Backpacking Vietnam Guide: BEST Tips For Travelers

Backpacking Vietnam Guide

Exploring Vietnam as a backpacker is an adventure like no other. From the vibrant cities to the serene countryside, this Southeast Asian gem offers a captivating blend of rich culture, stunning landscapes, and mouthwatering cuisine. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker or a first-timer, this comprehensive guide will equip you with the knowledge and tips you need to make the most of your journey through Vietnam.

Why should I go backpacking in Vietnam?

Affordability and Value for Money

Vietnam is a backpacker’s paradise when it comes to affordability. With a low cost of living, you can stretch your budget further and experience more without breaking the bank. From inexpensive accommodation and transportation to delicious street food and budget-friendly activities, Vietnam offers excellent value for your money.

Rich Cultural Heritage

Vietnam’s cultural heritage is a fascinating tapestry woven from centuries of diverse influences. From the ancient imperial cities to the vibrant traditions of ethnic minorities, you’ll be immersed in a world of history, art, and customs. Explore UNESCO World Heritage Sites, witness traditional festivals, and gain insights into the country’s unique blend of cultures.

Natural Beauty and Landscapes

Vietnam’s landscapes are nothing short of breathtaking. From the stunning Ha Long Bay with its towering limestone islands to the terraced rice fields of Sapa and the pristine beaches of Phu Quoc, the country boasts a diverse array of natural wonders. Whether you’re a beach bum, a mountain lover, or an adventure seeker, Vietnam has something to offer for every taste.

How much does it cost to backpacking to Vietnam?

The cost of backpacking in Vietnam can vary depending on your travel style and preferences, but overall, it is an affordable destination. Here’s a rough estimate of expenses for a budget-conscious backpacker:


  • Dorm beds in hostels: $5-$10 per night
  • Basic private rooms in guesthouses: $10-$20 per night


  • Street food meals: $1-$3
  • Local restaurant meals: $3-$6
  • Western-style meals: $5-$10


  • Local city buses: $0.25-$0.50 per ride
  • Intercity buses: $5-$15 for longer distances
  • Overnight sleeper buses: $10-$20
  • Train tickets: $10-$30 for longer distances

Activities and Attractions

  • Museum entrance fees: $1-$5
  • Day tours or activities: $10-$30
  • Scuba diving or snorkeling: $30-$60

On average, a backpacker can comfortably travel in Vietnam on a budget of $25-$40 per day, including accommodation, food, transportation, and some activities.

What is the Best time to go to Vietnam?

The best time to visit Vietnam depends on your preferences and the regions you plan to explore. Here’s a breakdown of the weather patterns and peak seasons:

Spring (February to April)

Spring is a pleasant time to visit Vietnam, with comfortable temperatures and relatively dry conditions throughout the country. This is an ideal time for exploring the northern regions, including Hanoi and Sapa.

Summer (May to August)

Summer brings hot and humid weather, especially in the central and southern regions. However, this is also the driest season in many parts of the country, making it a good time for beach destinations like Nha Trang and Phu Quoc.

Fall (September to November)

Fall is a popular time to visit Vietnam, with cooler temperatures and less humidity. This is an excellent season for trekking and exploring the countryside, as well as visiting the central regions like Hoi An and Hue.

Winter (December to January)

Winter in Vietnam can be quite chilly in the northern regions, with temperatures dropping to around 15°C (59°F) in Hanoi and even lower in the mountains. However, the southern regions remain warm and dry, making it a great time for beach holidays.

To avoid the peak tourist season and potentially lower prices, consider traveling during the shoulder seasons of April-May or September-October.

How do I move around the country?

Vietnam offers a variety of transportation options to help you navigate the country efficiently. Here are some popular modes of travel:


Buses are a budget-friendly and convenient way to travel between cities and towns. Vietnam has an extensive network of bus routes, ranging from local city buses to sleeper buses for longer journeys. Look for reputable bus companies like The Sinh Tourist or Futa Bus Lines for a comfortable and safe experience.


Vietnam’s rail network connects major cities and is a scenic way to travel. Soft and hard sleeper trains are available for overnight journeys, while air-conditioned chairs or soft seats are options for shorter distances. Book tickets in advance, especially during peak seasons, to secure your preferred class.

