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Backpacking trip in Vietnam – Everything You Need to Know

March 30, 2024

Vietnam, with its stunning landscapes, rich history, vibrant culture, and delicious cuisine, is a backpacker’s paradise waiting to be explored. From the bustling streets of Hanoi to the serene waters of Ha Long Bay and the picturesque rice terraces of Sapa, this Southeast Asian gem offers a diverse range of experiences for adventurous travelers. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into everything you need to know about backpacking trip in Vietnam, from the best time to visit and how to get around to the top places to visit and essential tips for budget accommodation and costs.

Ride a Cyclo Through Old Quarter of Hanoi

Ride a Cyclo Through Old Quarter of Hanoi

Interesting Things About Backpacking trip  in Vietnam

Cultural Immersion Through Homestays

One of the most enriching experiences while backpacking in Vietnam is staying with local families in traditional homestays. This immersive cultural experience allows you to connect with the locals, learn about their way of life, and participate in daily activities such as farming, cooking traditional dishes, and exploring the surrounding villages. Homestays are prevalent in rural areas like Mai Chau, Pu Luong, and the Mekong Delta, offering a unique insight into Vietnamese customs and traditions.

Thriving Street Food Culture

Vietnam is renowned for its delectable street food, which is not only delicious but also incredibly affordable. As a backpacker, you can indulge in an array of culinary delights from steaming bowls of pho and fresh spring rolls to banh mi sandwiches and savory pancakes. The bustling street markets and food stalls in cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hoi An offer a gastronomic adventure where you can savor authentic Vietnamese flavors while interacting with friendly locals.

When it comes to budgeting for your backpacking trip in Vietnam, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of the typical costs involved. Here is a breakdown of estimated expenses to help you plan your finances effectively:

Expense Average Cost (USD)
Accommodation $5-20 per night
Meals $2-5 per meal
Transportation $1-15 per journey
Entrance Fees $1-10 per site
Activities $5-30 per activity

It’s important to note that prices may vary depending on the region, season, and your travel style. By opting for budget-friendly accommodations, eating at local eateries, using public transport, and participating in free or low-cost activities, you can explore Vietnam without breaking the bank.

Sustainable Travel Initiatives

As awareness of sustainable tourism grows, many backpackers in Vietnam are actively seeking eco-friendly and responsible travel options. From supporting local communities through ethical tours and homestays to participating in conservation projects and minimizing plastic waste, there are various ways to contribute positively to the destinations you visit. Organizations like Pack for a Purpose and Clean Up Vietnam promote sustainable practices among travelers, encouraging responsible tourism behaviors that benefit both the environment and local populations.

Best Time to Visit Vietnam

Weather Patterns Across Regions

Vietnam’s climate varies significantly from north to south, influencing the best time to visit different regions of the country. The northern part of Vietnam, including Hanoi and Sapa, experiences distinct seasons with cold winters from November to February and hot summers from June to August. Central Vietnam, encompassing cities like Hue and Hoi An, has a tropical climate characterized by wet and dry seasons, with the wettest months typically between September and December. Southern Vietnam, home to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta, has a more consistent tropical climate with high temperatures and humidity throughout the year.

Peak Tourist Seasons and Off-Peak Periods

The peak tourist seasons in Vietnam coincide with the dry and mild weather conditions, making it an ideal time for outdoor activities and sightseeing. The months of December to February and June to August attract a large influx of tourists, resulting in higher prices for accommodations and popular attractions. If you prefer fewer crowds and lower prices, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of March to May and September to November when the weather is pleasant, and tourist numbers are relatively lower. Additionally, traveling during the Tet holiday (Vietnamese New Year) in late January or early February offers a unique cultural experience but requires advance planning due to potential transportation disruptions and closures of businesses.

Festivals and Events

Vietnam’s calendar is filled with vibrant festivals and events that showcase the country’s rich cultural heritage and traditions. From the colorful lantern festival in Hoi An and the lively Tet celebrations nationwide to the exhilarating boat races of the Perfume Pagoda Festival and the mesmerizing Mid-Autumn Festival lantern parades, there are numerous opportunities to immerse yourself in the local culture and festivities. Planning your backpacking trip around these events can add an extra layer of excitement and cultural immersion to your Vietnam experience.

