Backpacking Vietnam - It's More Than Just a Guide!

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Backpacking Vietnam has been one of the must-do things when traveling in Southeast Asia. Amazing foods, picturesque landscapes, friendly people and lively cities, Vietnam has them all. Other than that, Vietnam also has one of the lowest cost of living among Southeast Asian countries, making it perfect for backpackers who have a budget to follow.

The fact that you’re reading this guide suggests that you’re probably planning to go backpacking in Vietnam. You made the right call! It will be a life-changing experience, especially for those who just started traveling with backpacks.

Are you ready to go backpacking Vietnam and see the world from a new perspective? If so, let’s dive in!

 

Fun fact: Vietnam is the only country in Southeast Asia where you can see snow! (In Sapa, Vietnam)

vietnam mom and son on motorcycle with helmets

 

Brief Introduction to Vietnam

  • Population: 95 million
  • One of the five remaining communist countries in the world
  • Capital: Hanoi
  • Largest city: Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City
  • Time Zone: GMT +7

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, a.k.a. Vietnam is located in the eastern Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It’s located east of Laos and Cambodia, and south of China.

Vietnam also has an area of 331,690 km2 and the longest coastline in entire Southeast Asia. With the Vietnam War happened from 1955 to 1973, Vietnam is famous for those who’re into histories.

Vietnam is one of the five remaining communist countries in the world. The other four would be Laos, China, North Korea, and Cuba.

Visa For Visiting Vietnam

Visa application for visiting Vietnam is easy as they offer online service. Head over to the official website here.

There are 4 types of tourist visas in Vietnam, all with different length of stay and entries:

  • 1 Month Single Entry ($17)
  • 3 Months Single Entry ($25)
  • 1 Month Multiple Entry ($20)
  • 3 Months Multiple Entry ($65) 

The processing time varied too, depending on your selected options:

  • Normal (2 working days) – No Extra Charge
  • Urgent (1 working day) – Extra $10 Charged
  • Super Urgent (4 working hours) – Extra $20 Charged

Travelers from 24 countries do not need a tourist visa for visiting Vietnam. However, all travelers are required to bring their passports while traveling. Take note if you’re one of them below:

  • Length of stay less than 90 Days – Chile
  • Length of stay less than 30 Days – Cambodia, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore & Thailand
  • Length of stay less than 21 Days – Philippines
  • Length of stay less than 15 Days – Belarus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden & United Kingdom
  • Length of stay less than 14 Days – Brunei & Myanmar (Source)
vietnam backpacking map
(Source)

When To Visit Vietnam For Backpacking?

Overview

When it comes to the best time to visit Vietnam for backpacking, it’s simply ‘general’.

Why do I say so? Well, if you look at the map, Vietnam covers more than 1,000km in length from north to south, with varieties of weather happening in the north and the south.

During winter months (some called it the dry season) from December to February, it can get particularly cold in the north, while the south remains tropical, with Dalat as an exception due to its geography.

If you want a short answer, I would say Vietnam is best visited in January or February because you’ll get less crowd as it’s winter months.

Locals are not on holiday too, which means you’ll less likely be squeezing the crowds in some popular attractions.

Now if you want a deeper view on the best time to visit Vietnam, read on as we dive into different weathers in different regions in Vietnam.

North Vietnam

North Vietnam includes Hanoi, Sapa, Ninh Binh, Halong Bay, Mai Chau and other parts in the north.

Editor’s Note: Check out this 2 Days Itinerary for Hanoi!

Let’s talk about the mountainous region in North Vietnam first, which is Sapa. Winter months are not recommended if you’re planning a visit to Sapa, because it literally snows there. It could get very cold and uncomfortable for some.

But the great thing about this is that most of the hotels, homestays, and hostels are not fully occupied because of the lack of crowds. Hiking will be pleasant in terms of having everything to yourself.

The best time to visit Sapa would be March, April, May, June, September & October. The cooler climate made hiking and outdoor activities more comfortable and it seldom rains in these months.

