I am finally writing my 3 week backpacking guide to Vietnam, about a month after returning to England! Vietnam is an amazing country, by far my favourite out of the ones I’ve visited in South East Asia. The people are ultra friendly, the food is delicious and obviously the scenery is incredible… I can’t wait to go back one day!
On my last trip there I built up an insane amount of advice and have some amazing (potentially trip altering!) recommendations for places to stay/eat which I am really excited to share with you in this guide. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful! Also how much do you love that cringe scooter picture below?! I think it’s great!
Direction – I travelled south to north, starting in Ho Chi Minh and finishing in Hanoi. I met tonnes of people going the other way too but generally if you were going to Thailand after Vietnam you’d be flying from Hanoi so it made sense to end there. If you’d already been to Thailand you’d be starting in Hanoi as that’s the cheapest place to fly to!
Currency – I read a lot of contrasting advice before going about what currency to take (dong/dollar) but generally it seemed dong was more useful. All transport had to be paid in dong, most tours you could pay both but it worked out cheaper in dong. So my advice would be to bring dong over dollar but having a few dollars with you can’t hurt either.
Solo Female Travel – For solo female travellers I’d say Vietnam is very safe (obviously have to be sensible though) and I met lots of women travelling alone who all had really positive experiences in the country. It’s also very well travelled so you’ll end up making friends along the way!
Transport – Getting around Vietnam is actually very easy. Hostels will book buses for you and the majority of the time you can opt for a night bus which saves time and money. The only issue I ever had was the bus seeming like it was overbooked but really the driver had friends taking up beds who in the end did move! My best advice for the buses is just to try and sleep rather than focus on the quality of driving/roads… As for taxis, Grab is a really handy app to have there.
1. HO CHI MINH CITY 3 DAYS
Ho Chi Minh is bit of an assault on the senses and that’s putting it nicely. I arrived here and within the first hour had been ripped of, shouted at and left in the middle of nowhere by a taxi driver. But it was all uphill from there! Vitamin Smiles is a great hostel, perfect location, nice rooms and you get a free, homemade Vietnamese breakfast every morning. The staff were really lovely and helpful too.
Through the hostel I did a day tour to the Mekong Delta and the Chi Chi Tunnels both of which were worth while, the later more so if you’re interested in the history of the Vietnam war. On the other hand the War Remnants Museum is a tricky one to recommend. It was disturbing but interesting to learn about the war from a Vietnamese perspective. It was also pretty propaganda heavy and probably not very comfortable for an American to walk around (in fact I was approached by someone very hostile wanting to know if I was American) so I’d take everything there with a pinch of salt and say it’s your call on whether to go or not!
2. MUI NE 1 DAY
Mui Ne was a welcome break from the madness of Ho Chi Minh. It’s a small resort town by the coast made famous by the red sand dunes there. They were pretty however I’m not sure if they were worth altering plans to visit. I got a bus there and back from Ho Chi Minh but you can carry on north up the coast. However if you haven’t got long in Vietnam I’d recommend going back to Ho Chi Minh (or skipping Mui Ne altogether) and flying to Da Nang. If you do go, there is an outdoor food court which I’d definitely recommend checking out, especially the Indian restaurant there!
3. HOI AN 4 DAYS
If you take one piece of advice from this whole post let it be to stay in Tribee Bana hostel while in Hoi An. It is amazing! The location, atmosphere, rooms and staff are all 100%. Plus they organise free activities every day/night of the week including spring roll cooking classes, bike tours, street food tours, bar crawls etc. My favourite memories from Vietnam are all based around Hoi An and the friends I made at this hostel!
As for the town, there is so much to do here. I am going to write a separate post about it which I will eventually link here! The next town worth visiting, north of Hoi An, is Hue however I’d either do this as a day tour or as a one night stop on your way to Phong Nha.
4. PHONG NHA 2 DAYS
Very very beautiful part of Vietnam! The town is tiny and basically just made up of hostels catering for the people wanting to explore Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Every backpacker I met before Phong Nha told me about Easy Tiger hostel which you can only book by emailing them. It was pretty cool to be fair, kind of a party hostel but everything stopped at 11 so not really either. Through them I booked a day tour to the Paradise Cave and Mud Cave which was really fun. It included kayaking and a zip line. The second day I went to Phong Nha Cave which you can do without a tour by walking about 10mins to the longboat ferry station and getting one to the cave. It was by far the most beautiful of the three.
5. NINH BINH 1 DAY
Ninh Binh was a lovely short stop to break up the trip from Phong Nha to Cat Ba Island. The main point of interest is the Lying Dragon Mountain or Hang Mua. It’s about 250 steps up but 100% worth the effort because the views/ dragon are pretty impressive. Not great if you don’t like heights though as there are no rails or barriers! You have to hire bikes to get to the base of the mountain from Ninh Binh. Another fun thing to do there is a river trip. You get taken by a local using their feet to row through caves, past paddy fields and beautiful mountains. Both these activities can easily be done in a day.
6. CAT BA ISLAND/ HALONG BAY 4 DAYS
You can get a bus here from Ninh Binh. Most transport tickets include the ferry and then transport on the island. I stayed at Cannon Fort Hostel which is really more like a hotel and is really nice! Cat Ba itself isn’t that amazing, very touristy but Halong Bay and the other surrounding bays are famously very beautiful. One restaurant I would 100% recommend in Cat Ba is Yummy. I was recommended here by a few people I met on my trip, the food is amazing, .
Near the hostel you can find Cat Ba Local and Asia Outdoors, two tour companies that do great trips around the bays. I went with Cat Ba Local and did their 20 dollar trip which was great value. You kayak, have an amazing lunch on the boat and stop at some really pretty beaches.
Another great day spent on Cat Ba was hiring scooters and exploring the island. You can get to the national park by scooter and do one of the short hikes to the lookout point which takes about 30mins. The views are incredible, potentially nicer than Halong Bay so I’d definitely recommend checking that out.
7. HANOI 2 DAYS
From Cat Ba you can catch a bus to Hanoi and then depending on whether you’re flying out of Hanoi you can do Sapa before or after. In Hanoi I stayed in a lovely little airbnb with wonderful hosts who even gave me a lift to the airport. I wasn’t a massive fan of Hanoi itself because it was very polluted. However there is a lot to see here museum wise. I was recommended the Women’s Museum above all others.
8. SAPA 3 DAYS
Once again, you can catch a bus from Hanoi to Sapa very easily. It is famous for it’s terraced rice paddy fields and amazing trekking options. From what I heard, it is best to stay out of the town in a homestay to really experience the beauty of Sapa!
After Sapa you can head back to Hanoi to fly out of Vietnam or continue your journey around South East Asia by bus! I flew to Bangkok from Hanoi and you can read my Thailand guide here. As I said, I really loved Vietnam and can’t wait to go back and explore it further and a little more off grid. Have any of you ever been and if so can you recommend other places to see/ things to do? I’d love to know as much as possible!