A Backpacker’s Travel Guide to Vietnam

July 17, 2013

Note: you might need to get your Vietnam visa arranged in advance. Avoid issues by reading my Vietnam visa explainer.

When people ask me what I think of Vietnam, I always have to tell them I’m of two minds about travelling there. On the one hand, it is one of the most incredible countries I have visited; the vibrant chaos of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City blew me away, Halong Bay with its karst limestone islands is easily one of the most impressive sights in the region, and exploring a Vietnamese food market is arguably the ultimate Southeast Asia cultural experience.

Quick Overview : Vietnam Hostels

Ho Chi Minh CityNew Saigon Hostel 2Modern backpacker hostel with custom-built dorm beds and privates.BOOK THIS HOSTEL
Ho Chi Minh CityLong HostelThe interior has more of an authentic Vietnamese vibe here. BOOK THIS HOSTEL
HanoiHanoi Dahlia HotelModern hotel in the Old Quarter with rooms ranging from about 9 to 20 USD.BOOK THIS HOSTEL
HanoiNexy HostelColorful and quiet boutique hostel with rooftop terrace views of the city.BOOK THIS HOSTEL
HueWhy NotIf this Wild West-themed hostel strikes you as a little unusual, wait till you see the beds. Even the dorm beds are fit for a kingBOOK THIS HOSTEL
Hoi AnSac Lo Homestay & HostelChill hostel with cozy residential feel, in a street away from the city noise.BOOK THIS HOSTEL
Budget HotelsHotels and guesthouses offer excellent value in Vietnam. A basic private room for a shoestring traveller will start at about $15.SEARCH HOTELS
On the other hand, I should admit that backpacking Vietnam left a slightly bitter taste. The typical attitude of the Vietnamese towards visitors can be quite nasty, which has the potential to spoil your mood. Scams and tourist exploitation are more commonplace than elsewhere, which requires some awareness. (More on this further down the page.)

Fortunately, the many positives of the country do outweigh the few negatives…

Vietnam at a glance

Take a quick look at a map of Vietnam and you will immediately notice it’s unusual elongated shape. This means that Vietnam itineraries roughly all follow the same route, either north-to-south or south-to-north. Simply choose whether you want to start in Hanoi or in Ho Chi Minh City and then work your way to the other end of the country.

In the north the main places to see are Hanoi, the UNESCO world heritage site of Ha Long Bay, and the town of Sa Pa (or Sapa) which is famed for its rice terraces and highland treks and homestays. I’ve also heard excellent things about Tam Coc (which I sadly had to miss), where you’ll find beautiful karst landscapes set among rice fields and rivers.

North vietnam things to see

In the middle of the country you will find Hue, the former imperial capital and home to many tombs and temples. Although you wouldn’t be able to tell now, north of Hue was once the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) where many clashes took place during the war. With a guide, you’ll be able to learn more about the history. A bit south of Hue is Hoi An, a cute and pleasantly touristy town famed for its hand-made lanterns and cheap tailors. It’s a great place to stick around for at least a few days.

In the south the must-see place is Ho Chi Minh City, which was once the south’s capital. A popular sightseeing destination nearby is also the Mekong Delta, though keep in mind the tours here can be quite cookie-cutter and set up for mass tourism. If you have any opportunity to explore the Mekong Delta on your own, you might be able to find more genuine homestays or local markets than you’ll see on such a standardised tour.

south Vietnam major attractions

Your Vietnam itinerary can cover many more places of course, but these are typically some of the places most people include. If you want to cover all of Vietnam and not rush too much, you probably need at least 2 to 3 weeks. Any less and you should try to narrow things down.

How to get around

You can go by bus and buy a multi-stop ticket in advance. Friends of mine did this though felt constantly restricted in which buses they could use with their combination ticket, so it may be better to book buses one by one (this is what I did, and I was happy I took this approach).

Another great option is to go by train—Vietnam has a great network and taking night trains is particularly convenient for covering longer distances. I did this between Hanoi and Hue and thought it was a fantastic way to travel. You can travel all the way from north to south or vice versa using trains.

Finally, it’s easy to rent motorbikes and this gives a chance to see the countryside and go off the beaten track.

You can use 12Go Asia below to search for transportation options:

Places to visit in Vietnam

Here are just some of the best places to visit and top things to do in Vietnam:

Enjoy the hustle and bustle of the big cities

No other place in South-East Asia gave me more of a sense of wonder than HanoiIt’s a strange, frenzied place. I hadn’t felt this way about a city since I saw the craziness of Tokyo… but while a city like Tokyo is like an anthill—in that beneath its madness is a precise and orderly system—Hanoi is just pure chaos and anarchy. There are so many motorbikes rushing through the streets that it sometimes feels like you’re caught in a giant swarm of wasps. Much in Vietnam takes place on the street; people eat and drink there, get their haircut, read the newspaper and play games. Be sure to bring a camera if you want to do some great street photography.

