Traveling through Vietnam will be one of the most satisfying backpacking adventures ever. I can say that quite confidently. In this Vietnam Travel Guide, I’ll take you through all the information you need to ensure smooth travels for yourself.
There are several reasons I believe Vietnam is the best backpacking country. However, chief amongst them is its general shape. If you look at a map, you’ll see that Vietnam is one elongated mass. As such, you can complete it in one simple arc:
You can either go from Ho Chi Minh (South) to Hanoi (North), or vice verse.
This largely depends on where you’re coming from. If you’re entering from Laos, you’ll start from Hanoi. And if you’re entering from Cambodia, you’ll start with Ho Chi Minh.
I spent one month traveling through Vietnam — South to North — and I still feel it wasn’t enough. However, that’s mostly because, in hindsight, I wasn’t prepared well enough. Like most things, I decided to just fling it, instead of doing some (any) prior research.
I ended up wasting too much time down south and in Ho Chi Minh City. Consequently, I had to rush through the amazing destinations on the northern end of Vietnam.
When you travel to Vietnam, you should read up on all of the best places to visit beforehand. This will help you decide which places to visit, which ones to brush through, and which ones to ignore entirely.
In this Vietnam travel blog, I’ll give you all the information you need to make an informed decision.
I’ll also give you plenty of advice so you can avoid making the mistakes I did. Be it food, hostels, or Visa, I spill all the deets.
Now quit wastin’ yo’ time and read my Vietnam Travel Guide!
Table of Contents
I’m kicking off my Vietnam travel guide with everyone’s first question:
How to apply for a Vietnam tourist visa?
Lucky for you, the Vietnam tourist visa is extremely easy to obtain. Your best option is to get a Visa-on-Arrival. However, unlike several other Southeast Asian nations, you can’t just show up at the airport for a Vietnam tourist visa. You have to go through one additional step:
You have to fill out an online application form and pay the Visa application fee in advance. However, this is an insanely simple three-step process:
This depends on several factors:
Once you have your Vietnam Tourist Visa approval letter, you need to download it along with the visa application letter. When you land in the Vietnam airport, you’ll have to show them to the authorities.
You can find out additional details about the Vietnam tourist visa in the Vietnam-Visa site.
Coming to the second part of my Vietnam travel guide…
What is the Vietnam currency? What’s the exchange rate? And how/ where do I get my currency exchanged?
The national currency of Vietnam is Dong (₫), and it’s an extremely devalued currency. It’s nowhere near as weak as the currency in Zimbabwe! However, it’s right up there with some of the weakest currencies in the world.
You can use XE Currency Converter to determine your currency conversion rates.
There are several ways in which you can get your currency converted:
Never lose sight of your ATM Card. This is one of the most valuable Vietnam travel tips I can give you.
Some ATM machines (and even card machines in shops) don’t require you to enter your PIN. I know, it’s crazy!
As such, if you lose your card, or leave it somewhere, it will be VERY easy for someone to drain your bank account.
In fact, while swiping my card at a restaurant I made the grave error of leaving it behind. When I woke up the next day, I found that my entire bank account had been drained! I immediately rushed to the shop and asked them to return my money.
Eventually, they did. However, they asked for a 5% “conversion tax”! However, I was a stranger in a strange land, so I decided to cut my losses and think of this as a learning experience.
Moral of the story?
Hold on to that friggin’ card for dear life!
One of the things that surprised me most during my Vietnam trip was how well connected the country is.
I really don’t need to give you any Vietnam travel tips on Internet connectivity because I can guarantee you that won’t be a problem.
In fact, I can say that Vietnam has the best internet connectivity in the world, and that isn’t hyperbolic. I met people from a lot of nationalities during my Vietnam travels. They all concurred: it’s crazy how well connected Vietnam is.
