This page is my overview of backpacking Vietnam, covering the country, some tips, general things to know, transport and accommodation options, general costs and my experience of the country.
If there’s one thing that jumps out at you more than anything in Vietnam; it’s the crazy traffic, the mopeds in particular. That sea of endless mopeds will blow your mind but as the locals say It’s just organised chaos.
It really doesn’t matter if you start in the north or in the south; it’s the first thing you’ll need to get your head around. You’ll see first hand how people are constantly on the move, the roads are never quiet especially in the cities. Don’t worry though after a day or two (or four) your brain will unscramble and you’ll learn how to navigate the roads (It’s quite fun.)
Personally I didn’t have the greatest time in Vietnam, it was one of those countries that I just didn’t connect with and a few other factors going on at the time that attributed to this. Which really was a shame as the person who I was traveling with was having a great time.
My personal feelings aside, Vietnam has to offer a budget backpacker – whether it’s the cities, the history, the beaches, mountains, the jungle, the landscape, the food or the mighty Mekong river especially at the river mouth where so much is going on. Vietnam has it all for whatever type of backpacking trip you’re looking for.
A few tips:
- The traffic will blow your mind, however bare in mind when you cross a road, just walk, don’t think about it, don’t hesitate – Just walk, the mopeds will go around you. If you panic or dither, you will make them panic and that causes accidents.
- You will quickly realize footpaths are not for walking in Vietnam, they are for mopeds to park.
- Vietnamese food is amazing, try everything – If you’re not sure what it is but it tastes good, just eat it; it’s safer to just not know.
- Eat at one of the countless self cook BBQ stalls – Table and seats are tiny but you get a mini BBQ (just order what meat and/or veg you want and cook it yourself to your own tastes.
- If you do a river market tour (Best to do in South like in Can Tho) go before the sun rises to get the best experience. (Waking up at stupid O’clock is worth it for this.)
- Take warm clothes for over night bus rides. (they get like to blast the air-con at night)
- Take snacks with you for over-night bus journeys.
- Don’t be surprised to see parts of Vietnam over run by Russian’s.
- You can use both American Dollars and Vietnamese Dong in most places.
Some things to be wary of:
- Tour touts will harass you constantly.
- Locals selling fruit and veg will let you pose for a picture with them and even encourage you – But then will demand money from you.
- Beggars are everywhere and constantly be asking for handouts. However if you if you do give them something, they will ask for more.
- Keep your personal belongings safe in public areas and on public transport. Pick pocketing is common.
- If you pay with American Dollars, you will receive change back in Vietnamese Dong, and not at the correct exchange rate. Be careful of this. try to pay in Vietnamese Dong for small purchases even if they insist on American Dollars.
- Locals love drinking rice wine – You will be invited to join, it’s a slippery road…Just sayin’.
Basic things to know:
Language spoken: Vietnamese.
Other Languages spoken: French, Khmer (Cambodian)
Is English spoken: Yes (Becoming the second language)
Currency: Vietnamese Dong
Backpacking in Cambodia is – Cheap
To check live rates click here XE.com
British nationals wanting to travel to Vietnam for 15 days or less do not need a visa to enter Vietnam. (until June 2017)
If you’re looking to be in Vietnam for more than 15 days you need to apply for a tourist Visa. Can be done online, or at a Vietnamese Embassy (I did this in Laos). It takes a couple of days for the authorization number to return. At the border you will receive you ‘Visa on arrival’ with a entry stamp and payment stamp. At land borders you will need to show proof of onward travel (even an itinerary)
To check your nationalities Visa requirements check here CIBTVisas
Things to know when budgeting for Vietnam:
Vietnam was the country I ran dangerously low on my funds (Because of Thailand and Laos), and when you have hardly any money every thing becomes more expensive even if it’s cheap. Luckily I had a friend that helped me through the rest of my trip. (Backpacking isn’t always fun)
Like all South East Asian countries, Vietnam is great for budget backpackers, and thankfully for me at the time, cheaper than Thailand and Laos.
Transport will burn a hole through your pocket in no matter what country you backpack through. It’s a good idea to take overnight sleeper buses, though not the most comfortable, you won’t get much sleep but they will help on a nights rent. And try taking local transport (go on do it) if you want an even cheaper option.