I arrived in Vietnam in the north, so for me Hanoi was the first major Vietnamese city I was introduced to. Those who start from the South might be more enthralled by Ho Chi Minh City instead, which has tons of interesting places to visit. I guess it depends on where you get your first exposure to the insanity of Vietnamese city life. Either way, I recommend getting lost and spending some time people-watching, because immersing yourself properly in the Vietnamese city life is one of the best things to do.

Read This: Vietnam Street Life: Welcome To The Land Of The Scooter

Visit local Vietnamese markets

There are interesting local markets all over Southeast Asia, but it’s the markets in Vietnam that often struck me as the most vibrant and interesting. I will not easily forget the smells and the sights! At one point I saw some salesmen walk in with a giant tub covered by a net; I was expecting it to be filled with chickens or ducks, but instead it was filled to the brim with live frogs. They keeled over the tub, and started processing the frogs… by picking them up, cutting their head off with a pair of scissors, and then manually gutting it with their bare hands. That’s just one little vignette.

Try the local markets in the bigger cities. The Mekong Delta also has some amazing floating markets where many people in boats sell all sorts of fruits and vegetables.

Marvel at the temples around Hue

Many people make a stop at Hue mainly to see the Imperial Citadel, but keep in mind that nearly everything at this site was bombed in the war so it is unfortunately not the greatest sight around. Fortunately Hue is still very miuch a worthwhile city to go, and it’s great to spend a day visiting some of the nearby Tombs of the Emperors which are all mostly still intact. They provide some interesting examples of Vietnamese Buddhist aesthetics and architecture, and are well wroth a visit. 

Visit the fishing village of Mui Ne

While the town of Mui Ne itself did not impress so much and neither did its beach (razor-thin and even fortified with concrete in places due to erosion), the sights in and around Mui Ne are not to be missed. The old fishing village is extremely picturesque and is famed for its colourful fishing boats. There is also a great little river canyon walk nearby, as well as white sand dunes where you can watch the sunrise or try sliding down the dunes on a board.

Read This: Cool Things To Do In Mui Ne

Above: the picturesque Mui Ne fishing village

Relax in the quiet town of Hoi An

Hoi An is mainly famous for being the one place where you can get custom-tailored clothes at rock bottom prices. Many a traveller leaves Hoi An with a tailor-made suit or dress in their backpack!

In contrast to the major cities I described above, Hoi An is generally quiet and pedestrianised. While it’s touristy, it maintains a charming character. There are a couple of interesting sights in the area and there is a decent beach nearby, so it makes for a good base for a couple of nights.

Try Vietnam’s incredible food

Vietnamese food is simply amazing. And the best examples of Vietnamese cuisine you are not necessarily going to find in a restaurant. Be sure to try the street food. Order some Pho (rice noodles) from a street cart, preferably from some old lady who’s no doubt been making this same dish on this same street corner for all her life and knows just how to make it perfectly.

Lots of local eateries where seating only consists of little plastic chairs offer some truly delicious stuff. Try the spring rolls, or the summer rolls (Gỏi cuốn) which are not fried but fresh and come in many varieties. These are of course just the most famous dishes; this article has a list of 20 Vietnamese dishes that are worth looking out for on your menu.

Get your “Pho” fix from a place like this…

Incidentally, try the coffee too. It’s usually served as a small but strong cup with a bunch of syrupy sweetened condensed milk. While not to everyone’s liking, it’s definitely different from anywhere else.

Party in Nha Trang

As a beach destination, Nha Trang is at best average: the waves are too rough, there are too many big hotels, and the urban beach is far from the prettiest. But to tell the truth, Nha Trang is a fun place to party. There are tons of bars and drinks are cheap. Before you know it you might find yourself on a spontaneous bar crawl, perhaps eventually ending at the aptly named “Why Not?” bar.

The beach, while far from a tropical paradise, is nevertheless a good place to wallow through your hangover the next day. If you’re not into partying or you’re not a Russian tourist, you may want to give Nha Trang a skip.

Visit Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park

Between Hue and Hoi An is this under-the-radar national park where you can visit a series of amazing caves, while the nearby town of Phong Nha village lets you glimpse into the everyday life of the local families and farmers. I sadly had to miss this one, but check out the guest post linked below for more information on this little-known destination in Vietnam.