You can find free WiFi wherever you go in Vietnam. Little street food stalls offer you their WiFi password. Taxis have their WiFi password mentioned in the window. Even if you’re taking a cross-country bus, they’ll declare their WiFi password to you. If you’re ever outside, without internet, you can hop into literally any shop around you, and they’ll offer you free WiFi.
However, if you don’t want to be dependent on that, you can also get yourself a local SIM. That’s what I always do.
You can get the SIM card from a kiosk right outside the international airport. Beside that, you can find these kiosks all around the cities as well.
I traveled for 1 month, and for that period I used the Viettel SIM Card. It cost me just ₫ 200,000 (Approx. $9 | ₹600).
The Viettel SIM always gave me great connectivity — when I needed it, which wasn’t often for the aforementioned reasons. I also got several gigs of data with it, and it comfortably lasted throughout the month.
If you’re interested, you can read more about the Viettel SIM Card.
In this part of my Vietnam travel guide, I’ll take you through a brief rundown of all the places to visit in Vietnam.
Vietnam has so many great places to visit that even a 30 day Vietnam trip wasn’t nearly enough for me. Most countries I’ve been to have a handful of great places you need to check out. But not Vietnam, it has a whole volley of Vietnam travel spots, and all of them are fucking amazing! Sorry for the language, but that’s the ONLY way to express how overwhelming and exciting the options area!
This part of my guide to Vietnam offers a short summary of the best Vietnam tourist spots, south to north.
Phu Quoc is an island off the southern coast of Vietnam. You have to get there via a ferry you can take from Cat Ba down south. It’s a relatively quiet island, has a great night market, and is famous for its waterfalls and beaches. I spent 3 days here, and it was all worth it.
Approx. ₫ 120,000 ($5.50 | ₹350)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Phu Quoc Booking page.
Mekong Delta is popular for its floating markets and nothing else. As such, you should spend just one night here. Stay at a hostel in Can Tho. Spend the night there so you can check out the floating markets early in the morning. Leave immediately after. I spent three days in Mekong Delta and I regret it because it took time away from more valuable experiences.
Approx. ₫ 110,000 ($5 | ₹320)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Can Tho Booking page.
Assuming you don’t have all the time in the world, you should spend 2-3 days in Ho Chi Minh. As far as cities go, it’s not the most exciting city in Southeast Asia. It has a few good sights, and some nice eateries, but that’s about it. Mostly, you should use your time in Ho Chi Minh to do two things — check out the Cu Chi tunnels, and party at But Vien.
Approx. ₫ 150,000 ($6.50 | ₹420)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Ho Chi Minh Booking page.
Mui Ne is a charming coastal town north of Ho Chi Minh. You’ll find some great resorts, restaurants, and beach clubs here. Other than watersports, there’s not a lot to do here. However, you should spend a few days here to relax and catch your breath. Backpacking through Vietnam can be tiresome. Hang your head back, dig your toes into the sand, and relax.
Approx. ₫ 110,000 ($5 | ₹320)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Mui Ne Booking page.
From a quaint coastal town, you go straight to a quaint mountain town. Da Lat was one of my favorite towns in Vietnam. It’s at a bit of an altitude, so you’ll have to whip out something a little warm. There are some great sights to see here, such as a surrealist house, some temples, etc. However, the real highlight of Da Lat is that you can go Canyoning here.
Approx. ₫ 100,000 ($4.50 | ₹280)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Da Lat Booking page.
Nha Trang is the next important city that falls along the path. It’s a really popular coastal town, however, it doesn’t hold a candle to Mui Ne, or to Hoi An (coming next). As such, I suggest you skip it altogether.
Approx. ₫ 110,000 ($5 | ₹320)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Nha Trang Booking page.
So you’ve reached central Vietnam. Hoi An, in my opinion, is the best city in Vietnam. In fact, it might just be one of the best cities in Southeast Asia, period. It offers the best of both worlds really. It’s a thriving city with rice fields on the outskirts, and the coast right next to it. The beaches here are quiet, peaceful, and clean. The city glows up in bright embers every night. As such, there will be plenty for you to do even if you spend several days here. I suggest you stay near the coast and use bikes to travel around the city and the neighboring hilly regions.
