Backpacking Vietnam… If you are seeking epic adventures, unique experiences, mouth watering foods and ancient historical sights; Vietnam is the place for you. Once upon a time, the very mention of Vietnam conjured up images of war-torn destination but now Vietnam is a backpacker haven and travelling in Vietnam is a popular part of many Southeast Asian adventures.

Backpacking Vietnam offers an incredible opportunity to get off the beaten track… Explore dramatic mountains in the North, stop in for some corn wine and a friendly chat with the locals before heading south to party the night away…

Many travelers opt to explore Vietnam by motorcycle. Vietnam is a big country and there are lots of Vietnam backpacking itineraries on offer… The most popular backpacking route is heading from Hanoi to Saigon.

Backpacking in Vietnam is a great choice for backpackers on account of the super cheap cost of living and the plentiful adventures.

The Backpackers Scene

You’ll find the whole spectrum of backpackers in Vietnam. No matter the motivation, they’re here. Some come to see how the country is doing after the war – a conflict that dominated the lives of many around the world during their formative years. Others just want to take a dozen shots of tequila and dance until their brains and legs shut down – and there are plenty of spots to do just that.

On the quieter side of things, Vietnam has temples and yoga retreats for those whose chakras are unaligned, places where you can whisper “namaste” to jungle canopies with other wonderful people from around the globe. Do you want to lay in the shade under an umbrella made of banana leaves and bamboo and read a book as waves lap on a beach that goes into the horizon in both directions? Vietnam has that.

There’s Ho Chi Minh City’s manic energy, Hanoi’s stoic charm, the unparalleled beauty of the mountains and as beautiful a coastline as anywhere else in the world. Whatever your pace of travel, Vietnam should be on your itinerary. Backpacking here might not be a life-changing experience for everyone, but you won’t know until you’re left to carve out your own path in a strange land. Vietnam is happy to take a bit of your money and scratch whatever travel itch you have. But enough hyping. Let’s get into details.

Planning your backpacking route in Vietnam

Do your research

There are millions of opinions freely available on the internet. Long gone are the days of backpackers with their noses glued to a Lonely Planet book. Travel books are out of date before they’re even published. Do your research online to get a better idea of what to expect. Sim cards and data are comically cheap in Vietnam. Just find a place with cell phones in a display case and point at your phone. They’ll figure you out. With the internet in your pocket, you don’t have to roll the dice on an eight-hour day trip you might hate. You’ll have plenty of unexpected moments in Vietnam, so there’s no need to gamble your day on an activity that hundreds of other people have already established wasn’t any fun.

Do not join a big tour group

The language barrier is not a problem these days. English has been the official second language for a while now, and pretty well everyone who works a job related to tourism will be able to speak enough English to help you. You might think you’ll want somebody to organise your bus tickets and itineraries for you, but trust us, it’s not that hard to do it on your own. It’s no fun getting bused around day after day to temples that all kind of look the same, and markets all selling the same stuff. Backpacking Vietnam is best done at your own pace. Build your schedule from how you’re feeling and you’ll have a much better time.

Go with the flow

Remember that you’re in a different part of the world. Don’t expect staff here to always adjust to your expectations of how things should be. There will be delays, restaurants will mess up your order and more than a few taxi rides will go astray. This is normal. Leave plenty of space in your schedule for things to go hilariously wrong.

How to plan a route in Vietnam

There are a lot of places to explore in Vietnam. In this map below, I sketched out a few of the most common travel destinations:

By the way, Vietnam is bigger than you might realize!

Its length is actually similar to that of Japan or nearly the whole West Coast of the USA. Driving from the north to south tip in Vietnam would take at least 40 hours combined.

Keep these distances in mind when planning your trip. Night buses and overnight trains are a common way to efficiently cover more ground, something I’ll talk more about later.

Despite its size, many travelers try to cover the whole length of the country in one trip. To do such an itinerary justice I think you need at least 3 weeks (but ideally 4 weeks).

Popular stops on such a grand backpacking tour of Vietnam include the capital Hanoi, the karst archipelago of Ha Long Bay, the cute riverside town of Hoi An, the imperial city of Hue, and the cosmopolitan southern city of Ho Chi Minh City.

Even if you have 3 or 4 weeks to spend, you will probably have some tough decisions to make on what to include in your route.

Heading north or south?

When you meet backpackers in Vietnam, one of the first questions you’ll surely hear is “are you going north or south?”.

Because of its elongated shape, it just makes sense to travel from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City (a.k.a. Saigon) or the other way around.

Personally, I prefer going north-to-south. That’s in part because the north is just a great place to start. But the weather will also get more tropical as you go south, so you can reward yourself with some beach time towards the end of your trip.

By the way, the topography of Vietnam makes it a great place for a solo traveller. Since people move in only one of two directions, roughly speaking, it’s easy to make friends and continue to see familiar faces as you move either north or south.

Best Beaches in Vietnam

If you’re hoping for super dreamy beaches that look straight out of a travel magazine, then Vietnam is maybe not the first place to look. While the beaches are good, in my opinion they’re nothing like the unspoiled and beautiful beaches you can find in Malaysia, Indonesia, or The Philippines.

Not too sound negative, but it’s just my honest opinion. If you’re coming for Vietnam just for beaches maybe it’s not the ideal place to go, but if you just want to add some relaxing beach time to a cultural trip in Vietnam, then there are many great beaches to choose from.

The top beach destinations tend to focus a lot on mass tourism. Phu Quoc Island is a large-scale resort island (with big hotels, golf courses, its own airport, etc.) which isn’t the vibe you might want as an independent traveller. Mui Ne has only a thin strip of a beach, much of it paved with concrete blocks to prevent erosion. Nha Trang meanwhile mainly targets Russian and Chinese package tourists, though it can be a fun place to party.

I really like the beaches of Qui Nhon, which have more of a laidback vibe. Other travellers have recommended to me the island of Con Dao. The beaches near Hoi An are also rather pleasant, albeit rather crowded.

If you’re an intrepid traveler, you can find hundreds of beaches throughout Vietnam where you can relax and get away from it all. In my opinion, they lack some of those funky beach hostels or the kind of Balinese touch that make the coasts in Indonesia or Thailand so charming, but you can still find some really nice spots in Vietnam.

As far as snorkeling or scuba diving goes, in Vietnam it’s sadly just OK. There’s not a lot of life due to overfishing and visibility can leave a lot to be desired, at least compared to other spots around Southeast Asia. Keep your scuba diving money for other countries, unless you’re just doing your training.

Avoiding the tourist traps

Okay, time for some brutal honesty: Vietnam can sometimes feel a bit like a tour factory.

