Best Things to Do in Vietnam (Backpacking Vietnam Guide)

Ever plan on visiting the wonderfully diverse country of Vietnam? A good reason for backpacking Vietnam is because there are just so many things to do in Vietnam and can be done on a budget. You can enjoy their amazing local food, one of our personal favorite cuisines in Southeast Asia. There is also so much to admire in Vietnam’s busy streets. It’s so easy and enjoyable to just explore, indulge and relax throughout the country.

In this article, I am giving you the ultimate Backpacking Vietnam travel guide. We will tell your about our favorite Vietnam attractions and when the best time to visit Vietnam is. This blog post contains a full, comprehensive Vietnam itinerary. We talk about what to eat in Vietnam and where to stay in Vietnam. If possible, we do recommend that you stay and explore the country for an entire month. After all, everything is very affordable, from food to accommodation to transportation, and there are just so many nice cities to go around! Vietnam is quite vast and it takes time if you want to cross the country by bus, by hitchhiking, by train or even by buying your own motorbike for the complete backpacking Vietnam experience!

Vietnam was previously colonized by the French and along with that, they brought in some of their influences which the Vietnamese people have adapted and modernized throughout the years. The French laid the foundations of more Western aspects such as education and religion, like introducing Christianity to the country. There are many historical churches found in Vietnam which have a lot of the Western influence that you’ll notice, such as the Sa Pa Stone Church, the Phu Nhai Church in the Nam Dinh Province, the Phat Diem Cathedral in the Ninh Binh Province, the Hanoi Cathedral, and the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral.

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Before Backpacking Vietnam

Visa

When visiting Vietnam, you shouldn’t forget to apply for your E-Visa online. No worries, it is very easy to apply and get one, and it costs 25 USD. Fill out the form online, wait for an approval letter via email, and just present the necessary requirements as well as your passport. Check out this link  to see if your country is one of the few that have 15 days of visa-free travel to Vietnam, like Spain and the UK. 15 days is definitely enough time for first timers who are backpacking Vietnam. For those planning to stay longer, make sure that your visa is all sorted out before traveling.

Is it safe to travel to Vietnam?

Going to Vietnam is mostly trouble-free but of course, as with any other destination, you should always take precautions, be vigilant and take care of your belongings. The traffic is crazy in Vietnam. You have to be careful whenever you cross the street, especially in big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh where there are motorbikes everywhere. Always be aware of your surroundings when walking around the big cities of Vietnam. Remember to look both ways to make sure it’s safe to go ahead. We cannot emphasize enough how keeping yourself focused when there’s traffic and motorcycles on the street should be the #1 precaution you take when backpacking Vietnam.

Currency and ATMs in Vietnam

Vietnam’s currency is  the Vietnam Dong (VND). The exchange rate tends to be lower at the airport, so we recommend that you only exchange enough money to get you settled in Vietnam and exchange the rest some place with higher rates. As far as we know, the exchange rate is 1 USD to 23,000 Vietnamese Dong. Just click here to know the current exchange rate between Vietnam and your country. Finally, credit cards are mostly accepted, but you will find that some places might only accept cash.

Best time to visit Vietnam

If you are planning to visit Vietnam from North to South, the best time of the year to visit is generally from September to December (Autumn) and March to April (Spring). These seasons are the sunniest in Vietnam.

For North Vietnam, October to May will give you dry weather in the majority of these months. It can be quite cold up in the mountains. March onwards tends to be a little more rainy.

If you wish to visit Central Vietnam, February to July is the best time of year to avoid the rain. On the other hand, temperatures from June to August will be he hottest.

Those traveling Southern Vietnam should take note that December to April is the region’s dry season. Temperatures can even reach up to 40 degrees come March or April.

Make sure to plan your trip well based on these weather advisories to make the most out of your trip!

How to get Wi-Fi in Vietnam

If you need to get Wi-Fi in Vietnam to do some work or to contact your family and friends, the task will be quite an easy one.There are only a few places in the country like Halong Bay and Sa Pa where it will be hard to get proper connection. But most of the cities and the accommodations in them will have high speed internet connection. Even sleeper or overnight buses have Wi-Fi connections that are strong enough for work and communication.

