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Guide to Backpacking in Vietnam: Best Itineraries, Places to Visit, and Things to Do

April 26, 2024

Vietnam, a captivating Southeast Asian nation, boasts a diverse landscape that seamlessly blends natural wonders, vibrant cities, and a rich cultural tapestry. From the bustling streets of Hanoi to the serene beaches of Phu Quoc, this country offers an unparalleled backpacking experience. Embark on an adventure through Vietnam and immerse yourself in its intoxicating blend of history, cuisine, and breathtaking scenery.

Backpacking Tips in Vietnam

Backpacking Tips in Vietnam

Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking Vietnam

2-Week Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary: The Quick Trip

Day 1-3: Hanoi

  • Explore the Old Quarter and sample the local street food
  • Visit Hoan Kiem Lake and Ngoc Son Temple
  • Take a day trip to Ha Long Bay

Day 4-5: Sapa

  • Trek through picturesque rice terraces and meet local hill tribes
  • Visit Cat Cat Village and Silver Waterfall

Day 6-7: Hue

  • Explore the Imperial City and Forbidden Purple City
  • Visit Thien Mu Pagoda and take a boat ride on the Perfume River

Day 8-9: Hoi An

  • Wander through the charming Old Town with its lantern-lit streets
  • Visit the Japanese Covered Bridge and enjoy the local cuisine

Day 10-12: Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

  • Explore the War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels
  • Visit Ben Thanh Market and Notre Dame Cathedral
  • Take a day trip to the Mekong Delta

Day 13-14: Phu Quoc Island

  • Relax on the pristine beaches
  • Visit Phu Quoc National Park and enjoy water activities like snorkeling

This itinerary will give you a taste of Vietnam’s rich culture, history, and natural beauty in just two weeks.

1-Month Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary: The Grand Tour

Week 1: Hanoi, Halong Bay and Sapa

+ Day 1-3 (Hanoi): Explore the Old Quarter, Hoan Kiem Lake, and the Temple of Literature. Visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and One Pillar Pagoda. Enjoy local street food and visit night markets. Take a cyclo tour or walking tour around the city.

+ Day 4-5 (Halong Bay): Take a cruise on Halong Bay, overnight on a junk boat, and explore the limestone islands and caves. Visit Sung Sot Cave and go kayaking. Enjoy fresh seafood on board the cruise.

+ Day 6-7 (Sapa): Take an overnight train or bus to Sapa. Trek through the rice terraces and visit local villages. Explore Fansipan, the highest mountain in Indochina. Visit the Sapa market and buy traditional handicrafts.

Week 2: Ninh Binh and Quang Binh

+ Day 1-2 (Ninh Binh): Visit Tam Coc, a beautiful area with limestone karsts and winding rivers. Take a boat ride through the rice fields and caves. Explore Trang An, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its scenic landscape and ancient temples. Visit Bich Dong Pagoda and climb to the top for panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

– Day 3-7 (Quang Binh): Visit Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to stunning caves like Son Doong, the largest cave in the world. Explore Paradise Cave and Dark Cave for more unique geological formations. Enjoy a bicycle ride through the countryside or go kayaking on the Son River. Relax on the beaches of Quang Binh, such as Nhat Le Beach or Da Nhay Beach. Visit the historical sites in the area, such as the Vinh Moc Tunnels and the Hien Luong Bridge on the DMZ.

This itinerary allows you to experience the natural beauty and cultural heritage of both Ninh Binh and Quang Binh while backpacking through the region.

Week 3: Da Nang, Hoi An and Hue

+ Day 1-2 (Da Nang): Explore the beautiful beaches of Da Nang like My Khe Beach and Non Nuoc Beach. Visit the Marble Mountains for stunning views and ancient caves. Discover the iconic Dragon Bridge and take a stroll along the Han River.

+ Day 3-4 (Hoi An): Wander around the charming Ancient Town of Hoi An with its lantern-lit streets. Try local dishes at the bustling night market. Take a boat ride along the Thu Bon River and visit the nearby islands. Get tailor-made clothes at one of the many reputable tailors in town.

+ Day 5-7 (Hue): Visit the Imperial City of Hue and explore its historical sites like the Forbidden Purple City. Take a dragon boat cruise along the Perfume River to see pagodas and tombs. Rent a motorbike and ride to the Hai Van Pass for breathtaking views of the coastline.

