Backpacking Vietnam can be a daunting thing, especially if you have never travelled to Asia before. This was the second stop on out journey through Asia and it really didn’t disappoint!
I am hoping that this guide to Backpacking Vietnam can help at least one person when travelling through this beautiful country.
The above video is over on YouTube and is full of information, but this blog post is to help if you’re already on the road and don’t have good enough internet to load a video, or to screen shot snippets of information for easy access.
Vietnamese, very good English and a little bit of French.
We had no trouble at all communicating for buses, trains, hostels and taxis. The level of English here is very good.
The currency in Vietnamese Dong. £1 – 30,800 VND.
Tip from the reception in our first hotel said to keep small banknotes and larger bank notes separate. Ten thousand and one hundred thousand notes are the same colour and could mean the difference between 30p and £3. The same goes for the twenty thousand and the five hundred thousand which is a difference of 60p or £16.
Do I need a Visa?
That depends on where you are from and how long you intend to stay. If you have a British passport you can enter Vietnam for 15 days without a visa. We stayed for a month so we applied for a visa before we left. You fill in a form, send a cheque and your passport and you get it back in a few weeks.
Link to more info regarding a Vietnamese visa for British Citizens here.
How is the best way to travel through Vietnam?
Sleeper buses and sleeper trains are inexpensive, relatively comfortable and save you a night’s accommodation.
Booking a sleeper train
We got a soft sleeper train from Hanoi to Da Nang. It was the SE19 and had a cabin with 4 beds. We had the top bunks which are slightly cheaper, tickets were 945 thousand vnd which is around £30 and in my opinion is more comfortable than the bus because I actually manage to sleep in the train.
We booked our tickets through 12goasia.com. They took a card payment and emailed us our tickets which just saved so much hassle.
When you are on a sleeper train try and book top bunks as they are cheaper.
Turn off the speaker in your cabin unless you want to be woken up at every stop throughout the night. There was one outside our door too so we turned that off and had a good nights sleep.
Take food with you on the train as they sell noodles but it is triple the price.
Booking a sleeper bus
We took two sleeper buses whilst in Vietnam, one from Hoi An to Nha Trang and one from Nha Trang to Ho Chi Minh.
The bus from Hoi An to Nha Trang was full. We booked late so had top bunks which was fine but we were above the wheel at the back meaning it was bumpy. We booked our sleeper buses through The Sinh Tourist and had no problems.
They wake you up every two hours for a bathroom break as there is no toilet on the bus.
Beds are in rows of three, try not to book for the middle row as there is no air conditioning for those beds.
We had heard horror stories about how backpackers rent scooters and were giving their passports as deposit, then having to pay get it back, or being charged for dents that weren’t their fault. With that in mind we rented a bike from our hotel. Meaning they had a copy of our passport and didn’t ask for a deposit. And we paid in cash upfront and took a video if the bike before we took it and when we handed it back with no problem.
Taxis are everywhere especially in the larger cities. Make sure that your driver understands where you want to go before you get in, and demand the meter be put on.
Our first taxi we got to drop us at our hotel in Hanoi charged us 70,000VND but when we arrived at our hotel the meter said 35,000VND. He charged us double so from then we always demanded the meter. Which was fine. We had one or two that would say no to the meter when we were in Nha Trang so we would just walk away and flag down another taxi, this was usually enough to make them put the meter on.
We stayed in a hotel in Hanoi as it was cheaper than the hostels on booking.com. we paid £10 a night for an air conditioned room with private bathroom and a balcony in the old quarter. After that on all of our other stops we stayed in homestays with locals which are basically like bed and breakfasts and they were some of the best rooms we have stayed in throughout our whole trip.
Because the country is long and thin the easiest way to travel is from north to south or vice versa – we entered the country over land from China so we started in Hanoi.
Entering from the border of China – Hanoi – Cat Ba Island – Hoi An – Nha Trang – Ho Chi Minh City – Flew from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok
We started in Hanoi and, just wow. We thought China was busy! China was like a sleepy town in comparison to the chaos of Hanoi but it’s a brilliant place!
