The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need For Backpacking Vietnam

The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need For Backpacking Vietnam

Vietnam is one of the most popular destinations among backpackers, and for good reason! It can be hard to find all the info you need while planning a backpacking break, so we’ve put it all together in one place – you’re welcome! From the lowdown on where to stay, the visa requirements, and even a 2 week itinerary, we’ve covered all the bases for anyone backpacking Vietnam.

  1. The Best Time to Visit Vietnam
  2. Vietnamese New Year
  3. Do I Need a Visa for Vietnam?
  4. Travelling around Vietnam
  5. Vietnam Travel Costs
  6. Where to Stay in Vietnam
  7. Vietnam Itinerary
  8. Vietnamese Food
  9. Vietnamese Culture
  10. Is Vietnam Safe?
  11. Vietnam Travel Tips
  12. Vietnam Packing List

The Best Time to Visit Vietnam

Recommended by Sophie Spencer

Being such a long country, Vietnam also calls for great regional diversity. You can have a summer beach holiday, go caving in the world’s biggest cave, explore multiple UNESCO world heritage sites, get lost in the hustle of Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi or do it all together! Sounds pretty incredible right? Although the length of Vietnam means beaches here, there and everywhere, it does make the seasons difficult to comprehend. It’s definitely not as easy as just having Summer, Spring, Winter and Autumn but don’t worry, we’re here to help! We’ve  done the research to help you determine the best time to visit Vietnam.

The general rule of thumb is that if you want to travel the entire length of Vietnam and have the gift of unrestricted dates, then go in between February and April or November to December.

Weather in Vietnam in the different regions

The best time to visit the Northern Region: Sapa, Hanoi and Halong Bay

You really get the best of both worlds in the North. Not only are you blessed with the beauty of Halong Bay, but if you venture inland to Sapa you will find rice paddies as far as the eye can see. Typically speaking, Northern Vietnam is the only region where there is a distinct summer and winter season.

Best time to visit: March – May. Winter temperatures average about 18-22 degrees in the peak of the season (January/February) and there is very little rain around. Make sure you pack yourself a cardigan and scarf though, temperatures can get down to 15 degrees.

Worst time to visit: Late May – August. Summer lasts from May to October and what comes with it isn’t idyllic. At the end of June, the humidity rises and there is whole lot of rain making it an unfavourable time to visit, especially to Halong Bay. It is very possible for tours to the UNESCO World Heritage site to get rained out and you really don’t want to risk missing out. Come on Vietnam, don’t rain on my parade!

Backpacking Vietnam - visiting Hanoi

 Hanoi 📷: @coast_to_costans

The best time to visit the Central Coast: Hue, Hoi An, Danang

If you are looking for the perfect balance of culture and beach, the Central Coast will have you hooked. Hoi An is known for its lantern lined, World Heritage streets, Hue for its impressive temples and Danang for some of the best beaches on the coast. It’s an incredible area but it’s important that you visit at the right time as the beach and rain don’t always go hand in hand.

Best time to visit: February – May. Spring time on the Central Coast is the weather you are really chasing – not too warm that you’ll melt away but not too cold that it’ll stop you from swimming in the sea. Temperatures average in the mid 20’s, the sunshine is warm and the rain tends to stay away so no need for that umbrella-ella-ella!

Worst time to visit: August – December. Further north (Hue), the monsoon starts in September and continues til February, whereas in Danang it only spans between November and December. The central coast is greatly affected by typhoons and hurricane-force winds between August and December.

Backpacking Vietnam - Hoi An City

Hoi An City 📷: @leftietraveler

The best time to visit the South: Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh City and Mekong River

Southern Vietnam is both loaded with history and is the best place to truly grasp what local life in the villages looks like. Most travellers will come to this region for a few days to have an authentic homestay along the Mekong River and to be totally tantalised by the sounds and smells of Ho Chi Minh City. The weather systems in the south aren’t as complex as the north and can be simply divided into a wet and dry season.

Best time to visit: December – March: The dry season stretches to early May, but temperature wise, December to March is most suitable. Although it’s still hot and humid, the temperatures don’t usually sky-rocket to the extreme and you can enjoy your time a lot more. If you are staying along the Southern coastline the crisp sea-breeze will keep you cool, not to mention the gorgeous water you can dip in to freshen up.