Domestic Flights

If you’re short on time or want to cover long distances quickly, domestic flights can be an option. Major cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, and Nha Trang have airports with frequent connections. Budget airlines like VietJet Air and Bamboo Airways offer affordable fares, but book early for the best deals.


For the adventurous backpacker, renting a motorbike is a popular way to explore Vietnam at your own pace. This mode of transportation offers flexibility and the opportunity to venture off the beaten path. However, exercise caution, wear proper safety gear, and familiarize yourself with local traffic laws.

Private Transfers and Taxis

While more expensive, private transfers or taxis can be a convenient option for shorter distances or airport transfers. Be aware of potential scams and negotiate fares upfront or use ride-hailing apps like Grab or SM Xanh Taxi for added security.

Currency and money in Vietnam

The official currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). Here are some essential tips for managing your money while backpacking in Vietnam:

Cash and ATMs

While credit cards are accepted in larger cities and tourist areas, cash is still widely used, especially in rural areas. Withdraw cash from ATMs, which are widely available in cities and towns. Major international banks like HSBC, Citibank, and ANZ have ATMs that accept foreign cards with reasonable fees.

Money Exchange

Avoid exchanging money at airports or hotels, as the rates are typically less favorable. Instead, look for reputable money exchange shops or banks in cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City for better rates. Remember to shop around and compare rates.

Using US Dollars

In some tourist areas, US dollars are accepted, but the exchange rates may not be as favorable as using Vietnamese Dong. It’s best to carry a mix of dollars and Vietnamese Dong to have options, especially for smaller purchases.


Tipping is not customary in Vietnam, but it is becoming more common in tourist areas and upscale establishments. Small tips (rounding up the bill or leaving a few thousand VND) for exceptional service are appreciated but not expected.

How to get a SIM Card In Vietnam?

Having a local SIM card in Vietnam can be incredibly useful for staying connected, accessing maps, and making local calls or using data. Here’s how you can obtain a SIM card:

Where to Buy

SIM cards are readily available at airports, mobile phone shops, and convenience stores throughout Vietnam. Major providers like Viettel, Vinaphone, and MobiFone have outlets or authorized resellers in most cities and towns.

What to Bring

You’ll need to have your passport and a passport-sized photo handy when purchasing a SIM card. Some shops may also require you to fill out a registration form.

Cost and Data Plans

SIM cards in Vietnam are relatively inexpensive, typically costing between $2 and $5. Data plans can be purchased for as little as $5 for a month’s worth of data, with higher-tier plans offering more data at a slightly higher cost.

Top-up and Validity

SIM cards usually come with a pre-loaded amount of credit or data. Once you’ve used up your initial credit or data allowance, you can top up at convenience stores or through mobile apps. Be sure to check the validity period of your SIM card and plan accordingly.

Having a local SIM card can make navigating Vietnam much easier, allowing you to access maps, book transportation, and stay connected with friends and family back home.

Do I Need a Visa for Vietnam?

The visa requirements for Vietnam vary depending on your nationality and the purpose and duration of your visit. Here’s what you need to know:

Visa Exemptions

Citizens of several countries, including ASEAN member states, Japan, South Korea, and certain European nations, are exempt from visa requirements for stays of up to 15 to 45 days. Check the latest visa exemption list before your trip.

Visa on Arrival

Many nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival at Vietnam’s international airports or select land border crossings. To apply for a visa on arrival, you’ll need to arrange for a visa approval letter through a reputable agency before your trip. Upon arrival, present the approval letter, passport photos, and the visa stamping fee in US dollars to receive your visa.


Vietnam also offers e-visas for citizens of all countries on the world, allowing for online application and approval before arrival. Vietnam e-visa is valid for a single or multiple entry for up to 90 days and must be applied for through the official Vietnam Immigration Department website.

Tourist Visa

If you plan to stay in Vietnam for longer than the visa exemption period or require multiple entries, you’ll need to apply for a tourist visa at a Vietnamese embassy or consulate in your home country. Check the specific requirements and processing times for your nationality.