At least, that’s if you travel Vietnam in a totally standard way. I did this the first time and Vietnam sort of subjectively felt like a 7/10 destination. Not the worst, but not really amazing. Then I did it in different ways on my second visit and it easily became a 9/10.

Some of the popular experiences in Vietnam have been packaged for the masses, focusing on quantity over quality. These local tours can be disappointing as you get shuffled around like cattle, mixed in with other groups, or led around by impatient and humorless guides.

Luckily, by exploring independently or taking alternative tours, you will often have a much better time.

And chances are, you’ll get to know a way more welcoming and friendly side of Vietnam.

The following tips can help you avoid Vietnam’s main tourist traps. I think these might actually be the most important travel tips I can share!

Mekong Delta tours

The Mekong Delta region is a vast maze of rivers, rice paddies and riverine islands in southern Vietnam. Loads of organized tours can take you around there.

These tours usually include a brief visit to the floating markets of Can Tho, a staged photo opportunity where you wear a conical hat while paddling through a bit of bamboo forest, as well as a few other touristy sights. It’s fun, but not that authentic. If you do them as a day-trip, they also involve a ton of driving.

A better way to do it: make your way to the city of Can Tho and stay a night in the Enjoy Mekong Hostel or Victory Coffee & Hostel or find other accommodation there). The hostels can arrange early morning boat tours (starting at 5 AM) just for the floating markets. This way, you’ll beat all the daytrippers and will experience the true hustle and bustle of the market during the early hours.

In the afternoon, you can rent a motorbike or bicycle and explore the rice fields by yourself. You’ll get a true taste of rural life in Vietnam and the riverine landscapes of the Mekong Delta!

Tam Coc boat rides

The karst landscapes of Ninh Binh are sometimes called the ‘Ha Long Bay on land’. While the mountains are a bit smaller (and, obviously, on land) I think the area here is one of the real highlights of Vietnam. That said, the popular riverboat ride in Tam Coc is known to be a bad tourist trap with a lot of scammy behaviour from the boat drivers.

A better way to do it: ignore the Tam Coc tourist trap and go for the better but less known Trang An boat ride. This one starts about 20 minutes further north (and not inside the town), but it’s worth getting there. Choose the longer Route 1 and with some luck you may have the whole place to yourself, as most day-trippers and groups take the shorter Route 2 or Route 3.

Halong Bay cruises

Nearly everyone on their first visit to Vietnam wants to see Halong Bay, so there are tons of companies running tours there of varying quality. The location is magnificent and definitely worth it, but know that the experience will be very touristy. Since it’s on the water you also can’t do it independently; you have to go on an organized boat tour or cruise. This limits your options a bit, but there are still some cool ways to see Ha Long Bay that will avoid some of the crowds.

A better way to do it: Inform yourself about the tour options and their routes. Consider tours that include Bai Tu Long Bay or Lan Ha Bay. These bays are a bit further out so they don’t have as many boats. You could also choose to stay on Cat Ba Island (the big island near Halong Bay) and take a day-trip from there in the morning — you might beat the rush of tourists coming in from further away like Hanoi.

Most travelers agree that Halong Bay is worth seeing, but know that it’s getting busier every year. As long as you don’t expect to be alone, you’ll surely enjoy the experience.

Suggested backpacking itineraries

Below we have put together the grand tour itinerary. This is great if you have over 3 weeks to backpack Vietnam, and best completed by motorbike or bus! If you only have 2 weeks, aim to complete the first or second half of the itinerary.

Backpacking Vietnam 1-Month: The Grand Tour

This itinerary can be complete in either direction, but I will discuss from North to South. Start your trip backpacking in Hanoi – Vietnam’s beautiful capital city. Make a side trip to the countryside of Sapa, where you can ride your motorcycle through the hills and explore waterfalls. Then arrange a trip to Halong Bay, a highlight on any Vietnam trip.

Head south, stopping to stay in the quaint town of Hue, before moving on to visit Hoi An, where you can get an affordable, good quality suit made. Then go to Nha Trang to let loose, get a bit wild and have some fun on the water. A popular water sports area with the likes of windsurfing, paragliding and jet skiing on offer; there’s enough adrenaline here to keep even the most adventurous happy.

Head to Mue Ne and for a short stay in Da Lat, then on to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh), the starting point for most backpackers travelling Vietnam. Saigon is a crazy bustling city. You can also go explore the Mekong River, a paradise for wildlife.

Planning a shorter trip

If you have only one or two weeks in Vietnam, then consider focusing on just the north + center, or the center + south.

There is no shame in doing fewer things but doing them properly! Not everyone has infinite time available, or maybe you’re visiting Vietnam as part of a larger Southeast Asia trip and have many other countries to visit.

On my first one-month backpacking trip in Vietnam, I actually didn’t see much in the north. It was still very cold and misty there in December, so I skipped entirely over some popular places like Sapa.

On my second visit a few years later, I skipped a lot in the south instead. I just felt more like seeing the northern mountains than the southern beaches. In both cases I had an amazing time.

All I am saying is that you don’t necessarily need to cover the whole works to have an incredible trip. It can make sense to focus on just a part of Vietnam.

Places to visit

Below we’ve explained each destination on the itinerary in much more detail, including what to do, see, and where to stay in each place.

Backpacking Hanoi

One of my favourite cities in all of Asia, Hanoi is a beautiful combination of Old meets Modern: a gateway to the incredible mountains and scenery to the North and the warm beaches and bustling cities to the south. Hanoi is worth spending at least a couple days exploring, on foot or by bicycle.

I recommend staying at the fantastic Babylon Garden Hostel. The dorms are comfortable and at only $5 a night, including breakfast, internet and free beer- they certainly know how to cater to those backpacking Vietnam.

As for my personal favorite places to visit in Hanoi?

In Hanoi, it is definitely worth visiting the War Museum, easily spotted it has a great collection of weaponry marking the entrance. It costs just $3 to get in and it’s a good introduction to exploring Vietnam’s war-torn past.

Stop by the Temple of Literature; Founded in 1070 it was Vietnam’s first university where the rich and incredibly brainy attended. Even if you’re not into the history behind it, it’s handcrafted architecture is pretty breathtaking. If you aren’t templed out, definitely head over to the ‘old section’ of the city and stop by Bach Ma Temple. The oldest temple in the city. If you only see one temple while backpacking through Hanoi, make it this one.

Hoan Kiem Lake, also known as the ‘Lake of the Restored Sword’. The legend goes that once the Emperor defeated the Chinese from Hanoi, a giant golden turtle grabbed the sword and disappeared into the lake to restore it to its rightful owners. All traffic here is banned between 7 P.M. to midnight every Friday to Sunday turning this beautiful place into a meeting place for friends, giving it an almost funfair vibe. If you’re an early bird and like morning exercise, 6 am Thai Chi takes place every morning.