Remember to try the local cuisine in each city and immerse yourself in the culture and history of central Vietnam.

Week 4: Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc Island

+ Day 1-3 (Ho Chi Minh City): Visit the War Remnants Museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels to learn about Vietnam’s history. Explore the vibrant Ben Thanh Market for souvenirs and local food. Take a street food tour to taste the diverse flavors of Vietnamese cuisine. Visit the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Central Post Office for some colonial architecture. Enjoy the nightlife at Bui Vien Walking Street

+ Day 4-5 (Mekong Delta): Take a boat tour to visit floating markets and see local life along the Mekong River. Visit fruit orchards and try fresh tropical fruits. Explore the lush green rice fields and coconut candy workshops. Stay at a local homestay to experience the culture and hospitality of the Mekong Delta

Day 6-7 (Phu Quoc Island): Relax on the beautiful white sandy beaches and swim in the crystal-clear waters. Visit the Phu Quoc National Park for hiking and wildlife spotting. Enjoy fresh seafood at the night markets. Take a snorkeling or diving trip to explore the vibrant coral reefs.

Best Places to Visit in Vietnam

Backpacking Hanoi

Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, is a bustling metropolis that seamlessly blends ancient traditions with modern flair. Wander through the labyrinth of the Old Quarter, where you’ll find narrow streets lined with vibrant shops, street food stalls, and historic buildings. Visit the iconic Hoan Kiem Lake, a tranquil oasis in the heart of the city, and explore the centuries-old Temple of Literature, a testament to Vietnam’s reverence for education.

Backpacking Sapa

Nestled in the northwestern mountains of Vietnam, Sapa is a picturesque town renowned for its stunning landscapes and cultural diversity. Embark on a trek through the verdant rice terraces, where you’ll encounter the vibrant hill tribes, such as the Black Hmong and Red Dao, who proudly showcase their traditional attire and way of life. Marvel at the breathtaking vistas of cascading waterfalls, deep valleys, and towering peaks that define this mountainous region.

Backpacking Ha Giang

For the adventurous backpacker, Ha Giang offers a truly off-the-beaten-path experience. This remote and rugged province in the far north of Vietnam is home to some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, including the famous Dong Van Karst Plateau Geopark. Rent a motorbike and navigate the winding mountain roads, passing through ethnic minority villages and taking in the dramatic landscapes of limestone karsts and terraced rice fields.

Backpacking Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island

No trip to Vietnam is complete without a visit to the iconic Halong Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is renowned for its emerald waters dotted with thousands of limestone islands and islets, creating a surreal and ethereal landscape. Embark on an overnight cruise and explore the hidden grottos, swim in secluded bays, and witness the mesmerizing sunset over the bay. Nearby, Cat Ba Island offers a tranquil escape, with opportunities for hiking, rock climbing, and immersing yourself in the local fishing communities.

Backpacking Ninh Binh

Backpacking in Ninh Binh, Vietnam is a fantastic experience for adventurers seeking a mix of stunning landscapes and cultural immersion. Ninh Binh is known for its picturesque limestone karsts, lush rice paddies, and winding rivers, offering plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and boat tours. Don’t miss exploring Trang An Grottoes, Tam Coc-Bich Dong, and Cuc Phuong National Park. Make sure to try local delicacies like goat meat and various rice dishes. Ninh Binh is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered!

Backpacking Quang Binh

Backpacking in Quang Binh, Vietnam is a great choice for nature lovers and adventure seekers. Quang Binh is known for its stunning limestone karsts, beautiful caves, and pristine rivers.

One of the must-visit attractions in Quang Binh is Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, home to the world’s largest cave, Son Doong. You can also explore other caves like Paradise Cave, Phong Nha Cave, and Dark Cave.

Don’t miss the chance to go trekking and camping in the national park, or take a boat ride along the Son River. The local food in Quang Binh is also a highlight, so make sure to try local specialties like grilled pork, rice paper rolls, and seafood.

Overall, backpacking in Quang Binh is a truly unforgettable experience that will allow you to immerse yourself in Vietnam’s natural beauty and rich culture.