How to Get Into Vietnam

Visa Requirements and Entry Procedures

Before embarking on your backpacking adventure in Vietnam, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the visa requirements and entry procedures to ensure a smooth arrival in the country. Most nationalities are required to obtain a visa to enter Vietnam, which can be obtained through the Vietnamese embassies or consulates abroad or via the convenient e-visa system for selected countries. The standard tourist visa allows for a stay of up to 90 days, with options to extend your visa if needed. Make sure to check the latest visa regulations and entry requirements before your trip to avoid any last-minute complications.

Arrival by Air, Land, or Sea

Vietnam is well-connected to international destinations through major airports such as Noi Bai International Airport in Hanoi, Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang International Airport in central Vietnam. Several airlines operate direct flights to Vietnam from key hubs in Asia, Europe, and Australia, offering convenient access for backpackers from around the world. If you prefer overland travel, Vietnam shares land borders with China, Laos, and Cambodia, allowing for cross-border journeys by bus or train. Additionally, cruise ships and ferries provide alternative modes of entry for travelers arriving by sea, with popular ports in Ha Long Bay, Da Nang, and Phu Quoc Island.

Health and Safety Considerations

Prior to your trip to Vietnam, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare provider or travel medicine specialist to receive up-to-date information on recommended vaccinations, health precautions, and safety tips. Common health concerns for travelers in Vietnam include mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever and malaria, as well as gastrointestinal illnesses from contaminated food and water. Packing essential items such as insect repellent, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and a basic first aid kit can help you stay healthy and prepared during your backpacking journey. It’s also wise to purchase travel insurance that covers medical emergencies and evacuation services in case of unforeseen circumstances.

How to Get Around Vietnam

Public Transportation Networks

Vietnam boasts a well-developed network of public transportation options that cater to backpackers seeking affordable and efficient ways to navigate the country. Major cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Da Nang have extensive bus systems that connect various neighborhoods and districts, offering a cost-effective means of getting around urban areas. For longer distances, sleeper buses and trains are popular choices among backpackers, providing overnight travel options with reclining seats or berths for added comfort. Domestic flights are also available for travelers covering vast distances between regions, with carriers like Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet Air offering competitive fares for domestic routes.

Motorbike Rentals and Tours

For adventurous backpackers looking to explore Vietnam at their own pace, renting a motorbike is a popular and exhilarating option to traverse scenic landscapes and off-the-beaten-path destinations. Many rental agencies in tourist hubs provide motorbike hire services at reasonable rates, allowing you the freedom to embark on road trips along coastal routes, mountain passes, and rural villages. Alternatively, joining guided motorbike tours led by experienced local riders can offer a hassle-free way to discover hidden gems and remote areas while enjoying the thrill of two-wheeled adventures. It’s essential to wear appropriate safety gear, follow traffic rules, and exercise caution while riding a motorbike in Vietnam to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey.

Cyclo Rides

In cities and towns across Vietnam, traditional modes of transportation such as cyclos (three-wheeled bicycle taxis) provide a unique and leisurely way to explore local attractions and landmarks. Taking a cyclo ride through the narrow streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter or cruising along the riverside promenades of Hue offers a nostalgic glimpse into Vietnam’s past while allowing you to soak in the sights, sounds, and aromas of bustling urban environments. Negotiating fares with cyclo drivers is common practice, so be prepared to haggle politely and agree on a reasonable price before setting off on your sightseeing adventure.

Best Itineraries for Backpacking Trip in Vietnam

Northern Vietnam Exploration

Embark on a captivating journey through northern Vietnam to discover the cultural heritage, natural beauty, and ethnic diversity of this enchanting region. Begin your itinerary in Hanoi, the bustling capital city known for its historic landmarks, vibrant street markets, and mouthwatering cuisine. Explore the ancient temples of Tran Quoc Pagoda and the bustling lanes of the Old Quarter before venturing to the tranquil waters of Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its emerald waters and towering limestone karsts. Continue your adventure in the mountainous landscapes of Sapa, where terraced rice fields, ethnic minority villages, and panoramic vistas await intrepid travelers seeking off-the-beaten-path experiences.

