Vietnam has been one of Asia’s top backpacking destinations owing to its stunning landscapes and perfect for budget-friendly food, lodgings and activities. It is a hotspot for adventure seekers who have set out to redeem solace in the friendliest civilization of people having big hearts and even bigger variety of tempting cuisines.

Surpassing its war-marred history, Vietnam has come a long way in restoring its exotic natural beauty while still preserving its historical landmarks.

Phu Quoc in Vietnam

The country is so diverse, that it is almost impossible to cover all the top destinations in a limited amount of time. Of course the thrill and excitement of wandering off track and exploring the varying landscapes of the country has its own perks.

From meeting friendly villagers who offer food and wine made from corn, while directing you to your destination, where a party awaits you for the night, it has all the ingredients of a memorable backpacking holiday.

Countless “To-do guides when visiting Vietnam” can be found on the internet. Perhaps the first best thing one can do to explore the country is rent a bike, which will allow you to occasionally stray from your path without wasting much time. The most efficient and popular route one prefers to take while backpacking in Vietnam is from Hanoi to Saigon.

Vietnam offers extremely affordable lodging facilities whilst being nowhere short of adventurous destinations throughout the country.

A Beautiful Beach in Vietnam

Planning a backpacking trip in Vietnam

Before starting off to explore this beautiful country, you have to ask yourself how long you can afford to stay here. If you have less than a fortnight to stay, it is probably a good idea to choose between the North and South of the country. You can also opt to visit its neighboring country, Cambodia along with Southern Vietnam.

Backpacking Vietnam Itinerary: 3 weeks

It is suggested that you start from Hanoi and bike through the hilly areas towards the northwest, exploring the sporadic cascades and waterfalls on the way to the town of Sapa. Then make way for the famous cruise in the waters of Halong Bay on the eastern coast.

Having covered the northern part of Vietnam destinations, head south, and indulge your vanity by getting a tailor-made suit for yourself in Hoi An. On continuing south, you will find a lively seaside resort town of Nha Trang. It is said that you cannot get bored in this resort; and after letting go of yourself to their scuba diving, sailing, surfing, paragliding, bowling, hiking and other activities, you too, will agree.

After that, you could head towards Mui Ne, which is a coastal fishing town with sandy beach and then to Da Lat, which is famous for hiking, flowers and waterfalls.

Next in the route is Saigon, which hold historical importance in the Vietnam War. It is now called Ho Chi Minh City, and has some famous important must-visit monuments.

You can also take a cruise to Cambodia from Mekong River and behold the temples and people thriving around the river banks.

Must Visit Backpacking Destinations in Vietnam

Hanoi

Long Biên Bridge in Hanoi

Hanoi will win your heart.

It is one of the most beautiful cities in Vietnam and the contagious liveliness of the streets will not allow you to leave without staying at least a couple of days. The spectacular green mountains of the north and the vibrant beaches and towns of the south seem to strike the right chord between nature and urbanization.

Backpackers can find cheap lodgings all over the city. I would personally suggest Central Hanoi Backpackers Hostel which offers breakfast, internet and beer, all at $5 a night!

The dorms are cozy and the staff is friendly.

Things to do in Hanoi

One place to check out if you want to know more about the Vietnam War, is the War Museum, where in $3, you could get a crash course on the war stories and memorabilia. There is a great collection of war weaponry that was used in the war, on display at the entrance of the museum.

One of the main attractions of Hanoi is the Temple of Literature, which was built in 1070 as a place of learning, where only the elite and royalties studied literature, poetry and philosophy. Its beautiful courtyards provide a quiet oasis, away from the busy city outside. Each of the five courtyards has its own stunning architecture and story.

If you don’t want to waste much time exploring temples, I would suggest you to visit just the Bach Ma Temple, which is the oldest temple in the city built in the 11th century.

