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Backpacking in Vietnam – Everything You Need to Know

Backpacking in Vietnam – Everything You Need to Know

Vietnam is one of many countries in the world that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many businesses related to tourism were forced to shut down. But today, since the borders have opened, businesses are returning. It is still noticeably different pre-pandemic, but it’s getting there.

Vietnam is one of the popular destinations for backpacking in Southeast Asia that you wouldn’t want to miss. The beautiful scenery of Sapa, the ancient temples of Hanoi, the historical and interesting caves in Phong Nha, the charming town of Hoi An, the beautiful beach of Nha Trang, and, of course, the young, lively city of Ho Chi Minh City or also known as Saigon.

There is no reason why you should not visit Vietnam when exploring Southeast Asia.

It is also voted to be one of the cheapest and easiest destinations to travel because of its archaeological design. Vietnam offers more than an affordable destination; it offers authentic Vietnamese food, cold fresh beer, hospitable locals, and a history that affects the world.

If you either have decided or have not (yet) decided if you are going to go backpacking in Vietnam, this article should help you come to a decision and should answer all your questions. From where to go, where to stay, how to travel, safety for solo and female travelers, cost of traveling, and other tips – this is your ultimate guide.

BACKPACKING IN VIETNAM TIPS

backpacking in vietnam travel cost and budget

We have a lot of articles about traveling in Vietnam that will surely help you with your trip; check out this page to see which ones can be useful for your backpacking in Vietnam.

CHECK ALL OUR TRAVELING IN VIETNAM POSTS

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TRAVEL TO VIETNAM

When deciding when to go to Vietnam, you may want to look up and consider its climate throughout the year. The interesting fact about this country is that the climate in the north can be very different from the south.

The north faces all four seasons: summer between April and June, rainy or typhoon season from July to November, winter from December to February, and spring, but it carries hot temperatures between the end of February and April.

It’s hot most of the year in the south, but the highest humidity is between February and May. The rainy season starts in June and can last until August to September. Then it will be back in hot weather. The temperature drops slightly from December to January, but it is not too cold to require a jacket.

The central part of Vietnam is a little tricky; it rains frequently but is sunny most of the year. The temperature can be hot during summer but cools down slightly because of the shoreline. You can also read this comprehensive guide on the best time to visit Vietnam.

WHAT TO PACK FOR VIETNAM

Let’s discuss the must-pack items for backpacking in Vietnam or doing an epic motorbike trip in Vietnam. Also, our guide to what to wear for traveling in Vietnam will help you decide what to take and what to leave at home.

Also, see our more detailed packing checklist for travelers to Vietnam.

For Backpacking in Vietnam

For a backpacking trip in Vietnam, a packing list is a must to ensure you are not only bringing the essentials but also packing the right clothing and accessories because not many backpacking people don’t know when to bring a winter jacket. You might need one Depending on the time of the year and where you will be going.

For Motorbiking in Vietnam

If you are planning to drive a motorbike, you also need to know the essentials. Vietnamese wear pretty casual clothes, however, if you visit sacred places, you need to make sure that you have clothes that cover your shoulder down to your arm and your entire legs down to the ankle.

WHAT IS THE COST OF TRAVELING IN VIETNAM

backpacking in vietnam travel cost and budget

Depending on your traveling style and preference, you can budget and spend as little as $600 or as much as $1000 for a month of backpacking. But in all seriousness, I personally would recommend budgeting between $25-$45/day or between $800-$1500/month as a safe budget.

You should read this Vietnam travel budget post for an in-depth discussion about this topic. If you’re planning to stay longer, also see our guide to Vietnam’s cost of living.

One of the cheapest options is to volunteer/work in hostels where you can live for free and get on trips for free/discounted prices in exchange for a few hours of work. You can also check out the idea of motorbiking in Vietnam; you can save some money if you travel this way, too.

To give you a little bit of day to day necessities that you will be spending during your travel in Vietnam:

  • Hostel dorm bed – $5 with breakfast and a bottle of beer in smaller towns/cities, $6 in bigger cities – best hostels in Vietnam
  • Transportation: $5 per day to rent a motorbike, $8 to take a 4-hour bus, $12 to take a 9-hour bus – transportation in Vietnam or check this site
  • Food: $1 for street food, $2.5 for a casual local restaurant, $2.5 for Western fast food places, $3-$4 for a medium-class restaurant
  • Beer: $2 in a bar, $1 in a shop
  • Hard liquor: $2 per shot in a bar, $7 in a shop if buying a bottle
  • Tours: $20 for a day trip, $45-$50 for an overnight tour with transportation, accommodation, and food – check out our favorite tour booking company, as they have affordable tours and great reviews, and we have used them ourselves.
  • Visa: $30 is the cheapest (unless you are going with the visa-free 15-day, available to limited nationalities). It is an e-visa for 30 days; you don’t need to pay a sticker fee, and this visa cannot be extended. Read more about visas in Vietnamapply for an evisa
  • Local SIM card – between $5-$7 with mobile data; read this on how to get a Vietnam SIM card

