Backpacking Vietnam On A Budget: For First Time Visitors

Get ready for your backpacking Vietnam adventure by finding out all you need to know about traveling around this awesome country. Learn about the best travel tips, money, important information, top places to see, and more in this guide on the ultimate budget destination, Vietnam!


Vietnam is one of the most backpacker-friendly destinations in the world and is a highlight for many people traveling to Southeast Asia. Seriously this country has so much to offer from palm tree-laden beaches, lush rice terraces, backcountry roads with insane views, and bustling cities. No matter what type of traveler you are backpacking Vietnam will be the ultimate adventure.

Being one of the countries on the famous Banana Pancake Backpacking Trail you’ll be able to find plenty of other travelers. Like-minded people will be around every corner fulling their backpacking Vietnam on a budget dreams and making memories that will last a lifetime.

Banh mi’s, pho, egg coffees, and that is just to name a few of the most well-known favorites. Vietnam is a foodie destination that will not break the bank. $5.00 accommodation, $6.00 massages, and $0.50 beer hoi, this is a budget travelers paradise. Plus one of my personal favorite things about traveling to these affordable countries is things never cost you much, including if you get scammed in Vietnam, it won’t financially ruin your trip!

This incredible country has such a varied landscape and an assortment of places calling your name. Though I will go into what exact places you need to visit further down in this article. You will find most budget backpackers traveling either North to South or visa versa. I did the latter, but equally meet travelers venturing in both directions, so there is no real preference. In order to spend enough time to complete this adventure most people, including myself spend at least 3 weeks backpacking Vietnam. It’s a huge area to cover and no doubt you will do some overnight bus or train journeys.

Though, before we get into all the details of the best places to see in Vietnam and how to actually get to them, let’s start with the basics. I will cover for you everything you will never need to know about backpacking Vietnam From money matters, visas, when to go, accommodation, getting around and so much more before finally getting into where exactly you should go and do during your adventure traveling Vietnam on a budget.


Backpacking Vietnam: All First-Time Visitors Need To Know


What Is The Currency In Vietnam

The local currency in Vietnam is the Vietnamese Dong (VND).

Check online exchange rates.

view over the mountainsides in sapa
view over the mountainsides in sapa

Travel Budget For Backpacking Vietnam

Some may call me crazy, but I actually kept track of all my costs while backpacking Vietnam. This includes transportation, food, accommodation, activities, and even some souvenir shopping. I tracked all my expenses to make sure I kept on budget and it has also allowed me to hold onto that information to share with you.

In total, I ended up spending $25.55 per day. I kept this spending limit low by staying in the cheapest dorm rooms and only doing a few tours. Originally I had budgeted to spend $22.14 during my travel in Vietnam. Though as you can see I overspent an average of $3.41 per day. This was due to not actually eating much street food, taking trains over buses, and my trip to Ha Long Bay. Sometimes I am not the best budget traveler, but that is why I keep track of my spending.

As you can see you can backpack Vietnam even cheaper than I did. Though you definitely can’t skip Ha Long Bay- it is worth every dollar!

exploring the impressive white sand dunes in mui ne while backpacking vietnam
exploring the impressive white sand dunes in mui ne while backpacking vietnam

Entry Requirements For Backpacking Vietnam

Now I am not going to lie, the entry requirements for Vietnam are a bit of a nightmare, and that is putting it lightly. For the most part I have a pretty powerful passport being from New Zealand. Though Vietnam has probably been one of the most complicated visa schemes I have ever done (so far).

Before we get too deep in the entry requirements I recommend checking the latest information with the consulate in your home country while planning a trip to Vietnam as information seems to always be changing. Also be careful if you decide to organise a visa through a third party agent online as they can be a bit scammy.

If you happen to be from the U.S., the UK, Australia, New Zealand and 70+ of other countries, you can now apply for an e-visa online here. Be sure to check that every single detail you submit is correct. The immigration officials will check everything super closely! E-visas cost $25, are single-entry and are valid for 30 days.

Personally, I did the visa-on-arrival scheme as it seemed slightly less complicated, but only ever so slightly. You will have to go through a third party agent to organise a letter of invitation. Here you will pay a $20 processing fee and a $25 stamp fee at the airport.  Again make sure you will the information out on this one correctly and do so in advance as there are usually processing times. Do not leave it to last minute at the airport as you won’t be able to check in to your flight!