Worst time to visit: May – November: The rainy season doesn’t necessarily hit hard for the 6 months, but it is does linger, bringing rainfall almost every afternoon. The worst of it hits between June and August so we would definitely advise to work your way around it if possible.

Backpacking Vietnam - Nha Trang

Nha Trang 📷: @badgalkarii

Vietnamese New Year

Vietnamese New Year, commonly known as TET holiday is the most important calendar event for the Vietnamese people. It’s similar to that of Christmas and New Year’s Day, where families come together, businesses close and a whole lot of celebrations occur.

When is Vietnamese New Year?

TET takes place from the first day of the first month of the Lunar Calendar. This is usually around the last week of January or the first week of February.

TET dates

2019: February 5th

2020: January 25th

Travelling before, during and after Vietnamese New Year

If you have the flexibility to plan around the TET holiday, I would advise you do so. If this isn’t possible, I can still guarantee you will have a great time – just go with an open mind. My recommendations would be to head to the coast to soak up some sunshine on what will be a very secluded beach.

What to expect during Vietnamese New Year

Transport: As the Vietnamese people travel back to their hometowns for TET celebrations, it’s definitely fair to say that the transportation situation can get a little bit sticky. Trains tend to become overbooked and loaded with families. Our 6 bed overnight train berth had four people crammed into the one bed. On top of this, prices become inflated, making it more expensive than usual. Tip: Book tickets in advance if you are travelling around TET.

Accommodation: There isn’t a big issue with finding hostels during TET, nor will it usually exceed a typical South East Asian budget. Unlike Christmas and New Year’s, TET isn’t a leisure holiday, so you don’t have to worry about the locals filling up hostels.

Tours: It’s not uncommon for tour providers to stop their tours over the TET period, but this is particularly important for Halong Bay. Most boats won’t go out during TET so it’s very important to plan your itinerary around this. However, if you do happen to find a company that does, use it to your advantage as it’ll feel like you have the bay to yourself.

Food: Unfortunately, a lot of the restaurants and street vendors will shut their doors during TET so they can spend time with their family. Learn from my mistakes and plan ahead. Buy snacks from the markets beforehand and do some research into places that will be open to avoid hours of aimlessly walking around getting hangry.

Do I Need a Visa for Vietnam?

Vietnam Visa requirements for US Citizens

As a citizen of the United States you are required to have a visa to enter Vietnam. To apply for a Vietnam travel visa you need to visit www.vietnamvisa.govt.vn submit an application form and wait for approval. A travel visa for Vietnam will cost you less than $20.

Vietnam Visa requirements for UK Citizens

British Citizen passport holders can enter Vietnam without a Visa until June 30th 2018 for a maximum of 15 days. For visits of up to 30 days you can get an e-visa online. For visits of over 30 days you are required to get a visa from the Vietnamese embassy before travel.

Vietnam Visa requirements for AU Citizens

For entry to Vietnam Australian Citizens must have an appropriate visa. Australian Citizens are eligible to apply for an online single entry visa, valid for a maximum of 30 days here.

Backpacking Vietnam - Colourful lanterns

📷: @helenbldwn

Travelling around Vietnam

Driving in Vietnam

Riding a motorbike through the streets of Vietnam is one of the best ways to experience the country in an authentic way. Having said this, driving in Vietnam can be very hectic and is not recommended for those who scare easily, or those who doubt their driving abilities.

As well as motorbikes, Vietnam’s city streets are filled with bicycles, small cars and carts zooming every direction. Although driving in Vietnam is typically not as crazy as driving in other Asian countries, a great deal of care is still recommended.

Backpacking Vietnam - Landscape

📷: @sofiajulieg

Vietnam Travel Costs

Vietnamese Currency

The currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND) however United States Dollars (USD) and Great British Pounds (GBP) are widely accepted across the country.

Exchange Rate

As of March 2018, the Vietnamese Dong is very weak compared to USD or GBP. 1 VND is equivalent to 0.000032 GBP or 0.000044 USD.

Average Costs

The current exchange rates and value of the VND make travelling around Vietnam very affordable for the most part. The average cost of a beer is only 0.33 USD and a three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant will set you back just a tasty 15 USD.

Tipping is not customary in Vietnam, especially in bars or restaurants in which locals do not tip. Some tour guides or taxi drivers may expect a small tip if the service is particularly good.

