I was in Cambodia when I asked my followers on Instagram where I should go next. I knew my time in Asia was nearly over and my wallet wasn’t full anymore. They said; Vietnam! Here I was, sorting out my visa to get to Vietnam.
This budget guide is based on a 25 days itinerary. One goal; make the most of the country by respecting the time limit and a tiny budget. If you are asking yourself what to do in Vietnam, you should stop now. This is for you!
Of course, you can use this guide to help you plan your itinerary regardless if you’re planning to stay one, two or three weeks!
Backpacking Vietnam was so much fun! I was there at the wrong time of the year, but it didn’t stop me! In fact, I’d go back anytime even during the rain season.
I started the trip in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and finished the trip at the same place to fly out to Australia for a decent price. But, as I didn’t really spend a lot of time in Ho Chi Minh in the first place, I’ll finish with it in more detail.
Prices are based on the low season – and negotiating skills.
Traveling around Vietnam: What to do and must-see
Phu Quoc Island
I needed a beach. And the sun. I was craving it. It has been a while and I was already googling the best beaches in Vietnam while I was in Cambodia. So, I found a nice beach around Phu Quoc Island, but the sun didn’t join the party. We still managed to make our way around the island discovering quiet beaches and getting off the main roads experiencing the mud and an off-road ride.
If you had to do one thing while you’re there; you should hop on a motorbike and get lost. You’ll end up on a very nice beach I can guarantee.
How to get to Phu Quoc Island:
Phu Quoc is in the very south and pretty close to Cambodia. I booked an overnight bus from Ho Chi Minh including pick-up, bus, and ferry and it cost VND 425 000. When the lovely lady told us the price, we managed to get it way cheaper than the original price.
You can also fly to the island for a decent price with Jet Star Asia. That’s what I did on the way back for a tiny VND 300 000.
From Ho Chi Minh airport, you can get to the city center for VND 20 000 by shuttle bus.
Where to stay in Phu Quoc Island:
You can find cheap dorms for USD 5 a night.
Mui Ne was one of my favorite places in Vietnam. The weather was great and I was totally impressed by the sand dunes, especially the white ones. We spend hours enjoying the views and jumping throughout the dunes. It was a funny memory! You can visit the sand dunes by yourself by hiring a motorbike, but backpackers can be spotted easily by police officers and you might end up bribing them at some point. We were pretty lucky and managed to reach the dunes without handling the police. Some hostel members might warn you and then, it will be up to you to take the risk or not.
If you had to do one thing while you’re there; you should walk across the white dunes. Stop for a minute to enjoy the view. Then, you should run and jump! (Disclaimer; this choice is yours, so be careful!)
How to get to Mui Ne:
Mui Ne is still in the south and it’s not too far from Ho Chi Minh. We arrived in the middle of the night around 3AM. The bus fare was VND 100 000.
Where to stay in Mui Ne:
You can find cheap dorms for USD 2 a night.
If you have more time, you could also add Nha Trang to your itinerary! I personally decided to skip it as I heard a lot of bad comments about it coming from backpackers I’ve met along the way.
I spent a lot of time in Da Lat as the weather was tricky. In September, it was raining every afternoon so we needed to try to get up early to make the most of the day during the morning. I was amazed by the waterfalls and by the road to get there. (It was a long way, we managed to get 3 flat tires in two days, but it was so worth it!) We also enjoyed the 100 roofs bar which is a crazy labyrinth. The person who thought of this was insane – the result is simply awesome! When I was in Da Lat, I had the opportunity to attend a wedding, which was also a fun experience (it looked like nothing I knew from back home)! We ended up celebrating a few after parties and it ended pretty early surprisingly! We also had the courage to sing Karaoke.
If you had to do one thing while you’re there; you should hop on a motorbike and enjoy the long ride to reach Pongour Waterfall.
How to get to Da Lat:
From Mui Ne, we took a bus to Da Lat which cost VND 90 000.
Where to stay in Da Lat:
I had the privilege to stay at Tay Backpackers, which is a new hostel in Da Lat. The owner is young and full of energy! He’s the one who invited the crew to the wedding! He was really helpful too! The place was clean and the food was great! They also provide a family dinner (which is free and free is sexy!) for your first night where you’ll learn how to make spring rolls.
