Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary (3-4 Weeks)

spellbound travels vietnam backpacking itinerary

If you haven’t been to Vietnam, you’re missing out! It’s a beautiful country worth exploring – once international travel is back that is! It’s incredibly cheap so it’s definitely a great spot if you’re on a tight budget. Read on for an easy & budget friendly Vietnam backpacking itinerary! 

I’ve included all the ins and outs of transportation, accommodation, food, activities and how much you need to plan ahead of time.

HANOI TO SAIGON (HO CHI MINH CITY)

Before we jump into the itinerary, keep in mind that most backpackers typically travel north to south or vice versa. This often depends on what country they’re travelling to next or where they’re flying home from. Either option is great! 

HANOI (4-7 nights):

Hanoi is such a cool city in Vietnam. Between the markets, unreal food and nearby attractions, it can’t be missed!

Where to stay:

Most backpackers stay in the Old Quarter of Hanoi. It’s quaint and easy to get around on your own or with new friends. Anywhere you stay in the Old Quarter will do but I personally stayed at the Old Quarter View Hostel and can’t rave enough about their beds! Such a great hostel and you can stay in a dorm room for under $10/night.

Things to do:

  • Long Bien Bridge – The photo above was taken there when I went on a free walking tour with my hostel (highly recommend doing those if you’re travelling solo & looking to make friends!). The train passes by at certain times so make sure you know ahead of time if you want to walk along the tracks!
  • Train Street – Another train track to walk along but this one is more interesting as it runs between heaps of cafes, apartments and other buildings! It’s illegal to go take pictures on the tracks so police will sit outside the tracks BUT don’t let that stop you from going. Many of the shop owners will happily bring you in to sit and watch the train go by if you buy a drink from them!
  • The Note Cafe – The coolest cafe you’ll step foot in! The entire place is covered with notes from people all around the world. You could spend hours there on a rainy day just reading other people’s notes.

Other nearby stops:

Before you get alarmed by the suggested length of stay, I included some extra days in case you want to use Hanoi as a home base to go to nearby spots such as:

  • Sapa – You can find various tours through your hostel or online for 2-3 days (or longer) to explore the rice fields in Sapa. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it due to heavy rainfall the week I was in the area. It looks unreal so if you can, add it to your list!
  • Ha Giang Loop – Another common trip from Hanoi is the Ha Giang Loop. You can rent a motorbike (which I WOULDN’T recommend doing) or pay a little extra for an easy rider – riding on the back of an experienced Vietnamese guide. You’ll likely come across a drink known as ‘happy water’ on this trip which is rice wine mixed with a splash of sprite.
  • Halong Bay – If you’re travelling through the north of Vietnam, you’ve gotta head down by the bay – Halong Bay that is! You’ll come across many tours with different options and price points. I booked mine through the hostel with a new friend and shortly after we heard from others on our boat that they got it for half the price. Make sure to shop around if you’re on a budget!

NINH BINH (2-4 nights):

spellbound travels hang mua ninh binh vietnam lookout

A Vietnam backpacking itinerary wouldn’t be complete without including this magnificent spot! Only a few hour bus ride from Hanoi, it’s worth the journey. Of all the places I visited in Vietnam, Ninh Binh was the one I wish I had spent more time in!

Where to stay:

With accommodation choices somewhat spread out in Ninh Binh, it can be difficult to make a decision on where to stay. I was recommended the Green Mountain Homestay and for $8/night I couldn’t pass it up! It was in a great location and had free bike rentals, making it easy to get to the main attractions and get some exercise in at the same time. OH, and I should probably mention that the food at this hostel was amazing!

Things to do:

  • Hang Mua Caves – It’s a MUST see if you make your way over to Ninh Binh! No matter the weather, you’ll get amazing photos and can spend an entire day here.
  • Trang An Boat tour – Hop in a row boat and go through caves, stop at temples and see where King Kong was filmed for 2-3 hours. I personally thought this tour was a bit overrated and would’ve preferred going to other parts of Ninh Binh and visiting temples.

