Travel Itinerary

WIT: Vietnam Backpacker Itinerary & Budget 2019

We’ve got the perfect Vietnam Backpacker Itinerary for you. Long and thin with over 3,000km of coast, two distinct areas are normally considered to make up Vietnam’s crescent-like shape: the North and the South. Often, while one side enjoys a long dry season, the other sulks in their wet season. Be sure to check the respective climates before you book any flights.

Backpackers long on time will enjoy travelling the length of the country and taking it all in, more often than not on a motorbike. Others may have to be more selective and choose to focus on either side. Of the 3 we’ve created, there’s a backpacker itinerary for Vietnam which is guaranteed to help you plan your trip.

Itinerary 1 – a Quick Centre-South Visit – is perfect for the backpacker with a limited time frame. Arriving by bus from Laos, you’ll see some of the highlights in the centre of the Vietnam on the way to Ho Chi Minh City. Itinerary 2 – the North and Out – starts in mesmerising Hanoi before checking out awesome Ha Long Bay. Afterwards, you can’t miss the highlands around Sa Pa. From there you’ll need to brave the long journey down lesser-visited Laos. The most popular backpacker Itinerary 3 – the Length of Vietnam – creates some combination of both backpacker itineraries and also includes extended highlights.

1: a Quick Centre-South Visit

If you’re limited on time then this short and sweet Vietnam backpacker itinerary is for you. First and foremost you’ll put on a few pounds and sip delicious coconut coffee in foodie capital Hoi An. Then, you’ll tumble south for highland hills and some sunshine on the beach. After arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, you can choose to fly onward or explore the Mekong Delta en route to Cambodia.

Seeing one of the temples through a fence around Xuan Huong Lake in Da Lat, Vietnam
Peeping through the barriers on a pretty walk around the lake
Days 1 – 4

After your night-train from Vinh you’ll wake up in Da Nang. If you don’t have time for historic Hue, modern Da Nang or the nearby Golden Bridge then catch the public bus down to gorgeous Hoi An. Enjoy three days relaxing, eating, sipping fresh coconuts on the beach and haggling for a new wardrobe. Hoi An is beautiful and the atmosphere by the historic Japanese Bridge at night is something everybody can enjoy. Check out our favourite 11 Things to Do in Hoi An for more tips!

Days 5 – 7

Saving on another night’s accommodation you’ve a 13-hour bus ride to endure up to cool Da Lat. In three days here you can trek the local peak Lang Biang, get lost in Maze Bar and visit intriguing coffee farms nearby. Da Lat produces much of the country’s wine – you can thank the French for that. Visit vineyards, waterfalls and monasteries on any number of day-trips available. Often skipped on a typical backpacker itinerary, this is a great place to visit if you want to escape the sometimes-suffocating heat in Vietnam. Read more about Da Lat in our WIT post.

Days 8-10

This journey will pass in a blink now! 5 hours is nothing to get you down to coastal Mui Ne and some poolside resorts. Test your Cyrillic and party with other backpackers at cheap-as-chips Mui Ne Hills resort. White Sand Dunes can’t be missed and the pool’s perfect for snoozing away any headaches. A typical Vietnam backpacker itinerary will normally recommend hitting up Nha Trang instead. We don’t – it’s Russia’s Benidorm. Read more about Mui Ne in our WIT!

WEE TIP: if you’d rather not brave the buses, you can cycle or jump on the back of a motorbike with Dalat Easy Riders. These knowledgeable tour guides are all ex-soldiers and can give you a unique insight in to Vietnam’s history on their tours.

Candles lit in paper lanterns floating down the Thu Bon River in Hoi An, Vietnam

Days 11-13

You’re almost at the end of the first Vietnam backpacker itinerary already. From Mui Ne it’s another 5 hours to sprawling Ho Chi Minh City which you’ll either love or hate. Here you’ll find Vietnam’s answer to Bangkok’s Kho San Road, craft beer bars, dazzling markets and heart-breaking war museums. Spend a few days in the big city before flying out of AirAsia’s popular international airport.