The best time to visit Hanoi, Halong Bay, Ninh Bing, and Mai Chau would be January and February. The weathers are colder and drier, with January being the coldest at 17-22°C.

To be frank, Hanoi can be visited all year round, but the drier season made your trip planning easier because there’s no rain to disrupt your Vietnam itinerary.

Central Vietnam

Central Vietnam includes Hoi An, Danang, Hue and more.

The cold climate starts to fade in Central Vietnam. The best time to visit Hoi An, Danang and Hue is January to August. Having said so, Central Vietnam is good to visit all year round.

The reason I recommend the above months is that it’s warmer and fewer rainfalls during these months. Heavy rains are common in October and November.

South Vietnam

South Vietnam includes Ho Chi Minh City, Phu Quoc, Dalat, Nha Trang and more.

There are generally two seasons down south – dry and wet season. The dry season begins in November and ends around April and May. The wet season starts from May to early November. Temperature ranges between 25 to 30°C all year round.

So the best time to visit Saigon, Phu Quoc, Dalat & Nha Trang would be all year round.

Overall, I would recommend visiting Vietnam in the first quarter of the year as you’ll get cooler and drier climate in the north while enjoying the tropical weather in the south.

woman on mountain peak vietnam

Basic Vietnamese Phrases

The best part of traveling is to learn about the cultures and basic languages of the country, right? Here are the basic Vietnamese phrases that you’ll need throughout your Vietnam backpacking trip.

  • Hello – Xin Chao
  • Goodbye – Tam biet
  • Thank You – Cám on Ban
  • No Problem – Khong Van De Gi
  • Do you speak English? = Ban noi tieng anh duoc khong?
  • What is this? – cái si te nài?
  • I am Sorry – Toi Sin Loi

backpacking vietnam hanoi street at night old quarter

Check out this amazing 10 days Vietnam itinerary to plan your trip!

Getting Around in Vietnam

Public Buses

Getting around in Vietnam with public buses is convenient only in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, where the public transport systems are better. Outside from those cities, it would be a no-no for public transport.

For example, Da Nang has several public buses that run throughout the day, but most of them are worn out and badly-maintained, with no clear signs of how much you should pay at the entrance of the bus.

In Hanoi, the prices for each trip is written at the entrance of the bus.

If you’re looking for more information about public buses in Vietnam, head over here.

Renting a Motorbike in Vietnam

Vietnam has the cheapest motorbike rental price in the entire Southeast Asia. I’ve come across one with a rate of US$3 per day in Cat Ba Island. That’s ridiculously cheap!

But of course, you’ll have to pay for the petrol you fill in. But here’s a few things you should know when renting a motorbike in Vietnam:

  • Rental shops will keep your passport as a deposit when you’re renting.
  • Helmets are provided by most rental shops.
  • Sometimes you’ll get a motorbike with a near-empty tank, so you’ll have to spend a few bucks to fill it up. Most Vietnamese workers at the petrol station do not understand English so they’ll fill it fully even though you said half. That means you’ll be returning the motorbike with half-tank full.
  • Avoid renting motorbikes from the locals without a proper shop. You’ll be asked whether you want to rent a motorbike by a random Vietnamese chilling on the sidewalk. Reject them politely because you’ll have to hand over your passport in order to rent the motorbike.
  • Traffic polices do not care about foreigners on motorbikes.
  • Traffic in big cities like Hanoi and Saigon is hectic so I wouldn’t recommend renting a motorbike there if you’re not used to it.

I definitely recommend renting a motorbike outside of big cities as you’ll get to explore the more-attractive gems in the outskirts.

GrabCar in Vietnam

GrabCar is the most widely used platform in Vietnam, especially in cities. If you never heard of it, it worked the same way as Uber, but the rate is fixed instead of following the meter. It’s also very widely used in Malaysia too.

