It is often said that if you backpack one Asian country, it should be backpacking Vietnam. Vietnam is renowned for their incredible street foods. Their markets are among the most vibrant and energetic in the world. There is beauty and natural wonders that are found nowhere else on the planet. Vietnam has a little of everything.
An exciting place, it has incredible coasts just waiting to be explored. Further inland are some of the most dynamic, chaotic, and fascinating cities in the world. That includes some truly gorgeous scenery found nowhere else.
The best thing you can do is to carefully plan your trip. With thousands of things to see, you will have to prioritize what is important. The more planning you do now, the smoother your trip will be.
The Location And Size Of Vietnam
Vietnam is located in southeast Asia. It is just over 128 thousand miles in sizes (332,000 kilometers.) It is home to more than 91 million people and more than 50 ethnic minorities.
Getting to Vietnam is simple. Schedule a commercial flight from anywhere in the world and you can arrive at any of the major cities in Vietnam, including Hanoi and Ho chi Minh City. The earlier you schedule your flight, the less expensive it will be.
Once you are in Vietnam, you can take local flights to other small and mid sized cities. You can also schedule buses, trains, and boats to help get you to where you need to be. Again, schedule these things ahead of time to save money.
Your backpacking trip will require you get to your starting spot. You will also have to consider where you will be ending. Transportation to and from a city is crucial.
Visa Requirements For Vietnam
Vietnam requires that you have a passport. In addition, you will need a travel visa. If you do not have a travel visa, then you can use a written approval letter for receiving a visa when you arrive using the Visa on Arrival process.
Once you are in the country, you can stay for a maximum of 6 months before you are required to leave. Staying any longer will require special permission.
There are 2 visa fees for going to Vietnam. The first is the visa fee itself that you pay to the government. The second fee is a processing fee that is subject to change randomly.
When getting a travel visa, be sure to go through the correct channels. Using a company online may result in you getting charged hundreds of dollars more and finding yourself in a difficult spot when you land.
Don’t let travel agencies scare you away from using buses. When using a bus, be sure to get a top bunk for overnight drives. Always ask prices and refuse repeatedly if someone is trying to get you to do something you do not need to do.
Is There A Good Time To Visit Vietnam?
Vietnam experiences 3 different weather systems and the country has more than 2,000 miles of coast. Regardless of the time of year, expect higher temperatures and a lot of rain.
January is good throughout the country. February is better for the south of the country. March is fantastic for the entire country.
April is good for the country, and very good for the middle of the country. May is the same. June is poor in the north and south, but good in the middle of the country.
July is terrible in the north, poor in the south, and good in the middle of the country. August is the same way. September is poor throughout the country.
October is great in the north of the country, and poor in the south of the country. November is the best time to visit the north, an ok time to visit the south, and poor when visiting the middle. Finally, December is fantastic for the north and south, and terrible for the central part of the country.
In the end, when you go is entirely up to what part of the country you want to explore. July, August, and September are the hardest months to travel in Vietnam.
What Types of Accommodations Are Available?
Cities will provide you with a wide selection of overnight accommodations. If you have the money and want to take a break from backpacking Vietnam, then consider one of the many luxury accommodations. The Hanoi La Siesta Hotel & Spa in Hanoi, the Hotel Nikko Saigon in Ho Chi Minh city, and the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula resort in Da Nang are but three examples of exemplary, award winning accommodations.
While these luxury accommodations start at around $100 a night, there are far more less expensive, and equally accommodating places to stay. Expect to pay $20-$50 for a mid range hotel, and $10-$20 for a budget hotel. Prepare to get a lot of quality for the money you pay.
Consider looking into Hostel World. It provides many affordable options staying in hostels in the most notable Vietnamese cities, including Hanoi, Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, Hue, and Sapa. In addition, they provide a map of hostels in the country, allowing you to select a particular region and review the available sites.
Should I Take Classes Or Read Up On Vietnam?
You can give yourself an advantage and make travel easier by familiarizing yourself with the Vietnamese language. This can be done weeks, and even months in advance. The easiest resources to access will be online.
There are countless reviews left by people backpacking Vietnam. You can use these to get a sense of what it will be like once you arrive as well as what you should watch out for. That Backpacker, the Broke Backpacker, and Erohism are three great blogs written from first hand experience.
Numerous language services, including the well known Rosetta Stone carry a ‘learn Vietnamese’ instructional guide that you can buy. Verbal Planet, and 101 Languages also provide resources that you can use to build a vocabulary.
Depending on your country of origin, there may be Vietnamese language courses taught at a local community center. If you live in a larger city, there may be a Vietnamese population with a community center. Often times the community will offer courses in the language in culture.
What Types Of Food Does Vietnam Have?
Prepare yourself for flavorful food. Much broader than what you will find in the western world, the Vietnamese have an expanded diet that includes many things you will not find in the markets back home.
Beware that there is a big difference between the foreign price and the local price. Try your best to find places that do not cater to tourists. You will be amazed at how inexpensive the food is.
Costs are about $5 a day for all the food you will need to eat in cities. Always ask the price before you buy. Say no if the price they are asking is far above what you are willing or think you should pay.
Remember, eat the street food. It is amazing.
What Are The Costs Per Day In Vietnam?
Measured in dollars, be prepared to spend around $5-$15 on food every day in cities. Be prepared to spend between $5-$30 for many accommodations. Be prepared to pay much more if you purchase through a travel agency.
Be prepared to say no repeatedly. If someone tries to charge you more, say no. If someone attempts to move you from your seat, tell them no.
The more you say no, the more you protect yourself against being fleeced. The best way to lose money in Vietnam is by being taken advantage of.