Gain a new perspective at the war museums

Of course, there is Vietnam’s war history, and there are a good number of museums dedicated to them. The war remnants museum in Ho Chi Minh City is especially a must-visit, though expect it to be uncomfortable, heart-wrenching and shocking. While the museum is government-run and potentially one-sided, it does give you a perspective you wouldn’t get anywhere else.


Visit the tunnels of Vinh Moc

Not too far north of Da Nang and Hue are the tunnels of Vinh Moc, an elaborate complex of shelters built by villagers during the war. The tunnels were a success and no villagers lost their lives, though they had to live in absolutely awful conditions. It’s a very insightful place to see, and there are also the similar Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam.

Learn about the war from a veteran

There are a number of tour companies employing Vietnamese war veterans as guides, particularly around the former DMZ near Da Nang and Hoi An. This is an incredibly personal way of learning about the Vietnam war. The ‘sights’ around the DMZ are honestly difficult to appreciate without a guide, as they are barely visible ruins for the most part, but get a veteran to explain to you what happened there and these sites become so much more significant. Highly recommended if you are interested in the history.

Other things to see & do

  • Of course, there is Ha Long Bay, a famous archipelago of karst islands. It gets very busy, as basically all boats end up in the same bay. Inevitably it’s a bit of a canned experience: most junk boat tours include a bit of kayaking, a walk up to a viewing point, and a visit to a cave. (But don’t get too excited: the cave has been paved with concrete and has colored lights installed, feeling basically like a queue in a theme park). The scenery at Ha Long Bay is spectacular, but just know that you won’t be alone. Bai Tu Long Bay is a much quieter alternative, if you can find a boat that goes there. Tours to Bai Tu Long are 3 days minimum, which keeps the day-trippers away.
  • The Mekong Delta is another major attraction, or at least it’s advertised as such. On the tours here you may be cynically herded from tourist trap to tourist trap. It’s basically how everyone gets their picture taken in a small row boat wearing a conical hat (a Facebook classic). Try to explore the Mekong Delta on your own if you can. The highlights are the markets, which you could explore by yourself.
  • Sapa in the far north is famed for its rice terraces and makes for a great base for hiking as well. It’s a popular area to go on a homestay. You might just sleep in a netted hammock in a hut, and eat sitting on the floor with a local family; it’s a great way to get a feel for life in the highlands.
  • Vietnam is not really a “beach paradise” type of place as most beach destinations pale in comparison to those in neighboring countries. One major exception seems to be Phu Quoc island, though it’s been targeted for mass tourism development and is expected to change rapidly over the coming years (it’ll be the “new Phuket”, apparently). For now, it’s probably your best bet for finding a beautiful beach.

Suggested hostels in Vietnam

Hostels in Vietnam tend to be more soberly styled than in Thailand (think marble tiles, dark wood furniture, and maybe a creaking fan), though recent years have seen loads of modern and creative hostels getting added to the mix. Below are some suggestions.

browse vietnam hostels »
New Saigon Hostel 2 Ho Chi Minh City Modern backpacker hostel with custom-built dorm beds and privates.
Long Hostel Ho Chi Minh City The interior has more of an authentic Vietnamese vibe here. Great for meeting people.
Hanoi Dahlia Hotel Hanoi Modern hotel in the Old Quarter with rooms ranging from about 9 to 20 USD.
Nexy Hostel Hanoi Colorful and quiet boutique hostel with rooftop terrace views of the city.
Why Not Hue If this Wild West-themed hostel strikes you as a little unusual, wait till you see the beds. Even the dorm beds are fit for a king!
Sac Lo Homestay & Hostel Hoi An Chill hostel with cozy residential feel, in a street away from the city noise.

Suggested budget hotels

Hotels and guesthouses offer excellent value in Vietnam. A basic private room for a shoestring traveller will start at about $15. For double that, you can already have something very nice! Check out some of the examples below.

search vietnam hotels »
Diep Anh Guesthouse Ho Chi Minh City Budget hotel in the backpacker district. Dated interior (as common in Vietnam) but excellent value.
Sunny Guesthouse Ho Chi Minh City Bright guesthouse close to Ben Thanh Market with rooms starting at $25.
See You At Lily’s Hanoi Boutique hostel close to the Old Quarter with restaurant and travel desk.
Awesome Homestay Hanoi Hanoi Braggy name? Perhaps. But you may want to stay here for its old colonial building with distinct vintage vibe.
Loc Phat Hoi An Homestay – Villa Hoi An Great value hotel with lush garden courtyard. While not a true homestay (this term gets used pretty loosely in Vietnam), it’s a beautiful family-run hotel.