The special feature for Grab in Vietnam is that passengers get to choose whether they want a car or motorbike. The latter is a more popular option because it’s cheaper and faster, probably the easiest way to get to the airport.

Get it from Apple App Store or Google Play.

Bicycle

Bicycle in small towns is not so popular among travelers due to the cheap rates for motorbike rentals. Most travelers prefer renting a motorbike than a bicycle since the price difference is not huge. But bear in mind that you’ll need some practices if you’ve never ridden a motorbike before.

vietnam motorcycle hanoi city street art

Best SIM Cards in Vietnam

There are 3 main internet service providers in Vietnam: Viettel, MobiFone & Vinaphone.

Well, of course, there are more providers in Vietnam like Vietnamobile but I wouldn’t recommend this despite the cheaper rate they offered.

Why? It’s because the coverage isn’t that good compared to the 3 giants.

What’s more frustrating than getting lost in somewhere you’re not familiar with, and the internet is not working?

So my advice is to go for one of the three providers mentioned above throughout your backpacking trip in Vietnam.

Here are some ideas of how much the SIM Cards cost in Vietnam:

  • The internet service providers will usually encourage tourists to buy the 30-days SIM Cards. Therefore it’s not strange to see the tiny price gap between the 14-days and 30-days SIM Cards.
  • 30-days SIM Cards will cost you around $10 for more-than-enough internet quota with Hotspot available.
  • Some SIM Cards allow calling while some don’t, so you’ll have to check when you get down the plane.

While I’ve read about cheaper SIM Cards outside of airports, I saved the troubles and bought it once I got down the plane anyway.

And I’m glad I did that because most of the telecom stores do not have English languages at all. And it seems like every travel agencies are also selling them, making it chaos.

So if you want to save the troubles, what you’ll have to do after arriving in the airports is to ask for the rates from the three internet service providers’ stalls.

Compare them and see which one best fits you.

vietnam backpacking street food

Things To Know While Backpacking in Vietnam

Do Vietnamese People Speak English?

Not surprisingly, most Vietnamese do not speak English, especially those living outside of big cities like Hanoi, Da Nang or Ho Chi Minh City.

The English language is taught in school but was never the main subject they focus on. You might also notice most has some difficulties communicating in English as well.

In touristy places like Hanoi Old Quarter or Hoi An, your chances of finding Vietnamese people who speak English is much higher because they’re used to serving foreigners.

So if you’re approaching the locals with questions, ask if they speak English language or not first because you pop your questions out.

In short, not everyone in this world speaks English, so be respectful to other countries’ cultures and languages.

US Dollars in Vietnam

Most of the travel agency offices and high-end restaurants do accept US dollars. You might also find some stalls in the popular night markets accepting foreign currencies.

Some night market stalls even take Korean Won and Chinese Yuan, due to the exponential growth of tourists from these two countries.

But one thing for sure, their exchange rate is ridiculously bad.

Let’s take US Dollars, for example, the exchange rate is 1 US Dollar to approximately 23,000 Vietnamese Dong. Most of the stalls take 20,000 VND instead. So check before you pay.

The best thing to do is to change the Dongs before doing any shopping in Vietnam.

Is Vietnam Backpacker-Friendly?

Vietnam is probably the most backpacker-friendly country after Thailand in my opinion. Backpacker hostels are everywhere to be found and there are plenty of things to do for backpackers in Vietnam.

Riding motorcycles in Vietnam is so easy that you don’t even need a license or deep pocket. The cheapest rate I’ve come across was only $3 per day in Cat Ba Island.

Everything in Vietnam can be cheap, it’s just a matter of knowing where to find it or not.

Don’t forget to get yourself a travel insurance while traveling in Vietnam! You can get it here.

Wi-Fi in Vietnam

Surprisingly, the Wi-Fi service in Vietnam is much better than I expected. Almost every restaurants and cafe has its own Wi-Fi, so you’ll definitely have a connection while waiting for your meal.