PHONG NHA (2 nights):

Phong Nha is known for its caves … so if you’re not super into caves (like me🤷🏼‍♀️) you could probably skip it! That being said, it was truly beautiful and I had no trouble keeping busy there. It’s a bit of a mission from Ninh BInh. We took a sleeper night bus and arrived around 4/5am.

Where to stay:

Based off another recommendation, I stayed at Central Backpackers Hostel in Phong Nha. It was a nice place with a pool and free brekky, so it’s a win in my books! They also had bikes you could rent for about $1/day to explore.

Things to do:

  • Caves – Every hostel will try to sell you tours to the caves starting at around $80 and up to $200+. I didn’t have a huge interest in caves so I skipped out and looked for other ways to keep myself occupied.
  • Bong Lai Swing – Grab a bike and ride through rice fields and dirt paths until you arrive at this large swing at the back of someone’s home! I was there in the midst of the pandemic so my friend Lucy and I were the only people there for hours.
  • The duck stop – If you’re headed to the Bong Lai Swing, you’ll pass the duck stop. It’s a farm where you can feed ducks, enjoy a traditional Vietnamese meal and talk to the locals and their children.

HUE (1 night):

Hue is another spot that could be easily skipped unless you have a burning desire to visit this abandoned water park!

Where to stay:

I found that Hue has a lot of homestays, opposed to more standard hostels. I stayed at New Life Homestay for a whopping $2! It wasn’t anything spectacular but I didn’t have high expectations for that price. Plus, the staff was SUPER friendly and helpful when it came to organizing an easy rider to Hoi An.

Things to do:

  • Ho Thuy Tien abandoned water park – If you’ve had your eyes on Vietnam for a while, you’re probably familiar with this abandoned water park that’s all over Instagram. If you choose to go, just know that it’s not that easy to get in. Security will watch and sometimes chase people so you have to be quite sneaky and bribe them with money to stay if you get caught! Not talking from personal experience of anything .. 😬

HAI VAN PASS (1 day):

Similarly to the Ha Giang Loop, the Hai Van Pass is a scenic route you can drive to get from Hue to Hoi An. I’d highly recommend getting an easy rider (experienced Vietnamese rider) to take you. You can tell them to stop at any point and learn more about their lives and the culture of the country!

HOI AN (5-7 nights):

Hoi An is one of those places on my Vietnam backpacking itinerary that you could easily get caught up in and suddenly realize you’ve spent two weeks there!

Where to stay:

If you’re looking for a party hostel, Cococha will be right up your alley! You can find dorm rooms for under $10/night, it’s location is great because it’s in between the old town and beach and it has a pool.

Things to do:

  • Night market – Take a stroll over to the old town for the most magical night market! You’ll see colourful lanterns around every corner and will come across great deals on any souvenirs. Make sure you barter because they’ll try to sell you anything for at least double the price!
  • Tailor made clothing – Hoi An has tailors EVERYWHERE! You can get hand made clothing to fit you perfectly for a fraction of what it would cost in North America or Europe, for example. The tailors are all fighting for your business so they might be a bit aggressive in their persistence. Wait till you find someone who has competitive prices and won’t pressure you into buying something! For reference, I got a bikini and crop top/pant set for $65 USD.
  • Rice fields – Explore Hoi An by bike and you’ll stumble upon endless rice fields!
  • Beaches – There are a few beaches in Hoi An, none of which are truly amazing but a beach is a beach, right?! My favourite beach was Cua Dai Beach because it was more secluded with heaps of sand bags along the shoreline which made for cool photos!
  • Food – This Vietnam backpacking itinerary has yet to touch on food because I was waiting to get to Hoi An. There’s a famous spot for banh mi’s in old town but you’ll be waiting in quite the line! You can get great local street food at the night markets as well. If you’re looking for other options, there are plenty of vegan cafes, Indian and western restaurants with amazing food. Xoai Macrobiotic Living is situated in the middle of rice fields and has a new menu created by the owner each day. It can’t be missed!
  • Golden Bridge (Ba Na Hills) – This famous Golden Bridge can be found at the top of a fake French village near Da Nang and can be a great day trip from Hoi An! Other than the photo opt with the large hand and the gondola ride up, I didn’t find the bridge to live up to the hype.