Where to Stay in Vietnam

The way to get the most out of your accommodation on your trip to Vietnam is to stay in hostels, and boy, you are in for a treat! The hostels in Vietnam are some of the best in the world. Think rooftop bars, luxury private rooms, quirky swimming pools, and free beers and breakfast every day. Vietnam is a long country and we have hostels all over in the hottest places to visit.

Take a look at our full listings of hostels in Vietnam, in locations all across the country.

Vietnam Itinerary

Recommended by Hannah Logan

I spent a month exploring Vietnam and completely fell in love. To be honest, I didn’t think I would. I expected the traffic and crowds to be intimidating. I was daunted by the lengthy travel times between cities and worried about the language barrier. But in the end, none of that mattered. Crossing the chaotic streets became a game, the travel times were worth it, and the locals won me over with their warmth.

From the food to the historical cities to its eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, Vietnam has plenty to see and do. This two-week itinerary highlights a little bit of everything. This route uses Hanoi as both the start and end point as it’s the most convenient for a lot of travelers, however, it also involves a bit of backtracking so you may also want to consider reversing the trip by arriving in Hoi An.

Backpacking 2 weeks in Vietnam

Days 1-2: Hanoi

Navigating the streets of the capital of Vietnam, which are a swarm of vehicles, can be a bit of an adventure on its own. There is a lot to discover in Hanoi with plenty of museums and a vibrant Old Quarter that you can spend hours getting lost in.

The Old Quarter features French-Colonial architecture, temples, pagodas and also the tiny Ngo 224 Le Duan street. The Hanoi train speeds through this street forcing pedestrians to flatten themselves against the surrounding buildings. There are 36 streets in the Old Quarter named after the trade that has historically been conducted there; Hang Dau has shoe merchants, Hang Bac sells silverware and Hang Quat sells handheld fan stores. Explore each street to collect souvenirs.

Be sure to find a street food vendor selling bun cha, a grilled pork noodle dish served with a sweet and spicy sauce and herbs. While this dish can be found around the country, it originates from Hanoi and is popular at lunch. One of the best places to find it is around St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

Vietnamese coffee is another popular treat in Hanoi. For an authentic place to try it, search for Café Dinh. It’s a local secret, hidden down a small alley by building number 13 on Dinh Tien Hoang. It can be tricky to find but be patient because it’s worth it! If you need a bit of peace and quiet, you can escape to one of the many cafés located in the Old Quarter. I loved Nola.

Hanoi is also home to the famous water puppet show. Or, if you’re visiting over a weekend be sure to head to the Old Quarter Walking Street area during the evening. Here you will find street markets, local food, music, and traditional games being played by the locals who are more than happy to have you join in.

After your last day in Hanoi, take either the bus or overnight train to Sapa. Both can be noisy, but the train is more comfortable. Keep in mind, that if you do take the train you can’t go all the way to Sapa. You will have to catch a shuttle van for the final leg.  These costs are not included in your train ticket price.

We love See you at Lily’s or Flipside Hostel hostels in Hanoi.

@alxschtmtzlr

Days 3-5: Sapa

Sapa is famous for its trekking and rice paddies, however, I found that Sapa itself looked too touristy and opted instead to head into the valley to Tavan Village. It’s small, with a few homestays, a couple of restaurants, and a small spa perfect for post-hike massages. The views encompass Sapa’s famous hills and mountains, shrouded in clouds, and lush, green rice paddies. Plus, there are plenty of hiking trails of different lengths and difficulty levels that are easy enough to do on your own – no need to hire a guide.

The women from the hill tribes can be found selling their crafts at the local primary school and they will also often offer to guide you. Most of the homestays and hostels offer a family dinner experience which is a definite must.

If you want a break from hiking through the rice paddies, you can rent a motorbike and explore northern Vietnam. You can even go up as far as the border to China if you are feeling adventurous. It’s best if you have experience driving a motorbike though as you will have to take several busy roads with heavy traffic.

Keep in mind, while central Vietnam may be very warm, Sapa is in the mountains and can be quite cool, especially at night. Make sure you have long pants, a sweater, and a raincoat, even in the warmer months.

At the end of your final day in Sapa (or Tavan) take the night bus or train back to Hanoi. From here you can carry on to you next destination, Halong Bay. You can take a bus or a cruise to Halong Bay. It is possible to take a bus from Sapa all the way to Halong Bay but just a word of caution: it’s a long, rough ride that will take around 12 hours.