I’m talking about restaurants here, so don’t expect Wi-Fi while you eat your Pho on a stool beside a street stall.

In fact, I spent half or more meals in restaurants because it’s really cheap and I really need the Wi-Fi to plan my itinerary.

Most of the Wi-Fi services are protected by a password so you might have to ask for the password from the manager or waiters. But what’s funny is that most of the time, the passwords are the same in every restaurant.

My partner actually cracked the password of our sleeper bus in her first try. Well, not cracked, she just entered the most common password and actually connected. Even though the speed was slow as hell.

vietnam street food vendors on bicycles

Backpacking Vietnam Budget

Everyone has a different style of traveling, luxury or budget, here’s a rundown on how much it costs for backpacking in Vietnam.

First of all, everything you eat is cheap in Vietnam. The street foods are cheap, so are the beers. So are the snacks you find in the convenience stores.

Don’t set yourself a tight budget because you might miss out what’s amazing sometimes. Like some Pork BBQ on the street. Oh my…

Transportations are also relatively cheap in Vietnam, with 10 hours overnight bus at around $20. You can go for higher-end buses, while there are also cheaper fares than what I mentioned.

Here’s a rundown on the costs of traveling in Vietnam.

Accommodation:

  • A bunk bed in a shared dorm: Around $5-10 per night
  • A double bed in average hotel: Around $8-20 per night
  • A double bed in high-end hotels: Around $25-80 per night

Entrance fees to attractions:

  • On average, it costs around $4 per person per entrance to attractions in Vietnam

Meals:

  • Street food meals: Around $1.5 – 3 per meal
  • Restaurant meals: Around $2.5 – 5 per meal

Beer:

  • On average, a can of beer in Vietnam costs around $1 in the convenience stores

Motorcycle Rental:

  • Varies among different destinations. On average, the motorcycle rental will cost you around $4-8 per day. If you want to go for a better option, expect $10 per day for a decent motorbike.

Places To Visit In Vietnam

Hanoi

Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, and probably the most enjoyable backpacking city destination in Southeast Asia.

Tourism has long been adapted into the local culture, and thus you’ll find traveling in Vietnam relatively easy compared to other neighboring countries like Laos and Cambodia.

Hanoi is also a paradise for street food lovers like myself. Take your time to enjoy the vibes in this city and try all the street foods.

If possible, try to pay your visit to Hanoi during the weekends, as there will be huge night markets on the weekend nights.

vietnam hanoi train street evening

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

The final resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary Leader, Ho Chi Minh. If you’re interested in knowing what happened in the past decades, look up for the history of the Vietnam War.

It’s one of the two wars that the U.S. ever lost.

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum is one of the most popular attractions in Hanoi, so you’ll have to expect crowds of tourists any time of the day.

But visiting earlier in the morning will guarantee a smaller crowd.

vietnam hanoi ho chi minh mausoleum

Hoan Kiem Lake

The landmark of Hanoi city, Hoan Kiem Lake is one of the most happening destinations in your Hanoi itinerary. Every weekend nights, the streets will be sealed off, prohibiting any vehicles from entering.

The streets instantly transformed into a square where locals come out and enjoy their weekend evenings.

Pay a visit to the Temple of the Jade Mountain in the middle of the lake too. The entrance fee is very reasonable and you’ll catch a glimpse of a legendary giant turtle preserved inside a glass chamber.

There is a legend surrounding the turtle, read on.

vietnam hanoi hoan kiem lake at night bridge temple

Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre

Probably one of the most popular things to do in Hanoi city. There are a few places you can watch the water puppet shows, but the best place would be Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre.

Stories, legends, and myths like the one I mentioned about the giant turtle are often performed here. You’ll then learn more about the tale and the history of Hanoi city.

Sapa

Probably the most popular trekking destination in Vietnam, if not South East Asia.

To get to Sapa, you’ll need an overnight train from Hanoi city. There are several service providers for that so remember to check the price and your beds.

