Your ultimate guide for backpacking Vietnam

Talking about backpacking, Vietnam ticks all the boxes. Jaw-dropping nature, inspiring culture, exciting activities, and mouth-watering cuisine. Moreover, it’s one of the most affordable countries to explore in Asia. Backpacking Vietnam surely is a real bargain.

Hanoi

By far, one of the most attractive places for backpacking in Vietnam is Hanoi. This bustling city is a quirky combination of a traditional Vietnamese flair with a distinct French twist.

Strategically situated between the stunning mountains of the north and the gorgeous beaches of the south, Hanoi is the perfect getaway for your backpacking Vietnam trip. Besides being a chaotic and frenzied place, Hanoi has a dazzling charm ready to be discovered.

Eve / Little Big Traveler

Visiting the Old Quarter should be the first point of your itinerary. Most of the hotels and restaurants are located there as well as many of the city’s sights. Walk along the Hoan Kiem Lake, visit the Ngoc Son Temple or just relax and have a picnic.

One of the biggest attractions in Hanoi is the Night Market open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening. Besides the abundance of goods, there are food stalls with fresh dishes cooked right before your eyes.

While in Hanoi, don’t miss the War Museum and learn more about the war-torn past of Vietnam. Another popular site is the Temple of Literature – the first university in Vietnam. It strikes with an impressing architecture and genuine peace.

Backpacking Vietnam you’ll realize how incredibly affordable is the accommodation and the food. In Hanoi, you can easily find a bed in the heart of the city for about $5 including a breakfast (Hanoi Old Quarter Backpackers Hostel).

Sa Pa

If you’re looking to experience the real Vietnam, then you really can’t miss Sa Pa for a taste of traditional life. Despite its distance from Hanoi, the area has failed to evade tourism with even more hotels
being built, so you’ll need to veer off the beaten track to the rice paddies for a taste of authenticity.

There is no better way of experience rural Vietnam than staying in the home of a local villager as part of a Homestay. Join the guides for a 2-day trek in the valley and have an awesome backpacking Vietnam experience.

Sa Pa

Charlotte / The Millennial Runaway

You can catch the overnight sleeper bus to Sa Pa and find a family to stay with – the bus is less than $20 each way – and you’ll usually find tribe women as you exit the bus vying for guests.

The luscious green mountainous landscape of Sa Pa is not to be missed, and the glimpse into the lives of village folk will be a lasting impression.

Ha Giang

Often described as the most beautiful place in the North of Vietnam, Ha Giang is a remote area in the northeast part of the country. Furthermore, the area is one of the most secluded sites for backpacking in Vietnam.

Province is interesting with its amazing scenery, ethical villages and diversity and curvy roads surrounded all over by high karst plateaus. My Ha Giang loop 3 days backpacking itinerary was the best thing that I did and saw during my stay in Vietnam. I highly recommend you to go for the Ha Giang Extreme North Motorbike Loop when you visit Vietnam.

Ha Giang

Bilyana / Owl Over The World

Just driving around is pleasant enough. Don’t miss to make the detour to Lung Cu, which is the most northern part of Vietnam and from where you can see China in the distance.

The most beautiful part of the road is the Ma Pi Leng Pass between Dong Van & Meo Vac. There is a great place to stop and relax offering a panoramic view of the province so enjoy it! You’ll be meeting mostly locals on the way. They are nice and chatty and the kids are adorable. No doubt the perfect getaway while backpacking Vietnam.

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Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay has more than 1000 islands with beautiful rock formations. Some of the most popular are the Stone Dog Islet, Incense Burner Islet, Fighting Cock Islet – a symbol of Ha Long Bay. It’s one of the most exciting backpacking Vietnam stops of your trip.

Take a day tour to explore the bay. The Sung Sot Cave is usually the first stop. It is the biggest cave found in the bay. Next, you can experience a trip to Luon Cave via bamboo boat or kayaking, or go snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of the bay. There are also monkeys in the area. Delicious Vietnamese food is served during lunch. Jump to Titop Island after for a proper finish of the day.

Ha Long bay Vietnam

Roneth / The Fickle Feet

Aside from the tour, there is a wide shore in the main area. Just a walk away, you can see a tower or a lighthouse. There’s an amusement park not far from there with food and sweets stalls. On the other side, there are a lot of restaurants lining up and it looks cool at night.

Going there, you can book a fancy van on this website Baolau and it will be a three-hour drive.

You can stay in Halong Happy Hostel or Halong Party Hostel. Both hostels have a happy hour where backpackers can have free drinks. Plus, they have free breakfast!

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Ninh Binh

The main attraction of Ninh Binh is the incredible natural landscape that surrounds the city. But for most backpackers who visit and spend some time here, it’s the relaxed countryside atmosphere that they particularly fall in love with.

The landscape is dominated by the large limestone karst peaks which create steep vertical cliffs. On top, they are covered with lush green foliage. At the bottom, waterways stretch between them, creating an effect of islands. It’s a bit like Ha Long Bay but with rivers and rice paddies between the hills, rather than a single expanse of water.

Ninh Binh

Michael Turtle / Time Travel Turtle

The best way to experience this landscape is to take a boat trip along the waterways. You can do this at either Tam Coc or Trang An. The boat will hold a small group of people and someone will row it for you. The trip can take a couple of hours as you slowly and quietly move along the rivers, around the peaks, and even into tunnels that cut straight through the limestone.

Getting to Ninh Binh is easy. There is a fast and cheap direct train from Hanoi several times a day. Although there are some accommodation options in the city, the best places are amongst the countryside, closer to Tam Coc or Trang An. It’s worth hiring a bike and spending some time cycling around the rural roads to get a better perspective of the beauty here.