Lake of the Restored Sword or the Hoan Kiem Lake is located in the historical center of Hanoi and is the heart of public life. The lake has legend associated with it, that it was where Emperor Lê Lợi returned his magic sword to a golden turtle after defeating the Ming Dynasty of China. Teenagers and old people alike, can be seen practicing tai-chi early mornings. The evenings find this place brimming with couples and people meeting friends after a long day at work. With all traffic diverted till midnight, weekends can be spent peacefully holding an ice cream cone sitting on the benches.

Book Your Hanoi Hostel Here!

Sapa

The terraced fields in Sapa

The first thing to do in Sapa is to find a place to leave your bags. Drop your bags off in the Enjoy Sapa Hostel and head out to look for motorbikes for hire. Usually one can find bikes at as low as $10 per day and the city is yours to explore at your own leisure.

Options to travel on bicycle are also available if you are not comfortable with motorbikes. Arranged tours by companies usually cover all transportation (not bicycle) and food charges.

As I said earlier, falling off the trail on a motorbike in Sapa is one of the most adventurous things one can do safely. If you drive a bit outside Sapa town, you could see Thac Bac Waterfall, also called the Silver Waterfall, pouring over the terraced fields and forests. The scenery will take your breath away!

One of the places worth getting off the backpacking route is the Ban Pho Village. It is located on a mountain cliff and home to one of the friendliest tribes in the world. Their hospitality and the famous corn wine is something that cannot be forgotten.

Sapa is also known for its dramatic weather changes within a day. This makes trekking a bit dangerous but exciting venture. The northern part of Vietnam is one of the most scenic regions and is known for terraced rice fields and undulating mountains. There are several trekking companies in the area if you do not want to do it solo.

Alternatively, more adventurous treks with fewer tourists is possible in Ha Giang.

Book Your Sapa Hostel Here!

Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island

Halong Bay in Northern Vietnam

Helong Bay is not a destination to be missed. You essentially need to pre-book a tour, which is not expensive at all and will prove to be worth the money once you visit the place. The pre-booked tour is inclusive of all the transport, meals and other necessities required for a tension-free adventure. The bay is usually crowded with junk boats and other cruisers which you may opt for your cruise.

It includes thousands of islets in the Gulf of Tonkin, which are uninhabited and radiate scenic beauty.

Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is one of the most popular destinations in Vietnam. Hostel stays can be booked here.

Cat Ba Island is one of the cruise stops in the Halong Bay, and is home to the endangered Cat Ba langurs. The island is the largest in Halong Bay and is a rock climbing destination along with other attractions like caves and beaches.

Book Your Cat Ba Island Hostel Here!

Hue

The Imperial Palace in Hue

The city of Hue was the capital of ancient Vietnam. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located on the banks of Perfume River and exhibits a certain royal quality in its architecture. The family at Hue Family Boutique Hotel recommended us how we could make the best out of our time in Hue.

The Hue Citadel inside the Imperial City is surrounded by moat and the walled fortress once served as the capital of Southern Vietnam. It can take a full day to explore the town and you can always hire a bike to get around faster.

Built in 1601, the 7 story high Thien Mu Pagoda is one of the pagodas which has interesting history associated with it. The pagoda has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, but it still stands tall with its spectacular architecture.

Not far from here, you can treat yourself to natural spa in Phong An where the mineral rich water is supposed to be beneficial in treatment of several diseases.

Book Your Hue Hostel Here!

Hoi An

Hoi An Old Town

The first thing you will notice after arriving in Hoi An is the endless number of tailor shops. First things first.. You get a suit! It takes a couple of days for the suit to be stitched, so getting measured is the first thing you should do.

I would recommend you check in to Paddy’s Hostel which provides free bicycle for exploring the city and rent included pool facility for $7 a night!

Danang

Da Nang City

Danang is one the largest cites in Vietnam, with a mix of modern buildings along the beaches and Buddhist shrines in the interior. It is about an hour away from Hoi An and can be visited as a side destination, if time permits.