You will also be required to show proof of departure when arriving at the airport. If you do not have proof of onward travel many travelers use such services as Onward Ticket. The company books a legitimate ticket in your name and cancels it after a certain period. You just need to pay a small service charge. This provides you with an actual ticket for proof of onward travel. I have used them before, but remember you still need to leave the country within 30 days of arriving. Though this is the perfect amount of time for my 3 week Vietnam itinerary!

entering the imperial city of hue over the moat
entering the imperial city of hue over the moat

Best Time To Travel Vietnam

Well in all honesty if you are wanting to travel the entire length of Vietnam, I will be honest there is no perfect time to do this. It is such a huge place that the weather in the North is likely to be completely different from the South, and visa versa.

I traveled Vietnam in February and March, during this time Hanoi was about 8 degrees celcius, Sapa was below freezing and Ha Long Bay was too chilly to swim. In contrast, Ho Chi Minh City was a constant 36 degrees celsius and we were stuck in a state of sweat. Therefore sometimes you just have to suck it up and pack for all weather. This is also considered the best time of year to visit, as at least it isn’t during the rainy season.

My personal favorite website to check the weather around the country during particular months is Selective Asia. Here you can see the weather in each region every month, then plan your stay around that.

The Far North (Sapa, Ha Giang, Bac Ha, Mu Cang Chai): This part of Vietnam is divided into two seasons, the dry season runs from October to late March with the wet season lasting from April to September. It can get very cold in December and January, especially at night. The best months to travel in the far north is during the dry season. It is not recommended to travel the Ha Giang loop during the rainy season (May to September). The best trekking conditions in Sapa and around Mu Cang Chai can be experienced between September & November, and from March to May.

North Vietnam (Hanoi, Halong Bay, Cuc Phuong, Mai Chau & Ninh Binh): North Vietnam has a winter and summer season. The cool but dry winter lasts from November to April when temperatures average 17-22 degrees celsius. Summer is from May to October, during this time expect hot and humid weather with the region experiencing its highest rainfall. July to September are often the wettest months of the year.

Central Vietnam (Hoi An, Danang, Hue, Dalat, & Nha Trang): Central Vietnam has hot and dry weather from mid-January to late August, with temperatures often reaching the mid-30s. During the winter months, the rainfall increases with October and November achieving peak levels, occasionally in the form of typhoons and a lot of flooding. Dalat is wet from June to October, and from November to May it is far drier although cold in December & January.

South Vietnam ( Ho Chi Minh City, The Mekong Delta, Phu Quoc &  Phan Thiet & Mui Ne): With temperatures remaining constant year round, the climate of the south is split into the wet and dry seasons. The dry season begins in November and ends in April. The wet season lasts from May until early November with the months of June, July & August receiving the highest rainfall of the year.

a small fishing village located outside of mui ne
a small fishing village located outside of mui ne

Sleeping In Vietnam On A Budget

There is some awesome accommodation in Vietnam, and at such affordable prices. Though if you are looking for luxury on a budget this is probably one of the best countries in the world to do it.

In cities, you can find a good mix of hostels, guesthouses, and hotels for all budgets. No matter where you are in the country and what your budget is, it is very likely you will be able to find a suitable option. Though if you are heading to less frequented parts of the country then you may find yourself without a hostel and need to stay in Guesthouses. Nevertheless, I love the guesthouses in Vietnam and found them excellent value for money if you are traveling with a friend or a partner. 

For a dorm room, you can expect to pay between $6.00 to $12.00 throughout the country. This is a super affordable price and even often includes breakfast! For a guesthouse, they often run between $15.00 to $25.00, but this can be split between two people.

looking out over the sea from ha long bay
looking out over the sea from ha long bay

Getting Around While Backpacking Vietnam

Even though Vietnam is a freakin huge country, it is surprisingly easy to travel around. Transport links are in abundance, especially on the commonly frequented backpacking Vietnam route, so you should have no problem figuring out how to get from A to B. You should also have plenty of options to choose from depending on your travel style, plane, train, bus, and even more!

Plane: There are excellent domestic flights in Vietnam with a heap of budget airlines to choose from that’ll help keep your Vietnam budget low. As Vietnam is such a huge country taking a couple of flights will help you from needing to take those long overnight journeys. An example of this is the journey from Hanoi to Hue, where flights can be found for as little as $30.00!

Bus: Another super easy way to travel around Vietnam is by bus. You can essentially take a bus between any destination in the country, though it may not be the best experience (everyone has their horror stories, including me. You can either purchase a ticket each time, or certain travel agencies also offer open tickets, otherwise known as hop on hop off tickets. A popular company to do this with is called The Sinh Tourist. I have been on their bus trips throughout Vietnam and can highly recommend their services.