There are plenty of markets and night markets, parks for some peace and quiet, Hoa Lo Prison and there are daily excursions to Ha Long Bay from the city. We did our research and found it would be cheaper for us to travel to Ha Long from Cat Ba and stay on that island for a few nights rather than the day tours and the party boats.
Check out Hoa Lo Prison HERE. – Backpacking Vietnam Vlog.
To get to Cat Ba Island we got a bus, boat, bus ticket from Good Morning Cat Ba that took us door to door from our hotel in the Old Town to the hostel in Cat Ba. We stayed for a week in Cat Ba and from there we visited Ha Long bay.
We booked a day tour to Ha Long through Cat Ba Ventures and spent 29USD per person.
We had the best day! It also included lunch and snacks, and kayak hire through the bay. They take you to Lan Ha Bay which is part of the Ha Long archipelago. This part of the bay is just as impressive as Ha Long, but much less exploited by tourism and benefits from some small white sandy beaches only accessible by boat (and a bit of swimming!). On our day tour we were the ONLY tourist boat and didn’t encounter any others at all.
Check out Lan Ha Bay HERE. – Backpacking Vietnam Vlog.
Cat Ba Island itself is beautiful and definitely one to explore. There are beautiful beaches to explore and amazing kayaking, and sites like Cannon Fort so you won’t be bored!
Check out Canon Fort HERE. – Backpacking Vietnam Vlog.
Our next stop was Hoi An. Once we arrived back in Hanoi we got the sleeper train from Hanoi to Da Nang and then arranged a pick up from Da Nang to our homestay in Hoi An.
Hoi An was an incredible contrast compared to Hanoi. It’s a very laid back town where a lot of people cycle to get around, and the main town becomes a walking town from early afternoon, meaning no mopeds or cars!
There are plenty of markets and the night market near the river is probably the most photographed place because of all the lanterns.
There are also beautiful beaches, some amazing food at the food market, hundreds of tailors where you can get custom clothing very cheap and there is also daily excursions to Charm Island which offers some great snorkel spots and even more stunning beaches.
Watch our vlog from Charm Island HERE. – Backpacking Vietnam Vlog.
From Hoi An we took a sleeper bus to Nha Trang – and arrived at 5am – 3 hours ahead of schedule because the driver was a literal maniac!
Nha Trang is a beautiful beach town with a huge party vibe. We managed to find time to leave the town to explore between the shops, bars and beach days – but we managed a trip to nearby Vin Pearl Land which is apparently known locally as Vietnam’s answer to Disney!
Our amazing day at VIN PEARL. - Backpacking Vietnam Vlog.
We left Nha Trang early in the morning and took a sleeper bus during the day to Ho Chi Minh City. This was much more comfortable than taking one through the night – at least I wasn’t trying to sleep! But it also meant we were lying down and spent most of the trip watching movies on a laptop!
Ho Chi Minh City is home to the War Remnants Museum, which I highly recommend going to. You can see our vlog here.
The city also has an awesome food market with amazing food from all around the world. I definitely recommend you take your appetite with you!
Backpacking Vietnam doesn’t need to be daunting. In the big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh crossing the road can be a nightmare. You just need to cross. It will feel like you’re going to die but just keep walking, don’t stop and they’ll drive around you. Its terrifying but if you don’t you are never crossing the road!
That’s all of my information on Vietnam, I hope to go back one day as there is more of this country I want to see. If you think I’ve missed anything, or if you have a question that I haven’t answered, please leave a comment below.
I will be doing more tips videos for all the countries I have travelled to. Make sure your subscribed to our Youtube Channel so you don’t miss it. See you in the next one!
- love Carla x
Backpacking the world instead of growing up? Best. Decision. Ever.
At the tender age of 26 and 3/4 I like to think I know enough about myself to know what I want from life, I mean, I’m closer to 30 than I am to 20, I have my own home with my boyfriend, I’m degree educated and I hold down a real 9 to 5. Sounds like I’m right on track doesn’t it? Almost domestic bliss, if you will. But the fact of the matter is, I’m bored. Bored of cleaning. Bored of sitting at a desk all day. Bored of shopping in Aldi. Bored of arguing over whose turn it is to hoover. Bored of wondering why I went to get a degree in Journalism just to end up working in the law firm I did work experience in when I was 15. Just bored.