Book Your Danang Hostel Here!

Nha Trang

Nha Trang Beach in Vietnam

This 6 kilometer long stretch of beautiful coastline offers much more than just seaside frolic in the South China Sea. Adrenaline filled paragliding, jet skiing and windsurfing along the verdant mountain ranges on one side and the clear water with marine life on the other, make it an ultimate destination for the tourists to let loose.

The best thing about the place is that no pre-booking is required for this adventure. Everything can be arranged from the beach. iHome Hostel offers free breakfast and free beers in the evening for a $7 per night stay. This place is a goldmine for beautiful landscape and hiring a local photographer is not a bad idea while you indulge in fun and frolic.

Sometimes, unfortunate incidents like getting pickpocketed or robbed happen. Backpackers often get hammered and are swindled by hookers strolling in the streets at night. It calls for not losing the cool and look for jobs in the numerous restaurants and bars. One can easily get a job in a bar and earn some cash with free meals and booze. So one needs not to lose themselves on account of  the cheap booze.

Book Your Nha Trang Hostel Here!

Lak Lake

Explore the villages of the Mnong ethnic group

After overcoming the hangover from partying in Nha Trang, it is advisable to head towards the Lak Lake, which is around a 4-5 hour drive. The still waters of the lake is around 5 km square and is believed by the villagers to have no bottom. It presents a unique opportunity to explore the villages of the Mnong ethnic group and their culture.

You could ride and elephant, and canoe through the lake and relax.

Mui Ne

Mui Ne

Mui Ne is known for its 12 kilometers long beach that is always filed with Kite Surfers, which consider this place as the Mecca for kite surfing in Southeast Asia. Other attractions include the scenic red and white sand dunes and the Fairy Stream, which is sadly much polluted.

Renting a bike is a good idea to ride through the mountainous paths to Dalat, our next destination.

Dalat

Dalat Market in Vietnam

Also known as “Little Paris”, Dalat architecture has a European feel to it as the French had settled in the city in the past. After biking through the rough journey due to damaged roads, the mild temperatures and flower laden orchids present a welcoming sight.

Book Your Dalat Hostel Here!

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh

Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh, the largest city in Vietnam, was originally called Siagon before the Vietnam War. The city has the busiest urban infrastructure and westernization is quite evident. Saigon is a relatively expensive place for backpackers, but one can still visit the War Remnants Museum, which portrays the effects of the war on civilians of Vietnam, for a dollar entry fees.

You can pre book tours for the city with The Hide Out Hostel as there is a lot to see in such lively atmosphere. The Cu Chi Tunnels are a network of tunnels used in the Vietnam War which has a complete village underground, accessible by crawling through narrow cavities.

Cu Chi Tunnels near Saigon

Many activities such as cooking classes from the farm to table are available to indulge.

If you are planning on continuing your backpacking trip to Cambodia, you can take a bus to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, where the Cambodian visa will be taken care of in the border itself.

Book Your Saigon Hostel Here!

Mekong delta

Also known as the Rice Bowl of Vietnam, one does not simply climb onto the sampan boats to cruise through the placid waterways of the delta without a conical hat! The sampan makes many stops at the local shops and souvenir stands to encourage shopping local merchandise like cheap trinkets.

It is advisable to spend at least a day in Mekong. You have to get away from the busy streets filled with tourists and local vendors trying to sell their merchandise, and explore the local wildlife and calmness of the nature all around. If you want to check out the local dwellings and their culture, consider renting a scooter.

Book Your Can Tho Hostel Here!