How to get to Vietnam

You can go by bus and buy a multi-stop ticket in advance. However, if this option feels too fixed and limiting, you can just get your tickets one by one.

Another exciting option is to ride a train. Trains in Vietnam are particularly convenient for those long distance destinations. You can travel to almost anywhere in Vietnam through their railway system.

Finally, motorbikes are easy to rent and this will give you a chance to bike around and explore the country by yourself and following your own schedule.

Visiting Vietnam won’t be much of a hassle. If you are flying from the United States, you may want to check for cheap flights from San Francisco. Visitors from Europe and Southeast Asia are sure to find affordable flights online as well. If you are coming from Manila, you can check flights from Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific in advance so you could get the chance to catch a great, much cheaper deal!

Skyscanner is a great informative website for browsing, finding and booking budget flights. Do check it out!

How Much Budget Do You Need Per Day

You can make your trip to Vietnam extremely inexpensive with a daily budget of 20 USD per day. You can find accommodation in Vietnam starting at around 5 to 7 USD for a dorm. Sometimes they include breakfast and even free beer with those low rates. Food, juice drinks, water and beer are so affordable in Vietnam. Your daily budget for food can be as low as 5 to10 USD, depending on your food and restaurant preferences. Commodities in North and Central Vietnam are generally pricier than those on South Vietnam.

For transportation within the city, buses are less than half a dollar. With this you can already move around the area comfortably. On the other hand, for long distance buses, fares start from 10 to 15 USD. You have the option moving from one destination to another when riding the sleeper bus in Vietnam.

Here’s a tip: If you move at night by bus, you will save one night accommodation. Then you get to your next destination during the day, with plenty of rest and and enough energy to go around!

Vietnam itinerary

There are different routes that you can take in your Vietnam itinerary. If you get to Hanoi as the first stop for backpacking Vietnam, I suggest you stay for a few days in the city and organize tours to go to Sa Pa and to Halong Bay. These places are unique and while these are trips you can do on your own, you might prefer taking a tour with a reliable tour company.

From Hanoi, a long night bus can take you to Hue, an interesting historical area in Vietnam. Then from Hue you can go to Hoi An and Da Nang, both of which are really close by. Hoi An is a small town full of backapckers and tourists. On the other hand, Da Nang is one of the largest cities in Vietnam. This is where you start your travels in Central Vietnam. From here, you can explore the mountains in Da Lat.  You can also choose to travel from Hoi An South to Nha Trang, a big city with beautiful beaches. Again, you can ride on a night train or night bus for this trip. We really liked spending the night on the sleeper bus where we can get free Wi-Fi and really good sleep. There are many activities to do and places to go around Nha Trang. You can familiarize yourself with the city or just relax and unwind on the beach. Once you leave Nha Trang you can visit Mui Ne, an area that lies on the coast of Vietnam.

Some of the last stops you can make when backpacking Vietnam can be the busiest and largest city, Ho Chi Minh. Here you can spend a few days and just take in Vietnam’s culture and vibe. For your last destination, the Mekong River Delta is a lovely area where you can relax in nature as you cruise along the river. From Mekong Delta you can get your feet back into solid land and visit Cambodia! You can choose to continue your trip around Southeast Asia or go back to Ho Chi Minh and get an international flight back home.

Accommodation: Where to stay in Vietnam

Since Vietnam is such a touristic country, there are already many places you can book in Vietnam. From cheap hostels and homestays starting from 5 USD to luxury hotels where you can spend more than 100 USD per day, options abound and depend entirely on your budget.

If you wish to travel with a tight budget, you can always couchsurf or sleep in your tent. For more tips, you can read our article on 28 ways to sleep for free on your travels. I once tried hitchhiking and pitching my tent in North Vietnam before leaving to China. The locals didn’t let me sleep in a tent, though, and invited me to sleep in their home! As with every place in the world, you will always find kindhearted people, many unique experiences and lots of fun! The key is to just be open for all the possibilities!