Motorbike: One of the most popular ways to go backpacking in Vietnam is to buy a motorbike and do it yourself. If you start your trip in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi you will find many agencies and other travelers selling bikes. Alternatively, you can also hire them at each destination. Though the majority of people buy their own for complete freedom.

Train: My personal favorite way to travel around Vietnam is the train, though it is a bit pricier than taking the bus. The trains here are comfortable, and there is an assortment of options for any budget, from hard seater to soft sleeper. The train network runs the length of the country, making it an excellent option. The only places I was able to travel by train is from Nha Trang to Mui Ne and Mui Ne to Ho Chi Minh City. Though this is simply because there is not a train station in the seaside town of Mui Ne. You can read my post on traveling Vietnam by sleeper train to find out exactly what you need to know.

backpacking viernam on a motorbike
backpacking viernam on a motorbike

Food & Drink In Vietnam

In Vietnam, you can easily find a wide assortment of food. This is even more true in tourist hot spots such as Hanoi, Hoi An, and Ho Chi Minh City. From vegan, Italian, Indian and Thai. There is a variety of cuisines here for foodies.

Though wherever you find yourself in the country good food will not be far behind. The food here in Vietnam is next level and a lot of the time is a highlight in many travelers’ adventures there. You will mind little locally run eateries and street food stalls dotted all around the place.

In terms of local dishes, Vietnam is any foodie’s paradise. Think Pho, Banh Mi, Banh Cuon, Banh Xeo, the list is endless! You can easily find yourself exploring Vietnam with your mouth.

At local eateries, you can plan to spend between $2.50-$3.50 per meal. Though, eating out at Western-style upscale restaurants you can easily double this amount.

tasting many of the incredible dishes in vietnam
tasting many of the incredible dishes in vietnam

Internet Access In Vietnam

Internet access is pretty decent in Vietnam. As a result, it is a pretty popular place with digital nomads as they can easily work remotely. We never really had any issues with an internet connection. The price of the internet should be included in your accommodation as well.


Buying A SIM Card In Vietnam

It is super easy to buy a SIM card, though you do need to watch out for SIM scams in Vietnam. The easiest way to buy a sim card is definitely at the airport when you arrive. The people at these booths are trained to help foreigners and know what plan will be best for you.

This is exactly what I have done multiple times in the past, generally getting a plan with unlimited data for a certain period e.g. 2 weeks or 1 month. The only downside of doing it like this is that it is a lot more pricey than if you were to simply go buy a sim card from the telecommunication companies themselves. You are basically just paying for the convenience.

I found the 4G reception pretty good in Vietnam, giving me plenty of use. The only times I struggled were during the train or bus journeys where you would often mind yourself in the countryside. Apart from that, I had zero issues whatsoever.


Top Places To Visit While Backpacking Vietnam On A Budget

There are plenty of incredible places worth visiting while backpacking Vietnam. The ones listed here are on the main tourist trail in the country and are written from North to South.


Hanoi

Hanoi is a huge bustling city, and in all honesty, it can feel a little overwhelming. Whether this is your first stop in Vietnam or your last, there isn’t another city like it. From the motorbikes which seem to be driving around at all hours, the people constantly approaching you as you walk down the street, and all the small alleys and hole-in-the-wall buildings make things hard to find.

Hanoi also make a great spot to venture out on multiple-day trips to places like Sapa and Ha Long Bay which are listed below.

exploring the streets and lakeside in hanoi
exploring the streets and lakeside in hanoi

Sapa

Think of bright green rice terraces, mountainous landscapes, and witnessing life in rural Vietnam. This place is absolutely gorgeous and honestly quite different from other popular towns and cities along the tourist trail in Vietnam.

Whether you want to check out some incredible waterfalls, witness the amazing rice terraces, make friends with the local animals or even hike Fansipan Mountain known as the roof of Indochina.

flying over the sapa rice terraces
looking over the sapa rice terraces

Ha Long Bay

Another gem of Vietnam is Ha Long Bay. It has actually been named one of the seven wonders of the new world, so you know it is worth visiting on your backpacking Vietnam adventures.