Scams & other issues

I should note first of all that impressions are always subjective, and there are always exceptions to every rule. However, based on my experiences as well as those of a few others, I should say that the attitude of some Vietnamese towards tourists can leave a sour taste. That shouldn’t discourage you from going, but it’s good to know what to expect. 

While in Vietnam for one month I was targeted by scammers pretending to be collecting donations for the Red Cross (nope, the money went into their own pockets), got in an aggressive confrontation with a cab driver who tried to charge me the equivalent of $80 USD for a 5 minute ride, got hit by menu switching scams in restaurants, and was unfairly overcharged numerous times. Also, at one point a wild monkey ran off with my beer, though I’ll try not to blame that one on Vietnam.

Okay… you might tell me that I should expect this, or that it happens everywhere, or that maybe I was just unlucky. This could be the case, but I genuinely do feel the attitude towards tourists can be more cynical in Vietnam than in many other similar countries (I’ve been to a few!).

For an additional perspective, check out this article by Nomadic Matt. While my conclusions are not as strong, I can see where he is coming from.

If you let the scams and annoyances get to you, they could easily spoil your mood. I recommend reading up on common scams beforehand, and if you do get stung try not to let it affect your enjoyment of an otherwise amazing country.

Are you insured?

Make sure you’ll be covered for medical expenses, theft, personal liability, cancellation, and more. I recommend World Nomads, which offer flexible insurance for independent travellers with 24-hour worldwide assistance.

Get a quote at world nomads »

Getting a Vietnam visa

The Vietnam visa system is a lot more complicated than other countries in Southeast Asia. In countries like Thailand, Laos, or Cambodia you can typically just show up at the border, pay a fee, and get an easy visa-on-arrival right there and then. Don’t expect it to necessarily be that easy with Vietnam! You usually need pre-approval, and some visas (or visa exemptions) you can only use at the airports, and not at land borders. For much more on this, be sure to read my detailed Vietnam visa explainer.

Related Links


Vietnam: before you go

Incompatible? Get a universal travel adaptor.
Flights How to Find Cheap Flights Like a Pro
Currency 1 USD = 23,179 Vietnamese Dong
1 EUR = 26,296 Vietnamese Dong
1 GBP = 30,294 Vietnamese Dong
(Today’s rates.)
ATMs Widely available everywhere. Tip: Get a prepaid debit card with Transferwise or Revolut to avoid international ATM and currency conversion fees.
Insurance Get a quote at World Nomads. Travel insurance covers you for theft, medical emergencies, and more. (Why it’s wise to get travel insurance.)
Places to stay
Pack & Prepare


  1. Shachar Reply June 30, 2018 at 10:40 am

    Found this post just in time!
    I’m planning a trip to Vietnam and you definitely making things more clear.
    I heard a lot about the local’s attitude toward tourists, I really hope it’s not much aggressive than other East-Asia destinations.

  2. Roshni Reply March 11, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Hey Marek! Very helpful pieces of information. I would like to know how and who could I reach out to for having a war veteran as a guide for the DMZ.

    Appreciate some suggestions for the same. Cheers!

    • Marek Reply March 17, 2018 at 12:50 pm

      Hi Roshni. I actually entirely forgot how I arranged this at the time. It must have been through a local agency in Hue or Hoi An. Sorry!

  3. Maarten Cox Reply February 14, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    I think this is a great compact guide which includes the best places to visit. Great work!

    There is only one extra suggestion I would like to make and that is visiting Quy Nhon.

    This nice little city is a great alternative if you like to chill on a beach, but don’t like the over-touristic beach cities Nha Trang and Mui Ne. Read more about it here: https://www.geckoroutes.com/vietnam/quy-nhon/

    • Marek Reply February 14, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      Thanks Maarten, that’s a great tip! 🙂

  4. Thomas Reply September 9, 2017 at 6:42 am

    Tourists need to remember in that Vietnam they look like a bucket of cash. Tourist also need to judge character and negative blanket assumptions will rule out having any positive engagements with locals. When I was there quite a few people introduced themselves because they just wanted have a chat, some even showed me around. None of those people ever asked for anything of me, except once marriage. I was there for a month and all over and did not get ripped off with the exception of motor bike taxi drivers who never had change. If you are worried about loosing a dollar or two you should probably stay home.

