5 for a casual local restaurant, $2.5 for a Western fast food places, $3-$4 for a medium class restaurant
- Beer: $2 in a bar, $1 in a shop
- Hard liquor: $2 per shot in a bar, $7 in a shop per bottle
- Tours: $20 for a day trip, $45-$50 for an overnight tour with transportation, accommodation, and food - check out our favourite tour booking company as they have affordable tours, great reviews, and we have used them ourselves
- Visa: $50 is the cheapest since stamping fee is already $25
How Long Should You Travel in Vietnam
You can easily travel in Vietnam for as long as you want to even move here, but if you have limited time, about three to four weeks is enough to explore the must sees. Depending on your way of travelling, speed, and planning, you can see many places and eat so much food in less than a month.
If you only have a week or two, I highly suggest you to focus on two or three cities only or else you will spend more time in a bus or airports.
What to Remember Before Arriving in Vietnam
Before you arrive make sure you have these things tick off your list to avoid hassle and mishaps:
Visa – visas are easy to get but some things can mess up your plan, so get your visa as soon as possible to avoid any extra unnecessary expenses and tears
Currency – make sure that you are aware what is the currency in Vietnam and it's current exchange rate to avoid losing money. Tour companies, hostels, and airports accepts major currencies like US Dollars, British Pound, and Euros.
Book the first night – make sure to book at least the first night of your trip to avoid going around the city finding a bed which is not so easy with your luggage
Holidays – check if there are holidays before your arrival and during your stay. Holidays have ruined traveller's plan, hostels can be booked up easily and so are the buses and trains
Season – take a moment and do a quick research of the season you will arrive. Because June is not the best time to go if you want to enjoy the beach!
How to Apply for a Visa in Vietnam
There are only 14 countries that do not need a visa to enter and travel in Vietnam, however, the number of days that are given may not be enough if you want to explore the entire country. In this situation, you may apply for a Vietnam visa. The visa cost is pretty cheap but you should get one as soon as you can to make sure you will not run into any problems. You can easily extend your Vietnam visa as well.
RELATED POST: Vietnam visa for US citizens
How Safe is it to Travel in Vietnam
Vietnam was the first country I travelled in a backpacking way, I remember that I landed early evening and arrived in my hostel almost at ten in the evening. Despite of the long travel and dark evening, the city is lively, the tourists can be found everywhere – I did not feel unsafe for one bit.
Although, since Vietnam is very touristy and the poverty cannot be hidden, there are always people who will take an advantage of someone else - just like everywhere in the world. Make sure you hold your bag very close to you (in front of you is better), do not bring your passport, bank cards, and large amount of cash when exploring the city.
We highly recommend to book taxis or private cars through the app called Grab, it works like Uber - here you can book motorbikes too. This does not make everything safer but it lessen the chance of getting ripped off by taxi drivers, or stolen property by the drivers. You can also ask your hotel/hostel reception to get you a regular taxi, I'm pretty sure they will recommend a trust-able taxi company like Mai Linh.
The young locals speaks English and are more than happy to translate for you if you are having trouble.
What to Expect in Vietnam
You have to prepare yourself that Vietnam is very touristy and crowdy almost anytime of the year. You must also be aware about its traffic and the massive use of motorbike around the country.
There are great and very cheap hostels in Vietnam which most of the time comes with a free beer. The cities are very crazy but very lively, the noise and air pollution is quite bad but in the smaller towns, mountains, beach, and forest, it should not be a problem.
Where to Go in Vietnam
I can honestly make an endless list of what to see in Vietnam but for now, I will give the must not miss, email us or leave a comment below if you have questions, we'd be happy to help. Here are some ideas of what you should do while travelling in Vietnam without breaking the bank.
- Sapa – meet the Vietnamese tribes, you can hike the rice paddies, drink rice wine with them, live in their house and experience their life for few days – they are very friendly and accommodating. You can get there by train or bus.
- Fansipan – if you want to hike more, go to Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina
- Hanoi – the capital of Vietnam which is rich in culture
- Ha Long Bay – sail around and kayak in Ha Long Bay which is consists of 2,000 limestone pillars
- Ninh Binh – you can also enjoy Ha Long Bay by land and water but this time, you can go under the limestone pillars which are also caves and grottoes
- Phong Nha – Vietnam have so many caves which all have their own features, a lot of them can be found in this part of the country
- Hue – which also known as the food capital of Vietnam, if you are up for some adventure, hop on a motorbike and cross the Hai Van Pass which was popularised by the British show Top Gear
- Hoi An – the sweet little town of Hoi An which is covered in lanterns will definitely going to capture your heart. It is also known for customised tailored suits, dresses, boots, bags, and more! I've had a tailored long dress for only $20
- Da Lat – a town known for canyoning and rappelling
- Nha Trang – a beach destination which not only backpacker enjoys but also family travellers and newly wed couples too
- Mui Ne – is a great place to go kitesurfing for its strong waves on the shore but very good wind for all wind and water sports
- Ho Chi Minh City – or also known as Saigon, which carries a lot of history but at the same time is the rebellious side of Vietnam. From Ho Chi Minh, you can get to Mui Ne, here are your options.
- Mekong Delta – this river is flowing from China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam which is the reason why it's one of the top travel places in Vietnam
- Phu Quoc – is an island less than an hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City, with very fine sand, crystal blue water, there is no reason why you should not have a chill day in Phu Quoc
- Phnom Pehn - this is the capital of Cambodia, many backpackers will head here after theri finishe their backpacking trip in Vietnam. Find out the ways to get to Phnom Penh from Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnamese Food to Eat in Vietnam
Vietnamese food is honestly one of my favourite cuisine, eating Vietnamese food in Vietnam is truly a jackpot. It's affordable, authentic, and vegan/vegetarian friendly. Check out these affordable food tours in Vietnam.