Oh and be sure to check out the Old Quarter.

Backpacking Sapa

An explorers paradise, you are likely to arrive here early in the morning. Check into the Enjoy Sapa Hostel, leave your bags here, and go in search of Motorbikes for hire! It's around $10 per day to hire a motorbike, cheap for the freedom to explore some of the incredible sights around Sapa at your own pace.

Getting lost on a Motorbike, exploring the beautiful countryside is just one of the many fun things to do in Sapa. Drive to the beautiful Thac Bac Waterfall, around 15kms outside Sapa main town. A legend says if you look at the falls long enough, you will see a white dragon peering down into the valley below.

Get off the beaten track while backpacking Vietnam and take a day trip out of Sapa town and visit the incredible Ban Pho Village. One of the friendliest tribes in South East Asia, it stands out among others due to the Mongolian Ban Ha population here. Settled on a Mountainous Cliff side these guys literally live life on the edge. Come and explore the culture, talk to the villagers and try not to get too drunk off the legendary corn wine they will insist you taste. Multiple times.

If motorbikes aren't your thing, you can still make an awesome tour of Sapa Valley by bicycle. If you go with a company all of your food and extra transportation (not on a bicycle) is covered, but it is easy enough to organize yourself.

There are some truly awesome treks around Sapa and you could spend a few days here exploring. For the more adventurous, why not conquer Vietnams highest peak, Fansipan. Not quite Everest but standing at 3,143m it's pretty impressive; it is possible to do in a day but most will recommend at least 2 days. You can do this hike solo or with trekking companies in the area.

Backpacking Ha Giang

If you fancy heading off on some even more adventure-fuelled forays, consider treks around the area or better yet, motorbiking the Ha Giang Loop! It's one of the most under-appreciated areas in Vietnam and attracts far less Western tourists than Sapa. Although it's getting more and more popular every day, there are still some hidden gems here, like the remote lake of Na Hang.

When looking for accommodation in Ha Giang, be sure to check out our friends at Hmong Moonshine! They are great people (ask for Tuyen) and the property itself is very beautiful. You can also learn how to make local moonshine while staying here!

Backpacking Halong Bay & Cat Ba Island

A UNESCO world heritage sight, often known as the Eighth Wonder of the world, is an unmissable stop whilst backpacking Vietnam. Almost everyone who visits Halong Bay does it as part of a pre-arranged package. I'm not normally one for taking the tour option but it is pretty impossible otherwise. The tour's not too expensive and it was totally worth it.

We had a great time and were surrounded by some awesome people. It's essential to prebook your trip to Halong Bay; we booked a two day, two-night tour from our stay at the Central Hanoi Backpackers Hostel. 

Whilst exploring Halong Bay we stayed on a cool 'Junk Boat' one night and in beach huts the other. Being part of a prepackaged tour meant all our food, transport and everything else was included, making it a hassle-free adventure.

Once the tour is over you can either stay on Cat Ba island and check out the rock climbing scene or head back to Hanoi for a night before travelling South.

Backpacking Hue

This is a beautiful small town offering a great break in the journey from Hanoi to Hoi An. One of Vietnams most royal cities, Hue is littered with impressive historic sights, delighting the inner nerd in us all!

There are also heaps of cool backpacker hostels in Hue with bouncing little traveler vibes. Check into the awesome Hue Happy Homestay to meet other travelers and get some great local recommendations from the knowledgeable staff.

Check out the impressive Citadel on the other side of the perfume river. This impressive piece of history is made up of four separate citadel's and will take a full day to explore, you can hire a bike to get around! There is a ton of things to do in Hue and you could easily spend weeks here.

Check out the Thien Mu Pagoda; standing at 21 metres high and decorated with mind-blowing architecture this pagoda is a pretty spectacular eyeful. 

If rest and relaxation are what you are after the beaches of Lang Co and the mineral hot pools of Phong An are just a short distance away.

Backpacking Hoi An

Hoi An is THE place to get tailor-made clothes whilst backpacking Vietnam. There are loads of things to do in but most backpackers visiting Hoi An come here to get a suit made. Clothes tend to take at least three days to make so you want to get measured as soon as possible... So first stop? Find a tailor! I recommend Mr XE II - possibly the best tailor in Hoi An!

Check into Hoi An Vietnam Backpackers Hostel - dorms start from $7 USD a night, and it has an awesome pool! Spend a few days exploring the local area by bicycle. The hostel provides them for free. It's located close to the beach which is great on hot days, as you don't have to go far!

Looking to get back into the city? Da Nang is a great day trip, only a forty minute drive from Hue; the sandy beaches, caves and buddhist shrines among many other activities make for the perfect day out.

Backpacking Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a perfect place to let loose, get a bit wild and have some fun on the water. A popular water sports area with the likes of windsurfing, paragliding and jet skiing on offer; there's enough adrenaline here to keep even the most adventurous happy. No need to prebook, all can be arranged from the beach.

The best area to stay in Nha Trang is down the side alleys and not on the main road. It's quieter, cheaper, and just more chill.

If you need to get a job or just want to have an awesome night out head to the Why Not Bar, they are often hiring. The work is easy and fun, it's a great way to replenish funds while travelling Vietnam. The beach at night is a great place to hang out with other backpackers and get royally pissed however it, can be dangerous and a few backpackers have been robbed there so avoid ending up there alone.

There are some great backpacker hostels in Nha Trang with awesome social vibes. heck into the iHome Hostel for as little as $7 a night they'll offer free beers in the evening and free breakfast to fix you up in the morning.

While enjoying the nightlife be aware of the many hookers strolling the street at night. They will try to pickpocket you by grabbing at your crotch with one hand and slipping the other into your pockets... Keep your hands in your pockets, no matter what.

Backpacking Lak Lake

Recover from the heavy nights in Nha Trang and break up the journey to Dalat by venturing out to the tranquil and beautiful Lak Lake, the largest natural body of water in central Vietnam. Paddle out in a kayak and enjoy the still waters, beautiful scenery and explore the Jun Village; A Mnong settlement of wooden stilted houses.

Backpacking Mui Ne

From Nha Trang you can head to Mui Ne and check out the awesome sand dunes or you can hire a motorbike from Easy Rider for roughly thirty dollars and ride up the mountain paths to Dalat. There isn't much other than the sand dunes, beach & fairy stream in Mui Ne (although you can ride an ostrich!).

Backpacking Da Lat (Dalat)

There is not a whole lot to do in Da Lat but the ride itself is very scenic. I managed to crash and hurt myself quite badly because the roads are difficult, and if you have limited riding experience I suggest you hire a driver and just go on the back of the bike. Most backpackers do this rather than riding themselves.