  5. daniel Reply August 23, 2017 at 8:04 am

    Wow reading your review about is very neutral although you have suffered many scams. It’s great.
    I think if anyone want to both avoid scams and enjoy the beauty of Vietnam, they should stay away from the big cities. That’s just my opinion. You can look out for more info about this

  6. micah Reply February 22, 2017 at 1:14 am

    Great post about Vietnam, however, I didn’t think much of Hoi An, although the town was beautiful, the amount of hassle I received while there made my time there miserable. Other than that I loved it in Vietnam.. One of my favorite countries to date! The Top Gear Experience from Hue to Hoi An was on of the most amazing things I’ve ever did in all my travels abroad..

  7. Aloma Reply December 27, 2016 at 10:29 am

    Hello Marek,

    First of all thank you very much for all this information, it is awesomely helpful!
    I’m planning a backpacking trip to Vietnam this summer. What holds me back is the safety. Do you consider Vietnam a dangerous place for a women to travel?

    • Marek Reply December 27, 2016 at 11:00 am

      Hey Aloma. Vietnam is generally considered a safe country for women to travel alone. Petty crime can be an issue though, so always keep your valuables secure.

  8. Ramon juarez Reply December 11, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    Hi Marek,
    Me and my friend are planning to have a backpacking trip to vietnam this coming march of 2017. Can anyone please help me if you have any idea how much would it cost us if we go from vietnam to cambodia and from cambodia to bangkok thailand. What are the cheapest transportation to go to cambodia from ho chi minh vietnam? Thanks a lot.

  9. Bea Reply September 15, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Hi Marek
    thanks for sharing your experience of Vietnam, a friend and I are planning a visit there in Nov this year and was wondering if you could help with some advice we want to visit the main places starting from Ho Chi Minh and work our way north we have 10 day in Vietnam and plan only 4dyas in Laos
    Is 10days enough? what are the must see/visit places you can recommend?

    • Hasitha Reply November 11, 2016 at 8:09 am

      I’m planning a backpacking trip to Hanoi from ho chi minh in Vietnam on 9th December this year(2016). 6 day trip is planned. This is my frist time in vietnam. If anybody had that kind of experience please comment. And also if somebody is interested, you are most welcome. Please contact [email protected]

  10. michalah truempy Reply August 22, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Hi! My name is Michalah and I’m trying to plan a backpacking trip through Vietnam. I’m thinking summer 2018 because plane ticket prices are just so expensive! What was the best way to fly? What season did you go in? I’m a college student in Philly (hence the need for cheap flights haha) so I was thinking if I study abroad in Europe my sophmore year (my school lets me study abroad any year I want so it”s possible), I can find a cheaper flight from that country to Vietnam than from the US to Vietnam. Do you think that is plausible?
    Also about how much did it cost to rent a motorbike in Vietnam? I’m planning this trip with some of my friends from Japan and Malaysia so I want to make sure I have everything good to go, or so, before I tell them the whole plan.
    I loved your post! Thank you (:

    • michalah truempy Reply August 22, 2016 at 4:34 pm

      Also! How did you work out your visa? Did you get the VOA or did you apply before you traveled?

      • Marek Reply August 23, 2016 at 8:56 am

        I applied for one in Laos as I was travelling overland. You could go for a VOA if you fly direct into Vietnam, though these are not your typical VOAs – they’re offered by different companies at the airport, and you have to apply for them online in advance. Be sure to do a bit of googling if you decide to use one of these services to make sure they’re reputable (I’ve heard a few stories of scams and other issues). The other option is to get your visa via an embassy.

    • Marek Reply August 23, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Hey Michalah. For plane ticket prices, I’m not sure! Check on sites like http://www.skyscanner.net or http://www.momondo.com and compare prices. Based on distance, it does seem likely you’ll be able to fly from Europe more cheaply. I’ve rented motorbikes for about $5/day in Vietnam.

  11. Ryan Reply March 30, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    Just posting to give people some perspective, as mentioned, everyone has different experiences of Vietnam.
    I bought a motorbike off a Vietnamese man, Bao ‘Storm’ Nguyen. Due to the logistics of my journey, I passed through HCMC three times and he effectively gave me a free service each time I went buy. He was checking oil, chain and any issues, taking time to ask about our journey. He even took my friend to get medical assistance and translate the medicinal instructions for us. Upon leaving for the final time, he took me and my three companions to his home in the rural countryside where children had never met a foreign person. His mother, who spoke no English, cooked for us and taught us Vietnamese card games without any formal communication. The experience of that will live with me forever and I plan to return to Vietnam in January and meet up with Bao again for a few games of ‘bullsh*t.’