My advice is don’t go for the cheapest one. You’ll not have a comfortable sleep and you’ll risk sleeping with bed bugs, which could ruin your Vietnam backpacking trip.

Visiting on the right season and you’ll get an impressive view over the golden rice terraces. If you’re doing this during the sunset, it’ll definitely be one of your highlights on your Vietnam trip.

Go for the multi-day guided treks in Sapa to take in everything Sapa has to offer. Challenge the tallest peak in Sapa, Fansipan Peak at 3143m above sea level!

Not a fan of hiking? Take the cable car from the station to the peak of Fansipan Mountain!

vietnam sapa hiking white building

Ha Long Bay

No backpacking trip to Vietnam is complete without visiting the legendary Ha Long Bay. The limestone karsts stabbing out from the water under a hundred feet tall. Where can you find something like this?

There are plenty of cruise tours running in Ha Long Bay and Lan Ha Bay. But if you’re going to explore Ha Long Bay for a longer time, I definitely recommend planning your stay in Cat Ba Island.

A cruise day-trip from Cat Ba Island cost around $15 which includes buffet lunch, kayaking in the maze of limestone karsts, swimming in cold vast ocean, hiking in Monkey Island and hours-long deck-top view of the cruise.

Best-valued tour I’ve ever taken in Southeast Asia.

cat ba island ha long bay cruise

Cat Ba Island

To be honest, Cat Ba Island is slowly transforming into a tourist hub, as dozens of hotels are being built there now. So, plan your trip to Cat Ba Island as soon as possible before it gets overcrowded.

There are plenty of things to do in Cat Ba Island, arguably one of the best places to stay for a week or two for backpackers in Vietnam.

There’s a national park for hiking, renting motorcycles is ridiculously cheap here and things are pretty cheap too. The best thing is the quiet environment and the cool weather.

No hectic traffic, a great place to relax if you’ve spent days in Hanoi city.

Check out this comprehensive guide for visiting Cat Ba Island here!

Tam Coc

Replace the sea in Ha Long Bay with lands, and you’ll get Tam Coc.

Tam Coc is often regarded as Ha Long Bay on land, and that’s not an exaggeration. After my visit to both, I would say both are equally impressive and fun to spend time in.

Plenty of hikes to do in Tam Coc, and it’s easy to rent a bicycle to roam around the town. Cycling along the paddy fields is my favorite things to do in Tam Coc.

Golden paddy fields, with limestone karsts as the backdrop, imagine that. Pretty cool, huh?

Comparatively, Tam Coc will be a little pricier because it’s basically a tourist town. But it’s worth it because most of the time you’ll spend time outside the town.

It’s kind of like Vang Vieng in Laos, but Tam Coc is much cleaner and foreigner-friendly. If you plan to have a boat tour surrounded by limestone karsts, consider visiting Trang An for the boat tours!

vietnam ninh binh tam coc limestone karsts

Hue

Hue is located in Central Vietnam. From Tam Coc to Hue, it takes 10 hours by sleeper bus, which I highly recommend because you’ll save the cost of accommodation and you wake up in a new destination in the morning.

Fun Fact: In Vietnam, you’ll have to hand your passport to the hostel manager as a deposit. During my stay in Tam Coc, I left my passport in the hostel and realized that when I was on the way to Hue. Panic attacks, but luckily the manager in my Hue hostel helped me to get back the passport.

From Hanoi to Hue, it takes slightly more than 10 hours.

There are plenty of attractions like Hue Imperial City. I highly recommend visiting here especially if you’re interested in the history of Vietnam.

The city played a vital role and had gone through a lot during the Vietnam War several decades ago.

Personally, I found the Vietnam War very interesting and I think you would too, after your trip to Vietnam.