Although it's not as stacked with activities as a lot of other destinations in Vietnam, there are still awesome budget accommodations in Dalat for backpackers to stay at. It's a nice place in Vietnam to stay and take a breather for a few days.

Backpacking Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)

The starting point for most visitors to Vietnam, backpacking Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is a crazy bustling city experience. Expensive for us broke backpackers in comparison to the rest of the country, I recommend venturing into the 'real' Vietnam pronto.

Although there are plenty of cool things to do in Ho Chi Minh, many of the 'must-see' sights around are related to the terrors of the Vietnam War. The War Remnants Museum is a haunting insight into the life of those fighting on the front line during the period of 1954 - 1975. It costs around $1 to enter.

Take a trip out of the city and tour the incredible network of Cu Chi Tunnels. Brave claustrophobia and crawl around the safer sections of the restored tunnels, popping (or squeezing) out at the other end. You can pre-book half-day tours of the tunnels through the Hide Out Hostel travel desk.

From Saigon, it is easy to arrange a bus onwards to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. You get your Cambodian visa for a fee on the border.

Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta is often referred to as the 'Rice Bowl' of Vietnam (there are lovely rice paddies everywhere) this maze of rivers, swamps and islands are home to tiny villages floating on the banks of the Delta. Paddle into the floating markets and pick up some cheap trinkets, you'll find anything and everything. Unfortunately the market is becoming increasingly popular and much of the trinkets being sold are aimed at those travelling Vietnam.

If you have a day to kill in the Mekong consider renting a vintage Vespa scooter and checking out the Delta countryside and local culture.

Moving past the 'tourist' trap section the Mekong Delta is a paradise for local wildlife. The quiet and noise of nature is a refreshing change from the busy streets of Ho Chi Minh. Trips to the Mekong can be as quick as half a day or a couple of days, depending on budget. I would recommend spending at least a day exploring the Mekong Delta. The best place to stay when exploring the Mekong Delta is Can Tho just south of Ho Chi Minh

Things to do in Vietnam

1. Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels

Crawl through the extensive network of nearly 500 km of tunnels utilized by the Viet Cong in the war with the USA in the 1960s. Tours involve a description of the tunnels, after which tourists are allowed to crawl about the maze and fire AK47s at shooting targets. It’s a sobering experience and not one meant for anyone claustrophobic. However, if you want a better understand the terror of the Vietnam War, this is a must-visit. Admission is around 100,000 VND (5 USD) per person.

2. Relax or find adventure in Dalat

Dalat is nestled in the hills of the Central Highlands and is popular with tourists who want to relax in the mountain air, so people flock here for serenity. Others go to Dalat to participate in a host of adventure sports that happen within a naturally beautiful backdrop. The hills around Dalat are filled with traditional tribal villages, which you can tour, but there is plenty to do within the city itself too. Visit the imaginatively titled palaces: Palace I, Palace II and Palace III.

3. Visit Cuc Phuong National Park

About 120km southwest of Hanoi lies Vietnam’s first National Park, Cuc Phuong. Covering 222 sq km, this place is home to over 2,000 species of trees and some truly rare wildlife including the Clouded Leopard, Delacour’s Langur and Owston’s Civet. It was my favorite park in all of Vietnam and the only place I didn’t find hordes of tourists. The entrance fee is 40,000 VND (2 USD).

4. Explore Ho Chi Minh City

Also known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and is definitely worth exploring. Like most cities in Vietnam, you’ll be met with the roar of motorbikes speeding through colonial streets. Ben Thanh market is a must-see for amazing food and there is a great buzz of activity within the place. If flying into the SGN airport, it’s worth spending a day or two exploring the city. I recommend spending the night at The Common Room Project for a great hostel experience.

5. Admire the pagodas

Vietnam’s most distinctive architecture can be been in the pagodas, which can be found all over the country. They are known for their beautifully intricate carvings. Pagodas are used as shrines and temples and are treasured by the Vietnamese people.

6. Get active in Mui Ne

Despite being a fishing village, Mui Ne has got a significant tourism scene due to its popularity as a wind- and kite-surfing destination. The rolling sand dunes nearby are the main draw and worth checking out!

7. See My Son

My Son is a set of Hindu ruins in Vietnam which date back to the Cham Empire. The Champas ruled over Central Vietnam from the 3rd to the 19th century. The temples here are of incredible historical importance, but they have been largely reclaimed by the surrounding jungle, and have fallen into a great state of disrepair. Don’t come here expecting something as marvelously preserved as Borobudur or Angkor Wat. Entrance fee is 100,000 VND (5 USD) for foreigners.

8. Visit the caves in Phong Nha-Ke Bang

Hang Son Doong is reputed to be the world’s largest cave and is located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. It was discovered by a local in 1990, and “rediscovered” by a British caving team in 2009. You can arrange trips to see this stunning cave. You’ll be blown away by its beauty. Entrance to the caves is around 150,000 VND (6 USD) per person.

9. Check out the rice terraces

Outside of connections to the Vietnam War, the stereotypical image of Vietnam is of the many rice paddies. You can find these in the Muong Hoa Valley. If you’ve never visited rice terraces, you should make a point to see them in Vietnam. Visit them to learn about rice production and take stunning photographs of the unbelievable Vietnamese countryside. Expect tours to cost around 300,000 VND (13 USD) per person.

10. Relax in Hue

Hue is generally passed by, making it a bit of a quieter stop along the tourist trail. Stroll along the beautiful Perfume River and into the Imperial Citadel. Don’t miss the Tombs of the Emperors.

Must-try experiences in Vietnam

Meet local people in Vietnam

The population is surpassed only by Indonesia as Southeast Asia's most heavily populated country. However, Vietnam is the region's most ethnically homogenous country with the Vietnamese making up about 90% of the population.

Buddhism is undoubtedly the most common religion, but Vietnam has a rich and wide variety of religions including Catholicism, animism, theism and ancestor worship.

Food in Vietnam

Vietnamese food is simply amazing, so I wanted to say at least a few words on this subject. You’d be wrong to assume it’s all about pho noodle soup or spring rolls! Yes, these are probably the things you’re already familiar with from Vietnamese restaurants, but there is a whole other world of Vietnamese food to taste.

Don’t be like those backpackers who only order bland ‘chicken stir fry’ or generic ‘noodle soups’. There’s loads to try in Vietnam if you dare to order something different.

Different parts of the country also have rather different specialties. One of the best things you can in Vietnam is to take a guided street food tour in Saigon or Hanoi, as this will give you an incredible crash course in all that’s there on offer. You might also want to check out our very own guide to the best Vietnamese street food.

Everyone has their own favorites. Instead of regular pho noodle soup, I now tend to order Bun Bo Hue, which is spicier and comes from the city of Hue. I also love Bun Cha, which is grilled fatty pork that you can wrap in some herbs and leaves and white rice noodles, then dip into a lovely sauce.