    With regards to tourists being targeted for money – tourism is the main income for many people in Vietnam. It happens. Everyone is trying to make a living. Street vendors selling sunglasses, people selling $1 noodles, tour guides taking to you to targeted shops. It happens in Vietnam, it happens in the UK. Get over it. I find that being polite, and taking the time to learn “No thank you” in Vietnamese is the best way for this. Anytime I didn’t want anything being thrown at me, a simple Vietnamese reply got the person smiling and they were happily on their way.
    Sidenote: the one time I needed to purchase sunglasses off of a street vendor, I had to wait 30 minutes for one to randomly appear. The usual bartering and getting the price down occurs. But thats part of the fun.

    The main point I’ve got is, don’t rule a place out based on one persons bad experience. Likewise, don’t go based on my own good experience. Trust your gut. But just to throw some defence the way the Vietnamese people: despite their tough recent history, they have a simpler way of life, a happier way of life. Some of the most relaxing, enjoyable nights were spent sitting on the kerb of HCMC with a family having a few beers outside their shop, singing songs, exchanging stories in broken english, and watching the world go past.

    • Marek Reply May 14, 2016 at 12:10 am

      Thanks for your perspective. I’m late to reply to this, but I just wanted to clarify that I wouldn’t ever object to people trying to make money. Some hassle is fine and expected. Like you say, this happens.

      What soured my experience at times wasn’t people trying to sell sunglasses, but some people being extremely deceptive or unethical. For example, when someone comes to you pretending to be collecting money for the Red Cross, and you think you’re making a donation to help the disabled, but instead that person is actually just pocketing the money, that’s not okay no matter what country it is or how poor people are. I probably could expand on this a bit within the page itself, as I don’t want people to think that I’m merely complaining about pushy salesmen, which are to be expected everywhere. My issue is with the predatory scams that I encountered and of which I’ve heard other examples in Vietnam.

      Needless to say I love the picture you’ve painted of the local experiences you’ve had! It’s important for people to know that this is the other side of travelling in Vietnam. The further you get away from the most touristy places, I think the more likely you are to have such experiences.

    • Pham Tuyen Reply August 8, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      Totally agree with you Ryan! To travel to one place is to be ready for difference. Travel with an open mind and heart and take things easy. That’s the best way to help people enjoy their time in Vietnam- a developing country!

    • ali Reply September 29, 2016 at 5:27 pm

      Hi Ryan do you have Bao ‘Storm’ Nguyen contact info so I can rent from him? Thank You

  12. Alefiya Reply March 28, 2016 at 8:50 pm

    Hey Mark,

    Iam from India and wanted to travel bagpack Europe this year,but visa didn’t happen, one of my friend strongly recommended Veitnam, I went through all the posts, i just want to know what about the language? How to interact with locals?

    • Marek Reply March 28, 2016 at 10:28 pm

      People who deal with tourists will generally understand at least basic English phrases. In other cases, non verbal communication works pretty well (such as pointing at an item on the menu to order it)

  13. Kartikey Reply March 28, 2016 at 7:52 am

    Hi Marek,

    Can you help me on the people being rude aspect of locals in reference to type of plans I am making,
    I am more of a peace seeker tourist than a traveler, I generally prefer to go somewhere and spend all the days at one or max two places, my trips are generally not more than 7 days, that is maximum me and my wife can afford at one time due to our jobs, I want to visit a cool, hilly areas, stay in a direct hill view room, walk or jog in nearby areas, for few days and return to Singapore, I am Indian, have you met any Indians there? Basically I want to avoid any kind of hassles that may arise due to interaction with rude and scamming locals,
    Can you recommend something, where I can go, stay and come back without having to interact with locals much.

    • Marek Reply March 28, 2016 at 12:43 pm

      I would actually encourage you to interact with the locals! Despite some people taking advantage of tourists, I’ve met wonderful people in Vietnam. 🙂 Perhaps you’d like Sapa in the north, which is among green hills and rice terraces and pretty chilled out.

  14. Maren Reply February 6, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Hi Marek,

    I am planning to meet a friend of mine in Vietnam soon. She is coming from Laos and I am coming from Bangkok. I thought it would be the easiest to meet with her in Hanoi and start from there our tour down and end up in Ho Chi Minh.

    Do you think that’s doable in two weeks time without rush? Even if we can’t see everything I still hope its enough time to get a good impression about Vietnam (Hanoi – Ninh Binh with Tam Coc and Hoa Lu- Hue or Hoi An – Nah Trang and Ho Chi Minh)

    The other problem I see right now is, I havent found a fast way to travel from Vientiane to Hanoi. Could you recommend sth? I only read about very long and a bit crazy bus tour with a lot of changes and stops between the two countries.