While you’re there, don’t forget to try out Hue’s Banh Xeo, their fried pancake. With prawns, vegetables and meat slices sandwiched between a pan-fried pancake, it’s crazy good you’ll definitely want for more.

vietnam hue imperial city gate

Hoi An

If you were to ask me what’s the best town in Vietnam, I would undoubtedly say Hoi An Ancient Town. It’s also one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Vietnam, along with Ha Long Bay, Hue, My Son and more.

Despite its tourist crowds, Hoi An remains one of my favorite towns of all-time. Every night, the heritage streets got lightened up with lanterns. The night market was set up and street foods were everywhere to be found.

Even if you’re not hungry or buying anything, sitting by Thu Bon River is still a great way to enjoy your time in this very town.

Instagrammable spots are everywhere in this town, especially at night. If you don’t mind the crowds, of course.

Restaurants are also plenty around the heritage area, serving cuisines from all around the world. Not to mention bars, which are flocked by backpackers every night.

I recommend staying in Hoi An for 3 days or more to take everything in.

Rent a motorcycle and explore the outskirt of the town during the day and definitely spend the night at the heritage area. There are beaches around which are worth your visit, like An Bang Beach.

Da Nang

Arriving in Da Nang will leave you questioning whether you’re still in Vietnam. It’s a very developed city with one of the best city-planning I’ve ever seen in Southeast Asia.

Property investment projects are everywhere here. Seems like Vietnam is building a first-class city here to boost their economy, which they are now.

Most of the travelers’ activities are focused on the eastern part of the city near the coast.

Surfing is a popular thing to do in Da Nang city, you’ll find locals and foreigners surfing in the sea especially during the evening.

It’s also surprising that despite Da Nang being so rapidly developed, the sea water is crystal clear.

Da Nang is also located close to Hoi An, around an hour by motorbike. If you’re missing Hoi An already, you can ride a motorbike and get back there anytime you want.

What to do in Da Nang city? Again, rent a motorcycle and visit Linh Ung Pagoda before riding up Son Tra Peninsula.

Never skip Son Tra Peninsula for God’s sake, it’s so underrated but at the same time, more beautiful than all attractions in Central Vietnam.

The steep ride up the mountain is challenging for some motorbikes, so make sure to get yours as well as the brakes.

See what you can do in Da Nang in 3 days here!

vietnam da nang city dragon bridge evening

Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh, also known as Saigon is one of the two biggest cities in Vietnam. The other one being Hanoi.

Unlike Hanoi, the weather in Ho Chi Minh city remains tropical throughout the year, with a decent amount of rainfall and humidity. The temperature is also much warmer, around 30ºC.

Ho Chi Minh city has more hectic traffic compared to Hanoi in my opinion. Riding motorcycles in these two cities are comparatively more dangerous than other smaller towns and Da Nang city.

While you’re here, remember to check out the Pho. The Southern Pho is different from the Northern Pho for your information, there’s no reason not to try both!

Definitely pay a visit to Ben Thanh Market if you want to experience the local cultures and way of life in Vietnam. Cu Chi Tunnel is also worth visiting for those who’re interested in the history of the Vietnam War.

vietnam ho chi minh city at night

Dalat

Like Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat is also located in Southern Vietnam. But due to its altitude 1,500 meters above sea level, the weather there remains cool throughout the year.

It’s much more relaxing and slow-paced here compared to Saigon, ideal for those who’ve spent many days backpacking in Ho Chi Minh city. No more hectic traffic, no more dizziness from the heat under the sun.

There are not many things to do in Dalat, instead, it’s more of a place for those who’re looking for a place to chill out and refresh.

Rent a motorcycle and explore outside the town. There are several natural attractions surrounding this city because of the hilly landscapes, like Tuyen Lam Lake and Datanla Waterfall.

Check out these amazing waterfalls in Dalat here!

vietnam dalat mountain ranges

Nha Trang

Nha Trang is a coastal resort city on the southeast coast of Vietnam. The main attraction of the town is Vinpearl, the theme park built on the island facing Nha Trang mainland.