Accommodations for Backpackers in Vietnam

Here’s our recommendation answering all your lodging requirements while backpacking in Vietnam:

Location Accommodation Why Stay Here?!
Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel Complimentary breakfast with free beer, city tour and pub crawl. One of the best hostels in Hanoi.
Sapa Ta Van Hostel Located away from the busy tourist destinations in a village and offers breathtaking sights of rice fields and mountain ranges.
Cat Ba Island Full Moon Party Hostel Ocean view balconies for the rooms. Very helpful staff and complimentary breakfast.
Hue Hue Happy Homestay The awesome family that runs the hotel are so caring and never let you feel away from home. The location is in the heart of the city.
Da Nang Bookaholic Beach Hostel Easy conveyance available to Hoi An from here. The hostel is near the beach with impressive cleanliness. Free breakfast.
Hoi An Vietnam Backpackers Hostel Prime location for meeting fellow tourists to party. They have a great pool.
Nha Trang iHome Hostel Another great place for social gatherings. Their rooftop bar has buffet breakfast and free beer.
Mui Ne Mui Ne Backpackers Village An all-round entertainment lodging destination with the biggest swimming pool and longest happy hours! The games and movie nights will keep you entertained for days.
Da Lat Mr Peace Backpackers As the name suggests, this place offers really nice accommodation for families. Breakfast is complimentary.
Ho Chi Minh Vietnam Backpackers Hostel Saigon The rooftop bar gives the complete view of the nightlife of Saigon. Great party atmosphere with free beer and cheap alcohol.

 

Things to do if you are backpacking in Vietnam

  1. Street Food – Indulge in the unique and tasty meals in Vietnam at dirt cheap price! The city offers all kinds of delicacies even those who prefer “An Chay”, meaning “Vegetarian” food. Even Obama was escorted by Anthony Bourdain to try out the local delicacies of Hanoi!
  2. Trekking in Sapa – Don’t forget to go on a trek or even for a walk on the most beautiful mountain ranges in Vietnam. Even the locals are very friendly are will invite you for food and stay in their homes.
  3. Scuba diving in Nha Trang – Nha Trang is a favorite destination for scuba diving lovers. There are seaside resorts for those who prefer to stay dry.
  4. Custom suits in Hoi An – Get a handmade suit done from the numerous shops in Hoi An. Even shoes can be made in some shops which makes your Vietnamese style wedding dress complete!
  5. Cruise in the Halong Bay – Enjoy the cruise through the bay on junk boats and spend at least a night. The breathtaking scenery of the limestone mountains emerging from water gives a numinous appearance.
  6. Biking – Before coming to Vietnam, make sure you know how to drive a motorbike. This will prove to be time and energy saving and double your fun when travelling across the country.
  7. Chi Chi Tunnels – Conquer your claustrophobia by squeezing through the tunnels dating back to the Vietnam War. Explore the underground city which has kitchen, meeting room, hospital and dorm – all underground!
  8. Water Puppet show in the Red River Delta – Do not miss the traditional Water Puppet Show, which has its roots back to the 11th century, and were the entertainment source for by rice field workers performing over flood water.

Vietnam Travel Tips

Here is some information we have gathered that will definitely be essential while backpacking to Vietnam. Do take a look at all these links and sources before you head out:

Some important books regarding backpacking in Vietnam

Last Night I Dreamed of Peace: The Diary of Dang Thuy Tram – A memoir of a volunteer as doctor in the Vietnam War, who relates an extremely emotional story of her life in the warring country and the suffering endured by the people.

Vietnam: Rising Dragon by Bill Hayton – A helpful read by a BBC journalist, who explains the current situation in the developing nation of Vietnam.

The Dogs of Nam: Stories from the Road and Lessons Learned Abroad –A short collection of stories relating his experiences as a tight budgeted backpacker, who has spent decades in traveling abroad.

The Quiet American – It as a fictional story based on the French colonial war in Vietnam and talks about the involvement of Britain and America in the Vietnam War. There is a movie by the same name.

Destination Saigon – Contains some funny and fascinating stories about backpacking in Vietnam. It portrays some of the observations regarding the “clumsy” tourists, that will leave you in giggles.

Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey – This is a graphical comic book memoir which takes you back to the era of Vietnam War and its creative outlets, especially music and protests.