Visa Extension

If you wish to extend your stay in Vietnam beyond the initial visa validity, you can apply for a visa extension through the Vietnam Immigration Department. Extensions are typically granted for an additional 30 days, but fees and requirements may vary.

Ensure that you have the necessary visa documentation in order before your trip to Vietnam to avoid any issues with immigration authorities.

What should I eat and drink in Vietnam?

Vietnam is a paradise for food lovers, with a diverse culinary scene that reflects its rich history and regional influences. Here are some must-try dishes and drinks during your backpacking adventure:


A quintessential Vietnamese dish, pho is a flavorful noodle soup made with broth, rice noodles, herbs, and your choice of meat (usually beef or chicken). Enjoyed throughout the day, pho is a comforting and satisfying meal that showcases the balance of flavors in Vietnamese cuisine.

Banh Mi

Known as the Vietnamese sandwich, banh mi is a fusion of French and Vietnamese culinary traditions. A crispy baguette is filled with various ingredients like pate, cold cuts, pickled vegetables, cilantro, and chili sauce, creating a delicious and portable meal.

Bun Cha

Hailing from Hanoi, bun cha features grilled pork patties served in a savory broth with vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, and dipping sauce. This dish is a favorite among locals and visitors alike for its smoky flavors and aromatic components.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Unlike their fried counterparts, fresh spring rolls (goi cuon) are light and refreshing parcels filled with shrimp, pork, herbs, and vermicelli noodles, wrapped in rice paper. Dip them in a tangy peanut sauce for a burst of flavors.

Vietnamese Coffee

Vietnam is renowned for its strong and aromatic coffee, often served with sweetened condensed milk as ca phe sua da (iced coffee) or ca phe trung (egg coffee). Whether you prefer it hot or cold, Vietnamese coffee is a must-try for caffeine enthusiasts.

Bia Hoi

For beer aficionados, bia hoi is a popular choice in Vietnam. This fresh and light draft beer is brewed daily and enjoyed at local establishments or street-side stalls. Join the locals for a glass of bia hoi and soak in the vibrant atmosphere.

From street food stalls to upscale restaurants, Vietnam offers a plethora of culinary delights waiting to be savored during your backpacking journey.

Is it safe to go backpacking in Vietnam?

Vietnam is generally a safe destination for backpackers, with low crime rates and welcoming locals. However, it’s essential to take precautions to ensure a smooth and secure travel experience:

Petty Theft

Like any tourist destination, petty theft can occur in crowded areas or tourist hotspots. Keep your belongings secure and be mindful of your surroundings, especially in bustling markets or on public transportation. Use a money belt or anti-theft backpack to deter pickpockets.

Traffic Safety

Vietnam’s chaotic traffic can be overwhelming for first-time visitors, particularly in cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Exercise caution when crossing the street, follow local traffic laws, and consider using ride-hailing apps or designated crosswalks for safety.


Be wary of common scams targeting tourists, such as inflated prices, fake tour operators, or counterfeit goods. Research reputable businesses, agree on prices beforehand, and trust your instincts if something seems too good to be true.

Health Precautions

Ensure your vaccinations are up to date before traveling to Vietnam, and consider purchasing travel insurance that covers medical emergencies. Drink bottled water, avoid consuming raw or undercooked foods, and carry mosquito repellent to prevent insect bites.

Cultural Sensitivities

Respect Vietnam’s cultural norms and traditions by dressing modestly, removing your shoes before entering homes or temples, and refraining from public displays of affection. Learn a few basic phrases in Vietnamese to communicate with locals and show appreciation for their culture.

By staying vigilant, respecting local customs, and using common sense, you can enjoy a safe and enriching backpacking experience in Vietnam.

Is it easy to travel Vietnam solo?

Traveling solo in Vietnam is a popular choice for backpackers seeking independence and adventure. The country’s well-established tourism infrastructure, affordable accommodations, and friendly locals make it relatively easy to navigate on your own. Here are some tips for solo travelers:

Stay Connected

Inform someone trustworthy about your itinerary and check in regularly, especially if you’re embarking on remote or off-the-beaten-path adventures. Share your accommodation details, emergency contacts, and travel plans for added peace of mind.