Hostel recommendation for Tavan Village: Ta Van Hostel

📷: @wowpicturephoto

Days 6-8: Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a World Heritage site featuring over 1600 islands or islets rising precariously from the sea. Yes, it can be busy and touristy, but it is a must for any traveler to Vietnam.

The most popular way to experience it is on an overnight cruise. Cruises can be one or two nights. I definitely recommend the two-night option as one was very rushed and left me feeling like I had missed out.

Cruises come at all different levels of comfort and price points. Party cruises with drinking games and hangovers are common but there are also dozens of relaxed cruises and luxury cruises.

Alternatively you can also base yourself on Cat Ba Island and do a day cruise. Staying on Cat Ba is a cheaper option with the added bonus of being able to get off the water and to explore the island. Most people love this, however some are left wishing they’d taken the overnight cruise to get the full experience. Take the time to fully compare both options before you decide.

Accommodation and spaces on the cruises book up quickly, even during low season. Book your trip in advance through your hostel in Hanoi.

After your cruise ends, head back to Hanoi to take either the overnight bus (16 hours) or fly to Hue. Night buses are cheaper and have the added bonus of also covering accommodation costs. However, they are long, and can be very noisy, and uncomfortable. The night buses are often very rough for travelers who suffer from motion sickness. Flights, on the other hand, will be more expensive, but much faster and more comfortable. The earlier you book your flights, the better the deal. A one-way ticket costs around $45CAD.

Backpacking Vietnam - Swim

📷: @gabescalise

Day 9: Hue

Start your day early to explore the city and the surrounding temples and mausoleums. Hue’s Imperial City, the historical walled palace located within the citadel, is the highlight. The entrances are incredibly ornate with lots of bright, bold colours. Much of it has been destroyed however leaving little of the original buildings.

For me, the highlight of Hue is the imperial tombs and mausoleums. Hue was, at one time, the capital of Vietnam and many ancient rulers are buried in tombs surrounding the city. You probably won’t have time to visit them all in one day, so I recommend seeing three: the tombs of Emperor Khai Dinh, Emperor Tu Duc, and Emperor Minh Mang. These are the most impressive. Make sure to ask for the combined ticket at the first temple you visit and hold onto it for the rest of your day.

Rent a motorbike or hire a driver to take you to the tombs as they are outside of the city centre. If your hostel doesn’t advertise this as an available option, just ask one of the staff; they will know of a driver who is happy to take you.

Hostel recommendation for Hue: Amy Hostel Hue

Backpacking Vietnam - Hue

@alxschtzlr

Day 10: The Hai Van Pass

The Hai Van Pass day trip was probably my favourite experience in Vietnam. Hai Van means ‘sea clouds’ and is a 127km long route from Hue to Hoi An that will take you past hills and distant mountains, ocean views, lush green fields, and cityscapes.

Hai Van Pass was made famous in the 2009 Top Gear Vietnam motorbike special and is considered one of the most spectacular road trips in the country.

You can do your own motorbike tour or use an easy rider program, where you ride on the back of motorbike while someone else drives. Do your research ahead of time and make sure you get a legitimate driver (I used and highly recommend Hue Bike Tours).

Be sure to look for The Elephant Springs where you can swim if the weather is good, viewpoints along the Hai Van Pass (the 19km of road through the mountains), the Marble Mountains, and the Dragon Bridge of Da Nang. If you need a rest stop, just before the Hai Van Pass are a few fishing villages with great seafood restaurants.

Hostel recommendation for Hoi An: Tribee Kinh

Days 11-13: Hoi An

Hoi An is a charming city with a historic and colourful old town and is often a traveler’s favourite destination in Vietnam. It is small but there is quite a bit to experience, so three days is the perfect amount of time.

Hoi An is famous for its tailors who can whip up dresses, suits and even shoes custom fit to you. The popularity of custom clothing means there are now hundreds of tailors in the city but they don’t all offer the same quality of work and many operate as sweatshops. From my personal shopping experience, I found BeBe Tailors to be the best pick; quality materials, beautiful craftsmanship, and professional seamstresses that do the work on site. Make sure to get your order in first thing as you do want to allow time for fitting and alterations.  Two-three days is the ideal amount of time.