You’ll need to hop on a cable car to get there, and you could easily spend a whole day there if that’s your thing. (Personally, I don’t like it lovely there…)

The entrance ticket wasn’t very cheap.

But other than the theme park, there are several attractions and activities you can do in Nha Trang, like diving, snorkeling, having a feast in seafood restaurants, Ponagar Tower, and Long Son Pagoda.

Feel free to skip Nha Trang if you hate crowded places, because most of the time, no matter where you go, you’ll still have crowds surrounding you. Just a matter of big crowds or small ones.

vietnam nha trang beach

Phu Quoc

Phu Quoc is an island off the coast in the southwest part of Vietnam, near the Mekong Delta.

Trust me when I say this is a paradise for hikers and beachgoers. Featuring fine white sand beaches with most parts of the island covered in dense tropical forest, Phu Quoc has a lot to offer for nature lovers.

It’s easy to spend a whole week here without feeling too bored.

I would recommend visiting Phu Quoc after visiting other destinations in Vietnam. Because Phu Quoc is a perfect place to chill off and refresh for your next coming trip or before returning home.

In the main town, Duong Dong, there are day and night markets selling gifts and souvenirs, and of course street foods. But I found that the street foods here aren’t as good as those I found in Hanoi and Saigon.

vietnam phu quoc beach

What to Eat in Vietnam

The wide variety of Vietnamese cuisines made Vietnam one of the most popular destinations among backpackers. From noodle soups, spring rolls, hot pots to coffee, every food has its own distinctive flavor you can’t find in other parts of the world.

Common ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine include fish sauce, shrimp paste, soy sauce, herbs, rice, and vegetables. With spices and seasonings like lemongrass, mint, ginger, coriander, Saigon cinnamon, bird’s eye chili, lime, and Thai basil leaves, the flavor is unique to Vietnam.

Unlike cuisines in other Southeast Asian countries, traditional Vietnamese cuisines are admired for the fresh ingredients, minimal use of oil, and the reliance on vegetables and fresh herbs. You’ll also find fish sauce in most Vietnamese dishes too.

Did you know Vietnamese food is one of the healthiest cuisines in the world?

And while all Vietnamese foods share some features, you’ll find some food in Hanoi different with those you find in Saigon. For instance, the Pho I mentioned just now.

I have a blog post solely on the Vietnamese foods that I know you’ll love.

Vietnamese Pho

Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup made of broth, rice noodles (banh pho), some greens, meat slices and the locals’ favorite coriander.

It’s undoubtedly the most popular street food in Vietnam and can be found in every city and town.

Having said so, there are good Phos and bad Phos especially in big cities like Hanoi and Saigon. The best way to find the best one would be to look up for it in TripAdvisor or follow the crowds.

Look out for the stalls or restaurants with the biggest crowd, then join them, that’s the most reliable way to experience the best street food for your Vietnam backpacking trip.

vietnamese pho in hanoi old quarter

Bun Cha

While Pho is taking all the spotlight, the one dish you should never miss out is Bun Cha, my most favorite Vietnamese dish.

I had it almost every alternate days while backpacking in Vietnam.

Bun Cha is a dish with grilled pork and rice noodles originated from Hanoi. The dish is served along with plenty of vegetables and herbs.

The best thing about this dish is the dipping sauce made of fish sauce and other ingredients like garlic and chillis.

Wrap the grilled meat slice and greens with the rice noodle, then dip it into the sauce. Oh.. I miss Vietnam now… 

vietnamese hanoi bun cha in hanoi old quarter

Goi Cuon

While this might also be one of the most well-known Vietnamese cuisines, I personally don’t fancy Goi Cuon that much.

Goi Cuon is the Vietnamese spring rolls, made of pork slices, prawns vegetables and rice noodles (bun) wrapped inside a Vietnamese banh trang (rice paper).

The first time I tried it on the street in Hanoi, I was disappointed because they weren’t as nice as I thought it would be.

To be honest, it’s hard to find good spring rolls in Vietnam, though the dipping sauce will always make up for that.

