Vietnam, oh how I adore you! If you are seeking epic adventures, unique experiences, mouth-watering foods and ancient historical sites; Vietnam is the place for you. Backpacking in Vietnam is a great choice for the broke backpacker because of the super cheap cost of living and the plentiful adventures. I spent 2 weeks exploring Vietnam on 2016 and cannot wait to return.
When to go
The best time to visit Vietnam is spring (February to April) and autumn (August to October). The temperatures are more moderate and rainfall is lighter. In spring, March and April have the lowest rainfall across all destinations and temperatures are pleasant, though still cool in the far north.
Where to go
There are so many places to see in Vietnam. I recommend starting your trip in either Hanoi or Saigon. We started in Hoi An and worked our way north and came back into the south from Cambodia. However, we missed everything between Saigon and Hoi An. If just visiting Vietnam I recommend working North to South or visa versa.
Hanoi for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture, the old quarter, the many little temples, the markets and street food.
Sapa for its trekking, the terraced rice fields of the Muong Hoa Valley and its hill tribes, such as the Hmong, Tay and Dao.
Halong Bay for is UNESCO World heritage limestone islands, junk boats and Vietnam Backpackers Hostels Castaways Tour.
Phong Nha for its incredible caves, treks and its kart mountains.
Hue for its imperial city, beautiful citadels and dragon boats.
Hoi An for is old quarter, incredible food and world class tailors.
Nha Trang for its party scene, resorts and water sports.
Dalat for its cooler mountain, outdoor adventures and surprisingly ok wine.
Mui Ne for the sweeping red and white sand dunes, vast beaches, and tranquil fishing villages.
Siagon for the Cu Chi Tunnels, museums and crazy hustle & bustle.
Mekong Delta for its maze of rivers, swamps and islands along the mighty Mekong and floating markets.
Phu Quoc Island for its white sand beaches, national park and wildlife.
Arriving in to Vietnam
For Australians, to enter Vietnam, you must have a valid visa (organised in advance) and your passport must also have at least six months’ remaining validity at the time of your arrival. There are more and more reports on online scams so I recommend applying for your visa via the Vietnamese Embassy. We got a multiple entry visa so that we could come in and out of the country which I recommend if you are doing a trip anything like our 6 week South East Asia Adventure. If you don’t hold an Australian passport I recommend checking with your local Vietnamese Embassy for entry requirements.
There are 3 main ways for long distance travel in Vietnam. Bus, train and plane. If you are short on time and wanting to move a long way I suggest flying. There are airports in most towns. If you are smart you can get some pretty cheap domestic flights for around $30-40. However this may not always be the case. I use Momondo to find my flights. Buses are the most common backpacker transport in Vietnam. They are cheap and easy. More and more buses have air con and the quality of sleeper buses is improving. There are also great hop on hop off tickets available if you are planning a North/South run. The other common way around train. I had a really great experience on the train in Vietnam from Da Nang to Dong Hoi. The Reunification line runs from Hanoi in the north to Saigon in the south. Ticket prices vary depending on what class you travel on. We had seats in a 4 berth cabin with air con. The train also runs along the coast and has some spectacular views.
|Hostel dorm bed average: $8||One day motorbike hire: $30|
|Basic private double room average: $20||Long distance bus service: $3 – $15|
|Local beer :$1||Entrance to a site cost: $4 for foreigners on average|
|Meal at a cheap restaurant :$2-3||Bowl of street side Pho: $1|
* prices in Australian Dollars.
The food is reason enough to head to Vietnam. While there is plenty of places serving western food its worth seeking out more authentic Vietnamese. Don’t be afraid to eat street food. Just use common sense with eating meat and check it is cooked through. If it looks raw or like its been sitting out in the sun too long don’t eat it. If you see lots of locals at a certain stall or place chances are its good food. After all, no one lines up for bad food. Pho is a staple in Vietnamese eating and it varies from place to place. Ask what the local specialty is and give it a go. You’ll be eating pho for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try Banh Xeo, large sizzling rice crepes and Banh Mi, a Vietnamese style baguette to start your street food experience off. Don’t be afraid to be a bit adventurous. After all, the best Vietamese food you’re ever going to eat will be in Vietnam. Smoothies and Vietnamese Coffee, pronounce ‘Caw-fee’ are also a must try. If you get the chance in Hoi An try a Vietnamese cooking class. You wont regret it.
Helpful Tip: Don’t forget translation cards if you have any food allergies.
Vietnam’s people are a special mix of cultures, languages and historical backgrounds. The one common denominator amongst them is that, as in most Southeast Asia countries, they love to smile and are genuinely interested in foreign visitors. The new generation of Vietnamese are largely unfamiliar with the devastation the country suffered years ago and should be approached thus. Many of the people in Vietnam live modest lives, so try to be considerate and avoid displaying excessive wealth or expensive clothing and jewelry in areas where it is not common. Like anywhere else, displaying wealth will not only attract petty criminals, but may also trigger some feelings of resentment from local people. Buddhism is undoubtedly the largest established religion, however Vietnam has a rich and wide variety of religions based on imported faiths and popular beliefs. Make sure you dress appropriately for Temples and other religious sites.
- Theft – One of the most common issues that people find in Vietnam is that petty crime such as pick-pocketing and theft of valuable items. Common sense can go along way in keeping you and your belongings safe. Keep any valuables hidden in a bag which you keep close to yourself at all times, and particularly avoid carrying a camera around your neck in populated areas. One method of theft is from the back of a motorbike, so makes sure you keep a hand on any bags, as these can easily be grabbed from a moving bike. I always wore mine on my front.
- Water – It’s best to drink and brush your teeth with bottled water in Vietnam to avoid stomach bugs. Most hotels and hostels provide this and water can be bought easily and cheaply.
- Culture – as mentioned above Vietnam is a conservative country. For woman is it best to keep shoulders and knees covered to avoid any unwanted attention. Save the bikini’s and short shorts for the beaches.
- Scams & Begging – Though not as prevalent in Vietnam as some other countries, there are still scammers and beggars in Vietnam. Begging is quite common, mainly in tourist areas, but most beggars will leave you alone if you say no, though you may need to be quite firm. Keep an eye out and trust your gut when it comes to protecting yourself against scams from Taxi drivers, tour operators and money exchange services. Don’t buy items from children.
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