While the tailors are a major draw, the highlight of Hoi An is the historic old town which dates back to the 15th century. If you plan on going to the museums or any historical buildings such as the old merchant houses and assembly halls, you will have to buy an old-town entrance ticket (which you need to keep on you) to access the main sights.

Be sure to check out the Japanese Covered Bridge and going to the Central market for lunch for a local dish called cau lau which is pork, noodles, and greens. It’s delicious and can only be found in Hoi An; according to local folklore, the water to make it has to come from a secret well nearby.

And, of course you have to see the night market which is where you can find brightly coloured silk lanterns, which can be found decorating the streets or for sale for visitors to take home.

Another must-try meal in Hoi An are the bahn-mi sandwiches, toasted sandwiches filled with your choice of meat (often chicken or pork), mayonnaise, and vegetables.

Hoi An also has some great bars, with plenty of bars offering cheap drinks and deals across the bridge in the area known as An Hoi. Tiger Tiger is a popular pick and always busy. If you are looking for something a little more upscale try Q Bar which has the most extensive cocktail list in town.

During the day, you can also spend some time at the Hoi An’s beach (about a 20-minute bike ride away) or, if you are up for renting a motorbike, head to the nearby My Son Ruins which is made up of tower-like temples dating back to the Champa Kingdom (4th-13th century). It’s the perfect place for a bit of exploring.

Day 14

Fly back to Hanoi to catch your flight on the 14th day of your trip.

Vietnam is an incredible country, and while you can definitely spend longer, two weeks is a good amount of time to experience some of the country’s best highlights.

Vietnamese Food

Recommended by Marina Nazario

A trip to Vietnam means the opportunity to taste some of the most exotic and diverse food on the planet. Since wayyyy back when, Vietnam had a rich culinary culture, but in the late 1800s the French colonized Indochina, and since then, Vietnamese cuisine holds a major French influence.

Despite being a freakin’ massive country, Vietnam’s cuisine shares a common theme from north to south, which is balance. That means they can make food taste sour, sweet and spicy all at the same time (don’t ask us how). The Vietnamese love their coffee, produce *arguably* better bread than the French and chow down on heaps of noodles. The best part? The food is insanely cheap. Expect to pay about 10,000-60,000 VND ($1-3 USD) for street food and about 113,000-160,000 VND ($5-7 USD) for a proper meal at a restaurant (we aren’t kidding).

If you’re heading to this beautiful Southeast Asian country bring your appetite and an open mind. You might not know what you’re eating half the time and that’s why we’re here to help! We created a guide of 17 foods you should definitely try in Vietnam. Remember, looks can be deceiving. So just shrug your shoulders and go with it.

Egg Coffee or Cà Phê Trúng

Vietnam has a major obsession with coffee, but they do it differently in Hanoi. They drink egg coffee, which was invented in the 1940s due to a shortage of milk. It’s egg yolk, coffee beans, condensed milk and sugar whisked together and heated with a layer of egg foam on top. It’s thick, rich, sweet and creamy and you can’t leave Vietnam without trying it. You’ll find it in coffee shops for about one-two dollars.

Backpacking Vietnam - egg coffee

Egg Coffee 📷: @mabuhaymiles

Marinated Octopus or Bạch Tuộc Nướng Sa Tế

If you see a bunch of thick octopus tentacles marinating on a grill at a street vendor, order it. This isn’t your average, overpriced seafood appetizer. It’s a popular and cheap street food that you’ll notice on the plates of many locals. It’s tender and marinated grilled octopus served with a slightly tangy, satay dipping sauce that makes the dish so tasty. If you’re in Ho Chi Minh City, head to Vinh Khanh Street, which is known to be the place to snag some seafood.

Che Dumpling

This is a sweet Vietnamese dessert that’s served in a variety of forms (as a cold beverage, pudding or dumpling-type of thing). We’re going to talk about the dumpling version (real name chè bánh xếp, aka “folded cake dessert”). It’s green bean wrapped in a tapioca/sticky rice dumpling and sprinkled with sesame and coconut. You can get it from food markets or restaurants throughout the country. Beware, it’s addictive!

Vietnamese Pork Meatball and Noodle Salad or Bun Cha

Think of this as an undone salad. Usually, the ingredients come out in separate bowls and you place what you want into your own dish and dig in. It comes with cold noodles, tangy dipping sauce, greens and perfectly grilled pork meatballs (which you can smell from a mile away). Hey, it was enough to catch Barack Obama’s eye, who ordered this at a restaurant in Hanoi with Anthony Bourdain!

