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A Backpacker’s Guide to Vietnam: Hostels,Transportation, and Must-See Sights

Vietnam is a fantastic destination for travelers on a budget, offering a plethora of affordable hostels, transportation options, and top attractions to explore. Hostels in Vietnam are often clean, comfortable, and affordable, with dorm rooms starting at around $5-10 USD per night. Getting around Vietnam is also affordable, with options like buses, trains, and motorbike taxis available at a low cost. When it comes to attractions, Vietnam is home to stunning natural landscapes, delicious cuisine, and rich history and culture. From exploring the vibrant streets of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, to trekking in the mountainous north or cruising the serene waters of Halong Bay, Vietnam has something to offer every budget traveler.

Discover the Best of Vietnam: Must-See Sights and Activities for Backpackers

Wander Hanoi

Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital and is full of history and culture. Backpackers can visit the narrow streets of the Old Quarter, countless temples and galleries, and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The city is full of historic French colonial architecture, ancient Vietnamese landmarks, temples, and other religious centers. Hanoi is also a good base for doing multi-day tours to Ha Long Bay.

Hang out in Hoi An

Hoi An was a thriving port city between the 15th and 19th centuries and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The architecture is incredibly well-preserved, and backpackers can buy suits, eat, and relax by the river. Hoi An also has some of the most gorgeous white sand beaches in Vietnam, including An Bang and Cui Dai.

Get adventurous in Sapa

Sapa is northern Vietnam’s premier trekking area and is hugely popular with all sorts of travelers. It is famous for its hill tribes, lush vegetation, beautiful hiking trails, and breathtaking mountains. Backpackers can hike to the summit of Mount Fansipan, camp, hike, bike, and explore. To avoid the tourists, come during the off-season or take longer hikes to parts where the crowds don’t go to.

Explore the Bustling City of Hanoi

Hanoi is Vietnam’s capital city and a must-visit destination. It’s a bustling city with a rich history and cultural heritage. There are numerous museums and historical sites, including the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum, the Temple of Literature, and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. You can also take a walk around the Old Quarter, where you’ll find narrow streets filled with traditional architecture, street food vendors, and markets.

Sail Around the Stunning Halong Bay

Halong Bay is one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations, and for good reason. This stunning bay is dotted with thousands of limestone islands and islets, making for a truly breathtaking sight. You can take a cruise around the bay, stopping to explore caves and beaches along the way. Be sure to try some fresh seafood while you’re there.

Crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels

The Cu Chi Tunnels are a testament to the resilience and ingenuity of the Vietnamese people during the Vietnam War. This extensive network of tunnels spans nearly 500 kilometers and was utilized by the Viet Cong during the war. Tours involve a description of the tunnels, after which tourists are allowed to crawl about the maze and fire AK47s at shooting targets. It’s a sobering experience and not one meant for anyone claustrophobic. However, if you want to better understand the terror of the Vietnam War, this is a must-visit. Admission is around VND per person.

Relax or Find Adventure in Dalat

Dalat is nestled in the hills of the Central Highlands and is popular with tourists who want to relax in the mountain air and those who want to participate in a host of adventure sports (such as rock climbing, ziplining, and rappelling). The hills around Dalat are filled with traditional tribal villages, which you can tour as well. Expect to pay around VND per person for a full day of ziplining and rappelling around waterfalls.

Visit Cuc Phuong National Park

South of Hanoi lies Vietnam’s first National Park, Cuc Phuong. Covering 222 square kilometers, this place is home to over 2,000 species of trees and some truly rare wildlife including the Clouded Leopard, Delacour’s Langur and Owston’s Civet. It’s the only place that is a personal favorite of many backpackers due to fewer tourists. The entrance fee is VND.

Explore Ho Chi Minh City

Also known as Saigon, Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s largest city and is definitely worth exploring. Like most cities in Vietnam, you’ll be met with the roar of motorbikes speeding through colonial streets. Ben Thanh market is a must-see for amazing food and there is a great buzz of activity within the place.