 

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU TRAVEL IN VIETNAM

You can easily travel in Vietnam for as long as you want to move here, but if you have limited time, about three to four weeks is enough to explore the must-sees. Depending on your way of traveling, speed, and planning, you can see many places and eat so much food in less than a month.

If you only have a week or two, I highly suggest you focus on two or three cities only or else you will spend more time on a bus or airports.

RELATED POST: Read our recommended Vietnam itinerary for 7 days / 14 days.

WHAT TO REMEMBER BEFORE ARRIVING IN VIETNAM

Before you arrive, tick these things off your list to avoid hassle and mishaps. Also, see our more detailed guide to Vietnam’s current entry requirements.

  • Travel insurance – See our guide to Vietnam travel insurance to find out if you really need it. We recommend this one.
  • Visa – visas are easy to get, but some things can mess up your plan, so get your visa as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary expenses and tears.
  • Currency – Ensure you know the currency in Vietnam and its current exchange rate to avoid losing money. Tour companies, hostels, and airports accept major currencies like US Dollars, British Pound and Euros.
  • Book the first night – make sure to book at least the first night of your trip to avoid going around the city to find a bed, which is not so easy with your luggage – get an affordable room.
  • Holidays – check if there are holidays before your arrival and during your stay. Holidays have ruined traveler’s plans, hostels can be booked up quickly, and so are the buses and trains
  • Season – take a moment and quickly research the season you will arrive. Because June is not the best time to go if you want to enjoy the beach
  • Download the app Grab – it works like Uber – check these other apps for Vietnam.

 

HOW TO APPLY FOR A VIETNAM VISA

There are only 14 countries that do not need a visa to enter and travel to Vietnam. However, the number of days that are given may not be enough if you want to explore the entire country. In this situation, you may apply for a Vietnam visa.

The visa cost is pretty cheap, but you should get one as soon as you can to make sure you will not run into any problems. Also, learn how to extend your Vietnam visa if you plan to stay longer.

RELATED POST: Vietnam visa for US citizens

Avoid any hassle and obtain your visa as soon as you can

GET YOUR VISA IN JUST A FEW HOURS and GET A BUSINESS VISA IF MOVING HERE

HOW SAFE IS IT TO TRAVEL IN VIETNAM

Vietnam was the first country I traveled to in a backpacking style, I remember that I landed early evening and arrived in my hostel almost at ten in the evening. Despite the long travel and dark sky, the city is lively, and tourists can be found everywhere. I did not feel unsafe for one bit.

Since Vietnam is very touristy and poverty cannot be hidden, there are always people who will take advantage of someone else – just like everywhere in the world. Make sure you hold your bag very close to you (in front of you is better), and do not bring your passport, bank cards, and a large amount of cash when out exploring.

We highly recommend booking taxis or private cars through the Grab app, which works like Uber – you can book motorbikes, too. This does not make everything safer, but it lessens the chance of getting ripped off by taxi drivers or stolen property by the drivers. You can also ask your hotel/hostel reception to get you a regular taxi; I’m pretty sure they will recommend a trustworthy taxi company like Mai Linh.

The young locals speak English and are more than happy to translate for you if you are having trouble.

DON’T RISK IT, GET A TRAVEL INSURANCE

WHAT TO EXPECT WHILE BACKPACKING IN VIETNAM

You must prepare yourself because Vietnam is very touristy and crowded almost any time of the year. You must also be aware of its traffic and the massive use of motorbikes nationwide.

There are great and very cheap hostels in Vietnam, which usually come with a free beer. The cities are crazy but lively, and the noise and air pollution are quite bad , but in the smaller towns, mountains, beaches, and forests, it should not be a problem.

WHERE TO GO IN VIETNAM

backpacking in vietnam travel cost and budget
Hai Giang | Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

I can honestly make an endless list of what to see in Vietnam, but for now, I will give the must not miss; you can also check out these fun things to do in Vietnam. Here are some ideas of what you should do while traveling in Vietnam without breaking the bank.