Approx. ₫ 160,000 ($7 | ₹450)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Hoi An Booking page.
Ba Na is one of Vietnam’s most fabulous hill stations. It looks (and feels) like an old medieval European town high up in the mountains. It’s pretty difficult (and expensive) to get to. You have to take a bus to Danang, and from there you have to arrange a bus to take you to the BaNa foothills. Once you’re there, you’ll have to take cable cars up to the mountain town. The whole process cost me $90 (yikes!) but it was totally worth it.
There are no hostels available here, only overpriced resorts. As such, unless you’re loaded, I suggest you take the cable cars back later in the evening. However, that’s quite alright because this town feels more like an amusement park anyway. It’s great to gape at it for a day, try out the rides and restaurants, check out the street shows and dances, but I suspect any more of it will give you a migraine.
Approx. $80 | ₹5,200
Hue is another one of the important cities in Vietnam, comparable to Siem Reap in Cambodia. While there’s a lot to do in the city itself, it’s popular for all of the temple compounds in it. Unfortunately, at this point in my travels, I was in quite a rush to get to Hanoi in time to catch my flight. So I had to skip it altogether. However, the guys I’d been traveling with till Hoi An said some pretty great things about it.
Approx. ₫ 110,000 ($5 | ₹320)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Hue Booking page.
This is another crucial Vietnam travel experience that I sadly had to skip. Phong Nha is home to some of the most beautiful and vast caves in the world. In fact, the central cave — Phong Nha Cave — has been inducted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Approx. ₫ 130,000 ($5.75 | ₹380)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Phong Nha Booking page.
Now we’ve come to another one of my most cherished Vietnam tourist spots. Ninh Binh is a great place to explore for a period of 2 to 3 days. If you’re even remotely familiar with Vietnam, I suppose you might be excited about exploring Ha Long Bay with its waterways and gondola rides. Well, Ninh Binh is like its smaller, less-popular sister. Ha Long Bay is certainly larger and grander, but it doesn’t have what Ninh Binh has — some peace and quiet. I highly recommend exploring the grottoes here.
Approx. ₫ 160,000 ($7 | ₹450)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Ninh Binh Booking page.
I didn’t find anything particularly noteworthy about Hanoi, one of Vietnam’s most popular cities. It’s not nearly as beautiful or interesting as Hoi An. And if you’re looking to party in backpacker streets, there’s nothing here to rival Ho Chi Minh’s But Vien. However, this is likely where you have to reach to catch your flight. And this is a great spot from which to explore your final two Vietnam tourist spots — Sapa and Ha Long Bay.
Approx. ₫ 110,000 ($5 | ₹320)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Hanoi Booking page.
Sapa is one of the much-touted treasures of North Vietnam. People usually come here to explore the local villages and the massive rice terraces and fields. It’s a stunning sight and presents a bunch of photo opportunities. It’s best to take a 3-day tour of the rice fields. However, if you’re short on time, one day would also suffice.
Approx. ₫ 130,000 ($5.75 | ₹380)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Sapa Booking page.
For most people, Ha Long Bay is the final and most wonderful end to their Vietnam travels. You can set aboard the boats here and explore all of the islets and the forests that seem to rise up out of the depths of the ocean. This is definitely one of the most aesthetically stunning locations in Vietnam. Some people also go on a 2 or 3-day tour of the neighboring caves and islands.
Approx. ₫ 110,000 ($5 | ₹320)
Approx. ₫ 4,855,500 ($215 | ₹13,750)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Ha Long Booking page.
While exploring Ha Long Bay, you can also spend a day or two at Cat Ba Island. This is the largest island in the Cat Ba Archipelago, southeast of Ha Long Bay. It’s great for exploring the villages, trekking in the forests, and engaging in watersports.