Backpacking Vietnam - Bun Cha

Bun Cha 📷: @hellenbeen

Water Fern Cake or Bánh Bè

You’re probably thinking “what the heck is water fern cake?!” Welp, this is another deceiving food, because it’s not cake. It’s a savoury dish that’s basically a steamed rice patty topped with minced shrimp, pork rinds, fish sauce, fried shallots and scallions. It’s popular in central Vietnam, so if you’re travelling through Hoi An, head to Phan Dinh Phung Street and order it at a food cart or a restaurant for less than a dollar.

Black Sesame Sweet Soup or Xi Ma

Remember when we said to shrug your shoulders and just go with it? This is one of those foods where you should do that. We won’t lie, this “soup” doesn’t look appealing, but it’s a sweet dessert that will leave you dumbfounded after you take a bite (it happened to us).

It’s made from black sesame, sugar, coconut and pennywort (a secret ingredient found in Chinese herbal medicine) and comes in a small bowl and served warm. This sweet and nutty dessert is popular in Hoi An. You can find it for about fifty cents at street vendors in old town. We double dog dare you to try it!

Vietnamese Spring Rolls or Guo Cuon

You’ve probably seen these before! It’s shrimp or pork, plus vegetables and vermicelli noodles rolled tightly in rice paper and served with that famous (mouth-watering) peanut dipping sauce. YUM. You’ll find this light snack for a dollar at restaurants throughout Vietnam. Grab a napkin! These can be messy after you take a bite.

Mango Cake or Bánh Xoài

This dessert is seriously deceiving as it contains no mangos and it’s technically not a cake. It’s a powdered ball of sticky rice filled with peanuts and sugar… bet you weren’t expecting that! Apparently, it gets its name because it looks like a mango seed. You can find it for less than a dollar at street vendors in Hoi An. You can also find in packaged in 7-11 or convenience stores. Careful, you’ll get a sugar rush if you scarf down too many!

Backpacking Vietnam - Mango cake

📷: @tinytruc_art

Snails or Ốc

We know what you’re thinking. You didn’t come all the way to Vietnam to eat snails! But this is a popular delicacy in Vietnam. Oc is a less fancy, way cheaper version of escargot. It’s served differently throughout the country, but if you can find it prepared in a drool-worthy coconut curry sauce on Vinh Khanh Street in Saigon, GO FOR IT. Wash it down with a beer and keep crackin’. You tell us which is better, escargot or Vietnamese oc?

Steamed Sticky Rice or Xôi

Wondering what the Vietnamese eat for breakfast? In addition to their beloved coffee, they’re chowing down on sweet sticky rice. Grab some xoi and top it with something savoury (mung beans, shallots, pork, chicken) or sweet (white sugar, coconut, crushed peanuts). What a hearty breakfast to start the day! You can find it for less than a dollar at street vendors or markets throughout the country.

Pho

This is probably the most world-renowned food of Vietnam and we’re totally pho realz (had to). Pho is rice noodles, basil, cilantro, mint, lime, bean sprouts, chicken or beef stirred into a flavourful broth. It’s popular throughout the country, but you’ll find different variations in the North and the South.

Northern Vietnam pho dishes are heavy on the green onions and use a wider noodle. Southern Vietnam pho includes more herbs, bean sprouts and uses a slightly sweeter broth. Wherever you decide to try it, this dish deserves your attention. So find a restaurant to sit down and slurp your noodles in peace.

Cau Lau

Cau lau is a dry noodle dish that you’ll only find in Hoi An. Legend has it that it’s made using water from an ancient Cham well and it’s to be eaten upstairs. Yup, if you want to eat cau lau you’ll have to head to the second floor of the restaurant. This dry noodle dish is made with sliced pork, vegetables and topped with pork rinds or rice crackers *drooling*. You can’t skip out on cau lau if you’re making your way through Hoi An! Hope you like heights!

Backpacking Vietnam - Cau Lau

📷: @fartliketheresnotomorrow

Vietnamese Pork Roll or Banh Mi Thit

Looking for something other than a hot bowl of noodles? Feast on banh mi thit — the most epic Asian sandwich! They split a Vietnamese baguette, spread chicken liver pâté on either side, load it with fresh and pickled vegetables, cilantro and pork, then drizzle it with different condiments or sauces. You can find banh mi throughout the country for about 30,000 VND. Go crazy and try it with different meats and sauces. We bet you’ll be ordering this more than once in Vietnam.