AFFORDABLE VIETNAM GUIDED TOURS

  • Sapa – meet the Vietnamese tribes; you can hike the rice paddies, drink rice wine with them, live in their house, and experience their life for a few days – they are very friendly and accommodating. You can get there by train or bus.
  • Fansipan – if you want to hike more, go to Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina
  • Hanoi – the capital of Vietnam, which is rich in culture
  • Ha Long Bay – sail around and kayak in Ha Long Bay, which consists of 2,000 limestone pillars.
  • Ninh Binh – you can also enjoy Ha Long Bay by land and water, but this time, you can go under the limestone pillars, which are also caves and grottoes.
  • Phong Nha – Vietnam has so many caves, which all have their own features; a lot of them can be found in this part of the country
  • Hue – also known as the food capital of Vietnam; if you are up for some adventure, hop on a motorbike and cross the Hai Van Pass, which was popularised by the British show Top Gear – things to do in Hue.
  • Da Nang is a place that you can’t skip, especially if you are doing the Hai Van Pass. You can also visit the Golden Bridge and enjoy other things in Da Nang.
  • Hoi An is the sweet little town of Hoi An covered in lanterns and will capture your heart. It is also known for customized tailored suits, dresses, boots, bags, and more! I’ve had a tailored long dress for only $20 – What To Do In Hoi An
  • Dalat – is a town known for canyoning and rappelling, if you love waterfalls, check out this list of best waterfalls in Dalat
  • Nha Trang – a beach destination not only backpacker enjoys but also family travelers and newlywed couples – fun things to do in Nha Trang
  • Mui Ne – is a great place to go kitesurfing; it has strong waves on the shore and very good wind for all wind and water sports – check Where to stay in Mui Ne or How to get to Mui Ne from Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Ho Chi Minh City – also known as Saigon, carries a lot of history and at the same time, the rebellious side of Vietnam. From Ho Chi Minh, you can get to Mui Ne, here are your options.
  • Mekong Delta – This river flows from China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, which is why it’s one of the top travel destinations in Vietnam.
  • Phu Quoc – is an island less than an hour’s flight from Ho Chi Minh City, with wonderful sand and crystal blue water; there is no reason why you should not have a chill day in Phu Quoc
  • Phnom Pehn – this is the capital of Cambodia; many backpackers will head here after their finished their backpacking trip in Vietnam. Find out the ways to get to Phnom Penh from Ho Chi Minh City.

ALSO READ: Best caves to see in Vietnam

THINGS TO SEE IN VIETNAM (Pinned Map)

VIETNAMESE FOOD TO EAT

Pho | Photo Credit: Pixabay.com

Vietnamese food is honestly one of my favorite cuisines; eating Vietnamese food in Vietnam is truly a jackpot. It’s affordable, authentic, and vegan/vegetarian-friendly. Check out these affordable food tours in Vietnam.

  • Banh mi – is a baguette sandwich found all over Vietnam’s street alleys.
  • Pho – no one should leave Vietnam without trying a bowl of Pho; some restaurants serve a vegan or vegetarian version of this amazing dish
  • Fresh spring rolls – fresh spring rolls are probably the healthiest dish I’ve had in Vietnam. Usually, it comes with pork or shrimp, but the vegan option is easy to find

WHERE TO STAY IN VIETNAM

 Hostels, guest houses, homestays, and hotels are almost everywhere in Vietnam. They are also super affordable; hostels are the cheapest, which costs about $5 while a private room for two people can be as cheap as $8.

You can check out the best Vietnam hostels list that covers the top destinations in Vietnam, while we also did a comparison article about where to stay in Ho Chi Minh CityHanoiDa NangHoi AnMui Nei & Phan Thiet.

ACCOMMODATIONS IN VIETNAM PER CITY / TOWN

HOW TO GET AROUND IN VIETNAM

There are more than enough ways to get around in Vietnam, from going to cities to cities or islands to islands; there is always a way, as the Vietnamese would say.

Flying

If your budget permits, flying in, out, and around Vietnam is convenient and easy. There are a handful of airlines to choose from; for budget ones, you have Jetstar, VietJet, and AirAsia, while Vietnam Airlines is also an option but not the most affordable.

Bus

Traveling via bus is probably the cheapest and least hassle way to travel; it’s also the most used way of transportation for backpackers in Vietnam. From the north to the south, even in and out of Vietnam, plenty of bus companies offer flexible time schedules. Most buses have toilets and seats that are 90 degrees reclined.