Fresh from the sea or fresh from the rice paddies, the food in Vietnam is sublime. Here are a few you should definitely try whilst backpacking Vietnam...

  • Buncha - One of my favourites! This is basically a Pork Meatball Noodle Salad. Yum!
  • Goi Cuon - The famous Vietnamese "Summer Rolls" are a perfect light bite. Normally filled with shrimp and/or pork, herbs and vegetables. They are wrapped in rice paper and served with Peanut dipping sauce.
  • Pho - Basically noodle soup. There are many varieties of Pho, perfect for those slightly unsure about Vietnamese food.
  • Banh Mi Thit - Or in other words, the best sandwich in Asia! Basically, a well sized baguette stuffed with yummy treats such as ham, cheese, fish, vegetables etc.

Vietnam backpacking costs

Typical costs

Accommodation – Hostels start around 100,000 VND (4 USD) per night for the most basic accommodation. For a nicer place, you can pay almost double. Private rooms will cost at least 350,890-425,000 VND (15-20 USD) per night for a double room. While hostels were once scarce, they have started popping up all over the country to accommodate budget travelers.

Most hostels will offer free WiFi, and many will also include free breakfast or free beer during certain hours of the day. Self-catering facilities are not very common since eating out is so cheap. For a budget hotel with a double bed, expect to pay around 225,000 VND (10 USD) per night. This will usually include free WiFi and free breakfast.

Food – You can get a bowl of pho or a rice dish for 20,000 VND (less than 1 USD). Most sit-down restaurants are also inexpensive at around 45,000-95,000 VND (2-4 USD). The fancier (and more touristy) the restaurant, the more expensive. Western food will also be more expensive. A liter of water at a convenience store is about 15,000 VND (less than 1 USD), while beer or soda at a restaurant is about 20,000-35,000 VND (1-2 USD).

For those looking to cook their own meals, expect to pay at least 400,000 VND (15 USD) per week for basic groceries. Be sure to shop at the local markets to get the cheapest and freshest food. That being said, food is so cheap in the country, that is simply easier – and often cheaper – to just eat street food.

Transportation – Bus travel is very cheap in Vietnam. The public bus around Ho Chi Minh City will cost a maximum of 4,000 VND (less than 1 USD) per ride. Overnight buses, while uncomfortable, are only about 100,000-600,000 VND (4-25 USD) and can take you to lots of cities in Vietnam (this will also save you a night of paying for accommodation).

For a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to neighboring Phnom Penh in Cambodia, expect to pay around 320,000 VND (15 USD) per person. The train is also another inexpensive way to travel, with the 791km long train journey from Da Nang to Hanoi costing around 750,000 VND (30 USD). There are extremely low-cost airlines that can hop you around the country quickly for as little as 600,000 VND (25 USD).

Activities – Many of Vietnam’s attractions are based around its natural beauty and, as such, cost very little. For organized excursions such as touring the Cu Chi Tunnels you can expect to pay between 100,000-200,000 VND (5-10 USD). Halong Bay tours from Hanoi start around 850,000-1,403,377 VND (35-60 USD) for two-day trips and increase exponentially from there. Half-day cooking classes and bicycle tours are heavily targeted at tourists, so they cost a bit more. Expect prices to start at around 300,000 VND (15 USD). For canyoning in Da Lat, prices begin around 450,000 VND (20 USD) but can go as high as 1,707,440 (75 USD).

Money in Vietnam

Ever wanted to throw cash in the air and feel like a millionaire? Well, the Vietnamese Dong allows every broke backpacker travelling in Vietnam the opportunity to feel rich. $15 US Dollars = 341,219.29 Vietnamese Dongs, crazy huh?

Plus the name is Dong... Which, when enjoying multiple dirt-cheap beers, is consistently amusing.

Don't try to obtain Vietnamese currency before entering the country, it's pretty much impossible. If you managed to snag some, you've probably had a pretty bad exchange rate. Take US dollars into Vietnam, you'll find many shops and services accept US dollars.

Credit and Debit cards are widely accepted in the more built-up areas such as Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi but many of these, charge pretty insane withdrawal fees so it’s advisable to avoid small ATM transactions and get out a bunch of cash at once - just make sure you hide it well. 

Suggested Vietnam backpacking costs

How much does it cost to visit Vietnam? If you’re backpacking Vietnam, plan to budget between 680,000-900,000 VND / $25-35 USD per day. This is assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating all the delicious street food, not drinking too much, and using local transportation. You can probably get by on the cheaper end if you opt for dorm rooms over your own private room or a room without air conditioning.

A mid-range budget of about 1,165,125 VND / $50 USD is recommended if you want to stay in air-conditioned private rooms, enjoy meals at sit-down restaurants, eat some Western food, take more activities, and maybe private transportation. This will also cover several activities and day trips.

You don’t need to do a lot to stretch your dollar when you’re traveling Vietnam so anything over $100 will ensure you can do anything you want while you’re visiting. The sky is the limit! Of course, the more you spend, the nicer your trip is going to bed. How sky high you go is really up to you!

Type Accommodation Food Transportation Attraction Average Cost
Backpacker $5 $10 $5 $15 $25-35
Mid-Range $15-20 $15 $15 $20 $50
Luxury $40+ $25+ $20 $30 $100

Money Saving Tips

Vietnam is a pretty cheap country and you don’t need to do a lot of things to backpack or travel here on a budget. It’s already a pretty cheap country to visit. However, if you’re looking to travel even cheaper and save some money, here are my tips on how to save in Vietnam:

  1. Eat delicious street food – The food is usually excellent, really cheap, and you can watch it being cooked in front of you. Stick to the local food and you’ll save money. The street-side pho, bread, sandwiches (called bahn mi), donuts, and bananas are your best deals all of which can be found for around 20,000 VND (1 USD).
  2. Late-night travel – If traveling long journeys, try to take the late night “sleeper” buses or trains as this will save you the cost of a night’s accommodation. Depending on the company, you may even have a chance to comfortably lie flat as you ride through the dark countryside to your next destination.
  3. Take the tourist bus – It is actually cheaper to take the tourist bus around the country than taking local transportation because of the “tourist” price you get at the bus station. Tickets from one end of the country to another will cost around 1,200,000 VND (50 USD).
  4. Fly for cheap – Vietnam’s low-cost airlines VietJet and FlyVietnam are extremely inexpensive and adding luggage to your flight can cost as little as 150,000 VND (6 USD). This is a great option for people with limited time to explore different regions of Vietnam. Both airlines frequently offer special deals – at the time of writing this, Hanoi to Da Nang is just 818,635 VND (35 USD)! That’s a 13-hour drive.
  5. Bargain hard – Tourists tend to be charged more than locals for everything from cycles (a three-wheel bicycle taxi) to clothes to street food. Bargain harder than you would ordinarily, and don’t underestimate the value of walking away.
  6. Skip the SIM Card – Vietnam is highly connected to WiFi — you can find it just about every hotel, shop, restaurant, and convenience store for free! Unless you need to have connectivity during a long bus ride or in rural areas, I’d forgo the SIM card and take a break from connectivity.
  7. Ask your hostel staff – Before you leave the hostel, ask them to estimate how much what you want to do should cost. How much should a ride to the museum cost? How much should I pay to have a gown like this made? They will be able to give you bargaining guidelines.
  8. Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier will come particularly in handy in Southeast Asia since you can’t drink the tap water. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you.