When it comes to buying something, haggle. Never go with the stated price. Work them down and be sure to leave if the price they are offering isn’t good.
Other Practical Information You Should Know
Many parts of Vietnam use the same socket and power system as the United States. Be sure to purchase your adaptor if you need one before traveling to Vietnam.
While Vietnam is an incredible country to visit, you have to be prepared for people trying to swindle you out of your money. Get prices ahead of time. Schedule as many things as you can beforehand.
A Brief Travel Guide
You first option is independent travel. Independent travel offers you the greatest flexibility. At the same time, you will have to plan every aspect of your trip yourself.
Independent travel requires a lot of research beforehand. You will be more vulnerable to scams and price gauging unless you read up on Vietnam and the places you are backpacking before you leave. Plan and schedule as many things ahead of time as you can.
*Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi (Between $750-$2,000 depending on planning)
Day 1-3 Arrive in Ho Chi Minh City and explore.
Day 4-5 Travel up to Mui Ne, the popular beach to the north of the city.
Day 6-10 Explore the coast and take the train from Mui Ne to Danang
Day 10-14 Hoi Hon and Hue, exploring history
Day 14-16 Arrive in Hanoi and explore the city
Day 17-20 Explore Halong Bay before flying out of Halong Bay
*A week trip to Hanoi And Surround Places ($300-$700 depending on planning)
Day 1-2 Arrive and explore Hanoi including the beautiful architecture, temples, and make your base of operation the ‘Central Hanoi Backpackers Hostel’ (and enjoy luxuries like free beer, lunch, and Wi-Fi for only 5 bucks a night!)
Day 3-7 Explore the surrounding hotspots, like Halong Bay and the war museum. Take in the amazing street food. Take home a lot of amazing photos and experiences.
*Water Adventure And Backpacking Vietnam Around Nha Trang ($500)
Day 1-2 Arrive and explore Nha Trang, taking in the city.
Day 2-5 Experience amazing water sports offered for cheap, enjoy the night life.
Your second option is a small group tour organized through a travel agency. Intrepid and G Adventures are two fantastic websites to check out. They both specialize in smaller group tours.
Small group tours have the advantage of being planned by someone who knows the area, while being small enough to remain flexible. With competitive prices, both G Adventures and Intrepid are worth checking out. Weeklong trips average around $780, while month long trips typically cost around $3500.
Another travel company you should consider is Contiki. Rated the #1 travel company for 18-35 year olds, Contiki offers trips and vacation packages. While a little bit more expensive than G Adventures or Intrepid, (Contiki has Vietnamese 25 day tours at $4,335 and week long trips around #1,1395), their itinerary is packed with exciting destinations.
Places To See
1. Ho Chi Minh City
A fantastic place to explore the tastes of Vietnam and southeast Asia, Ho Chi Minh City to the far south has a lot to offer a backpacker. With a renowned war museum, the Cu Chi tunnels, surrounding memorials, and Independence Palace serve as a reminder to the Vietnam war.
The Mekng Delta to the south provides numerous opportunities for exploring the waterways and habitats unique to this part of the world. People often take kayak and small boat tours through the waterways, estuaries, and swampland.
Places like the Minh Chau Hotel and Bich Duyen Hotel offer fantastic prices ($15 a night!) for a safe and comfortable place to rest your head at night. There are 22 hostels listed in and around the city if you are looking for a bit of a deal. On the opposite end are renowned hotels like the Caravelle Saigon ($151 a night) an the centrally located Pullman Saigon Hotel ($113 a night).
As for food, you can easily spend your entire trip eating and enjoying the wide variety of street food available. If you want a sit down experience, then prepare to be faced with thousands of options. TnT BBQ, La Fiesta, La Villa French Resturaunt, Noir, and Portofino Italian Restaurant represent 5 examples of dramatically different food that is done exceptionally well in this city. Price ranges from a few bucks for street food to between $5-$15 at most eateries and $15-$50 at the most well-known and expensive establishments.
Considered the most important city in Vietnam, Hanoi combines an eclectic mix of architecture, culture, and tradition. The old quarter has one of the most active and eclectic open-air markets in the world. The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, the Water Puppet Theatre, the Perfume Pagoda, and Hanoi Opera House all provide different architectural and culture takes on the city.
Surrounding Hanoi is natural beauty that can be easily accessed through tours or other forms of transportation from the city. Ba Vi National Park two hours from the city offers staggering beauty and ideal landscapes.
To the east is Halong Bay, a waterway that is unique and breathtaking. With emerald waters and thousands of massive limestone peaks towering from the water, Halong Bay has thousands of islands to scuba dive around, boat between, and climb.
There are 55 hostels listed in and around Hanoi, with several in the center of the city. Expect to pay between $5-$10 every night. More expensive and luxurious options start as low as $50 (Oriental Suites Hotel) and upwards of $350 (Hanoi La Siesta Hotel & Spa.)
Becoming A Local
Spend enough time in Vietnam and experience it through the eyes of the locals. With countless opportunities for exploration and fun, Vietnam has it all.
When figuring out where to go, be sure to plan ahead. Make sue you have your visa and passport. Make sure you line up travel plans accordingly.
The more you plan ahead, the more you will save. Remember that GAdventures, Contiki, and Intrepid are all great ways to plan your trip backpacking Vietnam. Also, Hostelworld.com can be an incredible resource if you want to line up places to spend the night.
Remember that while Vietnam is beautiful, it has a reputation for hostile locals. Be aware that people may try to take your money, or otherwise overcharge you for things you do not need to pay for.
The best way you can protect yourself is by learning to say no. Any time someone tries to hassle you, repeatedly say no. After 2 or 3 times, they will typically back down.