Approx. ₫ 230,000 ($10 | ₹650)
You can find other resorts, hotels, and accommodations in the Cat Ba Booking page.
Well, so that brings us to the end of this tedious part of my Vietnam travel guide.
I hope you now have a fair idea of which Vietnam tourist spots you’d like to focus on and which ones you’d like to skip altogether. Or, you know, if you have over 2 months to explore Vietnam, you don’t have to skip any of it!
When it comes to the Vietnamese weather, it’s hard to determine just when to go for perfect all-around sunniness. This is because different parts of the country register different monsoon winds.
As such, when traveling through Vietnam, it’s hard to find a time when the weather will be perfect all around.
However, here’s a brief glimpse at the climatic conditions in different parts of Vietnam.
Dry: December to April
Wet: May to November
Dry: February to August
Wet: September to January
Warm and Wet: May to December
Cold and Dry: January to April
These are, of course, the broad strokes of climatic patterns in the country. These also change depending on how close you are to the coast, whether you’re at one of the hill-stations, etc. As such, there’s no perfect time to travel through all of Vietnam.
I went there during September and I faced quite a bit of downpour down south at Ho Chi Minh and Phu Quoc.
However, if you’re interested, you can learn further details about the weather in Vietnam to decide upon an ideal time.
Transportation in Vietnam is quite advanced. They have everything you could possibly need.
One of the most popular means of backpacking through Vietnam is by bikes. A lot of people I met along the way would purchase a bike either in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh. They would then take their own time to travel through the whole country.
Once they got to the end of their Vietnam travels, they would sell the bike to yet another backpacker for about the same cost. This might seem strange, but it’s true.
Buy a secondhand (or third or fourth) bike from a backpacker. Travel through the country. Sell the bike to another backpacker for the same cost. As such, you only end up paying for gas.
However, if that’s not your thing, you’ll have to use public transportation.
This is the most popular means of traveling through Vietnam, and this was my favored transportation as well. Buses are easily available and they’re surprisingly comfortable. You can go anywhere you want for something between $5 to $15 (Approx. ₹330 to ₹990). Furthermore, the buses come with WiFi connectivity and are air-conditioned. However, be prepared for a lot of overnight journeys.
I didn’t travel by trains in Vietnam. However, those who did seemed to like it. You get to choose the type of seat you want as well. Depending on the distance of the destination, and the type of seat, you may have to pay anything between $15 to $70 (Approx. ₹990 to ₹4,950).
They have a number of airports in the major cities in Vietnam such as Da Nang, Hanoi, etc. Domestic flights are extremely convenient and they’re usually quite cheap as well. I took a flight from Phi Quoc island to Ho Chi Minh and it cost me $50 (Approx. ₹3,330).
There are plenty of taxi services available as well. A lot of backpackers pool together and get a large taxi to take them cross-country.
Now we come to my favorite part of this Vietnam travel guide: Food!
One of my strongest Vietnam travel tips to you is this: try everything local.
Vietnam has arguably got the best cuisine in all of Southeast Asia. Not only is it the most delicious, but it’s also ridiculously cheap.
Vietnam has a lot of unique cuisines so I can’t possibly list out all of them. However, in the list below I’ll tell you about all the best food items that you have to try.
This is, without a doubt, the best food in Vietnam. It’s a baguette stuffed with vegetables and all kinds of meat. It’s kind of like a subway but it’s available in little street stalls everywhere. Furthermore, it only costs ₫ 20,000 (Approx. $0.85 | ₹60).
This is another one of my favorite dishes in Vietnam. While Bahn Mi makes for great breakfast, Pho makes for a great lunch or dinner. This is a kind of thick noodle soup with lots of pieces of meat (chicken, pork, beef) in it. In small street food joints, you can get one large bowl for ₫ 40,000 (Approx. $1.70 | ₹120).
