Millie's guide to backpacking Vietnam
Two close friends of mine and I went travelling in Vietnam for a month in Summer 2018. A month in this incredible country, at first, didn’t feel like enough but by the end we felt as though we had spent a good amount of time getting to know the best bits, enjoying the incredible food, beaches, and countryside. I’d recommend Vietnam to everyone, the people are so friendly and we never felt endangered, which was a worry for us as a small group of girls travelling in Asia for the first time. Having planned our route beforehand, we began in the South, in Ho Chi Minh and finished our trip in Hanoi, in the North.
We spent three nights in Ho Chi Ming, which was more than enough time there, as it is really hectic and busy so you do feel ready to leave after a couple of days. We stayed in a hostel called Hideout which I would definitely recommend if you’re looking for a party hostel. As soon as we got there one of the reps helped us plan our whole route which was really helpful. Then we decided to go further south into the Mekong Delta. If you want to experience authentic, rural Vietnam I would definitely recommend this. There was hardly anyone who spoke any English but that made it more fun. We got a private tour of the famous floating markets (incredible) and another boat trip down a river on small canoes.
We then moved on to Dalat, also more rural and much cooler weather (we were there in July so it was very humid everywhere else.) The maze bar there was a really fun experience, other than that there weren’t loads to do, but it was a nice place to chill for a couple of days.
Next was Nha Trang, which was very commercial. It had a beach and if you can afford it most people go there for the scuba diving. It was more of a stopover for us and we didn’t like it that much, especially because it was much harder to find good/authentic Vietnamese food. There was a really nice beach club there which we did have dinner at, but it is much more expensive than eating street food or normal Vietnamese cuisine.
From here we went to Hoi An, probably our favourite city in Vietnam, which we ended up staying in for five days. (On average we usually stayed in each city for 2-3 days, so our prolonged stay shows how much we loved it.) Sunflower Hostel is a must, they did unlimited drinks for two hours for something ridiculous like £3.50 every night, so don’t stay here if you don’t want to be up all night. Really good hostel if you’re travelling alone for meeting people. Hoi An was beautiful, amazing food (you have to try the Banh Mi there) and to get cheap tailored clothes.
From here we did the Hai Van Pass, a famous motorbike route to Hue. You have to do this!! There was three of us so we got an easy rider, organised through the hostel, which meant we had a driver on one bike so we could alternate driving and being able to look around you as you bike through some beautiful places. Your bags are taken on a bus to Hue for you. We loved Hue, so stayed for two nights. Lots of fun places to go out and we also saw the Imperial City which was breathtaking. An absolute highlight for us here was eating at Iac Thanh, for cheap but incredible Vietnamese food and a really friendly atmosphere. It doesn’t look like much but we went back twice! The owner gives out bottle openers that he makes.
At this point, we were about two weeks into our four-week stay, as we had planned on taking two weeks for the bottom half and two weeks for the top half. The second half was our favourite ‘half’ of the country, which is usually the general consensus.
Next, we went to Phong Nha, which not as many travellers include in their route, but was another of our favourites. You have to stay in Easy Tiger hostel (you have to email them to book, they aren’t online.) Here you are in the middle of a national park which is breathtaking, and the hostel is a lot of fun. You must go to the Duck Stop, don’t look up what it is, just go. We also rented bikes here and did a lot of exploring because the scenery was so incredible. This city is famous for its caves, which you can get tours of and is really amazing. We stayed here for 3 nights.
Next going to Hanoi where we stopped over for one night and then got a bus the next day to Sapa. Sapa is one of the most incredible places I have ever been to and is an absolute must. We stayed in a homestay (definitely do this in Sapa, it’s an incredible experience living in a Vietnamese family home), so got to know a Vietnamese family and eat some of the best home-cooked food of the trip. The hostel we stayed in was called Hoang Kim Homestay. It took a little bit of extra effort to get to (20-30 min tax journey) but was absolutely worth it and gave us a really authentic experience of Sapa, which parts of has become very commercial. We didn’t pay for a walking tour, just did one ourselves and locals come and help you (wear good hiking boots because if it’s muddy it’s extremely slippy) and then we paid them at the end.
When we left Sapa we went back to Hanoi, and through Vietnam Backpackers we booked Castaways. This is organised by VBH, and you get taken to a private island in Ha Long Bay where you party for three days and two nights. Don’t do this if you don’t want to be woken up at 7 am and start drinking at 10 all day at a boat party. It was very very fun but only for people that are happy to be drunk for three days straight, pretty much. You put money on a wristband and you aren’t allowed to bring your own drink but this was very easy to do, and saved us a lot of money. If you don’t bring your own drink you should probably put 1 million dong on your wristband, but you can go into minus there so you’ll never find yourself unable to drink. Everything else is included in the package deal, food is good, generally, the people are good but you’re in groups so you never know what crowd you’re gonna get. Definitely recommend this if you like partying and you’re travelling alone, we made some really good friends really easily here.
Where to stay?
We found nearly all of these hostels through the app HostelWorld, which is a must to get in terms of making easy bookings and being able to read reviews, which we really relied on to pick the hostels we would go to. The reviews were always true to our experience. Usually spent about £4 a night each, but we never did private rooms which are a bit more. Private rooms never felt necessary for us (three girls) but it depends on your budget.
Ho Chi Minh – The Hideout Hostel Saigon (party hostel, helpful staff, good location)
Mekong Delta– Casa Inn Hostel (very chilled, really helpful staff and booked us an amazing private tour of the floating markets)
Dalat – Dalat Family Hostel (amazing dinner with other travellers every night, banana pancakes we still dream about)
Nha Trang– iHome (Deffo recommend, have a rooftop bar which becomes a bit of a party at night with the rep encouraging drinking games)
Hoi An – Sunflower (One of my favourite hostels, party atmosphere, has a pool, good enough food, a good place to meet people)
Hue – Vietnam Backpackers (Party hostel, nice enough, good location)
Phong Nha – Easy Tiger (Can’t book through hostel world you have to email, the other fav hostel in our top two, so so fun)
Hanoi – Vietnam Backpackers (Booked castaway here, party hostel but rooms are several floors up so you won’t be kept up at night by the bar downstairs)
Sapa – Hoang Kim Home Stay (Absolute MUST go here, the family were so lovely, the food was some of the best in Vietnam that we tried, beautiful scenery)
We never took trains, only buses/sleeper buses to travel to different cities which worked really well and wasn’t too expensive. In Ho Chi Minh Flipside hostel, they sell a bus ticket which is something like £50 and covers your bus trips for the whole country. We didn’t realise this until it was too late, but it would definitely have been worth it and saves you money, instead of booking individually at each place like we did.
We also used the app ‘Grab‘ which is Vietnam’s version of Uber. They were actually really really cheap to get, much cheaper than normal taxi’s which always took advantage of us being tourists and tried to ri[p us off by charging 3 or 4x more than Grab cars. There are also Grab bikes (you go on the back of a motorcycle), which as a girl i don’t recommend. Even for guys, it isn’t safe, you’ll understand this when you see how the Vietnamese drive their bikes in Ho Chi Minh – it’s literally impossible to cross the road and it’s also terrifying.
I brought £400 worth of Vietnamese dong with me, and then took out more money when I was out there, as I didn’t want to carry £800-900 on me from the beginning of the trip. We didn’t do the trip super cheaply, but also we weren’t lavish. But because of doing a lot of activities we probably spent around £1000 in total for a month there. Castaways were one of the most expensive things we did. I brought my debit card with me, and it only cost a few quid to take cash out whilst I was there.