Day 1: Hanoi

  • Visit Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
  • Sample street food specialties at Dong Xuan Market
  • Attend a traditional water puppet show in the evening

Day 2: Ha Long Bay

  • Cruise through Ha Long Bay’s iconic limestone formations
  • Kayak or swim in the pristine waters
  • Enjoy a seafood feast onboard the cruise ship

Day 3: Sapa

  • Trek through terraced rice fields in the Muong Hoa Valley
  • Visit ethnic minority villages like Cat Cat and Ta Phin
  • Experience homestay accommodation with a local family

Central Vietnam Discovery

Immerse yourself in the charm and history of central Vietnam as you explore ancient cities, UNESCO-listed sites, and breathtaking landscapes along the country’s central coast. Start your itinerary in Hue, the former imperial capital, where you can marvel at the citadel’s architecture, visit royal tombs, and savor regional delicacies like bun bo Hue (spicy beef noodle soup). Journey south to Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage town renowned for its well-preserved architecture, lantern-lit streets, and tailor shops offering custom-made clothing. Conclude your central Vietnam adventure in Da Nang, a dynamic city known for its modern bridges, beautiful beaches, and proximity to the Marble Mountains and Ba Na Hills.

Day 1: Hue

  • Explore the Imperial City and Forbidden Purple City
  • Visit Thien Mu Pagoda and the Tomb of Emperor Khai Dinh
  • Indulge in a royal banquet featuring Hue’s traditional dishes

Day 2: Hoi An

  • Stroll through Hoi An’s ancient town and Japanese Covered Bridge
  • Take a cooking class to learn how to prepare Vietnamese dishes
  • Shop for souvenirs and tailor-made clothing in the bustling markets

Day 3: Da Nang

  • Climb the steps of the Marble Mountains for panoramic views
  • Relax on My Khe Beach or Son Tra Peninsula
  • Ride the cable car to Ba Na Hills for a scenic retreat

Best Places to Visit in Vietnam

Hanoi

As the vibrant capital of Vietnam, Hanoi captivates visitors with its blend of ancient traditions, colonial architecture, and bustling energy. Wander through the narrow alleyways of the Old Quarter to discover hidden temples, artisan workshops, and street food vendors serving up local delicacies. Don’t miss iconic landmarks like the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, One Pillar Pagoda, and Temple of Literature, each offering insights into Vietnam’s history and culture. Embrace the chaos of Hanoi’s motorbike-filled streets, sip fragrant Vietnamese coffee at a sidewalk cafe, and immerse yourself in the city’s captivating blend of old-world charm and modern dynamism.

Ha Long Bay

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Vietnam’s most iconic destinations, Ha Long Bay entices travelers with its mystical beauty and otherworldly landscapes. Embark on a cruise through the bay’s emerald waters dotted with thousands of limestone karsts and islets, each shrouded in mist and mystery. Explore hidden caves, kayak through secluded lagoons, and witness breathtaking sunsets over the horizon as you sail past floating fishing villages and verdant cliffs. Whether you choose a day trip or an overnight cruise, Ha Long Bay promises an unforgettable experience of natural wonder and tranquility amidst a surreal seascape.

Hoi An

Known for its charming riverside setting, ancient architecture, and lantern-lit streets, Hoi An is a picturesque town that exudes timeless beauty and cultural richness. Stroll along the Thu Bon River to admire the well-preserved buildings of the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its fusion of Chinese, Japanese, and European influences. Explore traditional craft workshops, sample delectable street food, and browse the vibrant night markets brimming with handmade souvenirs and tailor shops offering bespoke clothing. Immerse yourself in Hoi An’s enchanting ambiance, where history, artistry, and hospitality converge to create a truly magical destination for backpackers.

Best Things to Do in Vietnam

Trekking in Sapa

Trekking in Sapa

Trekking in Sapa

Escape the hustle and bustle of urban life and venture into the tranquil landscapes of Sapa, a mountainous region in northern Vietnam renowned for its terraced rice fields, ethnic minority villages, and panoramic vistas. Embark on a trekking adventure through lush valleys and verdant hillsides, encountering Hmong, Red Dao, and Tay communities along the way. Marvel at the intricate rice terraces that cascade down the mountainsides like emerald ribbons, reflecting the changing hues of the seasons and providing a stunning backdrop for your outdoor exploration. Stay in traditional homestays, savor local cuisine, and immerse yourself in the rich cultural tapestry of Sapa for an authentic and unforgettable experience.