Vietnamese Crepe or Bánh Xèo

Banh xeo means “sizzling cake” and nope it’s not a cake (they love to tease us!). It’s Vietnam’s version of a crepe named after the crackling sound that the pancake batter makes when it’s poured over the hot skillet. It’s usually stuffed with slices of meat (pork or chicken), veggies and garnished with bean sprouts, cilantro and mung bean paste. You’ll find this drool-worthy Goliath of a crepe throughout Vietnam, but it’s especially popular in Ho Chi Minh City.

Beef and Vegetable Stew or Bo Kho

If it happens to rain during your stay in Vietnam (most likely during wet season, May-October), bunker down in a cozy restaurant and order bo kho. It’s a slow-cooked stew made with beef and vegetables and served with a toasted baguette. Mmmm. It’s incredibly flavourful and will warm you right up. You’ll find it on menus throughout Vietnam and expect to shell out about 65,000 VND for a bowl.

Egg Breakfast or Op La

Hungry for brekky? Wake up early, navigate your way through whichever Vietnam city you’re in and slide into a restaurant to order a hearty meal of op la. It’s eggs sunny side up, grilled veggies, slices of ham and chunks of sausage all served in a personal pan, accompanied with a Vietnamese baguette. You’ll be energized to explore for the rest of the day!

Spicy Beef Soup or Bun Bo Hue

Venture over to the Imperial City of Vietnam, Hue, and order a HUGE bowl of the most random ingredient soup for just a dollar. It’s made with noodles, pork and beef bones, sliced brisket, crab, shrimp paste, lemongrass and… cubes of congealed pig’s blood (which looks like brown tofu). It seems like they just threw a bunch of ingredients into a pot and said, “Here you go!” But it actually has a nice taste of spicy, sour and sweet all in one bowl *shrugs shoulders*. Worth it.

Backpacking Vietnam - Bun Bo Hue

📷: @meocuckytanac

Vietnamese Culture

Facts about Vietnam

  • Vietnam is home to the world’s largest cave, Son Doong
  • Vietnam has a lot of beaches and a long coastline
  • Vietnam has 8 UNESCO sites
  • Vietnamese New Year is celebrated in February and is the most important festival in Vietnam
  • Water puppetry is a popular art form
  • Hoi An has been a core trading hub for Vietnam since the 15th Century
  • Vietnam has more registered motorbikes than registered cars
  • 37% of the world’s cashews come from Vietnam
  • Snake wine is a common drink in Vietnam, said to provide health and vitality to the person who consumes it
  • Vietnam is the second largest coffee producer in the world, second only to Brazil
  • Vietnam’s name was originally separated into two words: Viet Nam

Language in Vietnam

The vast majority of Vietnam’s population speak Vietnamese, the national and official language of the country. There are a few minority languages spoken in certain regions of Vietnam such as Tày in the northeast and Mường in the mountainous northern region.

In terms of foreign languages, French is the most commonly spoken language apart from Vietnamese due to the French colonisation of Vietnam.

Is Vietnam Safe?

Vietnam is buzzing with energy. With thousands of motorbikes rumbling down the street at once, and market vendors shouting their prices at all hours of the day, this is one country that is full of life, despite it’s tumultuous history. Shopping at street markets, dining with locals, and learning about the country’s past is definitely recommended for anyone looking to get the most out of this beautiful country. Vietnam is safe for the most part, but of course any travelers should be aware of their surroundings no matter where they are. The biggest problem affecting safety in Vietnam is probably the pickpockets or local scam artists. If you keep your belongings close and your wits about you, then you should have no problem when visiting Vietnam.

Vietnam Travel Tips

Recommended by Sarah Funk

Meet locals through apps like Couchsurfing hangouts

Meeting locals is one of the most important things you can do to enhance your travel experience. This is because they can show you local spots that you can’t find in guidebooks, and help you get great prices because they understand the language. They’re also helpful when it comes to questions you may have about their culture.

Saying “thank you” in the local language goes a long way

Being able to master just a few pleasantries in Vietnamese is a huge bonus for anyone travelling Vietnam, especially as an American because they are still recovering from the Vietnam War. To say “thank you” in Vietnamese it is “cảm ơn”, which is pronounced as “come on”. When you say it you should bow your head slightly.