    Thank you for your help!



    • Marek Reply February 6, 2016 at 5:19 pm

      Do you mean is it doable to see a lot of Vietnam in 2 weeks? Sure. Just fill your time with whatever you can or want to see.

      The only fast way from Vientiane to Hanoi is to fly.

  15. Jasper Reply January 31, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    It’s funny that while you clearly warned everybody about the scamming culture of Vietnam, there are still Vietnamese people trying to scam people on your article by offering a ‘free’ tour for them to ‘improve their english’ 🙂
    Or am I just paranoid?

    Anyway, you wrote a very informative article!
    I’m still doubting between Vietnam and Nepal

    • Marek Reply January 31, 2016 at 4:20 pm

      Hah you are probably right. I often have to skim through comments as there’s so many to moderate every day. I want to be open to genuine local guides, though I’d probably be sceptical of the ‘free’ ones too. 🙂

  16. Nguyen Giap Reply November 20, 2015 at 3:22 am

    I’m a vietnamese, I really happy when you came my country. I hope all of you come here more. Give me a call if you need some helps. Don’t be shy. I can become a tour guide ( for free ) for you. I really enjoy that. My number phone : 0948570246. Have a nice time in vietnam!

    • Pham Tuyen Reply August 8, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Not all free guides are bad Marek. Check out the “Hanoi Kids”. They are an organization founded by a university lecturer where you can get students to guide you around Hanoi. Everything is on your own: tickets, taxi, your drinks, and food…they are even not allowed to accept tips but you can buy them drinks and food.

      And rather than that I doubt. I’ve been a Vietnam tour guide for 15 years now and believe me no one have time to give you “free tours”.

  17. moran Reply August 18, 2015 at 8:04 am

    Hi Guys!

    We are actually working on a new website focusing on backpackers, and especially about how to get from one place to another for example on Vietnam we have a page about how to get cheap and easy from Hanoi to Sapa.

    If you guys can contribute by adding more routes or have any comments we would be happy to hear.


  18. petous Reply July 16, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Scams are only in the big tourist places (Hanoi, Ha Long, Sapa, Mui Ne, Hoi An..)
    You need to go also to another places. When are you traveling to northern Vietnam check my website about this beautiful and interesting area: http://www.north-vietnam.com

  19. Ann Adams Reply July 12, 2015 at 10:06 am

    I travel to VN every year or so. Im a solo traveller, female in my 60s. I agree with you, there are scams to be aware of – especially on the well trodden tourist route, VInasun and Mailinh taxis are not all they are cracked up to be, especially in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Always record the drivers number when you get into a cab. If you get into difficulty with a cab and have that number most hotels will take action on your behalf. However, having said that I find Vietnamese people extremely hospitable and helpful as soon as you get off the tourist trail. Last year I spend 6 weeks in the Mekong Delta, in areas where I didnt see another European face for a week or two, and had few opportunities to speak English. No English was no barrier and I have had the most delightful experiences – and cant wait to get back!

  20. Vietprivatetours Reply April 27, 2015 at 7:14 am

    Well, this is I how put this. When you’re bargaining with a Vietnamese, we are talking business here so both side try to sell and buy, both side try to get the best price. When you’re asking for help from a Vietnamese, people treat you as a person needing their help and go out of their way to help. That’s all what it’s.

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply April 27, 2015 at 9:03 am

      You’re right that when bargaining all is fair, as you are just negotiating and obviously the other person wants to make the most money possible (who can blame them?). However there are also common deceptive practices, such as tampering with taxi meters, switching a menu with cheap prices with one with expensive prices when no one is looking, and falsely posing as a charity – which is a real pity. Outside of such experiences, I do have to say the Vietnamese are very kind and helpful.

  21. Michael Reply April 14, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    Couldn’t recommend Vietnam enough. Just got back, visited Sa Pa, Hanoi, Saigon, and Da Lat. Here’s the GoOro video from the trip (watch in 720p)


    • Emily Scott Reply July 22, 2015 at 1:43 pm

      Hi, what was the rafting/gorge-walking thing you did in Dalat?

  22. Vuong Khang Reply March 16, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Hello guys, My name Vuong Khang and i’m living in Can Tho city (Southern VietNam).
    I’m very pleasure if you wanna travel to my country.
    If you’re a Backpacking tourist(s) so I very happy to guide you guys have a memorial trip to 13 Western provinces of Viet Nam.
    Contact me if you want to plan for your perfect trip.
    Email: [email protected]
    Facebook: fb.com/vqkhangcusc

    Welcome to Viet Nam and See you soon!

