Looking for important travel information while backpacking in Vietnam? Here you will find information on working in Vietnam, entry visas, Vietnam hostels, and much more.
Table of Contents
- Facts About Vietnam
- Top Things to do
- How to Travel Around
- Hostels and Budget Accommodation
- Know before you go: Entry Visas, Health, and Safety
- Volunteering and Backpacker Jobs in Vietnam
Facts About Vietnam
Vietnam, formerly only famous for its war has thankfully left behind its gritty and grisly past and is becoming a rapidly developing country. Post-war Vietnam is a highly cultured and incredibly accessible country especially suited to inexperienced backpackers who are just starting to venture into south-east Asia.
With ample amenities to serve the ever-expanding tourist trade as well as stunning vistas of soaring mountains, fertile rice paddies and dense forests there is a side of Vietnam to suit every traveller. Like most of the south-east Asia Vietnam may be a little pricey to get but once you are there it is incredibly cheap and you will be able to get by on a budget as low as D15 a day.
- Currency: New Dong (D) = 100 hao
- Time Zone: GMT + 7
- Language: Vietnamese
- Telephone Services: Country code +84, International calls must be made through the operator
- Emergency Numbers: 13 Police, 14 Fire, 15 Ambulance
The best time to visit Vietnam
When deciding the best time to visit Vietnam, weather plays a significant role. Due to its length and the lay of the land, the climate in Vietnam can vary quite considerably from north to south. In general, it is hot and dry most of the year except for the monsoon season which experiences heavy rainfall between May and October. Lightweight and washable cotton garments are suitable for most of the country throughout the year supplemented by rainwear during the monsoon season.
Things to do in Vietnam
When deciding the best things to do in Vietnam, there is an abundance of options. Here are the top bucket-list items when backpacking Vietnam.
Hanoi has made a name for itself due to the popular Towers of Hanoi puzzle. The legend goes that monks of the most sacred temple in Hanoi must move a stack of 64 increasing sized sacred discs from on altering to a next, the only problem is there are only a total of 3 places sacred enough to set the discs down and the weight means they can only be carried one at a time.
Furthermore, a disc may not be rested on a smaller disc for fear of damaging it. It is prophesied that if the monks ever place the last disc the temple will crumble to dust and the world will end, don’t worry however as even if the monks move a disk every second it would take them 36 billion years to complete their sacred duty.
As well as this somewhat colourful legend Hanoi as plenty to offer tourists with plenty of public parks, bustling markets, busy nightlife and of course the ubiquitous ancient monuments and temples. Of particular interest are the One Pillar Pagoda and the Van Mieu temple of literature.
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon is the nation’s largest city. It is a centre of business, economics and culture and is definitely one of the best cities to visit in the country. Must see attractions include the foreboding Notre Dame Cathedral (not to be confused with the one in France!), the Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum.
Of particular importance is the Giac Lam Pagoda, set in Dam Sen tourist park. This temple was a religious centre during the 19th century and now boasts a mini-museum of religious and cultural artefacts. While in the city make sure you pay a visit to the Ben Thanh market where you will be able to hone your haggling skills and pick up some souvenirs.
The city of Dalat is becoming a more popular destination, especially with honey-mooners due to its relaxed, peaceful and tranquil setting. It is often quoted as being the most beautiful city in Vietnam and is an excellent base for exploring the largely unspoilt highland areas.
Within the city itself, you will find the magnificent Bao Dai’s Summer Palace, this impressive structure also houses displays of interesting Vietnamese art and artefacts. Some visitors choose to visit some of the more off-kilter attractions such as the carnavalistic Valley of Love or the Chicken Village. Dalat is also renowned for its excellent cafe culture which should definitely be sampled before leaving the area.
Unique Activities in Vietnam
Since popular places in Vietnam can get crowded during tourist season, it is wise to reserve tickets and activities ahead of time. GetYourGuide sells entrance tickets to museums and landmarks at face value so you can avoid the lines and save that precious time for more exploring.
Viator is another popular travel website that helps you book things to do in Vietnam. They work directly with local tour operators in Vietnam, so you won’t have to scour the internet or roam around town trying to find the best deal.
How to Find Cheap Flights to Vietnam
In order to find the best flights to Vietnam we recommend using a few well-known flight comparison search engines. These websites offer powerful search options, like entering flexible dates and airports in order to find the cheapest flight to Vietnam.
Our go-to flight search engine is Skyscanner, which we love for its extremely flexible search options. Our favourite way to get travel inspiration is their “Everywhere” feature. Simply enter “Everywhere” as a destination, and it will then list all available flights from your departure city in order of price. This also works when entering the entire country of Vietnam as your destination. Skyscanner will search all possible airports in the country in order to find the cheapest option.