Volunteering in Vietnam

Looking to volunteer in Vietnam? You aren't the first person to do this! There are many travelers out there who have done what you're dreaming of, and better yet, who are doing it right now!

Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long term on a budget in Vietnam whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than Worldpackers.

Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in amazing places without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.

Worldpackers opens the doors for work exchange opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world — including in Vietnam.

Getting in and around Vietnam

Getting to Vietnam

Vietnam is one of Southeast Asia's most accessible countries. Whether you are travelling the Southeast Asia loop and entering by land, coming down from China, or flying directly there, border crossings are relatively straight forward and the days of the tricky Vietnamese visa are now over.

There are long-distance bus/train services that you can use to get all the way from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City, or if you're feeling more adventurous, train it from Europe all the way to Vietnam...

You can enter Vietnam by motorbike easily too. For those backpacking Vietnam without the luxury of time, the best way in is to catch a flight to Ho Chi Minh City. There are flights with the likes of Emirates (via Dubai), Air China (via Guangzhou) and many more Airlines. I've found Vietnam Airlines tend to have the best deals for flying direct to Ho Chi Minh City.

Most flights will land in Ho Chi Minh but you can fly to other parts of the country. You can easily travel from Cambodia across the border to Vietnam using local buses or, if you fancy travelling in style, there are VIP bus services available for flash-packers.

Entry Requirements for Vietnam

The visa situation in Vietnam has changed a lot in the last few years and it can be a little confusing. For UK citizens you can enter into Vietnam without a visa and travel for a maximum of 15 days. Which is great if you are paying Vietnam a quick visit, but if you want to stay any longer than this you will have to organize a visa before arrival.

Not as simple as just doing a quick border run I'm afraid, if they catch you out you'll be paying a pretty hefty fine.

Thankfully visas are relatively straightforward to organise before you travel to Vietnam. Just pay a visit, or call your local Vietnamese Embassy to apply and ask any questions. The last time I checked it's around $70 for UK citizens. If you don't want to organise it yourself there are many companies out there who can help you apply. I've used iVisa previously to get mine done quickly and to generally avoid the dreaded paperwork.

NOTE that as of 2019 there is now an official portal for obtaining your Vietnam visa online. Check out the Vietnamese visa webpage for more information.

Getting around

You have plenty of options for getting around Vietnam on the cheap.

Public Transit – In some towns and cities, the cyclo (a bicycle rickshaw) is one of the cheapest ways to get around. A short ride will cost you as little as 12,000 VND (less than 1 USD), while a longer night ride will cost you upwards of 40,000 VND (2 USD). A more popular option is the xe om – a motorbike taxi, with fares starting from 15,000 VND (less than 1 USD). You’ll have to hold on tight! Public buses are not great options in Vietnam.

Taxis – Taxis are very affordable in Vietnam, and they are metered in the larger cities. This is a safe and reliable way to get around. Rates start at about 12,000 VND (less than 1 USD) per kilometer.

By Plane – Flying domestically in Vietnam is a good idea if you’re looking to fit a lot into a shorter trip. For example, a flight from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City takes two hours – the train ride would take at least 30 hours (and a one-way flight starts at around 590,000 VND/25 USD!).

Train – A lot of people love taking the train in Vietnam because it’s safe, affordable, and comfortable, and although some routes might be slow, you’ll get some amazing views of the Vietnamese countryside. The rail network also most of the country, so you can get just about everywhere you want to go (except the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta). You can use the website Baolau to research train schedules and book your tickets. A train journey between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi costs from 837,000 VND (35 USD).

Bus – It’s easy to find long-distance bus tours running the length of Vietnam, starting at Hanoi with stops in Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Da Lat, Mui Ne, and ending in Ho Chi Minh. You can hop on or off at any stop along the way. They cater to tourists, but locals actually use this service too (it’s so cheap!).

Prices depend on route and operator but generally Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh is between 815,585-1,631,175 VND (35-80 USD). This is the most popular backpacking route, so if you are intimidated by the local bus system, this is a good alternative.

Motorbiking in Vietnam

To kick your backpacking adventure into the next gear, get a motorbike. Motorbiking across Vietnam is often more cost-effective than paying for multiple train/bus tickets. It gives you the freedom to really explore, get off the highway and go in search of raw adventure... Plus you look cool and you don't have to deal with the drunken Aussie lads on the bus attempting to rope you into a game of 'drink the beer'.

I picked myself up a Honda Win Manual Motorbike second hand from one of the many backpackers selling their bikes in Ho Chi Minh. I paid around $300 and for the few weeks I had it, only some minor repairs were needed.

Before travelling to Vietnam,  I had never actually ridden a motorbike before and I was, in truth, a little intimidated. Luckily, riding a motorbike is a lot easier than it looks and after about an hour of (somewhat, hilarious) practice, I was good to go.

I had this expectation that the roads in Vietnam were going to be dangerous dirt tracks, but for the most part, they are fairly decent besides a few potholes. The biggest threat to you on the road is your own lack of attention, other drivers and animals/people. Make sure your travel insurance covers you for riding a motorbike in Vietnam.

Unfortunately, accidents among travellers are common, I came off my motorbike myself in Dalat and got away with just cuts and bruises... The bike flipped and hit me in the back of the head, and my helmet almost certainly saved my life - always wear a helmet.

You might think you look cool without one but, frankly, you look like a twat. Once in Hanoi, I managed to sell my trusty companion (the motorbike, not my friend) to another backpacker, making my money back with just a thirty dollar loss.

There is no greater feeling than whizzing through the beautiful countryside on the back of a Motorbike. Consider bringing a dedicated tent for your motorbike if you want to save money on accommodation. I usually rocked up to a restaurant for dinner & politely asked if I could set up there for the night, they always said yes & never charged me a dime.

The feeling of complete freedom is awesome, I couldn't wipe the smile off my face the entire time. For anyone backpacking Vietnam, I highly rate buying a Motorbike to explore this beautiful country.

