There’s a lot to love about Vietnam. From hectic Ho Chi Minh and blissed-out Hoi An to lush rice paddies, rich local culture, a fascinating history, sacred temples and so much more – this is one place you definitely want to tick off your travel list. Take a look at all the deets you need for an amazing backpacking adventure in Vietnam.
1. Do all the things
Get caught up in the crazy buzz of Ho Chi Minh City with its countless temples, art galleries, museums, and restaurants. Brave the maze-like Cu Chi tunnels for a sobering look into the Viet Cong war. Visit the tribal hill villages of Dalat. Catch a glimpse of the elusive Clouded Leopard in Cuc Phuong National Park. Float along the winding Mekong Delta for scenic views of the countryside. Island hop amidst the emerald waters of Halong Bay. Chill out in Hoi An (and pick up a swanky tailored suit while you’re there too!) Take a hike through the northern hills of spectacular Sapa. And snap some iconic pics of the scenic rice paddies in the Muong Hoa Valley.
2. Om nom nom
Vietnamese food can pretty much be summed up in 5 words: hot, sweet, sour, salty and yum! One dish you’ll find on every menu and at every street-side stall is pho – a tasty noodle and broth dish served for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as a snack too! Gỏi đu đủ is a fresh salad packed with shredded green papaya, shrimp or pork, fresh herbs and a zippy dressing. Fill up on a big bowl of delicious broken rice, made with crumbled rice grains, caramelized pork chops, fried eggs, steamed egg cake, and a garlic chive dressing. Or snack on banh mi (bread) and banh xeo (pancakes). You definitely won’t go hungry in Vietnam!
3. Know your budget
Vietnam is super easy on the wallet. Food, accommodation, transport and activities are all really affordable, especially in smaller rural areas. Most hostels offer free WiFi, breakfast and even free beer! Plan to budget about R450 per day if you’re happy to stay in a hostel, eat street food, and use local transport. A bowl of pho or a rice dish will only set you back about R15, a local beer is around R12, and a bottle of water is about R7.
4. How to stay thrifty
Saving money is easy when everything’s already so cheap. But there are still a few tips to stretch your bucks even further. Skip the restaurants and eat local street food. If you’re taking a long trip, go for an overnight bus to save on a night’s accommodation. In a hurry? Low-cost local flights will get you there faster at a really affordable price. Tourists are sometimes charged more than locals. Don’t be afraid to bargain hard for a better price. A great money-saving (and planet-saving) idea is to bring a re-usable water bottle with a filter ¬so you can safely drink the tap water without having to buy (and throw away) lots of plastic bottles.
5. Keep safe
You don’t have to worry about safety in Vietnam – even if you’re travelling on your own. The worst you can expect are scams. Always check your change, as some vendors will ‘accidentally’ give you back lower-value notes. If you’re renting a scooter, take pics of the bike beforehand, so they can’t charge you extra for scratches and dents you didn’t make. Always travel with copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Let everyone back home know where you’re going to be for the next few days. And don’t forget travel insurance!
6. Gear and packing list
The weather in Vietnam changes quite a lot depending on where and when you go. Temperatures can soar up to 40°C and dip down to 17°C. The rainy season brings heavy showers in the afternoon. Pack as light as possible, but make sure to bring a water-proof jacket, some t-shirts (short and long sleeves), long pants, shorts, swimsuit, sunglasses, hiking shoes, flip flops, and a hat. Bring toiletries (although you can stock up there too), plus a small medical kit and enough of any prescription meds you take. Universal chargers and headphones are a good idea too. Otherwise, you’re good to go!