Train

Taking the train may not be the fastest and cheapest, but it is definitely an experience. For overnight travels, the train offers the most comfortable way to travel because they offer berths for very reasonable prices.

backpacking in vietnam travel cost and budget
Photo Credit: Quangpraha via Pixabay.com

Motorbike

It is indeed a popular thing for a backpacker to travel and drive a motorbike either within the city or throughout the whole country. This is also the most used way of transportation for the locals.

You can rent a motorbike for as low as $8 per day or buy one and explore Vietnam for as low as $200. However, you must remember that you will pay for its gas and breakdown expenses. You can find more information about motorbiking in Vietnam here.

Boat

It’s not specifically a cheap way to travel or get around, but if you are visiting an island, you definitely need to take a boat once in a while, like in Ha Long Bay or Phu Quoc.

Hitchhiking

For an even cheaper way, go hitchhike. It’s not so popular in Vietnam, but I’ve met travelers who have done it. Make sure to have a translating app on your phone, or you will have a hard time communicating with the locals.

WHERE TO GO AFTER VIETNAM

After your trip to Vietnam, you can either go to Cambodia which is a country bordered in the south (Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon). You can get there by bus, boat, motorbike (if you want to take your motorbike with you), or fly.

CHECK BUS PRICES & SCHEDULES

You can also head to Laos, bordered in the north (Lao Cai, Sa Pa, Hanoi) or central to Vietnam (Dalat, Hoi An, Hue) by bus, motorbike, or flying.

CHECK BUS PRICES & SCHEDULES

There are also plenty of options to fly out of Vietnam to another country in Southeast Asia, other parts of Asia, Oceania, or even to Europe.

HOW TO TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY IN VIETNAM

Vietnam, as I mentioned before, is very touristy. This doesn’t only bring business to the country but also problems in some way. While enjoying and exploring, try to travel responsibly as much as you can. Here are some tips for you:

  • Bring reusable travel products – Vietnam uses plastic like crazy, from straws, plastic bags, water bottles, takeaway boxes, and more. Bring your own Eco-friendly travel accessories to do your best to say no when you are offered to have a single-use plastic product.
  • Use the rubbish bins – You might notice that the locals are not into using the rubbish bins a lot. It is frustrating, but there is no reason for you to do the same. If a bin is out of sight, keep it in your pocket for a few minutes/hours and throw it in the proper place – be an example to those who don’t see its value.
  • Travel less with airlines – Lessen your carbon footprint and get on local trains and buses, in this way you also support local companies instead of big international ones.
  • Ethical travel – You’ve heard about the “do not ride the Elephants advocacy” but do not support any of these types of tours as well: tigers, elephants, snakes, etc. 
  • No to sex tourism 
  • Support the locals – When buying souvenirs, try to get them in the small sidewalk/local market shacks rather than expensive malls; this is a great way to support the locals who are struggling in placing food on their table, sending their children to school, or getting by every day. If you take a closer look, you can see that some of their products are handmade, high-quality, and affordable.

EMERGENCY HOSPITALISATION AND MEDICAL ATTENTION

You should be prepared for any emergency situation that requires medical attention. Not because it didn’t happen to the other 100 backpackers doesn’t mean it won’t happen to you. It’s always better to prepare than be sorry later. Make sure to have the address and contact number of international hospitals and clinics for the places that you are going to.

Check out this detailed list of Vietnam’s best local medical clinics and international hospitals. You should also get yourself covered with travel insurance even after you leave your home country.

CHECK OUR RECOMMENDED INSURANCE COMPANY

EXTRA TIPS FOR YOU

backpacking in vietnam travel cost and budget

Ensure you get a sim card with mobile data once you arrive in Vietnam; they are affordable and accessible. For as low as $5, you can get monthly mobile data, primarily if you only use this for messaging, browsing the internet, and accessing messaging applications on your phone. They also come with SMS and call credits. You can buy them at the airport (a little pricey) or ask your hostel receptionist.

Vietnam is full of factories for big companies. You can buy branded bags, shoes, accessories, and more in many places. Some are full-on fake, while the others are class A, which was rejected by the factory standard and are being sold for cheaper prices. I bought my backpacking NorthFace bag on the street of Hanoi for $40; this bag has been to 20 countries in the span of three years, where I only had to fix a minor issue once (I paid $1 to someone in the Philippines who can stitch it up).

We hope you find our backpacking in Vietnam useful; if you have more questions, just let us know, and we will try our best to help. Safe travels, and travel responsibly!

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / Minh Mi Goi.

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paul mauriat

Wednesday 28th of November 2018

Thank you for this helpful information.