I started this blog entry in March 2016, and it has been sitting as a ‘Draft’ in the backstage of this site until now. Today it is a Saturday. I Think. I am sitting on the balcony of the villa I live in looking out to the Whitsundays. It’s winter now, a chilly 25 degrees outside and my birthday was last week, I am now 29. The house was put up for rent, the cats went to live with my mom, and the boyfriend is cooking dinner for us in our giant kitchen.
My life has changed, my life is sweet.
Backpacking for the last 12 months has had its ups and downs. I’ve seen some glorious sites and things you only see on Instagram. I’ve travelled to some incredible places, met some incredible people and had the best time. Don’t allow the glamourised version of backpacking on the internet fool you, backpacking has it’s downside.
From getting a chest infection (twice) to a fractured hand. With the extreme lack of sleep, delayed flights and over-crowded mini buses surrounded by undistinguishable smells – backpacking really isn’t for the faint hearted.
Followers of my YouTube channel are being kept up to date(ish), but I’ve been having too much fun. I decided to document our journey so that one day we could look back and remember all of the memories we made. But somehow, what I see through a camera lens still doesn’t compare to what I see with my own eyes.
We left the UK in May 2017, and sometimes I feel like I’m in a dream.
In 12 months we have been to 9 countries, 3 continents and slept in countless hostels.
If you’d have asked me aged 21, in my final year of university, where I saw myself in 8 years, I’d have probably said London. Working on a flash magazine, doing the daily grind. If you’d have told me I’d be living in Queensland, in a five-bedroom villa that over looks the Whitsundays, rent free, I’d have laughed in your face.
But here I am, and I wake up to this view every day, and wonder how I got so lucky.
We just don’t know what are plans are after this. We have visas for Australia until December, and if we choose to fulfil our 88 days to qualify for the second year, we will be here until December 2019.
We have lived week to week, not really planning where to go next. And I like it. We will hopefully be going back to Fiji, maybe see New Zealand, the Pacific Islands look nice, and then maybe South America, but also North America, and there’s lots of Europe we haven’t seen, and also Africa… – but we also want to head back to Asia as there is still a string of countries we want to see there too.
So yeah, huge question mark over that one.
But for right now, we’re in Queensland, and life ain’t bad.
Don’t forget to head on over to our YouTube Channel and stay up to date!
- love Carla x
Getting the sleeper bus - Vietnam
Check out a little of our journey and travels through Vietnam in the video below? Here for the tips and prices? Scroll down to read on.
It’s is a right of passage for any backpacker - and what an experience it was! Read on to hear about our journey, booking tickets and prices and my top tips for surviving the sleeper bus experience!
We decided to get the sleeper bus from Hoi An to Nha Trang which is an overnight journey that was supposed to take 15 hours according to the timetable. In fact the journey took only 11, some may see this as a good thing but here’s why it sucked for us:
1 - The driver literally drove like a madman, resulting in no one able to get any sleep due to the constant stopping and starting. Bearing in mind as they are bed like seats you don’t have a seatbelt so it didn’t feel safe.
2 - We were arriving at our checkpoint faster than we should have, meaning our toilet stops were very close together so at some of them no one got off the bus. They put all the lights on and wake you up at every stop so again resulted in no sleep.
3 - We arrived at Nha Trang 4 hours early, good right? WRONG. We were supposed to arrive at 9.30am. So we planned to check in to our hotel get breakfast and chill. Four hours early got us there at 5.30am. After a full night of no sleep. Dumped in the middle of Nha Trang. We couldn’t check into our hotel and really struggled to find somewhere to go until we could.
We booked our tickets with The Sinh Tourist. We went to their office in Hoi An rather than booking online as the office is where the bus starts so we wanted to try and find it, this was easy enough with Google Maps. sleeper bus - vietnam
We booked our tickets the day before which resulted in us paying a slightly higher price so if you know what day you want to travel I recommend booking a few days before.