Kiwi is another new favourite flight search engine among savvy travelers. Kiwi works by combining flights from different carriers in order to get the best deal. Also, if there is a better ground or ferry option for the route you’re searching, Kiwi will include that in the search results. On average, we have found the cheapest flights to Vietnam with them compared to the other websites out there.
How to Travel Around Vietnam on a Budget
Once you’re already in Vietnam, air travel becomes viable between the major cities due to the generally slow nature of other transport means. Vietnam Airlines serves airports in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Na San, Vinh, Qui Nhon, Dalat, Buon Ma Thuot, Pleiku and Phu Quoc. As a rather expensive novelty, The Northern Airport Flight Service Company offers helicopter trips from Halong Bay to Hanoi.
Train travel in Vietnam
Vietnam Railways operates the rail network in the country which connects the main cities. Journey times can be slow and the standards are not yet up to international class although a few of the major routes now offer some air-conditioned carriages. Rail travel for long distance trips is somewhat expensive being comparable to the domestic airfare. Groups of more than 6 people travelling together qualify for a group discount so rail travel might become more attractive for large groups.
Bus travel in Vietnam
The road network in Vietnam is quite good, although bus services are frequent and cheap they are normally incredibly crowded and of a generally poor standard. Like much of south-east Asia buses are mostly run by private individuals and little central information for buses exists. Rail or air where available is a better option.
Renting a Car in Vietnam
You may also want the flexibility to stop in smaller towns between the major cities. If you decide you want to rent a car in Vietnam, you can use DiscoverCars to compare offers from the major car rental agencies in the region.
Backpacking Tours in Vietnam
Though part of the fun of backpacking Vietnam is exploring on your own, there are situations, especially when venturing off the tourist trail, when it does make sense to go with a guide or a small group.
The most popular option for social travel in Vietnam is Contiki tours. Contiki trips offer more than just transportation, they are organized social group travel for travelers aged 18-35. Whether you’re traveling by yourself or going with a group of friends, Contiki tours are perfect for people looking to have a blast, meet new friends, and form lifelong memories. They offer tours that travel primarily in Vietnam or longer tours that cover other nearby places.
G Adventures is another great option for organized travel, but with a smaller group. It’s a great choice for anyone backpacking Vietnam alone who would like to meet up with like-minded travellers. It’s also a practical option for exploring places where you need an experienced guide, like a long hiking adventure or visiting a place well off the beaten path. You can choose from different styles of small group tours like active, wellness, hiking trips, 18-30somethings, and more. Their most popular trips in Vietnam are their 17-day Essential Vietnam & Cambodia tour, or their 10-day Classic Vietnam Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City tour.
Vietnam Hostels and Budget Accommodation
With the recent development of the Vietnamese tourist industry, there are now all kinds of hotels in all of the major cities. Available facilities range from tiny guest houses to luxury 5-star hotels.
We have had good experiences finding hostels in Vietnam on HostelWorld. They have the largest inventory of hostels worldwide, and with over 10 million reviews and ratings from other travellers, you know exactly what to expect.
Another good way to find accommodation in Vietnam is by checking booking.com. You’ll find hotels, homestays, hostels, and other unique accommodations. They have the most reviews and advanced filtering of any accommodation-booking site, so you’ll be sure to find a great place in your budget. Many of the places on booking.com also offer free cancellation, which takes the pressure off the planning phase of your trip to Vietnam.
If you are backpacking with another travel companion, we highly recommend booking a rental via VRBO. With a vacation rental in Vietnam, you’ll have more space, your own kitchen, and you’ll get a better feel for how the locals live. Plus, the cost of a vacation rental can be split among your group, oftentimes making it cheaper than doing individual hotel rooms.
If you’re looking to save even more money while backpacking in Vietnam, there are plenty of creative ways to get free accommodation in exchange for work. For example, one of our favorite ways to stay in amazing locations for free is by signing up as a petsitter with Trusted Housesitters. The site connects responsible animal lovers with petsitting opportunities in Vietnam and all over the world. It’s a win-win for both sides – travellers can stay in amazing locations for free, and homeowners can rest easy knowing that someone is watching over their place.
And lastly, CouchSurfing is a great community that connects travellers with local hosts in Vietnam. You can stay for free with verified hosts, who will usually take some time to show you around the local spots.
Entry Visa Requirements for Vietnam
A passport is required by all visitors to Vietnam and must be valid for at least 6 months after the date of arrival. All UK, EU and US nationals also require a tourist visa which allows a stay of up 1 month and generally costs about D45. Visas can be obtained from your local Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate who should also be contacted for any other visa or immigration-related enquiries.
Visa requirements for Vietnam can vary widely depending on your country of origin and can change over time. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, be sure to check the latest visa requirements while you’re still planning your trip.
