Backpacking in Vietnam is made easy by the country’s thin, vertical shape. Basically you only have two choices to make about your route; do I go north to south or south to north? It is surprisingly easy to explore as an independent traveler, but there are also many groups that you can choose to join as well. This travel itinerary for backpacking in Vietnam offers the best of both worlds: the major backpacker hubs where Vietnam’s most notable sights are located and short detours off the beaten track to where white Western faces are few and far between.
Starting at Hanoi, this is the capital of Vietnam and arguably one of the best cities in Vietnam. Therefore it is a great place to start backpacking in Vietnam. Not only is it overflowing with museums, monuments, markets and cafes, it is also a bird’s nest for travelers making trips to the surrounding areas. On the list of more touristy things to do here are the water puppet show and also a war museum, which as a Westerner is most enlightening and definitely something for you to tick off your bucket list. Hanoi is a great place, because it is always bustling, brimming with cultural experience for the avid backpacker and it also has the most delicious coffee you’ve ever tasted.
Hanoi is also the obvious starting point for a trip to see Halong Bay with its very impressive limestone rock formations. The next place for many travelers who are backpacking throughout Vietnam is the stunning Halong Bay. Here you can cruise around thousands of limestone islets and karsts, spearing out of the water. Always ranked as the top sight in Vietnam and found in many travel brochures, it’s undeniably beautiful and romantic. The top end junks tend to be pretty luxurious, with top notch food and lovely cabins to boot. Other things to do here is to visit caves, go kayaking, visit a pearl farm and a hike up one of the karsts.
Second on the list would be a quick trip to Sapa, this town is located in the north east corner of the country. Reached by an easy overnight train from Hanoi, this colorful hill station is completely overrun by tourists and tribal women trying to sell their wares from woven baskets on their backs. Some great things to do in Sapa is hiking with the hill tribes and admiring the beautiful rice terraces.
This town saw some of the most crucial battles in the Vietnam War, the Tet offensive, and is a must see destination on your trip. An overnight train will take you from Sapa south down to the historic Hue city. Despite being full of World Heritage Sights and known for its Imperial Citadel, Hue is overlooked by a lot of backpackers in Vietnam. From Hue, you have the option of a boat trip on the Perfume River to visit Thien Mu Pagoda and the royal Nguyen tombs, rent a bicycle to get around the magnificent citadel and if you’re feeling up for a little adventure then you can go further out to see the colorful incense making village.
This town arguably has the best fusion of Vietnamese, Chinese and French influences, there are fabulous restaurants to eat in and some beautifully maintained Chinese style houses to visit. Hoi-An is bustling with tourists bartering with rows and rows of tailors for suits, dresses, shoes and all other number of garments. Despite being a hotspot for travelers, Hoi An is an absolute gem. You can also check out the Japanese Bridge.
Mui Ne is a quiet and sleepy beach resort which welcomes travelers from all walks of life, from backpacker to the more up market, there is something for everyone here. Unlike the beach resort of Nha Trang, further up the coast, Mui Ne has a more relaxed and chilled out vibe. The sandy beaches are a perfect spot for sunbathing, whilst the breezes make this a popular destination for wind surfers.
Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City is also called Saigon by locals and it is alive with neon lights, world food, and markets. It’s a backpacker favorite because of the excellent transport links. It’s more metropolitan, more multinational, louder and sassier than the rest of Vietnam, but it’s also not so quintessentially Vietnamese. It’s worth a visit because it almost should certainly feature on any young Backpacker’s itinerary.