Backpacking Vietnam - watermelons

@alxschmtzlr

Eat street food

Some of the best food in Vietnam is served in marketplaces or along the streets. My rule of thumb is to follow your nose. If something smells incredible, it is likely fresh and delicious. Don’t eat anything if it looks like it has been sitting out for a while. Only order dishes that they prepare in front of you. This will ensure that they are safe to eat.

Learn about Vietnam’s history before you go

Much of Vietnam today is a direct result of the Vietnam War. In fact, the Vietnamese still seem to have an internal dispute between the former North and South. Therefore, you should be very careful when mentioning the war to locals unless they bring it up. If you are in Ho Chi Minh City, a great way to learn about it is to visit the War Remnants Museum, however, I recommend doing some reading on it before you arrive.

Get a local SIM card

If you want your phone to work from anywhere in Vietnam get a local SIM card from Vinaphone when you arrive. They have the best coverage out of Vietnam’s cell providers. I was there for a month and it only cost me $8 for unlimited data. You can pick up the SIM card at the airport (though it will be more expensive), or from the Vinaphone store in town. If you want to do this, make sure your cell phone is unlocked otherwise it will not work. To unlock your phone in advance, call your cell phone provider and ask them to do it temporarily for your trip.

Be careful if renting a motorbike

There are motorbike related fatalities in Vietnam on a daily bases, especially with tourists, because of little enforcement of traffic laws. Locals often drive their bikes on sidewalks when the roads get over crowded and it is very easy to get hit. Be aware of your surrounds here. If you haven’t driven a motorbike before, now is not the time to learn! Take an Uber or Grab instead, a ride costs less than a dollar (or euro). Although renting a motorbike is a quintessential part of backpacking Asia, think carefully about your experience and safety before you decide to do so.

backpacking Vietnam - motorbike

📷: @izaak_lewis

Be careful crossing the streets

Crossing the streets in Vietnam is one of the scariest experiences you can encounter! Okay, so maybe we’re being dramatic, but seriously – watch out! There are no cross walks and motorbikes will only slow down or stop if you are directly in front of them. The best way to cross the street here is to wait until you see a local doing it and then follow them. Then you will make it across safety.

Go on the cheap multi-day tours

One of my favorite parts of Vietnam was how inexpensive the multi-day tours were. To book one of these tours, visit the many tour companies that offer them in any major city. It doesn’t matter which company you go with because you will be grouped together with travelers from other companies anyway. Essentially you should negotiate the price and choose whichever company offers you the best rate. Search Hostelworld to find the coolest hostels to upgrade your tour from meh to OMG WOW!

Vietnam Packing List

Depending on when and where in Vietnam you plan on visiting, packing could be quite different. If you are in the north the temperature can be as low as 17C (62F) and if you are in the south it could be as high as 35C (95F). The north tends to be dryer and the south is incredibly humid. Keep this in mind when packing clothing.

In general, no matter where you are visiting in Vietnam you should bring:

  • Good footwear because the streets are bumpy
  • A rain jacket (especially if you’re visiting between May and October)
  • Mosquito repellent with a high amount of DEET
  • A travel adaptor and converter
  • A chargeable cell phone case (this comes in handy because it will hold several extra charges. Get this especially if you take a lot of photos on your phone).
  • Hiking boots (especially if you plan on doing more adventurous activities)
  • Sunscreen
  • A comfortable backpack
  • Polarized Sunglasses
  • First aid kit
  • Tampons – If you are visiting during that time of month then bring them with you, unless you are okay using pads. It is incredibly difficult to find tampons in Vietnam.

 

Need more reasons to visit Vietnam? 👇

📷 These photos will send Vietnam right to the top of your bucket-list

🌞 Your home in paradise: The best hostels in Vietnam

 

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 The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need For Backpacking Vietnam

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About The Author

Annabel Usher (Hostelworld)

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2 Responses to “The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need For Backpacking Vietnam”

  1. I am visiting Vietnam in November 2018, I will entering the country on the 10th and my flight home is 14 days later, I will be leaving Vietnam and travelling to Cambodia in between the 2 weeks then travel back into Vietnam to get my flight home on the 24th November, do I need a visa? Can’t get hold of anyone at Embassy and not clear about entering twice on the website.

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