Backpacking Hue

Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam, is a city steeped in history and cultural significance. Explore the UNESCO-listed Citadel, a vast complex that once housed the imperial palace and is a testament to the grandeur of the Nguyen Dynasty. Visit the iconic Thien Mu Pagoda, a stunning Buddhist temple that sits on the banks of the Perfume River, and indulge in the city’s renowned cuisine, known for its delicate flavors and intricate presentation.

Backpacking Hoi An

Hoi An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a charming coastal town that exudes a unique blend of Vietnamese, Chinese, and Japanese influences. Wander through the Ancient Town, a well-preserved historic district where you can admire the vibrant yellow buildings, explore the local markets, and witness the age-old traditions of lantern-making and silk weaving. Don’t miss the opportunity to get custom-made clothing from the skilled tailors who line the streets.

Backpacking Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a vibrant and dynamic metropolis that pulses with energy. Immerse yourself in the city’s rich history at the War Remnants Museum and explore the underground network of the Cu Chi Tunnels, a testament to the resilience of the Vietnamese people during the war. Wander through the bustling Ben Thanh Market, where you can haggle for souvenirs and indulge in delectable street food. Admire the colonial architecture of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the iconic Saigon Central Post Office.

Backpacking Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta, a vast and intricate network of rivers, canals, and islands, offers a glimpse into the rural way of life in Vietnam. Take a boat tour through the winding waterways, passing by lush rice paddies, floating markets, and traditional stilt houses. Explore the vibrant towns of My Tho and Ben Tre, where you can witness local crafts like coconut candy making and sample the region’s famous tropical fruits.

Backpacking Phu Quoc Island

Phu Quoc, a picturesque island off the southern coast of Vietnam, is a tropical paradise that beckons backpackers seeking pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a laid-back vibe. Relax on the white sandy beaches, indulge in fresh seafood caught by local fishermen, or explore the island’s interior, where you’ll find lush forests, waterfalls, and traditional fishing villages. Don’t miss the opportunity to snorkel or dive in the vibrant coral reefs surrounding the island.

Top Things to Do in Vietnam

Cruise Halong Bay

Cruising through the stunning Halong Bay is an experience that should be at the top of every backpacker’s list. Board a traditional junk boat and sail through the emerald waters, marveling at the towering limestone karsts that rise majestically from the sea. Explore hidden caves and grottos, kayak through secluded bays, and witness the breathtaking sunsets that paint the sky with hues of orange and pink.

Squeeze into the Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels offer a unique glimpse into the resilience and ingenuity of the Vietnamese people during the war. This vast network of underground tunnels, which once served as living quarters, communication routes, and supply lines, is a must-visit for any backpacker exploring Ho Chi Minh City. Crawl through the narrow, claustrophobic passages and learn about the remarkable survival tactics employed by the Viet Cong soldiers.

Trekking in Sapa

For those seeking an adventurous experience, trekking in Sapa is an absolute must. Embark on multi-day treks through the breathtaking landscapes of terraced rice fields, lush valleys, and towering mountains. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich cultures of the local hill tribes, such as the Black Hmong, Red Dao, and Tay, who proudly showcase their vibrant traditional attire and way of life.

Suit up in Hoi An

Hoi An is renowned for its skilled tailors, who can create custom-made clothing at incredibly affordable prices. Whether you desire a bespoke suit, a stylish dress, or a traditional Vietnamese ao dai, the tailors in Hoi An will ensure a perfect fit and high-quality craftsmanship. Embrace the opportunity to have clothing tailored to your exact measurements and preferences, creating a unique souvenir to take home.

Motor Bike across the Country

For the ultimate backpacking adventure, consider renting a motorbike and embarking on a cross-country journey through Vietnam. This mode of transportation allows you to explore the country at your own pace, venturing off the beaten path and discovering hidden gems along the way. Navigate winding mountain roads, pass through picturesque villages, and immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes that unfold before you.

Water Puppet Show

Experience the captivating art of water puppetry, a traditional Vietnamese performance that dates back to the 11th century. Watch as skilled puppeteers bring to life colorful wooden puppets that dance and interact on a water-filled stage, accompanied by live music and narration. This unique cultural experience offers a glimpse into Vietnam’s rich heritage and storytelling traditions.