National Geographic Traveler: Vietnam, 3rd Edition – An all-round travel guidebook which covers all major sites to visit as well as some places not widely known. Definitely a great companion for backpacking in Vietnam.

When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (Tie-In Edition) – This is a memoir of a girl who fled Vietnam in the face of war and destroying her way of life as the country burned.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Vietnam and Angkor Wat – Another detailed travel guide for backpacking to Vietnam and Cambodia. It contains detailed maps and photos of the territories along with a brief history of places.

The Tunnels of Cu Chi – Recounts the struggle between American forces and Viet Cong guerrillas to control the tunnels of Saigon. The book maintains its neutrality while providing detailed description of the complexities of the tunnel and US efforts to counter them.

Staying safe

Staying safe in Vietnam should not be a big issue as people there are generally very friendly and helpful. The country has not seen many major violent criminal activities but petty crimes like pickpocketing is a major issue for tourists. Make sure the first thing you do is leave your valuables safely locked at your hostel.

If you’d like to rent a bike, make sure you are confident in riding through the bustling crowd of the cities as well as bad, spirally roads in the villages. Here is a list of safety tricks that would help anyone backpacking anywhere in the world. There are tricks to hide your money in the most inconspicuous ways listed here.

Some travelling gear is a must for a backpacker, like a backpacker security belt, which will keep your cash safe with you on the road. A headlamp is also recommended for backpackers for complete safety and survival while being off the grid.

Narcotics and pop culture

Although you will find people using drugs all through Vietnam, the penalties for getting caught while using or possessing them are not that lenient.

Vietnam, while westernizing, is still traditional in its ways. In smaller cities, there is no way to take a local girl to bed without having to meet her parents and marrying her eventually. For bigger cities like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, the norms are more relaxed. One also needs to be careful to use protection, as AIDS is still a problem in Vietnam.

Insurance

This goes without saying. No matter how long or short your trip is, always travel with insurance. You can only feel safe and enjoy your trip if you are not worrying much about getting hurt and not being able to pay for it.

So get your travel insurance sorted beforehand. Here is an article that will help you decide through the process of choosing the best insurance. World Nomads offer the best insurance deals out there and I personally recommend them.

Packing List for Vietnam

As a general rule, there are a few things which should find a permanent place in your backpack.

  1. Security Belt with Hidden PocketHands down the best way to keep some extra cash on yourself. It has hidden pocket on the inner side of the belt where fifteen to twenty notes can be folded and adjusted without giving it a suspicious look. They can pass security without setting off any alarms

 

  1. Pocket Blanket: This is a pocket blanket cum poncho which is super space saving and can be bundled up in a pouch, small enough to be held on your palm. The fabric is light and waterproof, so it can be used as a picnic blanket while camping on the beach. It has a concealed pocket where you can hide your valuables.

 

  1. Microfibre TowelAlways take care of personal hygiene and the best way to do that is to carry microfiber towels with you. If you can’t trust the cleanliness of hostel provided towels, I suggest you get this towel which is lightweight and dries faster. The towel can be compactly rolled and can be used as a blanket or mat.

 

  1. HeadtorchHead torch is an essential travel equipment that pays its worth when it is used, even if that is once in a lifetime. There can be many opportunities to use the head torch like exploring caves and dimly lit temples or finding something during a blackout. I’d prefer the Petzl LED headlamp with red lamp, which the insects can’t see.

 

  1. HammockIf carrying a heavy tent seems too much of a task then a hammock should do just fine. They are lightweight and easy to pitch almost anywhere. They are a cheap alternative to tents, which are not always practical. I would recommend Active Roots parachute hammock as a light but sturdy option.

Best time to go backpacking in Vietnam

Generally speaking, Vietnam is an incredible all year round destination. Even though the country is not that big, the weather varies drastically from place to place. The best time to travel should be the Autumn Season (September to December) and the Spring Season (March- April). In these days of the year, you can probably cover the whole country without getting interrupted by rain or bad weather.