Vietnam has a special style of preparing coffee that I haven’t seen anywhere else. In fact, while traveling through other parts of Southeast Asia, people kept telling me about how great their coffee was. I initially assumed they were being hyperbolic, as it happens so often while traveling. However, they were correct. It was the best coffee I’ve ever had. They prepare hot coffee with an elaborate drip system, using a coffee filter. It takes time to prepare, but the flavor is extremely powerful. Even their iced coffee is pretty unique as it’s flavored with some coconut milk.
Vietnam also has the best lemonade I’ve ever tried. They flavor the lemonade with dried plums settled at the bottom. As you drink up, the peel starts coming off and drifts upon the surface. It’s an interesting mix of flavors.
And then there’s all the other stuff you find in menus for some of the local joints. Besides all the regular meat, they also offer crocodile, snails, snakehead, porcupine, etc. I tried some snails and grilled porcupine. The latter was leathery and chewy and I didn’t much care for it. Chalk it down to experience.
Anyway, so these are some of the things I loved trying out in Vietnam.
However, there’s a lot more just waiting to be discovered. So follow my valuable Vietnam travel tips and try everything local. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
In this part of my Vietnam travel guide, I’ll recount some of the most popular activities in Vietnam. I’ll start from down south, and make my way up north.
A lot of the commerce in South Vietnam takes place by waterways. You can wake up early in the morning and catch a ride on a boat to explore the Cai Rang Floating Market. The trip will also likely consist of Pho for breakfast.
Visiting the Cu Chi Tunnel is one of the most essential activities in Vietnam. 120 kilometers of tunnels had been dug up to launch guerrilla warfare against the American troops during the Vietnam War. Some of these tunnels are open for tourists to get through. Most people can’t get through more than 40 meters or so because of the claustrophobia.
If you enjoy partying in backpacker streets, you’ll love Bui Vien. The ribaldries here never stop, and the parties go on until the wee hours of the morning. There are plenty of fun dance clubs here, and all hostels usually arrange pub crawls as well. I found it to be even more overwhelming than Bangkok’s Khao San Road, or Siem Reap’s Pub Street.
Mui Ne may be a quaint coastal town. However, it’s located next to vast swathes of red and white Saharan-type sand dunes. You can either rent a bike and go there on your own. Or you can go via a tour operator. A Private Day Tour will cost you $75 (Approx. ₹4,840).
If you enjoy adventure sports, you’ll love canyoning in Da Lat. This includes a series of activities, including river-crossing and abseiling. Abseiling is an activity in which you have to climb down waterfalls.
I think it goes without saying, but I was pretty terrible at it. I got to confirm what I always knew — that my limbs are incommunicado with each other and I have no business engaging in physical activities. However, barring my ego, nothing else was severely bruised. So cheers to that! Even if you’re a total klutz like me, you should still do this just for the memories.
You can contact DaLat Canyoning Tours from your hostel. Their rate is $50 (Approx. ₹3,330).
Hoi An’s ancient town is now considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such, to get in, you have to pay an entrance fee of ₫ 120,000 (Approx. $5.25 | ₹340). There are a lot of great restaurants and cafes by the canals here. It’s also a nice place to go shopping. However, the best aspect of the city is how it glows up in beautiful embers at night.
Ba Na Hills, as I mentioned earlier, is a French medieval-esque town high up on the hills. You have to take cable cars up to them.
When I went there, the whole town was engaged in a month-long event called the “Bestival.” It’s a beer drinking festival that lasts from the 1st of August to the 3rd of September.
Performances were held on the streets every half-hour, everyone was chugging beer from casks, and loud music played everywhere. It was pretty overwhelming but it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The only thing that confounded me was that all the performers were White folks.
An organized tour to Ba Na Hills will cost you $90 (Approx. ₹5,812).
The Complex of Hue Monuments is a UNESCO World Heritage Site comparable to Angkor Wat and the neighboring ruins. There are various monuments and temples in the region dating back to the 19th century. The entrance fee for the Complex of Hue Monuments is ₫ 150,000 (Approx. $6.60 | ₹430).
