10 tips for backpacking Vietnam
Vietnam has been on the south east backpacking trial for years and is a firm favorite with holiday makers and young backpackers. Before you hit the road you should get up to speed with our 10 tips for backpacking Vietnam.
Vietnam has a rich and diverse heritage with a combination of influences from China, Japan, France and of course America too. With so much to explore backpacking Vietnam is exciting and challenging times at too.
Although much of Vietnam is very much on the beaten track there is way to explore the more authentic and raw side of the country away from the run-of-the-mill tourist attractions.
Although no one wants to dwell on the Vietnam War it is really important as a traveler to understand the history of the places you visit in order to gain full understanding as to how and why a place functions the way it does. None so true than of Vietnam.
The war itself finished in April 1975 and as such the battle scars are still raw and the people of Vietnam are still very much dealing with the impact, many people you will meet were directly involved in the war. If they want to share their stories, listen, if they don’t do not press them for it.
So, that is one sneaky extra tip for you, here are our 10 tips for backpacking Vietnam.
Wherever in the world, you chose to go backpacking one of the most important things to think about is your visa. Do you need a visa in advance? Can you obtain a visa online? Is it free? Or can you pay on arrival?
Vietnam is no different. Rules have changed in the past few years and the immigration department has made it possible for visitors from 40 nations to apply for an e-visa online. This includes visitors from the United States of America.
These e-visas are single entry and are valid for 30-days only. Costing just $25USD it is one of the cheaper of the paid visas in Asia. Allow 3-5 days for processing.
#2. Keep an Eye on Your Currency
In Vietnam, they use their own currency called ‘dong’. 1 US dollar is about 21,000 so you need to keep an eye on how many 000s there are in the note you are handing over.
The 10,000 dong notes look very similar to the 100,000 dong notes, likewise with the 50, 000 dong notes and the 500,000.
Double check your cash before handing it over, you don’t want to make a mistake and end up spending your daily budget in one go!
#3. Booking Online Doesn’t Save You Money
Believe it or not, booking your accommodation online does not save you money in Vietnam. Not only do you get to see exactly what you are getting but you can also haggle the price down if you feel it is too much.
This rule doesn’t apply in other areas of South East Asia but for some bizarre reason, you can only get the cheapest room rates in Vietnam if you are a walk in.
With that in mind, book your first few nights worth of accommodation online so that when you land in Vietnam you can get a taxi straight to your hotel or hostel and get yourself settled but after that, you can book as you go.
There are very few times of the year when Vietnam is so busy that you will struggle to find a room anywhere.
#4. Beaches Aren’t That Great
Sadly, compared to Thailand or Cambodia the beaches in Vietnam are somewhat of a disappointment to many travelers. Vietnam lies on the Pacific coast which can be rocky and offer only rough seas, especially in the winter months.
That said, there are some nice beaches and on a sunny day they are fun to hang out on but if you are looking for white sandy beaches with crystal clear warm seas then you should look to visit Thailand or Bali.
#5. Buy a Bike
The most popular way to see Vietnam and get off the beaten track is by motorbike. The cheapest way to do this is to actually buy a bike. In either Hanoi or in Ho Chi Minh you will find dozens, if not hundreds, of motorbikes on sale from fellow backpackers.
Most of the time they look a little worse for wear but they run like clockwork.
Traffic accidents are far too frequent in Vietnam so be sure to always be on high alert when driving and remember that there really are no rules on the road here.
You will find that you will be pulled over by the police a lot but just pay the fine, for whatever petty reasons they have pulled you over for, and be on your way. Although it is not fair it is the way things work here, if you don't pay or kick up too much of a fuss you can wind up in far worse situation than losing a couple of dollars.
#6. Buy Train Tickets at the Station
The best way to buy your train tickets is from the train station itself. This is the only way to be sure you are paying the correct price but also that your ticket is 100% legitimate.
Always buy your ticket in advance as they do sell out a few days ahead. Our top tip is to buy your ongoing ticket when you arrive at your next stop. This saves you time having to trek back to the station for your next ticket and saves you money too on an extra taxi journey.
#7. Vietnam is BIG
Vietnam may look small on the map but the distance from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh is actually 1726km and can take upwards of 34 hours to drive.
You should give yourself plenty of time to get from place to place and give yourself some wriggle room for if you want to stay a little longer in a place you like.
#8. Only eat HOT hot food!
One sure fire way to get sick is to eat Luke-warm food. It is not uncommon to get some kind of stomach bug when traveling, especially if this is your first time in Asia.
Make sure you only eat hot food when it is piping hot and cold food when it is cool. There are so many street food vendors in Vietnam that cook your food right there and then in front of you when you order it, so you can be sure that your meat is cooked through!
#9. Forget the Rules about Crossing the Road
Vietnam is infamous for its crazy busy traffic. You really do take your life into your hands when trying to cross the road. When you do step out into the road keep looking left and right and don’t stop moving until you hit the pavement on the other side.
#10. Try the Coffee
You may think that Java is the place to drink coffee in Asia but Vietnamese coffee is awesome! Vietnam is the world’s second-biggest exporter of coffee but they keep all the good beans for themselves!