DALAT (2 nights):

Getting to Dalat from Hoi An is a bit of mission unless you grab a flight. I got mine last minute for $45 CAD so it’s definitely feasible even if you’re on a budget!

spellbound travels dalat vietnam waterfall

Where to stay:

If you’re looking for a cheap option, Dalat sky hostel will do the trick for $5/night!

Things to do:

  • Coffee plantations – Upon arriving in Dalat I was told they had great tours to coffee plantations. Sadly I didn’t have enough time to visit any but if you’re a coffee connoisseur, this one might be for you!
  • Waterfalls – Datanla waterfall is the closest/easiest to get to from the city so if you’re on a time crunch, that’s a good one to see. If you have enough time, there are many others that look stunning!
  • Clay sculpture tunnels – These large clay tunnels are something you won’t see anywhere else.

MUI NE (2-4 nights):

Mui Ne is another place on my Vietnam backpacking itinerary where I wish I had had more time! Getting there from Dalat wasn’t the best experience. You can grab a bus that takes around 6 hours. It was along a bumpy road the entire way so if you get motion sickness, beware!

Once we arrived, the overall vibe was great and I quickly realized that there’s more to Mui Ne than meets the eye.

spellbound travels mui ne white sand dunes

Where to stay:

Mui Ne Hills Backpackers is the perfect spot to stay if you enjoy ocean view dorm rooms for $3/night! The only drawback is having to climb a fairly steep hill but if you’re up for it, it’s 100% worth it.

Things to do:

  • Sand dunes – Get a tour for either sunrise or sunset! I woke up at 4am for the sunrise tour and it was such a great experience.
  • Fairy stream – I was initially hesitant but this stream is so unique and beautiful! Most sand dune tours will include a stop here.
  • Fishing market – If you’re into photography, this is a cool spot. There isn’t much to do but it’s nice to sit at the top of the hill and watch the fishers. This was another stop in the sand dune tour I did!
  • Beaches – Wander down from your hostel and you’ll find a large stretch of beaches. Mui Ne is known for its windsurfing and kitesurfing, presenting a great opportunity to try it out.

SAIGON/HO CHI MINH CITY (2-3 nights):

Ho Chi Minh City (formally known as Saigon), will be your last stop! Depending on what your interests are, you could spend a single day or over a week. If you’re like me and enjoy nature more than large cities, you won’t need much time here!

Where to stay:

When I booked my hostel there weren’t many options, so I wouldn’t recommend that one. Look for an option in District 1 and free brekky is always preferred!

Things to do:

  • Cafe apartments – These apartments filled with cafes are a great spot to get a few quick snaps!
  • War museum – Learning about the history of Vietnam is important & the war museum has a lot of interesting info.
  • Ben Thanh Market – You’ll never hear “miss, you buy something?!?!” so often but it’s a cool place to venture around. This is the place to be if you want knock-off’s for mere pennies!
  • Mekong Delta – This river trip can be booked online or through your hostel! I didn’t have time to do it but it looked like a really cool experience.

Final thoughts & takeaways

Before I wrap up my Vietnam backpacking itinerary, I’ll leave you with a few things to consider.

Accommodation:

You won’t find a cheaper bed to sleep on! Seriously one of the best backpacking countries for budget accommodation.

Transportation:

Due to the increase of tourists over the years, there are endless options to get you from point A to B. I typically use Rome2Rio but most hostels will help you sort out transportation options!

Bartering:

Remember that it’s common to barter for a lower price in Vietnam but don’t drop the price too low that it becomes insulting. Start at dropping it about 50% and settle for about 30% off. You can also ask around and you’ll get a good idea of how much things cost!

Vietnam is a spectacular country that’s very backpacker friendly, meaning your money will go much further than it would in most countries! If you have any questions about travelling to Vietnam, leave a comment below or message me on Instagram.

Until next time!

Cheers,

Amy

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