Hue

Hue is a city in the center of Vietnam and like most of the country, it is a great backpacking destination. The best way to get around is to hire a push bike. You can rent one for as little as $1 a day. Use it to explore the local neighborhoods or go a little further out into the countryside. You can check out places like Dien Bien Phu or Ba Tang Mountain.

A big attraction you can ride to is the Tomb of Khai Dinh. Save some cash by parking your bike on the side of the road for free instead of in the “parking area”. On the way back to town, be sure to stop in at the Kim Dai Pagoda. There is a sign to get there on the main road. If you are as lucky as I was, a Buddhist monk will invite you in for tea while you speak via the translator on his iPad.

Hue Vietnam

Bert / Survive Travel

Back in town, I recommend getting a blind massage from Tue Linh Duong Hoi Duc. You can find it at 180 Phan Boi Chau Street. Then when night falls, hit up the night market, and be sure to try some of the famous Hue specialties for dinner.

Hue is a 13-hour bus ride from Hanoi. There will be lots of touts to give you cheap accommodation when you get off. Expect to pay less than $10/night for a private room including a lift to the hotel on the back of the tout’s motorbike.

Hoi An

Hoi An is a must visit on any backpacking Vietnam itinerary. This ancient city sits on the bank of the Thu Bon River. It’s chock full of beautiful old buildings, colorful lanterns, bustling markets and friendly locals. If you’re short on cash, one of the best things to do is simply stroll the streets of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town.

If you have a few dollars to spare you can purchase an Old Town ticket which will give you access to enter 5 of Hoi An’s sites. That includes an ancient temple, an 18th century traditional home or the beautiful 16th-century Japanese covered bridge, valid for a 24 hour period.

Hoi An Vietnam

Lynne / Well-Caffeinated Traveller

If you can afford to splurge, Hoi An is the place to take a traditional Vietnamese cooking class. For about only $25 USD you’ll enjoy a tasting tour of the local food market. Moreover, you’ll try your hand at making a few traditional foods like banh xeo, a crispy pancake filled with shrimp and noodles.

Even if you don’t splurge for the class, a visit to the colorful market can be a free and fun backpacking experience. At night, dance performances often take place along the riverfront. If you’re lucky you’ll see people releasing floating candles and wishes into the river – a magical sight.

Nha Trang

Just like the rest of the country, Nha Trang is a good place in Vietnam to consider for budget travelers and backpackers.
Visiting large cities during backpacking Vietnam can be a bit overwhelming until you get used to them. You may need a getaway from such a hectic pace.

One good escape is the town of Nha Trang, located in the middle of the country on the coast. It’s well-known for having some of the best “beach culture” in the country. It’s also a destination for scuba divers looking for decent diving in Vietnam. Years of poverty and wars have turned the once pristine Vietnam coastline into somewhat of a less-desirable diver destination. However, there are still plenty of places to dive in Nha Trang. The enthusiasts will find everything from small critters to turtles and cuttlefish.

Nha Trang

Halef / The Round the World Guys

Not a beach person? Head out to see some of Nha Trang’s historical sites, like the famous Big Buddha. Immerse yourself in the cultural experience and take a Vietnamese cooking class at Lanterns Restaurant. You’ll cook great food and visit a busy market the locals use – all while learning more about Vietnam’s daily life.

There are many places where backpackers can stay for cheap or relatively cheap. You can find anything from the super cheap $6 a night Blue Sea Hotel 2 to a decent resort-style room for $30-40 a night.

Your hotel likely can arrange a day trip for you to a few ancient temples and even a motorcycle trip to a rice paddy. An entire day’s tour will cost around $15-20. Definitely a great price for backpackers.

Mũi Né

In the south of Vietnam, about 200 kilometers north of Ho Chi Minh City, lies Mui Né. Until the late 1990s, Mui Né was a small fishing village, but in the years that followed, the town became a tourist destination and a mandatory stop if you are backpacking Vietnam. Today you will find one hotel complex near the other on the long beach. The number of high-priced accommodation has also increased significantly.

In between are a few restaurants, small shops, and massage parlors. With a rented motorbike, you can do a lot around Mui Né on your own. The place is also perfect for surfing. Good wind conditions and good waves attract surfers from all over the world to the small coastal town.

Mui Ne Vietnam

Clemens / Travellers Archive

Especially windsurfers find great conditions here. Undoubtedly one of the best attractions is the up to 30-meter high sand dunes in the hinterland of Mui Né. Here you can get a feel for what it feels like in the desert. It is best to go there in the early morning, then it is not quite as hot. So how to get there?

Open-circuit buses run daily from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang and back, stopping in Mui Né on the way. The drive from Ho Chi Minh City takes about four hours. A pretty convenient alternative is the train. Since Mui Né does not have its own train station, simply buy a ticket to Phan Thiet. The place is only a few kilometers away. From there you can go on by taxi. Although the train ride takes four to five hours but is much more pleasant.

Saigon/Ho Chi Minh

Saigon is one of the most interesting places for backpacking in Vietnam. The city is full of life, vibrant, fashionable and chaotic and beautiful in its own way. Put it this way: it is the kind of place you either love or hate at first sight.

What most travelers love about Saigon is the fantastic mixture of Asian traditions and modern way of life, all right next to each other. The city is packed with temples and pagodas, and there’s also some beautiful examples of French colonial architecture: the theater, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office, and more.

Saigon

Claudia / My Adventures Across The World

A place that everybody should see in Saigon is the War Remnants Museum. It’s cheap to get in, so it really fits in a backpackers’ budget, and it is incredibly interesting. Go there to learn more about the American War and its impact on Vietnam and its people.

Saigon also has an amazing food and bar scene. Street food is where to go to get a delicious yet cheap meal. Backpackers hostels are scattered across town. The Vintage Hostel is an excellent option.

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