From December to February the weather is more temperate. The Vietnamese New Year are the biggest celebrations of the year and you may find snowfall in Sapa!

From March to April, is the spring season the weather is warm and dry. As you go south, humidity increases with a chance of rainfall.

From May to September, while the northern Vietnam is chilly, the rest of the country experiences summer. Frequent downpours offer relief and opens up the sky. This is the busiest season for the beaches and expect high prices on accommodation.

From October to November, the moderate climate makes you fall in love with this place. It is the time for the incredible Mid-Autumn Festival which features lion dancers and lanterns all around at night.

Locals trying to escape the rain!

Useful Apps for the trip

XE Currency – This is the best currency conversion app out there to keep track of how much you are spending on stuff. It should give you a rough idea of where you are getting ripped off and where you are getting a sweet deal. Unless you can do all the calculations in your head, the app is a must!

Google Translate – The Google Translate app is another essential utility to have in a country that doesn’t speak your language. Its offline working capabilities will never betray you in case there is no signal. It is a great way to get the idea across to the other person, even by saying a few words in their language.

Maps.Me – Getting lost in a foreign land and wasting lots of time trying to get back on the correct path is probably not the best way you’d want to spend your holidays. Given, that the adventure of loitering after losing path should be awesome, when you have a strict time schedule, having a map should pay dividends. Before you leave for Vietnam, you can download maps for offline use, and do away with any dependence on data or network.

HIDE.ME – In my opinion, Hide.Me is one of the fastest and reliable VPN services which can work on both laptop and phone. It is a handy application to connect up to five devices that the same time with only one package purchased.

Getting around in Vietnam

Entering Vietnam has never been easier. Whether you enter Vietnam by land or air, the visa requirements are chilled out.  There are long distance train services to enter the country, all the way from Europe. Long distance bus services are also available if you wish to reach Ho Chi Minh City from Bangkok. Options of local buses and VIP buses are available while crossing the border from Cambodia.

Flights from all over the world land in Ho Chi Minh City. Vietnam Airlines usually have better package deals to offer while flying directly to Ho Chi Minh City.

Entry Requirements

VISA requirements for Vietnam has relaxed a lot in the past few years which is definitely boosting the tourism scene. For UK citizens, you don’t have to get Visa to enter the country if your stay is scheduled to be less than 15 days. For any reason you trip is expected to exceed the period, Visa has to be organized before arrival. They do charge a hefty fine if you are caught overstaying the welcome period without Visa.

But procuring a Visa is not difficult at all. It’s a straightforward procedure and costs roughly $70 for UK citizens. You can visit the Vietnamese Embassy and apply for the Visa or use private companies who will help you do the same. You can use VietnamsVisa if you wish to avoid doing the paperwork and get the Visa done quickly.

Ways to travel in Vietnam

Vietnam is well connected via road and trains and traveling inside the country is not difficult.  The roads are being constantly improved for long distance bus services and the coastal railway line runs from one extremity of the country to other.

  1. Buses – Buses are the most common mode of transportation for the backpackers who wish to explore the surrounding while travelling. The service is cheap and work as a hop on /off style tickets.
  2. Trains – The coastal railway line “Reunification Express”, runs from the Ho Chi Minh City all the way up to the Chinese border runs on a single track and offers the scenic way to travel. The unique trains date back to the colonial times, which adds to the charm.

Train tickets can be booked online and getting a sleeper class berth gives the best value. It should be noted beforehand that if you have a through ticket, you cannot break the journey anywhere in the middle. For such a trip, you have to buy separate tickets.