Street Food

Vietnam is a foodie’s paradise, and no backpacking experience is complete without indulging in the country’s renowned street food. From sizzling banh mi sandwiches and flavorful pho noodle soups to fresh spring rolls and savory banh xeo crepes, the streets of Vietnam are alive with tantalizing aromas and flavors. Embrace the spirit of street food culture and sample your way through the diverse culinary offerings.

Backpacker Accommodation in Vietnam

Vietnam offers a wide range of affordable accommodation options for backpackers, from bustling hostels in the heart of cities to serene beachside bungalows. Hostels are a popular choice, providing a social atmosphere and opportunities to connect with fellow travelers. Guesthouses and budget hotels are also plentiful, offering basic but clean rooms at reasonable prices. For a more unique experience, consider staying in a traditional homestay, where you can immerse yourself in local culture and hospitality.

Vietnam Backpacking Costs

A Daily Budget in Vietnam

Vietnam is renowned for being a budget-friendly destination, making it an ideal choice for backpackers. With careful planning, it’s possible to travel comfortably on a daily budget of around $25 to $35 per day. This budget can cover basic accommodation in hostels or guesthouses, local transportation, street food meals, and some activities and attractions.

Money in Vietnam

The official currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND). While it’s possible to exchange currency at banks and authorized money exchangers, carrying US dollars or Euros is also widely accepted, especially in major cities and tourist areas. ATMs are readily available in most towns and cities, allowing you to withdraw cash easily.

Travel Tips – Vietnam on a Budget

To maximize your budget while backpacking in Vietnam, consider the following tips:

  • Negotiate prices for accommodation, tours, and souvenirs.
  • Opt for local transportation, such as buses or trains, instead of flights.
  • Eat at street food stalls and local markets for affordable and delicious meals.
  • Stay in hostels or guesthouses and take advantage of their shared facilities.
  • Avoid tourist traps and seek out authentic local experiences.

Why Should You Travel to Vietnam with a Water Bottle?

Staying hydrated is crucial when backpacking in Vietnam’s tropical climate. Carrying a reusable water bottle not only helps you stay hydrated but also reduces plastic waste. Many hostels and guesthouses offer filtered water refills, making it easy and affordable to keep your bottle topped up throughout your journey.

Best Time to Travel to Vietnam

North Vietnam

The best time to visit northern Vietnam, including destinations like Hanoi, Sapa, and Halong Bay, is during the spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November). These periods offer milder temperatures and lower humidity, making it more comfortable for outdoor activities and sightseeing.

Central Vietnam

Central Vietnam, including cities like Hue, Hoi An, and Nha Trang, experiences its dry season from January to August. The months of March to June are generally considered the ideal time to visit, as the weather is dry and sunny, with comfortable temperatures.

Southern Vietnam

In southern Vietnam, the dry season runs from November to April, making this the best time to visit destinations like Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta, and Phu Quoc Island. The months of December to February offer the coolest and least humid weather, perfect for exploring the region.

What to Pack for Vietnam?

When backpacking in Vietnam, it’s essential to pack light and smart. Here are some essential items to include in your backpack:

  • Comfortable walking shoes for exploring cities and nature
  • Lightweight, breathable clothing (t-shirts, shorts, dresses)
  • Backpack rain cover to protect your belongings during the rainy season
  • Local currency and a money belt for safekeeping
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat for sun protection
  • Insect repellent to guard against mosquitoes and other bugs
  • Lightweight and quick-dry towel
  • Travel documents and photocopies
  • Travel adapter and portable charger for your electronic devices
  • Reusable water bottle to stay hydrated
  • Basic medical kit with necessary medications and first aid supplies.

Staying Safe in Vietnam

Vietnam is generally a safe country for backpackers, but it’s always wise to take precautions. Keep your valuables secure, especially in crowded areas, and be cautious of petty theft and scams. Avoid walking alone at night in deserted areas, and be mindful of your surroundings. When in doubt, consult with your accommodation staff or fellow travelers for local safety advice. Here are some tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip:

  • Stay aware of your surroundings: Always be mindful of your surroundings and keep an eye on your belongings to prevent theft.
  • Use reputable transportation: Opt for reputable transportation options such as metered taxis or reputable ride-sharing services to avoid scams.
  • Stay hydrated and eat safely: Drink bottled water to stay hydrated and be cautious of street food to avoid food poisoning.
  • Respect local customs: Familiarize yourself with the local customs and follow them to show respect to the Vietnamese culture.
  • Stay connected: Keep your phone charged and have access to emergency contacts in case of any unforeseen circumstances.