Useful words and phrases when backpacking Vietnam

Below I have listed helpful travel phrases for Vietnam. It always pays to be able to communicate with the locals, or at least try!

  • Hello – Xin chào
  • Goodbye – Tạm biệt
  • Thank You – Cám ơn bạn
  • No Problem – Không vấn đề gì
  • I like to Eat – Toi muốn ăn
  • What is this? – cái gì thế này?
  • I am Sorry – Tôi xin lỗi
  • No plastic bag – Không có túi nhựa
  • No plastic cutlery please – Vui lòng không có dao nhựa
  • I’m Hungry – Tôi đói
  • What is your name? – Tên của bạn là gì
  • I don’t understand. – Tôi không hiểu

Vietnam backpackers’ accommodation

Vietnam probably has some of the cheapest accommodation in South East Asia. You can find a dorm bed for as little as $3 USD a night or a private room with a fan for $7 USD. There are plenty of budget accommodation options like hostels, guesthouses, home-stays & budget hotels.

Location Accommodation Why Stay Here?!
Hanoi Central Backpackers Hostel One of the best hostels in Hanoi. Free breakfast, city tour, beer & pub crawl, what more could you want?
Sapa Ta Van Hostel Nestled in a small ethnic minority village away from the touristy Sapa town. You really get in touch with nature here & have incredible views of the rice terraces & Fansipan mountain range.
Ha Giang Hmong Moonshine A dreamy little villa built right on the edge of a lake. As the name implies, you can sometimes make your own moonshine here! Ask for guiding ace, Tuyen, to organize Ha Giang tours.
Cat Ba Island Cannon Fort Cat Ba Hostel Well located and surrounded by nature, this is the highest rated hostel in Cat Ba!
Hue Hue Happy Homestay Ran by the sweetest family who treats you like your part of it. Great location in town that's close to everything.
Da Nang Travellers Nest Hostel Cozy, warm, and stacked with facilities, this is a cool place to stay in Da Nang for a few nights. If you feel like splurging, the private rooms are sweet!
Hoi An Vietnam Backpackers Hostel Great party hostel & it has a pool. Loved the social scene here & prime location.
Nha Trang iHome Hostel Located just off the main strip & close to the beach. Love the social atmosphere, rooftop bar, buffet breakfast & free beer!
Mui Ne Mui Ne Backpackers Hill Dude, full-power. There's not one, but woo pool, and a roof-top jacuzzi! That's just the tip of the iceberg with all the goodies you get here too.
Da Lat Mr Peace Backpackers Great travel family vibes here, especially with their family dinners. The free breakfast & happy hour is awesome too!
Ho Chi Minh The Hideout Party vibes to the max! Cafe, rooftop bar, epic pub crawls, a sweet pool, and neon lighting... you can even top it off with a free breakfast after you get silly in Saigon.

 

When to go to Vietnam

In the southern part of Vietnam, the dry season goes from December to late April/May, and rainy season occurs from May to the end of November. Rainy season usually just means brief heavy downpours in the afternoon, although sometimes the Mekong Delta will flood. May through November is still a good time to visit. Temperatures rarely dip below 68°F (20°C), but it can sometimes get as high as 104°F (40°C) in the hottest months (March to the end of May).

Along the central coast, the rainfall pattern differs quite a bit. In the northern part of the region (like Hué and Da Nang), the rain lasts from September to February. February to May is the best time to visit this area. Temperatures soar from June to August, often in the high 80s°F (30s°C).

In Northern Vietnam, the weather is most pleasant from October to December. The weather in Vietnam varies so much per region, it’s hard to pick a best time to go! But generally it’s recommended to visit sometime between September-December and March-April if you’re hoping to get an overall experience in the country.

Here is exactly when and where to go in Vietnam

Stay safe while backpacking Vietnam

Vietnam is an incredibly safe place to backpack and travel – even if you’re traveling solo or even as a solo female traveler. There are some common scams around, like the motorbike scam where vendors try to charge you for damage to their bike, but for the most part, this is a safe place to travel. 

Be sure to always count your change. The money is similar looking here so often times people will “mistakenly” give you the wrong change hoping you won’t notice that the 200,000 VND bill you just got is actually only 20,000. Always count your change here!

Mostly people are really just going to try to nickle and dime you and try to get you to spend extra money since they know, as a tourist, you have more than they do. Just can an eye out. Most people are very honest!
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. You have every right to remove yourself from the situation. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.

If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Vietnam. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.

The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.

Here is the full guide for staying safe in Vietnam

Sex, Drugs & Rock n Roll in Vietnam

The penalties for drugs are really harsh in Vietnam, like other neighboring countries in South East Asia. Weed is the most commonly used drug throughout Vietnam, but you will get into a bunch of trouble for having it if you’re caught. Drugs are around, and you can definitely find them.

Picking up in Vietnam can be quite difficult if you are chasing a traditional Vietnamese woman. Chances are you’ll have to meet their parents & marry them if you want to engage sexually. The women in big cities like Ho Chi Minh & Hanoi tend to be more western-influenced & relaxed. Just stay safe & use protection. Vietnam still has a big HIV problem.

Travel insurance

Travel Insurance is essential for backpackers to Thailand. If you get sick or you have an accident and you want to be treated in a modern, Western-style hospital, hospital bills can be extremely high. Medical expenses can run into the thousands and when you’re at a time of need, you don’t want to be concerning yourself with money, you just want to concentrate on getting better.

Travel insurance also comes in handy for lost and stolen items, as well as travel scams and travel cancellations that are out of your control. For example, if your flight is cancelled due to bad weather or that yoga retreat that you booked is called off.

Throughout the past 10 years of travel to Thailand and Southeast Asia, we’ve bought our insurance plan with World Nomads as it offers the most cover at the best value for adventurous travelers.

Here is the guide for buying a travel insurance for Vietnam

Gear & packing list

If you’re heading to Vietnam, knowing what to pack and the kind of backpack to get can be a little daunting. In this section, I’ll give you my suggestion for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack.    

What to Pack for Vietnam

Clothes

  • 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 6 T-shirts
  • 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
  • 1 pair of flip-flops
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • 8 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
  • 7 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
  • 1 toothbrush
  • 1 tube of toothpaste
  • 1 razor
  • 1 package of dental floss
  • 1 small bottle of shampoo
  • 1 small bottle of shower gel
  • 1 towel
  • Deodorant

Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)

  • Band-Aids
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Antibacterial cream
  • Eyedrops
  • Earplugs
  • Tylenol
  • Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)

Miscellaneous

  • A key or combination lock (safety first)
  • Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
  • Plastic bags (great for laundry)
  • Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
  • LifeStraw (a water bottle with a purifier)

Female Travel Packing List

Below is the list of what a woman needs as an addition to the basics above:

Clothing

  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 sarong
  • 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
  • 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
  • 2-3 long-sleeve tops
  • 2-3 T-shirts
  • 3-4 spaghetti tops

Toiletries

  • 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
  • 1 hairbrush
  • Makeup you use
  • Hair bands & hair clips
  • Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)

Here is the guide for What to pack for Vietnam

A brief history of Vietnam

In the late 19th century, Vietnam became a French colony. The French built infrastructure in Vietnam such as the Saigon to Hanoi railway through taxation, and the Vietnamese wanted independence.