I preferred the fried spring rolls more than the cold and authentic ones.

Maybe another reason I didn’t like Goi Cuon is that it’s traditionally served cold instead of warm.

Banh Mi

My favorite snack during my backpacking trip in Vietnam goes to Banh Mi.

Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich made of meat slices, vegetables and sauces sandwiched between a Vietnamese baguette.

The thing I loved about Banh Mi is the crunchy baguette, and it’s easily available throughout the city, so it makes a great snack whenever the hunger strikes.

The key to finding the best Banh Mi is to buy from a more established and bigger stall instead of a small roadside stall without a menu.

You’ll get much better quality from bigger stalls. To find them, TripAdvisor is definitely the best tool. I had my best Banh Mi in Hoi An thanks to this app.

Vietnam Hanoi Banh Mi Street Food
Photo by Kirk K

What to Pack For Vietnam

Depending on where you’re visiting, your needed attires could be different. Check the best time to visit Vietnam above, and check whether you’re visiting during the colder season or the warmer season.

If you’re visiting North Vietnam during January or the cold season, you might need a jacket because it gets to around 15ºC at night. For Sapa, it’s even crazier because sometimes it gets to 0ºC.

For South Vietnam, you’ll need no more than some shirts and short pants.

Here are the essentials you need to include in your packing list during your Vietnam backpacking trip:

  • Sunscreen
    You’ll probably spend more of your time outdoors in Vietnam. On Ha Long Bay Cruise, you’re likely to spend your time on the deck enjoying the surrounding limestone karsts view. There’s no reason not to bring sunscreen along.
  • Sunglasses
    Although the UV in Vietnam is not the highest, it’s still important to protect your eyes from the bright as hell sun. Sometimes it gets so bright that it makes me a little dizzy.
  • Insect repellent
    Mosquitoes are common in Vietnam, so if you’re enjoying your beer on the street, it’s important to spray some insect repellent on. Dengue fevers are quite common in South East Asia, so don’t risk it.
  • Baseball cap
  • Swimwear (Hard to resist the urge of swimming)

Check out this post for a more comprehensive packing list for Vietnam!

Useful Travel Apps For Backpacking Vietnam

Smartphones are a part of our lives now, so it makes sense to travel with it, right? With these apps installed on your smartphone, you’re guaranteed to have a smoother trip in Vietnam. What are they? Let’s take a look.

  • Google Maps
    You’d probably guessed it because who traveled without an online map or GPS? It’s one of the smartest inventions in modern history, let’s utilize them to the maximum. With Google Maps, you can download an offline map, so that you can access and know where you are even without internet connection. Useful if you rented a motorcycle and is exploring around with it.
  • GrabCar
    I’ve mentioned about GrabCar above that it works the same way as Uber, where you can call for a ride to a destination on your smartphone and pay after the service was done. The fare is fixed, which is good. And the best part about GrabCar in Vietnam is that there is a motorcycle service too, which is much more practical, cheap and efficient in the country’s hectic traffic.
  • TripAdvisor
    The most useful app when it comes to looking for the best restaurant in town. I’ve always used TripAdvisor whenever my hunger hits me and I don’t remember having disappointments upon the recommendations.

Are You Ready For Backpacking Vietnam?

That’s it for everything you need to know for backpacking Vietnam. What do you think about this Vietnam travel guide? Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know.

Vietnam is a very enjoyable country, traveling there is easy compared to other Southeast Asian countries, like Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia & Myanmar.

I know you’ll definitely enjoy your Vietnam backpacking trip. As usual, thanks for reading and have fun traveling in Vietnam!

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Written by

Yen is a university student from Malaysia and a huge fan of Blues music and photography. His passion for travel can be traced back to 2016 when he spent 6 months traveling New Zealand. By blending into the locals and traveling long-term, he shares all the comprehensive and detailed travel ideas and guides for the countries with his footprints.

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