- Banh mi – is basically a baguette sandwich that can be found all over street alleys of Vietnam
- Pho – no one should leave Vietnam without trying a bowl of Pho, there are also restaurants that serve vegan or vegetarian version of this amazing dish
- Fresh spring rolls – fresh spring rolls are probably the healthiest dish I've had in Vietnam. Normally, it comes with pork or shrimp but vegan option is easy to find
Where to Stay in Vietnam
There are hostels, guest houses, home stays, and hotels almost everywhere in Vietnam. They are also super affordable; hostels are the cheapest which costs about $5 while private room for two people can be as cheap as $8.
How to Get Around in Vietnam
There are more than enough ways to get around in Vietnam, from going to cities to cities or islands to islands, there is always a way as Vietnamese would say.
If your budget permits, flying in, out, and around Vietnam is super convinient and easy. There are handful of airlines to choose from; for budget ones, you have Jeststar, VietJet, and AirAsia, while Vietnam Airlines is also an option but not the most affordable.
Travelling via a bus is probably is cheapest and less hassle way to travel, it's also the most used way of transportation for backpackers in Vietnam. From the north to the south even in and out of Vietnam, there are plenty bus companies that offers flexible time schedules. Most buses are with toilets and seats are 90 degree reclined.
Taking the train is maybe not the fastest and cheapest but a must experience for sure. For overnight travels, train offers the most comfortable way to travel because they offer berths for very reasonable prices.
It is indeed a popular thing to do for a backpacker; travel and drive a motorbike either within the city or throughout the whole country. This is also the most used way of transportation for the locals.
You can rent a motorbike for as low as $8 per day or buy one and explore Vietnam for as low as $200, however, you have to remember that you will be paying for its gas and breakdown expenses. You can find more information about motorbiking in Vietnam here.
Not specifically a cheap way to travel or get around, but if you are visiting an island, you definitely need to take a boat once in a while like in Ha Long Bay or Phu Quoc.
For an even cheaper way, go hitchhike. It's not so popular in Vietnam to do but I've met travellers who have done it. Make sure to have a translating app on your phone or you will have a hard time communicating with the locals.
Where to Go after Vietnam
After your trip in Vietnam, you can either go to Cambodia which is land bordered in the south (Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon). You can get there by bus, boat, motorbike (if you want to take your motorbike with you), or fly.
There are also plenty of options to fly out of Vietnam to another country in Southeast Asia, other parts of Asia, Oceania, or even to Europe.
How to Travel Responsibly in Vietnam
Vietnam, as I mentioned before is very tourist. This doesn't only bring business to the country but also problems in some way. While enjoying and exploring, try to travel responsibly as much as you can. Here are some tips for you:
- Bring reusable travel products - Vietnam uses plastic like crazy; from straw, plastic bags, water bottles, take away boxes, and more. Bring your own Eco-friendly travel accessories to do your best to say no when you are offered to have a single-use plastic product.
- Use the rubbish bins - You might notice that the locals are not into using the rubbish bins a lot, it is frustrating but there is no reason for you to do the same. If a bin is out of sight, keep them in your pocket for a few minutes/hours and throw them in the proper place - be an example to those who don't see its value.
- Travel less with airlines - Lessen your carbon footprint and get on with local trains and buses, in this way you also support local companies instead of big international ones.
- Ethical travel - You've heard about "do not ride the Elephants advocacy", do not support any of this type of tours as well; tigers, elephants, snakes, etc.
- No to sex tourism - sex tourism in Vietnam may not be as crazy compared to Thailand and Cambodia, but sex tourism especially with minors is simply immoral and inhumane.
- Support the locals - When buying souvenirs, try to get them in the small sidewalk/local market shacks than expensive malls, this is a great way to support the locals who are struggling in placing food in their table, sending their children to school, or getting by everyday. If you take a closer look, you can see that some of their products are actually handmade, with great quality, and affordable.
Emergency Hospitalisation and Medical Attention
For any emergency situation that requires a medical attention, you should be prepared. Not because it didn't happen to other 100 backpackers doesn't mean it won happen to you. It's always better to prepare than be sorry later. Make sure to have the address and contact number of international hospitals and clinic for the places that you are going to.
Check out this detailed list of best local medical clinics and international hospital in Vietnam. You should also get yourself covered with a travel insurance even after you left your home country.
Extra Tips For You
Make sure to get a sim card with mobile data once you arrive in Vietnam, they are very affordable and easy to get. For as low as $5, you can get a mobile data that is good for a month especially if you only use this for messaging, browsing the internet, and accessing messaging applications on your phone. They also come with SMS and call credits. You can buy them at the airport (a little pricey) or ask your hostel receptionist.
Vietnam is full of factories for big companies. There are a lot of places where you can buy branded bags, shoes, accessories, and more. Some are full-on fake while the others are class A which was rejected by the factory standard and are being sold for cheaper prices. I bought my backpacking NorthFace bag on the street of Hanoi for $40, this bag have been to 20 countries in the span of three years where I only had to fix a small issue once (I paid $1 to someone in the Philippines who can stitch it up).
You may also want to check the top phone apps that can be used in Vietnam, mostly are for free.
We really hope that you find our backpacking in Vietnam useful, if you have more questions, just let us know and we will try our best to help. Safe travels and travel responsibly!
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