Join Group Tours

While solo travel offers freedom and flexibility, joining group tours or day excursions can enhance your experience and connect you with like-minded travelers. Explore Vietnam’s highlights with guided tours to popular attractions or participate in homestays for a cultural immersion.

Meet Other Travelers

Hostels, cafes, and social media platforms are great places to meet fellow travelers and exchange tips or stories. Attend hostel events, join local meetups, or use travel apps to connect with others and potentially find companions for shared activities.

Trust Your Instincts

Solo travel requires a degree of self-reliance and intuition. Trust your instincts when making decisions, whether it’s choosing transportation options, negotiating prices, or interacting with locals. Be cautious but open to new experiences.

Learn Basic Vietnamese Phrases

While English is spoken in tourist areas, learning a few basic Vietnamese phrases can go a long way in communication and building rapport with locals. Practice greetings, numbers, and common expressions to show respect for the local language and culture.

Solo Female Travel

Female travelers can feel safe and empowered in Vietnam, but it’s advisable to take extra precautions. Avoid walking alone at night, dress modestly, and trust your intuition if situations feel uncomfortable. Seek out female-only accommodations or group tours for added security.

Whether you’re embarking on a solo adventure or joining group activities, Vietnam welcomes travelers with open arms and offers a wealth of experiences for those exploring independently.

Backpacking accommodation in Vietnam

Vietnam caters to backpackers with a range of budget-friendly accommodation options, from hostels and guesthouses to homestays and boutique hotels. Here are some popular choices for backpacking accommodation:


Hostels are a staple for budget-conscious travelers, offering dormitory beds or private rooms with shared facilities. Socialize with fellow backpackers in communal areas, join organized activities, and benefit from valuable travel tips from hostel staff.


Family-run guesthouses provide a cozy and personalized stay, often featuring comfortable rooms, home-cooked meals, and insider recommendations for exploring the local area. Enjoy a homely atmosphere and cultural exchange with your hosts.


For an authentic cultural experience, consider staying in a homestay with a local family or community. Participate in daily activities, share meals with your hosts, and gain insights into traditional customs and lifestyles. Homestays are prevalent in rural regions and ethnic minority villages.

Boutique Hotels

Affordable boutique hotels offer stylish and comfortable accommodations for backpackers seeking a touch of luxury without breaking the bank. Enjoy unique decor, modern amenities, and personalized service in centrally located properties.

Beach Bungalows

Along Vietnam’s stunning coastline, beach bungalows and seaside resorts provide a tranquil retreat for backpackers looking to unwind. Wake up to ocean views, relax on sandy shores, and indulge in water sports or spa treatments for a rejuvenating escape.


For outdoor enthusiasts, camping is an option in national parks, nature reserves, or designated campgrounds. Pitch a tent amidst scenic landscapes, stargaze under the night sky, and immerse yourself in nature’s beauty while backpacking through Vietnam.

With a diverse array of accommodation choices, Vietnam ensures that backpackers can find a suitable place to rest, recharge, and connect with the local culture during their travels.

Best Places to Visit and Things to Do

Vietnam’s captivating landscapes, vibrant cities, and cultural heritage offer a myriad of attractions and activities for backpackers to explore. Here are some top destinations and experiences to add to your itinerary:

Backpacking northern Vietnam


The capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi, is a blend of ancient charm and modern energy. Explore the historic Old Quarter, visit iconic landmarks like Hoan Kiem Lake and the Temple of Literature, and savor street food delicacies like bun cha and egg coffee.


Venture to the mountainous region of Sapa for trekking adventures amidst terraced rice fields and ethnic minority villages. Hike to Fansipan, the highest peak in Indochina, interact with local communities, and witness breathtaking panoramas of the Muong Hoa Valley.

Halong Bay

Embark on a cruise through the emerald waters of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its limestone karsts and picturesque islands. Kayak through hidden caves, swim in secluded lagoons, and marvel at the natural beauty of this iconic seascape.

Backpacking Central Vietnam


Immerse yourself in Vietnam’s imperial history in Hue, home to the former citadel and royal tombs of the Nguyen Dynasty. Discover the Perfume River, Thien Mu Pagoda, and Forbidden Purple City, then sample local specialties like bun bo Hue (spicy beef noodle soup).