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Vietnam Tourist Spots

Hanoi

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Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam and it is indeed a great city for tourists and digital nomads like us. Located in the heart of Vietnam, Hanoi is a must-not-miss city for any tourist. Getting to Hanoi is quite easy. There are many flights directed to Hanoi if you are coming from Southeast Asia. On the other hand, you can get to Hanoi by bus and train if you’re coming from Sa Pa, Hoi An, Nha Trang and other local destinations. We recommend riding a night bus or train to save time and to get a pretty sweet sleeping arrangement, as mentioned above. If you see an old guy chilling beside his motorbike on a sidewalk, you can ask him to take you anywhere and just fairly negotiate the price. Another exciting thing to try in Vietnam is buying or renting your own motorbike and traveling anywhere you want to in Vietnam. That’ll be so cool!

There are many places to go around during the day for tourists and nightlife is also great in Hanoi. Fun fact: Vietnam has the cheapest beer in the world! And you know what goes well with beer? Street food! The ones in Hanoi are 100% delicious. Read here our experience and things to do in Hanoi.

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Hue

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Hue is one of our favorite Vietnam tourist destinations. It’s located in Central Vietnam and was one of the places where the Vietnamese War had the most casualties. You can visit the Forbidden City and breathe in the rich history and culture there, and just about anywhere in Hue. Aside from reminiscing the past, this city is also the perfect place for enjoying the present–by renting a bicycle.  Riding one around the city is so idyllic and relaxing.

The food and places to stay in Hue are very affordable. This place is definitely an item that shouldn’t be absent from your itinerary.

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Da Nang

Da Nang is the fourth largest city in Vietnam. Since it is a pretty big area, you can choose to stay for a few days. You can also take a quick day trip to Da Nang from Hoi An. The local markets in this city are fun to see and the distances between establishments are pretty big. Therefore, a motorcycle would be great to go around. Da Nang can be found in Central Vietnam and there are opportunities to go to the beach when visiting this city. How fun!

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Hoi An

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Days in Hoi An can be spent by simply wandering the streets, going into history through Old Houses and temples, and dining in lovely cafes and restaurants. Hoi An in itself is a truly beautiful place to visit, with rivers and canals all around. The city is filled with natural beauty and its overall aesthetic is as charming as it ever was.

We loved the night market and going around Hoi An with our bicycle. The beach was also a nice place to visit. The city is packed with tourists yet prices remain low and everything is pretty affordable. It’s another amazing place in Vietnam to settle in for a few days if you wish to go slow after taking plenty of adventures all around the country. Read our things to do in Hoi An!

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Ho Chi Minh

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Formerly known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh is Vietnam’s largest city, though not its capital. This city can be considered the busiest part of Vietnam. There were a lot of motorbikes everywhere when we visited the city. Motorbikes are the signature vehicles in Vietnam because most of the locals travel using those.

We enjoyed coffee shops since Rachel loves Vietnamese coffee and exploring local offerings. Prices are super cheap! This city was actually our first stop in Vietnam. There are several great spots to visit around, but our favorite part of visiting Ho Chi Minh was just walking around neighborhoods. The city itself is just so interesting!

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Halong Bay

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Ha Long Bay is located in Northern Vietnam, near the China-Vietnam border. We believe the best way to experience it is to stay overnight and appreciate the bay’s calm, misty mornings. After all, this site is listed as one of the New7Wonders of Nature! Ha Long Bay has long gained its popularity to locals and foreigners alike and is also a top-rated UNESCO World  Heritage site. There are so many things to do and activities to try here such as cruising, kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, and so on. Most travelers spend a day or two to explore the entirety of this lovely bay. It’s a perfect place for a getaway, picture taking, spelunking and kayaking. A cruise around Halong Bay is also a must-try. We enjoyed it so much!

You can organize a trip to the area on your own but this time, Rachel and I decided to join a tour so we could make the most out of our two days and one night in Halong Bay. This place is as beautiful as advertised. It’s just truly amazing!