  1. Domestic Flight – If you prefer to take a two hour flight from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi over a 30 hour train journey, domestic fights are there for you. These flights all over the country are indeed helpful if you are on a time limit and need to catch up with your group of fellow backpackers
  2. Motorbike – This is the best option available to explore the country on your own terms. Many backpackers buy the bikes for their travels and at the end of their journey, simply sell them to another backpacker. The bikes are cheap and provide full freedom to explore place which are inaccessible if you traveling on a bus or train. It is the coolest way to explore and excuses you from other drunk tourists trying to get you to play a game of “drink the beer”.

Second hand bikes are available in Ho Chi Minh where many backpackers are seen selling their bikes. Decent bikes requiring minor tweaks can be bought for $300.

The roads of Vietnam are not bad beside some potholes what appear all of a sudden. It is actually the traffic of animals and people one needs to watch out for. Again, don’t forget to get an insurance! And a helmet is a must!

At the end of the trip, the bike could be sold to the next backpacker with just $30 lower that your cost price.

  1. Taxi – Taxis are easy to find in the cities and the drivers are well acquainted with the cities and will take you round the town to an alternative hotel. One needs to be strict in directing the driver to the destination you want to reach. Make sure you get a metered taxi and haggle before settling on a price.

Independent and Organized Tour options

No doubt, backpacking in Vietnam can be explored on your own. However, it doesn’t hurt to group up with a bunch of like-minded travelers who are as keen on exploring as you, especially if you are short on time.

Do check out Free and Easy Traveller, who are a bunch of guys who will provide an exhaustive tour of any destination.

Backpacking Costs

Vietnam proves to be a backpacking heaven when it comes to costs. After enjoying such exotic sights, tastiest food and the hospitality of the friendliest people at dirt cheap prices, one doesn’t help but think you still owe them. You can easily enjoy Vietnam at $20 a day; maybe $40 on days you wish to drink some imported beer.

The hostels are cheap, the street food is mouthwatering and economical, and the bus or train rides cost little. If you have a camping hammock with you, and want to save money on hostel, just ask the owner to allow you to hang the hammock for the night. The nice people of Vietnam never refuse.

Here is an average breakup of the costs one expects while backpacking in Vietnam:

  1. Average Room cost: $5 – $20
  2. Average Meal Cost: $1 street food – $8 meal in a mid-level restaurant
  3. Long Distance Bus Service: $3 – $15
  4. Entrance to a site cost: $4 for foreigners on average
  5. Average Day Trip Cost: $15+ depending on what you want to do.
  6. Average Motorbike Hire: $10 per day

Vietnamese Dong

Currently, 10 USD = 232228.5 Vietnamese Dongs. In just 10 dollars, you can throw money like Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street style. Dongs all around!

Do not worry about getting Vietnamese Dongs before entering the country. Firstly, most of the shopkeepers accept US Dollars. Secondly, you probably won’t get good exchange rates for your currency. Withdrawal fees from ATMs is a bit on the higher side, hence it is advised to withdraw cash in a larger quantity. This will save you some money on each small transaction, but on the other hand, you have to hide the money well. Here’s a link to my recommendations for security belt to keep money on your person safely. Transferwise is the cheapest and fastest way to transfer funds internationally while travelling.

Although the currency situation in Vietnam makes you look like a king, there are still ways things can get out of control and you had wished you didn’t spend all your money like that. Here are a few tips to go backpacking in the most economical way:

  1. Use bus service – The bus is the cheapest means of travel throughout the country. Even the remotest part is covered for costs as low as $1.
  2. Camp instead of staying inside – If you are in the countryside or near the beaches, it is better to camp outside and enjoy the view. Here’s a link of best tents around. For places where camping is not feasible, you could go for hostel dorms. Connect with the locals by couchsurfing.
  3. Cook yourself – If you have a gas cooker of your own, you can save some money on meals too.
  4. Use the currency app – Always consult your currency app and get a general idea of how much things cost to you. It will be helpful in the long run.
  5. Go local – Whether it is beer or travel operator or meals, always go for local companies. It gives you the power of bargaining and keeps the local businesses alive.
  6. Hitch a ride – You can hitchhike all over the country with just a smile and a few Vietnamese words.
  7. WorkawayWorkaway is an excellent platform where you can have access to volunteering projects all around the world which offer food and boarding in exchange of volunteer work. This can save you a lot.
  8. TEFL courses – Teaching English as a Foreign Language courses provide a great opportunity for those who want to explore Vietnam long term as a teacher and experience living there. TEFL offers such opportunities all over the world. Here are a few case studies of TECL teachers all over the world.