Cruising the Mekong Delta

Tien Giang, Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Tien Giang, Mekong Delta, Vietnam

Embark on a leisurely cruise along the Mekong Delta, a vast network of rivers, canals, and floating markets that epitomize the agricultural heartland of southern Vietnam. Drift past verdant rice paddies, stilt houses, and lush orchards as you navigate the waterways teeming with life and activity. Visit bustling markets like Cai Be and Can Tho, where farmers sell fresh produce from boats laden with fruits, vegetables, and handicrafts. Explore traditional villages, sample regional specialties like coconut candy and snake wine, and witness the daily rhythms of life along the Mekong River, where time seems to flow at a slower pace amid the tranquil beauty of this fertile region.

Exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels

Cu Chi Tunnels of Ho Chi Minh City

Cu Chi Tunnels of Ho Chi Minh City

Delve into Vietnam’s wartime history by exploring the Cu Chi Tunnels, an extensive underground network used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Located near Ho Chi Minh City, these tunnels served as a strategic base for guerrilla fighters, providing shelter, communication routes, and storage facilities during the conflict. Descend into the narrow passageways, bunkers, and trapdoors of the Cu Chi Tunnels to gain insight into the resilience and ingenuity of the Vietnamese fighters who utilized these subterranean structures. Learn about the harsh conditions faced by soldiers, view hidden entrances and camouflaged vents, and appreciate the historical significance of this remarkable feat of engineering and survival.

Backpacker Accommodation in Vietnam

Hostels and Guesthouses

Vietnam offers a plethora of budget-friendly accommodation options catering to backpackers seeking affordable and comfortable places to stay during their travels. Hostels and guesthouses are popular choices for solo travelers and groups looking to meet like-minded individuals, share travel tips, and forge new friendships. With dormitory-style rooms, private suites, communal lounges, and social activities, hostels provide a vibrant and sociable atmosphere for guests to relax, unwind, and connect with fellow adventurers. Many hostels also offer amenities such as free Wi-Fi, breakfast, bike rentals, and tour bookings to enhance the overall guest experience and make backpacking in Vietnam a memorable and enjoyable experience.

Homestays and Farmstays

For a more immersive and authentic accommodation experience, consider staying in homestays or farmstays with local families in rural villages and countryside settings. Homestays offer a unique opportunity to live alongside Vietnamese hosts, participate in daily activities like farming, fishing, and cooking, and gain firsthand insights into traditional customs and lifestyles. Wake up to the sounds of roosters crowing, savor home-cooked meals made with fresh ingredients, and engage in cultural exchanges that foster mutual understanding and appreciation. Farmstays provide a peaceful retreat amidst nature, allowing guests to unwind in tranquil surroundings, explore organic gardens, and embrace sustainable living practices that promote harmony with the environment and local communities.

Eco-Friendly Lodgings and Boutique Hotels

As sustainable travel practices gain momentum in Vietnam, eco-friendly lodgings and boutique hotels are emerging as preferred accommodation choices for environmentally conscious backpackers. These establishments prioritize eco-friendly initiatives such as energy conservation, waste reduction, water management, and community engagement to minimize their environmental impact and support responsible tourism. From solar-powered resorts in remote islands to bamboo bungalows nestled in lush jungles, eco-friendly lodgings offer a blend of comfort, style, and sustainability for travelers seeking greener alternatives. By choosing eco-conscious accommodations, backpackers can contribute to conservation efforts, support local communities, and enjoy a more eco-friendly and ethical travel experience in Vietnam.

Conclusion

Backpacking in Vietnam offers a kaleidoscope of experiences for adventurous travelers seeking cultural immersion, natural beauty, and unforgettable memories. From exploring ancient temples and bustling markets to trekking through terraced rice fields and cruising along scenic waterways, Vietnam beckons with its diverse landscapes, rich heritage, and warm hospitality. By delving into the fascinating facets of Vietnamese culture, cuisine, and traditions, backpackers can uncover hidden gems, forge meaningful connections, and create lasting impressions that define their journey through this captivating country. Whether you’re navigating the chaotic streets of Hanoi, relaxing on the pristine beaches of Da Nang, or savoring street food delights in Hoi An, Vietnam invites you to embrace the spirit of adventure, discovery, and exploration that awaits at every turn. So pack your backpack, lace up your hiking boots, and set out on a transformative odyssey through the enchanting landscapes and vibrant tapestry of Vietnam—a destination that promises to captivate your senses, ignite your wanderlust, and leave an indelible mark on your backpacking adventures.

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