Get Active in Mui Ne

Despite being a fishing village, Mui Ne has got a significant tourism scene due to its popularity as a wind- and kite-surfing destination. The rolling sand dunes nearby are the main draw and worth checking out for a day or two when you’re passing by on the bus.

Check out the rice terraces

Outside of connections to the Vietnam War, the stereotypical image of Vietnam is of the many rice paddies. You can find these in the Muong Hoa Valley. If you’ve never visited rice terraces, you should make a point to see them in Vietnam. Visit them to learn about rice production and take stunning photographs of the unbelievable Vietnamese countryside. Expect tours to cost around VND per person.

Relax in Hue

Hue is generally passed by, making it a bit of a quieter stop along the tourist trail. Stroll along the beautiful Perfume River and into the Imperial Citadel. Don’t miss the Tu Hieu Pagoda and the Tombs of the Emperors, which mostly date from the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of the main tombs to see are the Tomb of Minh Mang, the Tomb of Tu Duc, and the Tomb of Khai Dinh.

Visit Halong Bay

Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. Located in the Gulf of Tonkin, it’s known for its stunning limestone karsts and emerald waters. Take a boat tour and spend a night on a junk boat to fully appreciate the beauty of the bay. The tours will take you to the hidden caves, fishing villages, and floating markets. You can book a tour for around VND per person, but it’s advisable to check online or with travel agents to find the best deals.

Take a food tour

Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most popular in the world, and it’s easy to see why. The food is healthy, fresh, and flavorful. From pho to banh mi, there are so many dishes to try. Take a food tour to sample some of the best street food in Vietnam. The tours are usually led by locals who will take you to their favorite food stalls and restaurants. You can book a food tour for around VND per person.

Experience the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Delta is a vast area of wetlands and rivers in southern Vietnam. It’s known for its floating markets, fruit orchards, and rice paddies. Take a boat tour to explore the delta and visit the local villages. You can also take a cycling tour to explore the countryside. The tours will usually take you to the Cai Rang Floating Market, the Can Tho night market, and the Vinh Trang Pagoda. Expect to pay around VND per person for a boat tour and VND for a cycling tour.

Attend a traditional water puppet show

Water puppetry is a traditional form of entertainment that originated in the villages of the Red River Delta region of northern Vietnam. It involves puppets that are controlled by puppeteers standing in waist-deep water. The shows depict the daily life of the villagers and their spiritual beliefs. You can attend a water puppet show in Hanoi at the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre. Expect to pay around VND per person.

Budgeting for Vietnam: Typical Costs and Suggested Expenses for Your Trip

On a backpacker budget, you can visit Vietnam for 600,000 VND per day. This budget covers a stay in a large hostel dorm, eating street food for all of your meals, limiting your drinking, and taking the bus between cities. On this budget, you can enjoy free walking tours as well as other free activities such as hiking and enjoying the beach. If you plan on drinking, add another 20,000-40,000 VND to your daily budget.

A mid-range budget of about 1,125,000 VND per day covers staying in a cheap hotel, eating street food and at the occasional sit-down restaurant, enjoying a few more drinks, taking the occasional taxi to get around, and doing more paid activities such as museum visits and water puppet shows.

On a “luxury” budget of 2,460,000 VND per day, you’ll be able to indulge in some of the country’s most luxurious experiences. You can stay in upscale hotels, dine at high-end restaurants, and enjoy various tours and activities.

Save Money While Traveling in Vietnam: Top Tips for Budget Backpackers

Vietnam is a wonderful country that offers travelers a great experience at a very affordable price. If you’re on a tight budget, here are some tips to save money while traveling in Vietnam.

Take the Tourist Bus

Surprisingly, it’s often cheaper to take the tourist bus around the country than taking local transportation. At the bus station, you can usually get a tourist price, which is a lot cheaper than the local price. Tickets from one end of the country to another are very affordable.

Eat Street Food

One of the best ways to save money on food is to eat street food. The street food in Vietnam is delicious and cheap. You can find a variety of options like pho, bread, sandwiches, donuts, and bananas. Stick to local food to save even more money.

