Epic is one word to describe the world that awaits your exploration in Vietnam. From the chaotic energy of places like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh to the idyllic terraced rice paddies of Sa Pa Village, there is something for every backpacker to check out in Vietnam. With an established backpacker oriented community, budget-friendly accommodations, and an exciting culture, Vietnam is the ideal destination for slinging on a backpack and setting out into the world—especially when you travel some of the greatest Vietnam backpacking routes.
Places to Visit in Vietnam
Familiarize yourself with a map of Vietnam backpacking routes. Because of the shape of the country, most itinerary routes wind up being the same. Either you go from north to south, or you move in reverse. Choose your starting point—which is either Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City– and then work your way through the country.
In the northern reaches, you have Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Sa Pa, and Tam Coc.
In the middle of Vietnam, there is Hue, the former imperial capital of the country. Now, it is full of temples and tombs. South of Hue is also Hoi An, a quaint town to escape the hustle and bustle of the cities.
Then, to the south, there is the must-see city of Ho Chi Minh. Close to the city is Mekong Delta, which is unfortunately becoming a mass tourism location.
Now that you know the main points on the Vietnamese map, let’s talk about where you should be aiming to visit.
1. The Cities
How awesome is it that Vietnam has two main cities to the north and south? It makes backpacking easy—and you get to see two radically different ways of city life in the country. Hanoi is a bizarre, chaotic city that seems to run on motorbike exhaust and noise. It is place street photographers find heaven, because everything happens on the streets of Hanoi, from cooking, eating, grooming, and playing games. In Hanoi, you can also check out a War Museum and the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Ho Chi Minh. Just as enthralling but with much more historical features, Ho Chi Minh is immersive and wild. Of course, if you are coming to study the war history of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh is where you go. The remnants of the war exist in the city, and it is every bit as uncomfortable and mind-boggling as you would expect.
In either city, you can find a backpacking hostel with dorms for as cheap as US$5 a night, most often including breakfast, internet, and sometimes even alcohol. Obviously, this cost is even cheaper in less densely populated areas.
In between Hanoi and Hoi An is Hue, a small town made for backpacking. Hue was once a royal city, but now it is covered with historically significant ruins. You can check out the Citadel alongside the Perfume River then head over to the Thien Mu Pagoda, which stands 21 metres high. For those seeking some relaxation, Lang Co Beach or the mineral hot springs of Phong An are within walking distance away from Hue.
3. Local Markets and Fishing Villages
All throughout Vietnam, you will find bountiful local markets on land and sea. The sights, smells, and sounds will leave you breathless. You will be endlessly surprised by what you see in the markets. Also, if you want a glimpse of simpler life in Vietnam, Mui Ne is a charming glimpse at the past. While the town is small and beach has eroded away, the old fishing town is home to dozens of brightly colored boats. There is also a famous canyon walk nearby if you want some hiking.
4. Tunnels of Vinh Moc
If you find yourself moving slightly north of Hue, why not go towards Vinh Moc? Though the town itself is small and doesn’t have much to see, there are preserved elaborate tunnels that were created by the villagers during the war. The tunnels are open to experience. Similar to the Vinh Moc Tunnels are the Cu Chi Tunnels of Ho Chi Minh City.
5. Sa Pa Rice Terraces
The Village of Sa Pa is a wonderful place to take a motorbike, because the countryside is absolutely stunning, and you’re going to want to explore. Around Sa Pa, you can go 15 km away from the village to find the majestic Thac Bac Waterfall or go off the worn road to the Village of Ban Pho. Here, you find Mongolian Ban Ha who are extremely friendly and ready to share their corn wine with you. Once you’ve drunken a fair share, why not tackle the highest peak in Vietnam, Fansipan?
6. Phu Quoc Island
Though most people don’t consider Vietnam a country of award-winning beaches, one place comes to mind for soaking up the sun. Though Phu Quoc Island has become the target of tourism, it is a worthwhile visit, especially if you’re looking for a cheaper Phuket.
Getting Around Vietnam
Many visitors to Vietnam opt to explore the locale via motorbike, which is the best course of action if you can afford to rent one. However, if you don’t want to take a motorcycle cross-country, you can enjoy several other methods of transportation (because your feet are going to need a rest once in a while). For example, there is the awesome and convenient coastal train line by Vietnam Railways that runs from the bottom of the country up to China.
However, most backpackers use the extensive bus network in Vietnam since they are cheap and offer hop on/hop off services. You can also book tickets in advance using the South East Asia service called 12Go.
Finally, if you are on a time limit for your travels around Vietnam, you might want to take a domestic flight. Instead of spending 30+ hours on a train going from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, you can fly for less than 3 hours on a cheap domestic flight using Vietnam Airlines or Jetstar.
For many countries, including the UK, you cannot expect just an easy walk through the immigration date. Those coming as tourists for a quick jaunt get 15 days maximum. It is also possible to apply for evisa, which allows you to stay in Vietnam for 30 days.
The process for applying for a longer visa is relatively straightforward, fortunately. Simply contact the Vietnamese Embassy wherever you are, fill out the appropriate paperwork, get cleared for the intended length of your stay, pay the fee, and you are good to go. But, just don’t expect this to happen upon arrival. You need at least a month in advance for this entire application.
Vietnam is a backpacking friendly country that allows you to hop on a rented motorbike or bus and go from point to point without much issue. You simply choose where you want your starting point to be and move onward from there. Keep in mind that most Vietnam backpacking routes go from north to south or vice versa. Will you decide to experience the madness of Hanoi first? Or perhaps you want a more historical perspective before advancing further north? One thing is for certain, though, wherever you find yourself in this magical country, Vietnam is going to leave you spellbound and asking for more.
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