Sa Pa

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On your next visit to Vietnam, why don’t you just skip the busy city life and enjoy the tranquility of Sapa, Vietnam? Established as a hill station by the French in 1922, Sapa overlooks the terraced rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley. To reach Sapa, you have to board an overnight train to Lao Cai. Depending on availability, visitors can either share a cabin (four berths) or reserve a private cabin (two berths) from Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. This is the ideal place for several days of hiking. You can opt for a homestay and drink “happy water”. Rachel loved it so much! It was great to have the opportunity to know how the local people live in Vietnam’s mountains. You will surely have a good time observing all the beautiful landscapes and amazing rice fields in Sa Pa.

You can spend 2-3 days hiking around the rice fields and supporting the local community in Sapa by sleeping in their homestays. Simple life and great views all around! How does one get to Sapa from Hanoi, you ask? There are night buses and trains in the capital so you can ride one and get to Sa Pa early in the morning, ready to start hiking!

Nha Trang

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Nha Trang is just one of the many awesome places we visited on our travels. It is considered the great backbone of Indochina and many speak of its charm and energy. Nha Trang has stunning beach fronts, rolling hills, relaxing mud spas, cable cars and an overall beautiful tropical environment. We definitely couldn’t miss out on all those things! So, we went and relaxed on the beach, visited the markets and enjoyed the nightlife all around the city. We really digged Nha Trang’s vibe!

The beach is quite crowded in Nha Trang but it’s still really nice! In fact, this might be one of the busiest Vietnam tourist spots in your entire trip. Another interesting place to visit in the city is the local market. Also, we were quite surprised by how big the Russian community in Vietnam is and some Vietnamese people can even speak Russian! We learned all this and more in Nha Trang.

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Mui Nue

Mui Nue is a town half-way between Ho Chi Minh and Nha Trang. Tourists flock this area because of its lovely beaches and has gotten so popular because of its white sand dunes. Also, it is the only place in Vietnam where you can ride a hot air balloon. Isn’t that quite thrilling? Mui Nue is definitely a great place to just lounge on the beach. However, small as it may be, there are many restaurants and bars to choose from in this Southeastern Vietnam town that comes alive at night.

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Da Lat

A popular Vietnam tourist spot in the mountains, Da Lat is a place where many delicious vegetables grow. It is one of the coolest parts of Vietnam, weather-wise. On the other hand, its people are warm and inviting. Da Lat is called the “City of Eternal Spring” and is the perfect place to go hiking. Renting a motorbike is also a good way to go around this mountainous town.

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Mekong Delta

This popular route to and from the Kingdom of Cambodia is a beautiful nature spot. You can rent a boat to cross the river and just gaze at the surrounding fauna and flora of Mekong Delta. The region also takes pride in its history and close association to Cambodian culture, making it different from the big cities in Vietnam.

Food, accommodation and tours come in affordable prices in Mekong Delta!

Street Food in Vietnam

Banh Mi

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Are you a fan of Anthony Bourdain? Then you might remember him mentioning his favorite banh mi place called Banh Mi Phuong in Hoi An. To think that this amazing little sandwich has only been around for a handful of decades, it has already gained so much interest from locals and tourists alike. A little history lesson: The Vietnamese began changing their local recipe and adding different ingredients because of French influences that can be traced back to the 1800s.

This included creating sandwiches with thinly sliced grilled meats, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, chili sauce, and local ingredients that make the dish unique. The name for this originally Western recipe was changed to bánh mì which means “bread made from wheat.” This hybrid food is definitely a culture shift for the Vietnamese as it would become a popular food not just in the country but all over the world.

If you like street food in Southeast Asia, read our favorite dishes!

Pho

I don’t know about you but when I’m sick, all I want is chicken noodle soup. It is impossible to visit Vietnam and not come across a bowl of Pho. This quintessential Vietnamese dish is more abundant throughout this country than 7 Eleven stores in Bangkok! No matter what mood you’re in, eating and enjoying this truly Vietnamese dish is sure to be a pleasurable experience to lift your spirit!