Fly for Cheap

Vietnam’s low-cost airlines, VietJet and FlyVietnam, offer extremely inexpensive flights. If you have limited time to explore different regions of Vietnam, this is a great option for you. Keep an eye out for special deals, as they are frequent and can save you even more money.

Take Late-Night Travel

If you’re planning to travel on long journeys, try to take the late-night “sleeper” buses or trains. This will save you the cost of a night’s accommodation. Additionally, some companies provide comfortable flat beds for you to rest as you travel through the night.

Bargain Hard

Bargaining is a common practice in Vietnam, and it’s even more important if you’re a tourist. Don’t be afraid to negotiate and walk away if you think the price is too high. This applies to everything from cyclos (a three-wheel bicycle taxi) to clothes to street food.

Ask Your Hostel Staff

Before leaving the hostel, ask the staff to estimate how much things should cost. This includes rides to the museum, the cost of having clothes made, and other things you might want to do. They will be able to give you bargaining guidelines to help you save money.

Bring a Reusable Water Bottle

The tap water in Hanoi is not safe to drink, so you’ll need to buy bottled water. However, to save money and reduce your plastic use, bring a reusable water bottle with you. LifeStraw makes a reusable bottle with a built-in filter, so you can be sure your water is always safe and clean.

Skip the SIM Card

Vietnam is highly connected to Wi-Fi, and you can find it in almost every hotel, shop, restaurant, and convenience store for free. Unless you need connectivity during a long bus ride or in rural areas, you can save money by forgoing the SIM card and taking a break from connectivity.

Finding the Perfect Accommodation in Vietnam

Hostels are a popular choice for budget travelers, and they start around 100,000 VND per night for basic accommodation. For a nicer place, you can pay almost double. Private rooms in hostels cost at least 350,890-425,000 VND per night for a double room. Budget hotels with double beds typically cost around 225,000 VND per night, which includes free Wi-Fi and breakfast.

For those who prefer a little more privacy, Airbnb offers private rooms starting at 325,000 VND per night, and entire homes or apartments start at 600,000 VND per night. Keep in mind that prices can double when not booked in advance, so it’s best to plan accordingly.

Getting Around Vietnam: Transportation Options and Tips for Travelers 

Vietnam is a large and diverse country, and there are many options available when it comes to getting around. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most common transportation options in Vietnam and provide some tips to help you get around safely and efficiently.

Public Transportation

In many towns and cities, the cyclo (a bicycle rickshaw) is one of the cheapest ways to get around. A short ride costs as little as 12,000 VND, while a longer night ride costs upwards of 40,000 VND. A more popular option is the xe om, a motorbike taxi that has fares starting from 15,000 VND. However, accidents are common, so make sure you wear a helmet and hold on tight.


Long-distance bus tours are easy to find in Vietnam, with routes running the length of the country. You can hop on or off at any stop along the way. They cater to tourists, but locals also use this service since it’s super affordable. Prices depend on the route and operator, but generally, Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh is between 815,000-1,600,000 VND. Buses depart daily and this is the most popular backpacking route.

Car Rental

Vietnam is very easy to navigate by bus, so renting a car is not recommended, especially because traffic in the cities is very hectic and accidents are common. However, car rentals are affordable, costing around 500,000 VND per day. An International Driving Permit (IDP) is required. 


Hitchhiking in Vietnam is relatively safe and easy, although not super common. Since most vehicles are motorcycles, you’ll have much better luck picking up rides with people on motorbikes and scooters. Buy a helmet beforehand (they’re super affordable) so you can ride safely. 


Taking the train in Vietnam is a popular choice among travelers because it’s safe, affordable, and comfortable. Although some routes might be slow, you’ll get some amazing views of the Vietnamese countryside. The rail network covers most of the country, so you can get just about everywhere you want to go (except the Central Highlands and the Mekong Delta). You can use the website Baolau to research train schedules and book your tickets. A train journey between Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi starts at 900,000 VND.


Domestic flights in Vietnam are a good option if you’re looking to fit a lot into a shorter trip. A flight from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City takes two hours, while the train ride would take at least 30 hours. One-way flights around the country start at around 590,000 VND.

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