Sleeper bus - Vietnam - Hoi An to Nha Trang - One Way - Prices Per Person
250,000VND - 8.34GBP - 11..00 USD
At the time we were booking, the sleeper train was coming in around 1,200,000 VND - 40.00 GBP - 50.00 USD per person. This and the train said it would get us in at 5.30am which we didn’t want. Obviously we didn’t know about the mad bus driver at the time. We didn’t want to pay 4x the price in all honesty and we had heard the bus wasn’t that bad. Honestly it really wasn’t all that bad and for the price I probably would do it again.
TIPS FOR THE SLEEPER BUS - Vietnam
1 - Book early so you have a better choice of seat and a cheaper price.
2 - Bottom bunks are more comfortable.
3 - Beds at the front of the bus have more room for your feet - they are oddly shaped to allow for the bed in front to lie down, the ones at the very front obviously don’t have a bed in front of them.
4 - Beds are in rows of three, one either side of the bus with windows and a row down the middle. The middle rows do not have air conditioning at all so you have to rely on the rest of the bus, so always go for an outer row if you can.
5 - There is absolutely no space for any bags on the bus it all goes in the hold. So if you want to take a handbag or rucksack with your valuables be aware they will be on your lap for the entire journey.
6 - Unless of course you choose the very back bottom beds, here you can get away with putting stuff in the aisle, just be aware those in the upper bunks will have to jump down and of course if the driver is crazy your stuff may go flying to the front of the bus.
7 - Take ear plugs and a sleep mask, and if you can noise cancelling headphones. This way you can pretend you’re not on a bus with 30 other people.
8 - Go to the toilet in the earlier breaks. This way you can try and sleep and ignore the middle of the night stops.
9 - You are provided with a blanket on the bus but it can get cold so I took a sarong too.
10 - The seats have a small slightly cushioned part for your head, but I had my travel pillow which was an infinite amount better!
Thanks for reading and be sure to check out my travels over on Youtube. Sleeper bus - vietnam
Do you have some tips of your own? I’d love to here them! Send me a message over on Facebook or Instagram 🙂
- love Carla x
Lan Ha bay is geographically part of the famous Ha Long Bay, here’s why you should visit.
The video above was on my birthday in June 2017, I realise it doesn’t have much information on tours and even getting to Cat Ba initially (I did cover arriving in Cat Ba in this video however hopefully you will find all the information here.)
Seeing Ha Long Bay was the primary reason for going to Cat Ba. Looking at tours of Ha Long from Ha Long City were looking at around $300 for an over night tour and around $100 each for day tours that are super crowded and full of tourist boats.
**BREAKDOWN OF COSTS FOR CAT BA vs HA LONG**
Staying in Hanoi and doing a day tour from Hanoi to Ha Long can cost between $50 and $100 which offers a door to door service from Hanoi, early pick up (7am) late finish (9pm) and you leave from Halong City where most boats leave from.
There are also over night options from Ha Long City for one, two and three night cruises which start from around $120USD per person per night and includes all food but not drink.
Tours generally include lunch and an option for kayaking. This is ok if you’re not on a budget or have limited time. We however are on budget but luckily have all the time we want. So we spoke to locals who said Cat Ba is nice, and you can go to a part of Ha Long Bay called Lan Ha Bay. We did our research, looked at google images and thought we could save a fortune, so we booked it! Here’s the breakdown of costs:
Private room in Hostel for 6 nights: $120USD
One day tour from Cat Ba to Lan Ha Bay (including lunch, water, fruit snack, kayaking and visit to fishing village) with Cat Ba Ventures cost $29USD per person. This trip was incredible, the staff were friendly, it was a new boat, clean and we were the only boat when we stopped for the private beach. When we went kayaking one boat was just leaving and as we left another arrived, so it really wasn’t over run!
So, for a week in Cat Ba and this day tour we spent $180USD, which is much better value for money and there is so much to do on Cat Ba. The food can be expensive but it can also be SO cheap and tasty (I recommend Bamboo Cafe on the main strip - we went six times in three days!)