This national park boasts some of the largest caves in the world. The world’s highest cave — Son Doong — sometimes reaches 200 meters in height. You can explore the grottoes and the limestone caves, while also going hiking on the outskirts.
The cost of entrance to the National Park is ₫ 40,000 (Approx. $1.75 | ₹115). However, you have to pay an additional amount of about ₫ 80,000 to ₫ 150,000 for the individual caves as well. As such, it can be pretty expensive.
If you’ve explored the caves in Phong Nha, you can skip this. It’s a smaller version of the grottoes there. However, if you found that to be too “touristy”, these grottoes offer a quieter alternative.
Taking a boat trip through Tam Coc will cost ₫ 150,000 (Approx. $6.60 | ₹430).
Sapa Valley is famous for its rice terraces. You can spend a day or two in Sapa exploring all of the little villages and being led through the swatches of rice terraces.
Halong Bay is one of the most picturesque locations in all of Vietnam. I’ve already mentioned it earlier. However, one of the most popular activities here is to embark on a boat cruise to explore small islands and hidden caves.
You can avail of the services of the Halong Paloma Cruise, which will cost you approx. ₫ 4,855,500 ($215 | ₹13,750).
So that brings us to the end of my Vietnam travel guide on Vietnam sightseeing and attractions. This is, of course, just a brief compilation of the most popular Vietnam tourist attractions. When you do go to Vietnam, I suggest you also ask around and discover things for yourself.
This might just be the most important part of my Vietnam travel guide. Here, I’ll tell you about a couple of things you absolutely mustn’t do, for safety reasons or for civility.
Vietnam is a communist country and the government keeps a strong watch on the information released online. Be careful not to post anything negative about the government while you’re there. In fact, err on the side of caution and don’t post anything remotely political at all. Got opinions on the Vietnam War that you’re dying to share with your 12 Twitter followers? Before you twiddle those thumbs, wait till you’re out of the country. Or you might just be left twiddling your thumbs in a cell.
Don’t believe me? Just go to Google and hit “Vietnam blogger arrested”. You’ll find several articles on bloggers arrested just recently for reporting on toxic spills, “defaming” the government, etc. Furthermore, they get jailed for a LONG time.
You might notice that women in Vietnam (barring those in the cities) have their limbs covered at all times. The dress code for women is extremely strict in Vietnam. As a tourist, you do have more leeway, however, you should be careful not to push any boundaries. It’s best not to wear anything shorter than the knees or the elbows, especially while exploring temples, monuments, etc.
In Vietnam, they’re pretty strict about a drivers license. Furthermore, they only accept a Vietnamese driving license, not even an international one. As such, you should stay away from cars while you’re there.
Vietnam has a very strict hardliner policy on drugs. By that I mean the upper limit of their punishment for possession (or consumption) of drug is the death penalty. I know! So be very careful not to accept anything from strangers. If you see someone consuming drugs and they offer, it’s best to say no.
In Vietnam, for some strange reason, they don’t ask you to enter the PIN when you swipe the card. As such, you should never lose sight of your card. If someone gets it, they can very easily drain your entire bank balance, leaving you high and dry.
These are some Vietnam travel tips I can give you to remain safe while traveling. You can also read about more in details in this excellent article by Quang Mai.
I suppose you now have a decent idea how to travel to Vietnam and backpack through the country. I hope my Vietnam travel guide has answered all your questions.
Of course, a single Vietnam travel guide can never be enough to capture all there is to the country. As such, feel free to comment down below if you feel I’ve missed out on something vital.
Do let me know whether you found this Vietnam travel guide useful. And happy backpacking!
Days in Vietnam: 28 days
Total Money Spent: Approx. ₹60,000 | $1000
I can be quite socially awkward occasionally. Sometimes, during these intermittent periods of social waywardness…