Hoi An is one of the major stops on the coast. It doesn’t really matter which way you are going as long as you need a break to split the long journeys. I found Hoi An pretty touristy where you can find a day and a night market, many shops and restaurants. In fact, you could easily create a new wardrobe while you’re there. You’ll find many tourists on a bicycle in this area! As it’s not too far from Da Nang and Hue, many people will hop on a motorbike and drive that bit as it’s apparently one of the best drives in Vietnam. I went to Da Nang for a day. This city is known for its beaches, but it is still very touristy.
If you had to do one thing while you’re there; you should walk around the markets and eat a Banh Mi.
How to get to Hoi An:
From Da Lat, we took an overnight bus to Hoi An (there’s a bus change in Nha Trang) for VND 220 000. This fare was a special one as we took the same bus company (T.M. Camel) in the previous trip and they gave us a discount.
Where to stay in Hoi An:
I had the privilege to stay at Pho Hoi Riverside Resort while I was in Hoi An, which can be not too hard on your budget. It’s a great spot to enjoy a little break from the hostel life for a few days. It was pretty hot when we were there, so I could happily swim in that massive pool.
If you have more time, you could also spend a few days in Da Nang and Hue.
Ninh Binh (and Tam Coc) is super pretty! It’s another version of Halong Bay. We drove across the area and we managed to find some peaceful spots. If you can handle the heat, you can also hop on a bicycle and do it the healthy way! Once there, you’ll be able to visit many caves, temples and you could also enjoy a boat cruise. The place is truly gorgeous, so you won’t even have to go to the tourist traps. You can simply (and happily) enjoy the views! (That’s what I did!)
If you had to do one thing while you’re there; you should hop on a motorbike and drive across the rice fields. Enjoy the views!
How to get to Ninh Binh:
From Hoi An, this was a very long journey (around 18 hours). In fact, this was probably the longest we had in Vietnam. We managed to find a bus ticket for VND 270 000, which was also pretty expensive. This bus is also going all the way to Ha Noi and even though, you are stopping before, you’ll have to pay the same rate as if you were going there.
But, we were in Vietnam right? So, sometimes it’s not that easy! A few misadventures later, we found out, the guy booked for the wrong day. We got a refund and we managed to get a bus from Da Nang bus station (which was also more expensive).
Where to stay in Ninh Binh:
You might want to consider staying in Tam Coc as it’s the prettiest spot around! Also, it’s a bit busier over there.
Pro tip: I’d recommend you check out the location before booking your hostel as there are many places that are quite far or isolated. You’ll have no choice to rent a motorbike directly at the hostel which could also be more expensive.
Halong Bay is one of the major stops for travellers. You just need to google it to find out how beautiful this place is. Major stop also rhymes with tourist traps, scams and #notonabudgetanymore. You can easily spend a lot of money on cruise or on crappy overnight boats. Of course, budgeting is all up to you! When I was there, I met with another blogger. She has been living in Halong for quite a long time now. She showed me Halong Bay City in a complete different perspective, which was also way cheaper than the normal touristy spots! We met at Vincom Plaza where we could easily walk to the local harbour. From there, we enjoyed a different view; not the typical one I guess. Did you know that a lot of locals actually live there on their own boats? Apparently ruining the tourism industry, some locals will take tourists on their boats anyway. At your own risk though, as police can be around! Personally, I think it’s a great way to support local communities. We went on a very slow boat while a pretty old lady was paddling around. She had to make sure the boat doesn’t fill up with too much water. Yep – it was a bit dodgy, but still – I appreciated the experience. Then, we went for a hot pot meal and we ended up ice skating at the plaza. I had no idea I could enjoy Halong Bay this way – and I’m glad I did!
If you had to do one thing while you’re there; you should go to Halong City to experience a short cruise with a local. You’ll see a completely different scene!
How to get to Halong Bay:
From Ninh Binh, you could take a local bus directly at the bus station for VND 130 000 or you could find a tourist bus for VND 150 000.
Pro tip: follow the map when you’re getting close to the destination. Our tourist bus brought us so far that we were not even close to the city centre. That was a bit scammy as we had no other option than taking a taxi.
Where to stay in Halong Bay:
I had the privilege to stay at the Starlight Hotel, which is an affordable hotel in Bai Chay (Halong Bay). It’s always nice to have a little break from of the hostel life! You can basically find a cheap private room while being in a great location too!