**GETTING TO CAT BA FROM HANOI**
We booked with Good Morning Cat Ba who offer a bus/boat/bus ticket from Hanoi to Cat BA Town but I believe they will only collect you from the Old Town in Hanoi as that is where they are based.
There are three pick up times: 7:15am - 10:30am - 2:00pm
Tickets are $18USD per person and the ticket is one way. At the time we used the service they were doing a special offer if you got the afternoon bus the price was reduced to $16USD.
Our pick up time was 10:30am but when booking I emailed the company directly and they told me they would collect us at 11:00am. They arrived bang on time! The bus was small not much leg room (but this is common for Vietnam) there was air conditioning, a bottle of water and a snack was provided (small packet or Oreo’s each was a nice touch). The bus took around 2.5 hours from picking us up as there were more pick ups along the way. We arrived for the boat, waited around 20 minutes and then had a 45 minute boat journey to Cat Ba where we were put on to another bus to take us to our hostel.
We were one of the last drop offs as we were in the main town and across the road from the Good Morning Cat Ba office, we were dropped off around 5pm so all in all it was a 6 hour travel day.
We did some research before booking through Good Morning Cat Ba and you can definitely do this journey cheaper than $16 however for ease (and because when we were in Hanoi there was a heatwave - 44 degrees!!) we decided we wanted no hassle door to door service and that’s what we got!
Overall, I am so pleased we decided to go with a Lan Ha Bay tour, and staying in Cat Ba was a highlight. I couldn’t recommend this option enough, especially for backpackers with time and a budget.
Have you been to Cat Ba, Ha Long or Lan Ha Bay? I’d love to hear your experience as I am definitely going back to Vietnam and any recommendations are appreciated. Comment or head on over to Facebook and drop me a line!
–love Carla x
Having spent four days in Xi’an I can see why it is one of the more popular places to visit. Rich in history and culture it is easy to be immersed in this part of China.
Here is a break down of our four days in Xi’an:
Day 1 - City Wall
The City Wall was one of my favourite days, but be sure to visit on a cloudier day, there is absolutely no shelter at all once you are on the wall. The wall itself is the most complete city wall still standing in China, and you can hire bicycles once you are at the top of the wall and cycle around the entire thing in around 2 hours but beware, you are timed and there is a charge for returning bicycles late. We opted to walk and made it a quarter of the way around after stopping for lots of photos in around 2 hours, the wall itself is 14 kilometers.
Day 2 - Food and Dumplings
Our second day was much more relaxed after a full on day of walking. We utilised a free dumpling party provided by our hostel where we were able to make our own dumplings. The food was so tasty yet so basic and it was a lot of fun!
Day 3 - Terracotta Warriors
Probably the most famous place to visit when in Xi’an an it certainly didn’t disappoint. There were lots of differed options and guided tours but being on a backpacker budget we opted to figure this one out for ourselves. We took a public bus 5 (306) from the bus station that was by Xi’an North Train Station. The bus is marked with both numbers and confusingly there are genuine public buses and tourist buses all marked the same, and not even the officials will help you get on a correct bus or stop you from being ripped off so have your wits about you. We paid 8CNY each for one way. The bus takes around 40 minutes and the Terracotta Warriors is the last stop and it is fairly obvious when you are there. When heading back to Xi’an go back to the carpark where the bus dropped you and you will see lots of buses waiting to go back, get on and ask them how much - we did this and found we could barter the price down by 2CNY by saying the other bus would take us for less. (I only did this because I wanted the nicer bus with the better air con!).
When visiting the army make sure you save pit 1 until last as this is the most impressive but will make pits 2 and 3 look a bit naff. See pit 2 and 3 first, they are interesting and much smaller than pit 1.
Day 4 - Small Goose Pagoda
On our last day in Xi’an we really wanted to find something super budget friendly and we did one better - the Xi’an Museum and Small Goose Pagoda is completely FREE when you show your passport at the ticket office! It’s worth a look for a wander around the gardens and the various ponds and fountains and the museum is big and air conditioned! Perfect few free hours!
That was our few days in Xi’an before getting the bus to Guilin. Make sure you head on over to our Youtube Channel and keep up to date with my backpacking travels.
–love Carla x