Bia Hoi

Hanoi nightlife was really fun. People, both the locals and foreigners, hang out for beer. There are bars with loud music and tiny chairs where you can order some food to pair up your beer with. Not only is bia hoi the cheapest beer in the world, it is also the freshest! What do I mean by “freshest?” Bia hoi is made in Hanoi every night and delivered to drinking establishments early every morning. Cool, right? In Vietnam, There are many restaurants and places here where you can drink beer. The local beer in Hoi An only costs less than a dollar. Yeah! In fact, it became my favorite thing to do in the afternoons.

Vietnamese Coffee

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Rachel loves coffee and it’s always a good way to catch up with our online business while enjoying ourselves. Both the internet connection and the coffee culture are great in Vietnam, making this the ideal location for travel bloggers like us. A cup of filtered Vietnamese coffee called cà phê sữa đá is super easy to make! It’s a highly concentrated shot of coffee that is served with sweetened condensed milk. It can be enjoyed hot or cold, and a lot of people have their own take on it. The Vietnamese coffee ritual really makes you take a step back and enjoy the little things.

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Things to do in Vietnam

Homestay and Trekking in Sa Pa

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We mentioned Sa Pa before as one of the best Vietnam tourist spots, and among our favorite things to do in Vietnam is spending a few days hiking in Sa Pa. Get a local guide who will show you around. They will provide a homestay for you where you can spend the night. You will feel just like a local as you sleep where they sleep and eat where they eat. People from Sa Pa are very congenial, making the town even more beautiful than it already is.

Kayaking on Halong Bay

If you want to visit a world-renowned nature site, you can go on a day tour to Halong Bay. You can even join a 2-3 day tour where you can spend lots of time kayaking along the bay. If you wish to go to Cat Island, you can rent your own kayak and spend the day exploring it. There are beautiful caves to visit and its amazing to see all the limestones and other natural beauties at Halong Bay.

Visiting the Cu Chi tunnels and Vinh Moc tunnels

The Cu Chi tunnels are located close to Ho Chi Minh and were historically used by soldiers as hiding and meeting spots during the Vietnam War. On the other hand, the Vinh Moc tunnels are located around Central Vietnam in the Demilitarized Zone. People used to live in those tunnels for 6 long years as bombs were being dropped all over Vietnam. It was such a tiny space to sleep and live in but during that period, 17 children were born in those tunnels. Incredible, right? The tunnels are well-preserved and you can really see how narrow those passages are. It’s enough to give you the chills!

Drinking Egg Coffee

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Have you ever heard of egg coffee? It was our first time trying this unique kind of coffee and we really loved it. Actually, we became quite addicted to it and drank some everyday in Hanoi! Egg coffee is incredibly creamy and really delicious.  Enjoying coffee has naturally been a Vietnamese elegant pleasure; perhaps that’s why different kinds of coffee shops are popping up all over the country. Locals seem to go to coffee shops from morning to midnight. They are just crazy about coffee! We really liked the quaint, little places where they give you sunflower seeds while you drink your coffee.

Traveling by Motorbike in Vietnam

You can cross the whole country of Vietnam from North to South through a motorbike. There are many places where you can buy a motorbike secondhand for around 400-500 USD. You can get them even cheaper in backpacker places and shops in Vietnam. A trip all over Vietnam can last up to 3-4 weeks (or even more!) if you have time. It’s a great way to discover the rural, more subdued areas of Southeast Asia while still having the chance to enjoy the conveniences of the city. Another travel tip: You can sell your motorbike in shops or other backpackers, especially in big cities like Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi. Let others experience Vietnam as freely and happily as you have!

 

So, that’s it! We’ve gathered the best Vietnam tourist spots to visit and all the many great things to do in Vietnam! We hope this post about the things to do in Vietnam and Vietnam tourist spots will help you prepare for your next adventure. If you have more places to recommend or would like to share your travel experiences with us, just leave a comment below and we will add them to our Backpacking Vietnam Guide!

Feel free to share this post with family and friends so they can find out all the things to do in Vietnam. All these Vietnam tourist spots are waiting for you!

Happy Travels!

Ruben Arribas is a Spanish traveler who has traveled more than 70+ countries around the world. He believes in travel without money. Recently, he finished a bicycle trip, 9500 km, from Madrid to North Cape.

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