If you’d rather book a hostel or enjoy Cat Ba Island, you can also do it!
Hanoi is a very busy city that is also very different from Ho Chi Minh. It’s street food porn all over the place! I’d recommend you sit somewhere and you watch the crowd, especially the locals! It’s pretty awesome to observe the craziness. (Or at least, what, westerners, are calling craziness!) Take a walk around the Old Quarter, enjoy the market and head to the famous train street. You can find a lot of information about the location of Hanoi Train Street in this great post from Janet of Journalist on the run.
If you had to do one thing while you’re there; you should sit somewhere and enjoy the cultural experience. (You can also eat as there is a lot of crazy stuff to try!) You should also have a look at the train street.
How to get to Hanoi:
From Halong Bay City, you can take the local bus to Hanoi from the street. From Bai Chay, you can take the local bus from the main bus station (cheapest option) but you’ll arrive in Hanoi bus station which is far from the city centre. I managed to find a tourist bus for VND 130 000.
How to get to Hanoi International Airport:
The cheapest option is the local bus and it cost VND 9000. The bus 86 and 17 are going all the way to the airport. Don’t take this bus if you are in a rush as it will stop often and it can easily take an hour or so to reach the airport.
The fastest option is the airline shuttle bus which cost roughly VND 40 000. You can take the bus from the Old Quarter.
The emergency option for early or late flights is the taxi. Depending on your negotiation skills you can pay between VND 250 000 and 350 000. To get these prices, you’ll have to book your taxi in advance in a travel agency or directly at your hostel.
For the broke backpacker, you can sleep in both terminals if you need to. I heard terminal 2 was more sleeping friendly. Although, you can still manage to sleep in terminal 1. All restaurants and coffee shops will close at 11PM.
Where to stay in Hanoi:
I had the privilege of enjoying a very comfy and cozy pod to myself at Nexy Hostel. The place is quite new and super pretty! Staff were very helpful and always smiling which makes you appreciate your stay even more! In the middle of the Old Quarter, not too far from the bus station and the night market, this hostel has the perfect location!
If you have more time, you could also add Sapa to your itinerary. It’s a must-see in Vietnam! I personally decided to skip it as I was running out of time and I had to choose between Halong Bay and Sapa.
Ho Chi Minh (Saigon)
I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh and I was facing another cultural shock which was surprising considering I had already been in Asia for a while. The place was simply too crowded for me. I thought that this wasn’t my type of place at all. And then, magic happened! I spent another few days in Ho Chi Minh at the end of my trip as I was flying out of the country from there. The cultural shock wasn’t around me anymore. The thing is that my hostel had a complete different location which allowed me to meet a lot of friendly locals. I had the impression that I could actually appreciate the real Ho Chi Minh around there. So, I went for a walk for a couple of hours focussing on the little streets. I met lovely people on the way who were posing for me and even taking selfies with me. I left Vietnam on a very good note and this second experience made me appreciate it even more!
If you had to do one thing while you’re there; you should walk around District 10 and get lost in the little streets. Smile to the locals, talk to everyone, drink a tea… Enjoy it.
How to get to Ho Chi Minh:
From Hanoi, you can take the train or catch a flight! The flight is obviously way shorter! But, I reckon there’s more chance you’ll be coming from another city, so enjoy!
How to get to Ho Chi Minh International Airport:
If you download the app Grab, you can find a motorbike driver or a cab to get to the airport for a decent price. From District 10, it only cost me VND 38 000 to reach the airport!
Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh:
I had the privilege to stay in Da Blend is also a shared house where you can easily meet expats and a lot of English teachers! The owners are super welcoming and you really feel the family vibe! The place is huge with a strong Internet connection and you’ll have plenty of nice spots to chill out! The hostel isn’t located in the backpacker area, but I would strongly recommend it anyway! The reason is simple; you get to see the real Ho Chi Minh while spending less money. Plus; you’re still going to be next to pagodas and markets!
Have you ever been to Vietnam?
Did you have any trouble getting around Vietnam?
What is the best way to see Vietnam according to you? Where was your favorite place?
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Disclaimer: The hotels/hostels featured in this article offered me a complimentary stay, but I’m the one who picked them in the first place. I truly enjoyed every single one of them and I would proudly recommend them! Happy travels!