Hoi An

Step back in time in the charming town of Hoi An, renowned for its well-preserved architecture, lantern-lit streets, and riverside ambiance. Explore the Ancient Town, tailor-made clothing shops, and nearby beaches, and partake in cooking classes or lantern-making workshops.

Da Nang

Experience the dynamic city of Da Nang, where modernity meets tradition along the Han River. Visit the Marble Mountains for panoramic views, stroll along My Khe Beach, and admire the Golden Bridge at Ba Na Hills. Don’t miss the Dragon Bridge’s dazzling fire and water show at night.

Backpacking southern Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City

Discover the bustling metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, with its skyscrapers, markets, and historical sites. Explore the War Remnants Museum, Cu Chi Tunnels, and Notre Dame Cathedral, then indulge in “Pho” and “Banh Xeo” at local eateries.

Mekong Delta

Cruise along the Mekong Delta’s intricate waterways to witness rural life and floating markets in action. Sample tropical fruits, visit pagodas and coconut candy factories, and cycle through verdant orchards for a glimpse into Vietnam’s agricultural heartland.

Phu Quoc Island

Relax on the pristine beaches of Phu Quoc Island, a tropical paradise off Vietnam’s southwest coast. Swim in crystal-clear waters, snorkel or dive in vibrant coral reefs, and savor fresh seafood at beachfront restaurants. Trek through Phu Quoc National Park for a nature escape.

Backpacking Vietnam Route and Itinerary

Crafting a backpacking route through Vietnam allows you to maximize your time and experience the country’s diverse landscapes and cultural highlights. Here are sample itineraries for different durations:

1 week in Vietnam

  • Days 1-3: Explore Hanoi’s sights, sounds, and flavors, including Hoan Kiem Lake, the Old Quarter, and street food tours.
  • Days 4-5: Journey to Halong Bay for a cruise or day trip, kayaking, and overnight stays on traditional junks.
  • Days 6-7: Return to Hanoi and take a day trip to Ninh Binh for scenic boat rides, cave exploration, and biking in Tam Coc.

2 weeks in Vietnam

  • Days 1-4: Begin in Hanoi and travel to Sapa for trekking adventures, homestays with local tribes, and mountain vistas.
  • Days 5-8: Head to Halong Bay for a cruise, island hopping, and water activities, then return to Hanoi for cultural immersion.
  • Days 9-11: Journey south to Hue for imperial history, river cruises, and cycling tours of the countryside.
  • Days 12-14: Continue to Hoi An for lantern-lit evenings, tailor-made clothing, and beach relaxation along the coast.

3-4 weeks in Vietnam

  • Days 1-7: Start in Hanoi, explore Halong Bay, and trek in Sapa before returning to the capital for further discoveries.
  • Days 8-14: Travel to central Vietnam, visiting Hue, Da Nang, and Hoi An for cultural landmarks, culinary delights, and beach escapades.
  • Days 15-21: Venture south to Ho Chi Minh City, discover the Mekong Delta, and relax on Phu Quoc Island for sun-soaked days.
  • Days 22-28: Conclude your journey with day trips to Cu Chi Tunnels, Cao Dai Temple, and city explorations before departing from Ho Chi Minh City.

Tailor your Vietnam itinerary based on your interests, pace, and preferred activities to create a memorable backpacking adventure in this captivating Southeast Asian destination.

What To Pack For Vietnam?

Packing smartly for your backpacking trip to Vietnam ensures you’re prepared for diverse climates, cultural activities, and outdoor adventures. Here’s a packing list to consider:


  • Lightweight and breathable tops and bottoms for hot and humid weather
  • Long-sleeved shirts and pants for sun protection and temple visits
  • Comfortable walking shoes or sandals for urban exploration and hiking
  • Swimwear for beach outings and water activities
  • Rain jacket or poncho for sudden downpours during the rainy season


  • Sun hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen for UV protection
  • Insect repellent and anti-mosquito products for tropical environments
  • Travel adapter and power bank for charging devices on the go
  • Quick-dry towel and toiletries for personal hygiene and beach trips
  • Daypack or backpack for carrying essentials during day excursions