From the moment you arrive in Hanoi, you will constantly be asked if you have booked your Ha Long Bay cruise yet. The number of options seems endless and all the tour agencies which line the streets in the old quarter each seem to be selling a different one.

looking across ha long bay in vietnam
looking across ha long bay in vietnam

Ninh Binh

Now I haven’t actually had the pleasure of visiting Ninh Binh and it’s got to be one of my biggest regrets while I was exploring Vietnam. Who knows why I missed it, but I dropped the ball on that one. Basically, it’s Ha Long Bay on land. Think huge lime karst mountains, incredible scenery, and quaint countryside living.

viewpoint over ninh binh
viewpoint over ninh binh

Hue

Imagine a city equally amounts quaint and bustling, with a beautiful river running along the middle, and an impressive citadel smack bang right in the middle. This is Hue and it is such a unique place. Honestly, it is quite different from the other towns along the Vietnam backpacking trail and that is why it is a must-visit. It may not have too much in terms of incredible nature. Though to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the history and culture of Vietnam I highly recommend a visit to Hue.

incredible buildings inside the imperial city of hue
incredible buildings inside the imperial city of hue

Da Nang

Da Nang is the gateway to Hoi An which is why many people stop over here. I only stayed one night in order to catch a train the next day. Though there are still plenty of things to do here, the most popular being Marble Mountain. It is also a popular spot for digital nomads being a modern city right next to the beach.


Hoi An

This place is equal parts quaint and beautiful, especially in the ancient town. Prepare yourself for lanterns lighting the night sky, delicious food, and some incredible photo opportunities as you explore this incredible town.

There are so many things to do here in Hoi An you will be spoilt for choice. Whether you enjoy laying by the beach, exploring the jungle, or love hitting the shops, there is something here for everyone.

the quaint streets of hoi an in vietnam
the quaint streets of hoi an in vietnam

Nha Trang

One of the best beach destinations in Vietnam is the coastal city of Nha Trang. Located along the South China Sea (or Vietnam Sea depending on who you ask) it is a mixture of a modern metropolis full of skyscrapers and laid-back living on a relaxing beach.

Ultimately this provides travelers with the perfect playground. You can spend your days beachside, then in the evening hit up rooftop bars and party the evening away for the perfect backpacking Nha Trang adventure.

view from onboard our junk boat while in nha trang
view from onboard our junk boat while in nha trang

Mui Ne

Located on the Southeast coast of Vietnam is the small seaside town of Mui Ne. Though contrary to its size, this place has well and truly earned its place on the banana pancake backpacking trail around Southeast Asia and Vietnam. Known for its incredible landscapes there is not anywhere else like it in this country. Think huge sand dunes with impressive views over the ocean, small village vibes, affordable accommodation, and food as well as nearby beaches to visit.

watchig the sunrise over the white sand dunes in mui ne
watchig the sunrise over the white sand dunes in mui ne

Da Lat

Another place I, unfortunately, didn’t get the pleasure of visiting. Da Lat is a beautiful mountainous town in South Central Vietnam. It is a popular adventure and honeymoon destination which plenty of activities to keep you busy.

Da Lat is mostly comprised of a scenic mountain town that used to be a hill station during the French colonial period. As a result, you can find some beautiful architecture here.

the colonial da lat railway station building
the colonial da lat railway station building

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Ho Chi Minh City is a huge bustling place. In all honesty, it can feel a little overwhelming when you first touch down. I mean there is this huge sprawling city laid out in front of you, with motorbikes and loud noises everywhere.

If I am being honest Ho Chi Minh City wasn’t my favorite stop in Vietnam, I was still glad that I visited. There is a lot of history to explore in this city as well as numerous other things to do. Also, you need to dedicate some of your time to checking out the delicious foodie spots. It is well worth spending a few nights here. Whether you want to discover Vietnam’s history, eat some delicious street food, or venture on a multi-day trip.

view over ho chi minh city by night
view over ho chi minh city by night

Phu Quoc

Located on the Southern Coast of Vietnam you will find the island of Phu Quoc. Imagine soft, white sand lines its shores with palm trees swaying. On land, you’ll find protected tropical rainforest, plenty of accommodation options, and great diving opportunities.

The Phu Quoc district itself encompasses 28 islands. Though you will find the majority of travelers visit and stay on Phu Quoc island, the largest in Vietnam.

looking over one of the many beautiful bays in phu quoc
looking over one of the many beautiful bays in phu quoc

Work For Accommodation In Vietnam

Give working for your accommodation a try. Many hostels in Vietnam offer those who are staying a free place to rest your head. Though in exchange you must be willing to help with cleaning, front desk, and other general duties.

Another option is WWOOFing or Helpx.


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Get ready for your backpacking Vietnam adventure by finding out all you need to know about traveling around this awesome country. Learn about the best travel tips, money, important information, top places to see, and more in this guide on the ultimate budget destination, Vietnam!


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