“The Must try in Vietnam” list

  1. The People – Vietnamese people are very polite and generous and leave no stone unturned to make the guests feel comfortable. It is the second most populated country in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.

The most common ethnic group is the Vietnamese, comprising of around 86% of the population. Apart from Buddhism, other religions such as Catholicism, theism and ancestor worship are common here.

  1. The Food – Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest food in the world. The meals are prepared with fresh vegetables and ingredients with generous quantities of noodles or rice. Here are some of the trademark Vietnamese cuisines:
    • Pho – A traditional noodle soup consisting of beef stock, onions, fish sauce and spices.
    • Bun cha – It is a Hanoi specialty made of grilled pork and rice noodles.
    • Goi Cuon – A rice paper enveloped rolls filled with delicious pork or shrimp with vegetables. Generally eaten as an appetizer.
    • Banh Mi Thit – it is essentially a heavenly sandwich with grilled pork, ham or cheese in the middle.

Recent History of Vietnam

French colonization of Vietnam started in the late 19th century when a French merchant seized Hanoi Citadel and later took over Hue, imposing the Treaty of Protectorate. Active resistance was still alive in various parts of the country even though Vietnam was essentially under French rule.

The French colonialists imposed heavy taxes on the common people of Vietnam and built the Saigon –Hanoi railway. The workers involved in the project were grossly mistreated and several thousands died of malnutrition and disease. Anti-colonialist sentiments increased and led by communist leaders, the common man was united under a single banner.

As France was losing the World War II, the Indo Chinese government acquiesced to the presence of Japanese troops and the Japanese left the administration in France’s hands. Viet Minh and Ho Chi Minh opposed both the Japanese and French presence. In the end, the French had to surrender.

North Vietnam, which was ruled by a communist regime and had defeated the French, now wanted to unify the entire country under a single communist regime. The South Vietnamese government, was closely allied to the US, and wanted to prevent this. The US got more and more involved in the conflict and helped the South Vietnam while China and Soviet Union helped the North. Finally, the cost of the war proved too much to bear and the US had to retreat, and South Vietnam fell to the North in 1975.

A Responsible Backpacker

While it should go without saying, one should always remind themselves that there is a vast cultural difference between them and the place they are visiting. More often, people tend to forget this simple fact after having a few too many drinks.

It is not impossible to get carried away in a place that has cheap beer and everything seems so easy. One should be aware not to take people and the place for granted, and always remember not to do something that is an inconvenience to the other. Defacing religious places by writing your name on the wall and shouting obscene words is not how one behaves in a country which treats its guests so graciously.

Know your limits while drinking. By all means, have all the fun in the world. But never do anything that you portray your country and your upbringing in a bad light.

Do not hold an imperious tone while talking to the people you meet. Just because your country has a better economy, it doesn’t automatically make you a superior person. Treat everybody with humility. The sex workers are human beings too, and they deserve not to be judged by you. Whatever the rules may be in your own country, things are different here and so is the law. It is imperative that you respect the law of the land as long as you are visiting.

Some good etiquettes:

  • Remove shoes when entering a private house
  • Do not pat anyone on the head
  • Do not point your feet at anyone or sacred objects
  • Offer to pay while eating with Vietnamese people, although it is customary for the most senior person to pay for everyone

You essentially represent your country wherever you go. Go and have fun! Make a positive impression on people and let them remember you for the rest of their lives, as you will remember them!