Health and Safety in Vietnam
There are hospitals in every major town as well as provincial health-centres but the standard of emergency healthcare is quite basic and doctors will require cash payments before treatment. This coupled with the fact that airborne evacuation may be required means that you should have a fully comprehensive travel insurance policy before embarking for Vietnam.
As with travel to all other countries abroad, it is vital that you get travel insurance before you leave for Vietnam. Even for short trips, our go-to travel insurance provider is World Nomads, which is also recommended by Lonely Planet, HostelWorld, and other major travel companies.
There is a risk of Cholera in Vietnam and you should consult your GP for up to date information, particularly on if vaccination is required. Vaccinations for polio and typhoid are recommended and can be obtained from your GP for around D40. Malaria is present all year round outside the capital including strains resistant to chloroquine, you should consult your GP for the most appropriate anti-malaria treatment to carry with you.
Water is not safe to drink and water used for washing or consumption should have been boiled or sterilised first. Where possible it is best to stick to bottled water. Dairy products are un-pasteurised and should be avoided in all parts of Vietnam. Vegetables should be peeled and washed before consumption and meat should be thoroughly cooked and eaten hot.
Foreigner Work Permits and Backpacker Jobs in Vietnam
As a developing country Vietnam will be difficult to find work to fund your travels. There may be some opportunities for teaching English in schools, but most people who go with this purpose do so as volunteers and a vast number of volunteer organisations in Vietnam exist to place people on such projects. Below are listed just a few of these organisations, most placements are very similar in content, but different organisations arrange projects in different areas and for varying lengths of time.
Volunteering in Vietnam
VentureCo‘s 16-week programme combines aid projects with expeditions from Cambodia, through Vietnam, to Laos, and finally China. The first three weeks are spent in what is known as ‘cultural orientation’ consisting of visiting various places guided by a team who introduce you to the culture and traditions of the countries, and learning the Khmer language.
The following four weeks consist of community aid work in Koh Kong, involving teaching and food distribution to underprivileged children. A 9-week expedition then follows taking you through Vietnam: Saigon, HoiAn, China Beach, and Hue City; Laos: Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and the Mekong River, and finally China: Kunming, Lijiang, the Yangtze, Xi’an, Beijing, and finishing with a trek on the Great Wall of China.
Programmes with VentureCo are self-funded and can cost you up to D5000, which includes travel, food, accommodation, transport, and fees for the activities themselves.
GAP Activity Projects Ltd
The focus of placements in Vietnam with GAP is on teaching English in secondary schools and higher education institutes. Volunteers are expected to work for twenty hours a week on placements of up to five months. Although food is not provided, an allowance is given and accommodation is free, provided in or nearby the host school.
Volunteers with i-to-i are sent to Hanoi in Vietnam to assist in teaching English in two of the state primary schools. The first school is the School for the Blind who attempt to give enough help and support to its visually impaired students to enable them to overcome issues of their disability and to reach a level of education ready for university.
The second school is the Binh Minh School, some of whose students have Downs Syndrome. The emphasis in teaching in these schools is very much on giving the children encouragement and confidence which they may lack because of the stigmas attached to their situations. Four to eight week placements with i-to-i cost around D1295 and D1395 for nine to twelve week projects. Volunteers live with others in a guesthouse and are usually provided with a budget for food.
More teaching opportunities are available in Vietnam with Project Trust. The focus of teaching is in Hong Duc University in Thanh Hoa, south of Hanoi. Volunteers teach English as well as helping with extracurricular drama and sports activities. Accommodation is provided on campus in flats and volunteers are given bicycles to enable them to get around easily. Volunteers must be aged between 17 and 19 and a half years old and are expected to raise D3850 themselves to fund their project, this includes all expenses for living costs, travel, donations etc.
Useful Links for Backpacking in Vietnam
- Vietnam Railways operates the rail network in the country which connects the main cities
- GAdventures – guided small group tours in Vietnam, great for solo travellers or for those interested in a more adventurous trip which would require a guide
- DiscoverCars – The world’s leading rental car search engine to rent a car in Vietnam
- Kiwi and Skyscanner – Flight comparison search engines to find the cheapest flights to Vietnam and within the country
- GetYourGuide and Viator – a collection of local tours and activities in Vietnam. Also offers Skip the Line tickets for crowded attractions
- HostelWorld – #1 hostel search website to find accommodation while backpacking Vietnam. Thousands of hostels and millions of reviews from fellow travellers
- Booking.com – commonly used booking site for accommodation in Vietnam. Find hostels, hotels, and other unique accommodations in Vietnam with advanced filtering and millions of reviews
- World Nomads Travel Insurance – Comprehensive travel insurance for long and short trips when backpacking Vietnam
There you have it, the ultimate Vietnam backpacking guide. We hope you have found all the information you need for backpacking around Vietnam.
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