Health and Safety

  • First aid kit with medications, bandages, and personal prescriptions
  • Travel insurance documents and emergency contacts
  • Copy of your passport, visa, and important travel information
  • Hand sanitizer and face masks for hygiene and health precautions
  • Water bottle and hydration tablets for staying hydrated in humid conditions


  • Travel guidebook or maps for navigating Vietnam’s cities and attractions
  • Local currency (Vietnamese Dong) and small bills for transactions
  • Lightweight camera or smartphone for capturing memories
  • Snacks, reusable utensils, and a travel journal for convenience and reflection
  • Portable laundry detergent or wet wipes for freshening up on the go

Pack efficiently and prioritize essential items based on your travel preferences and planned activities in Vietnam. Leave room for souvenirs and local treasures to bring back from your backpacking journey.

Important backpacking Vietnam travel tips

Before embarking on your backpacking adventure in Vietnam, consider these practical tips to enhance your travel experience and make the most of your time in the country:

Learn Basic Vietnamese

While English is spoken in tourist areas, knowing a few Vietnamese phrases can help you connect with locals and navigate everyday interactions. Practice greetings, numbers, and common expressions to show respect for the local language and culture.

Bargain Wisely

When shopping at markets or negotiating prices for goods and services, remember to bargain respectfully and with a smile. Start with a lower price and be willing to compromise to reach a fair deal for both parties. Embrace the art of haggling as part of the cultural experience.

Stay Hydrated

Vietnam’s tropical climate can be sweltering, especially during the summer months. Carry a reusable water bottle and refill it with filtered water to stay hydrated throughout the day. Consider adding hydration tablets or electrolyte packets to combat dehydration.

Embrace Street Food

Vietnam is renowned for its vibrant street food culture, offering an array of flavors and dishes to tantalize your taste buds. Don’t hesitate to try local specialties like pho, banh mi, and fresh spring rolls from street vendors or hole-in-the-wall eateries for an authentic culinary experience.

Respect Local Customs

Vietnam has a rich cultural heritage with traditions that are deeply ingrained in daily life. Respect local customs by dressing modestly, removing your shoes before entering homes or temples, and following etiquette guidelines when visiting religious sites. Show appreciation for Vietnam’s cultural diversity.

Stay Flexible

While it’s essential to have a rough itinerary and travel plan, allow room for spontaneity and unexpected discoveries along the way. Embrace the unpredictability of travel, be open to new experiences, and adapt to changes in schedules or routes for a more enriching backpacking journey.

Connect with Locals

Engage with Vietnamese locals through gestures, smiles, and simple conversations to learn about their lives, traditions, and perspectives. Participate in community activities, support local businesses, and forge meaningful connections that transcend language barriers. Embrace the warmth and hospitality of the Vietnamese people.

Practice Responsible Tourism

As a conscientious traveler, practice responsible tourism by minimizing your environmental impact, supporting sustainable initiatives, and respecting wildlife and natural habitats. Dispose of waste responsibly, choose eco-friendly accommodations, and contribute positively to the communities you visit. Leave only footprints behind.

By incorporating these travel tips into your backpacking adventure in Vietnam, you can create lasting memories, foster cultural understanding, and embark on a transformative journey through this captivating Southeast Asian destination.

Embarking on a backpacking adventure in Vietnam promises a tapestry of experiences, from bustling cities and serene landscapes to delectable cuisine and warm hospitality. By delving into the country’s rich history, diverse cultures, and natural wonders, you’ll uncover the essence of Vietnam and create unforgettable moments along the way.

From the vibrant streets of Hanoi to the tranquil waters of Halong Bay, the ancient allure of Hoi An to the modern energy of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam captivates travelers with its contrasts and complexities. Whether you’re trekking through terraced rice fields, sampling street food delicacies, or cruising along the Mekong Delta, each moment in Vietnam reveals a new facet of this enchanting destination.

As you navigate the bustling markets, navigate the chaotic traffic, and immerse yourself in local traditions, remember to stay open-minded, embrace the unfamiliar, and savor every encounter as a chance for growth and discovery. With a spirit of curiosity and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone, your backpacking journey through Vietnam will unfold as a transformative odyssey filled with beauty, authenticity, and endless possibilities.

So pack your bags, lace up your shoes, and set forth on a voyage of a lifetime.

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