By following these tips, you can have a safe and enjoyable backpacking experience in Vietnam.

How to Get Into Vietnam

Entry Requirements for Vietnam

To get into Vietnam for backpacking, you will need a valid passport and a visa. Most travelers to Vietnam require a visa to enter the country. You can apply for a visa online through the official website of the Vietnamese government or through a travel agency. Be sure to check the specific Vietnam visa requirements for your nationality and ensure your passport has at least six months of validity remaining. Once you have your visa, you can enter Vietnam by air, land, or sea. Additionally, it’s recommended to have travel insurance and to research the specific planning before your trip. Enjoy your backpacking adventure in Vietnam!

How to Get Around Vietnam

When backpacking in Vietnam, one of the most popular and convenient ways to get around is by using the extensive network of buses. Buses connect major cities and tourist destinations, making them a cost-effective option for budget travelers. You can also consider using trains, which offer a more scenic and comfortable journey between major cities.

Another popular way to explore Vietnam is by renting a motorbike. This gives you the flexibility to go off the beaten path and explore remote areas at your own pace. Just make sure to wear a helmet and follow traffic rules.

For shorter distances within cities, you can consider using taxis or ride-sharing services like Grab. These are convenient options, especially if you’re traveling with heavy luggage or during inclement weather.

Overall, Vietnam has a well-connected transportation system that caters to backpackers of all budgets and preferences. Just remember to plan your itinerary in advance and choose the mode of transportation that best suits your travel style.

Working in Vietnam

Teaching English in Vietnam

Teaching English in Vietnam is a popular option for backpackers looking to extend their stay and earn some income. With a high demand for English teachers, both in major cities and smaller towns, obtaining a teaching position is relatively straightforward, especially for native English speakers. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certifications can improve your chances and earning potential. However, it’s important to ensure you have the proper work permit and visa to teach legally in Vietnam.

Volunteering in Vietnam

Volunteering is a rewarding way for backpackers toerse themselves in local communities, contribute to meaningful causes, and gain valuable cultural experiences. Vietnam offers various volunteering opportunities, ranging from teaching English to working with environmental organizations, community development projects, or animal welfare initiatives. Many organizations provide accommodation and sometimes even a small stipend in exchange for your time and effort.

Culture in Vietnam

Useful Travel Phrases for Vietnam

Learning a few basic Vietnamese phrases can go a long way in enhancing your backpacking experience in Vietnam. Here are some useful phrases to get you started:

  • Xin chào (sin chao) – Hello
  • Cảm ơn (cam un) – Thank you
  • Tôi không hiểu (toi khong hieu) – I don’t understand
  • Bao nhiêu tiền? (bao nhieu tien?) – How much?
  • Một/hai/ba/… (mot/hai/ba/…) – One/two/three/…

What to Eat in Vietnam?

When backpacking in Vietnam, you should definitely try some of the local street food. Some popular dishes include pho (noodle soup), banh mi (Vietnamese sandwich), bun cha (grilled pork with noodles), and banh xeo (savoury pancakes). These dishes not only taste delicious but also give you a true taste of Vietnamese cuisine. Make sure to also try some fresh spring rolls, fried spring rolls, and Vietnamese coffee while you’re there! Enjoy your culinary adventure in Vietnam for every backpacker!

Popular Vietnamese Dishes:

  • Phở (noodle soup with beef or chicken)
  • Bánh mì (Vietnamese baguette sandwich)
  • Gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls)
  • Bún chả (grilled pork with noodles)
  • Cơm tấm (broken rice with grilled pork)
  • Bánh xèo (sizzling crepes)
  • Cà phê đá (iced Vietnamese coffee)


Backpacking in Vietnam is an unforgettable journey that combines natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and delectable cuisine. From the bustling cities to the serene landscapes, this captivating country offers a wealth of experiences for adventurous travelers. Whether you’re trekking through the mountains of Sapa, cruising along the emerald waters of Halong Bay, or indulging in the vibrant street food culture, Vietnam promises to leave a lasting impression on your heart and soul. Embrace the spirit of backpacking, immerse yourself in the local way of life, and create memories that will stay with you forever.