  23. Minh Nguyễn Reply January 18, 2015 at 6:00 am

    Hello everyone! My name’s Hoang Minh Nguyen. I’m from Vietnam and livin’ in Ho Chi Minh City. I’m very pleasure if you guys wanna travel to my wonderful country. If you’re backpacking tourist(s), i’ll be very happy to help you have a memorial trip. contact me for more information ’bout destination, hotel, VN converting currency and so on. mail me at: [email protected]. I do this FOR FREE cuz I wanna improve my English :lmao: see ya soon

  24. Charlie Reply September 19, 2014 at 8:59 pm

    Thanks for including me in your post! Lots of good info here. I was fortunate not to have any problems with scammers or unfriendly Vietnamese people – phew! I’ve read a lot of stories though. Also, I love the photo of the fishing boats in Mui Ne =)

  25. Jordan Reply August 21, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Hello all, im travelling Vietnam South to North in December and am wondering whether to pay £600 to STA Travel for their tour of 12 days. This includes hotels, sleeper trains, meals etc and it may be advantageous in respect of me being an English traveller and they can show me the best places to go etc. I will be travelling by myself and as of yet have not made a decision whether to go alone or to join the tour group. The tour is 12 days long, however I have 19 days in Vietnam before my next flight to Bali. Any thoughts/advice from anyone would be greatly appreciated! 🙂 Jordan

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply August 23, 2014 at 1:25 pm

      Vietnam is easy to navigate independently and I’d say the language barrier is not a huge issue. I suppose your answer depends on how much you want this to be your own adventure. Do you want to meet people serendipitously in backpacker hostels, determine your own pace, and always decide what you want to see and do? Then doing it yourself is a better way to go. Going solo can feel a little scary but can be ultimately very rewarding.

      Tours in my experience don’t really give you an ‘in’ on best places to go. They usually go to all the standard places that you can research yourself with a travel guide. Tours are primarily for convenience: you don’t have to worry about any trip planning, and you’re guaranteed to meet other people in your tour group which can give you peace of mind (although I’ve found that I actually meet more people when travelling on my own).

  26. Larry Reply May 19, 2014 at 11:20 pm

    At times, Vietnam struck me as being “bi-polar”. In Hanoi, I got into a similar loud disagreement with taxi driver gouging me for a 5 minute trip. In other places, people went out of their way to help me and would not let me pay them for their help. A hotel in Dalat made 9 phone calls to Mui Ne looking for an available room for me. Spur or the moment, I found a mountain bike trip leaving the next day that might not go for another week. It happened to be leaving Christmas Eve. After all those calls, the woman who helped me wouldn’t let me pay. Similar act of kindness happened in Mui Ne. All in all, I really enjoyed Vietnam!

  27. Larry Reply May 19, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    Sama sama, I really enjoyed Hanoi. And an interesting perspective popped up while I was there. I met a family from Singapore while sipping coffee in the old quarter. They told their children that Hanoi what Singapore was like 20 years ago! If that’s true, Singapore has REALLY come a long way from those chaotic days!

  28. outforadventure.us Reply April 11, 2014 at 2:12 am

    Hi mate, i agree with you that in Vietnam many scams againts tourists and it’s not unusual , i live in Vietnam and i’m 100 % vietnamese but when i go out of my house, alway i have to be aware of being cheated by someone like xe om driver or a vendor of flowers any where so it’s really a daily life game and i’m forced to play this game, but i’m very good player now -))) don’t be shocked ! Just try to understand the game rule then play their game, just bargain any where to any one then you feel better in Vietnam

    • mike brown Reply June 1, 2015 at 10:39 am

      Are you still living in Vietnam? I am now here visiting and would like to get some travel information. please email me at [email protected]

  29. Lloyd Reply October 27, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    I’ve got the same feelings towards Vietnam! I’m currently travelling through (South to North) and in Hoi An at the moment (the scamming seems exaggerated here). But I agree, visiting is recommended, just beware.

    • Lloyd Reply October 27, 2013 at 11:46 pm

      And by exaggerated I mean it’s worse than other cities.

    • Marek Indietraveller Reply October 28, 2013 at 12:14 am

      Thanks for your comment Lloyd. It’s kinda risky on a blog not to go “whoo! everything is magical!” about every destination as everyone has a different experience, but I think it’s good for people to be aware.

      Enjoy Vietnam. BTW, if you want to have some great food in Hoi An, try Fish ‘n Chips ‘n Stuff. Weird name I know, but me and my travel buddies went there 5 times once we’d discovered it, and I’ve since sworn to tell everyone about it.

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