There is a wide range of accommodation to chose from and there are some very cheap and basic places for just a couple of dollars night but they can be grotty, smelly and infested with bugs. Normal price range for hostels and guesthouses can range between $5-$10 a night.
Due to my lack of funds backpacking Vietnam I had to skip out on a lot of paid activities (had to get creative and look for the free ones to explore instead.)
my friend did do a lot of the paid activities and most were cheaper than the trips she did in Thailand. Of course trip and activities will work out cheaper by taking local buses to the destination and buying entrance fees, or paying for the activity at the gates rather than booking a tour.
Food and drink’s is an area you don’t have to worry about, it’s so cheap to eat especially if you eat from local places, buy a bhan mi sandwich from the cart, eat Vietnamese noodle soup in noodle houses, eat at the countless night markets and you won’t feel a pinch in your budget. Drinks are cheap too, local alcohol practically costs pennies.
There are lots of ways you can keep to a budget of $20 per day in Vietnam, eat street food, don’t buy that extra coffee in the morning, don’t book a tour just go on public transport and do it independently. Walk around instead of taking tuk-tuks and stay in basic accommodation. With my lack of funds I was getting by on $10-15 a day, my friend was able to be comfortable on $20 a day – However prices may have changed now.
As you can see I haven’t gone into too much specific pricing, as prices always change and information becomes irrelevant. However if you are looking to compare live prices here is a couple of good sites for live comparisons to help you: numbeo and expatisan.
Traffic in Vietnam is insane, getting around within cities and towns can be a challenge physically, mentally and for your sanity. However once you are traveling out of the cities to your next destination you can enjoy some quieter journeys (not smoother) and take in the scenery. This might be a surprise to you but as in all South East Asian countries not everything runs on time or smoothly. Like Thailand, Vietnam is used to tourism so there are plenty of transport options to get you around.
Pedicabs – Bicycle rickshaws
Mopeds – Join the never ending mopeds and scooters on the road.
Coaches/ Sleeper buses – 2nd class, 1st class, VIP and premium (Depends on your budget)
Trains – Overnight sleeper trains available
Motorbike – Rent your own or hire one with your own personal rider
Private shuttle vans – Safe and cheap
There’s a blurred line in terms of types of accommodation for budget backpackers in Vietnam. It’s not so easy to categorize as guesthouses can be more like hostels. Hostels are more likely to have private rooms as dorms are not that popular except for in a few dedicated backpacker hostels. Finding Accommodation is fairly simple though, as anybody with a spare bedroom will put a sign up to say they’re a guesthouse. In Vietnam it is best to walk around and shop around for the best price and facilities.
- Hostels – A few dedicated backpacker hostels with dorms in the cities.
- Guest houses – Everywhere, packed within alley ways, on main roads, joined to tour shops, anywhere that has a room to rent.
- Budget hotels – All over the place but watch out for scammers and grotty places.
- hotels – Bit more expensive than the rest of South East Asia.
- Workaways – Stay with a local family, learn and see from a local perspective.
My overview of backpacking Vietnam:
Vietnam was just one of those countries I didn’t connect with. There were a few reasons for this, I’d just had a magical time in Laos so Vietnam was like my comedown, my financial situation and some other stuff going on at the time. It’s just one of those things you learn as a long-term backpacker; you can’t like every country you travel to; it’s just a part of backpacking.
That being said it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Yeah I didn’t enjoy it as much as I might have done but the person I traveled with tried to keep my spirits up. And there was some laughs and some highlights thrown in too.
Some of my highlights:
Ha long bay.
Caves around Vietnam.
All the food.
Dodging scooters on the road (became like a hobby)
Dressing up as Vietnamese royalty.
Riding through the mountain side.
Seeing how rice noodles were made.
Some of my dislikes:
Being harassed by scammers.
Not connecting with Vietnam like I hoped.
Being stuck in crazy traffic.
Long never ending bus journeys.
Running out of money.
Having to glue my trainers back together.
Ho chi min.
My route backpacking Vietnam:
We started in the north and made our way south to Can tho.