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