When France was losing in WWII, Japan took advantage and occupied French Indo-China. The Vietnamese Communists or Viet Minh fought the Japanese and by 1945 they controlled parts of North Vietnam. Viet Minh took control of most of Vietnam and declared Vietnam independent by 1945, but France ignored this. With no intention to give up power, fighting broke out between them and the Viet Minh.

After a siege lasting 57 days the French were forced to surrender.

In North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh introduced a Communist regime while in the south Ngo Dinh Diem became ruler. Gradually, the USA became involved in the Vietnam War during the Cold War. First they were sending military advisers to South Vietnam. Financially, they supported the French and later the South Vietnamese government.

Then in 1964 two US ships were supposedly subject to 'unprovoked' attacks by the North Vietnamese. The Americans then bombed the north and Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution allowing the president to take 'all necessary measures' to prevent 'further aggression'. As a result by December 1965 there were 183,000 US soldiers in Vietnam and by the end of 1967 there were nearly half a million. However, the Vietcong continued their guerrilla war.

Americans withdrew from Vietnam in 1973, but the South Vietnamese continued to fight the Vietcong alone until 1975 until the North Vietnamese captured Saigon. Vietnam was reunited under Communist rule.

Suggested reading

Eating Vietnam, by Graham Holliday

While I don’t love Vietnam (I didn’t have a good experience there), I do love Vietnamese food… a lot! This is an awesome book about the history and culture behind the country’s street cuisine. Author Graham Holliday has lived in Vietnam a long time, and he sure knows his food. In this engrossing and hunger-inducing book, you’ll wander with him through the backstreets of Vietnam, learning about the street food you see all over the country and, in doing so, begin to understand the country and its people through their first love. The introduction is even written by Anthony Bourdain!

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

This is Viet Thanh Nguyen’s first novel, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The story focuses on the narrator, a communist double agent who lives two lives — a half-French, half-Vietnamese army captain who comes to the United States after the Fall of Saigon, but while building a life with other Vietnamese refugees in LA is reporting back to his superiors in Vietnam. It’s a unique look at post-war Vietnam, and one that’ll have you gripped right from the beginning.

The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien

This is the second book of fiction about Vietnam from Tim O’Brien, and it’s required reading in many classrooms. It’s not exactly a novel or a collection of short stories, but a series of fictional episodes taking place in its characters’ childhoods, from the Vietnamese jungles to America and back again. O’Brien writes with such raw honesty, you’ll find this a gut-wrenching, incredible read. While the stories are fictional, it’s clear O’Brien is writing personal war stories from experience.

At Home in the World, by Thich Nhat Hanh

This book is a collection of Zen teachings and stories written by a Vietnamese monk (also a peace activist) named Thich Nhat Hanh. You’ll learn about his life growing up in rural Vietnam, as well as his beginning years as a young monk, through to the time when war sent the country into chaos. Each teaching and story is short – sometimes just half a page – so it makes for a great travel read that you can pick up when you feel the need.

Some final thoughts

Being a Responsible Backpacker

Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.

Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, it is not you to travel.
Don’t pick up single-use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.

Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.

Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single-use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.

Be Good to Vietnam

Writing your name in black marker on temples, chugging beer Saigon while shirtless, swearing loudly and visiting unethical animal attractions? You Sir, are a twat. Luckily, most backpackers don't fall into this category but, when you're out and about and have had a few too many drinks, it can be easy to embarrass yourself.

It’s easy to get carried away in South East Asia, everything is so damn cheap and so much fun. I’m in no way the perfect traveller; I’ve been the drunken idiot on the street. I know first hand just how hard it is to be the one person in a group to say no when somebody comes up with a stupid idea that, for some reason, everybody is down for.

By no means am I telling you not to drink, smoke and party. Do it and love it. Just don’t get so drunk you turn into an imbecile your mum would be ashamed of. If you can’t handle drinking buckets, then stick to beer.
Wear a helmet when you hop on a motorbike in Asia. Despite being an experienced driver, I've had a total of three crashes in South East Asia over the last ten years. On the one occasion, I wasn't wearing a helmet, I split my head open and had to go to hospital. It was an expensive mistake. The local people are sick of scraping foreigners off the road and, trust me, you don't look cool for not wearing a helmet.

Humans are humans; treat people you meet along the way with the same respect you would show your friends and family back home. You are not superior to anyone including the girls/guys walking the streets. Sex workers in South East Asia are people like you and me; they may enjoy what they do, or they may be on the darker side of it.

Regardless of your beliefs and thoughts on prostitution, remember this is another person with thoughts, feelings and a life outside of the sex industry too. You are not superior to these people, you just happen to be from a more privileged background.

Go to Asia and have the time of your life, do the things you’ve dreamed of but be respectful along the way. Travelling the world makes you an ambassador for your country, which is awesome. We can make a positive impact on people when we travel and get rid of any ugly stereotypes that may be associated with your country...

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Hello, my name’s Jordan and I’m obsessed with travelling overland. Seeing how cultures change while travelling slowly captivates me; and doing so in an eco-friendly way, preserving the cultures and landscapes that so many travellers yearn to explore, has given me my travelling purpose.

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Budget & Currency
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Getting Flight There
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Packing List
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Internet & Phone
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Local Etiquette
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Getting Around
bee-white Getting Around
Safety & Precautions
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Buying & Bargaining
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Useful addresses
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CHECK OUT OTHER DESTINATIONS
Thailand
bee-white Thailand
Friendly and food-obsessed, hedonistic and historic, cultured and curious, Thailand tempts visitors with a smile as golden as the country's glittering temples and tropical beaches.
Cambodia
bee-white Cambodia
There's a magic about this charming yet confounding kingdom that casts a spell on visitors. In Cambodia, ancient and modern worlds collide to create an authentic adventure.
Myanmar
bee-white Myanmar
It's a new era for this extraordinary and complex land, where the landscape is scattered with gilded pagodas and the traditional ways of Asia endure.
Laos
bee-white Laos
Vivid nature, voluptuous landscapes and a vibrant culture collide with a painful past and optimistic future to make Laos an enigmatic experience for the adventurous.
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