2: the North & Out

Similar to Itinerary 1, this short backpacker itinerary blasts through the North of Vietnam. It’s best for those not intending to travel the length of the country. You can spend around 10-14 days up here before catching the long bus to slow-paced Luang Prabang.

A coconut coffee on a wooden table in Rosie's Cafe, Hoi An, Vietnam
We’ve fantasised about this coconut coffee long since having it
Days 1-4

After arriving in Hanoi, waste no time in getting straight to the coast at Ha Long Bay. You have all sorts of options for tours around the Gulf of Tonkin which take you through very green and very uninhabited islands surrounded by limestone cliff-sides. You can join a simple day-trip (starting from $25+) or splash out on private tours which spend the night on otherwise uninhabited islands. Another option is the popular ‘booze cruise’, although the reviews are pretty sketchy in general. Finally, if you want to make the most of your time in the area you can opt to take an all-inclusive 3-4 day cruise, which covers a huge area and takes you to incredible paradise islands.

Even if you don’t fancy a day on the sea, it’s an incredibly scenic bus journey to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi. Read a little more about planning your trip here.

Days 4-8

Historic and buzzing with life, there’s something in Hanoi for everybody. The city is bursting with sights, sounds, smells and chaos all around you. Be sure to check out the city’s old town and sample the best of Vietnam’s food scene at the night markets. Walk around Hoan Kiem Lake and be sure to check out the Military History Museum in a few days in the lively city. Read more about what to do during your first time in Hanoi here.

A dog watches down a light blue alleyway in Da Lat, Vietnam
He’s watching you for a reason
Days 9-12

After a few undoubtedly exhausting days in the city, this Vietnam backpacker itinerary takes you to the relaxing and sublime highlands in Sapa. Here you’ll find Vietnam’s highest peak – Fan Si Pan – and an impossible amount of trekking to do. Sleeping in a local homestay is half the fun, and you’ll be expected to join in with the karaoke too! Check out more about Sapa here. Now you’re within touching distance of Laos, but the bus to Luang Prabang is a little longer than it looks. If you’re looking for some inspiration when in Luang Prabang, our WIT covers the best 11 things to do in town.

3: the Length of Vietnam

Combining the best of Itinerary 1 and 2, our Vietnam Backpacker Itinerary 3 takes you down the length of the entire country. Unlike the two other shorter itineraries, you can really take your time with this one. This being the case, we’ve detailed even more of the country’s highlights some of the places you’ve needed to skip on the other plans. This trip is best for those who plan to buy or rent a motorbike, hit the road and tick it off the ‘bucket list.’

Days 1-14

You’ve probably flown in to Hanoi – get your motorbike purchase or rental all sorted and enjoy everything that Itinerary 2 has to offer. When in Ha Long Bay make sure and visit the Ninh Binh Province for extra mountains and elusive mountain pagodas.

A parachute ride on An Bang Beach in Hoi An, Vietnam
Some of the watersports you can enjoy at An Bang
Days 15-24

Making your way down the coast the next noteworthy stop comes in Vinh, which is a pretty uninspiring town (much of its history was wiped out with it during the war). You’ll probably have to sleep here to break up the journey.

Next up is the awe-inspiring Phong Nha-Ke National Park, world famous and home to some of the world’s largest caves. No matter how much time you spend here you won’t have seen it all – some of the caves are still largely unexplored and there’s fantastic mountain biking and trekking in the area too.

Similarly, photogenic Hue is worth some time during your next pit-stop. Explore the city’s ancient citadel and enjoy the pretty streets on a rented bike (read more about visiting Hue here).

Days 25-42

From Hue, we’d recommend travelling to Da Nang via the Golden Bridge. Sure, it’s a bit of a tourist trap but it’s unique and offers unrivalled views over the mountains. At this point, you can tag on to our Vietnam Backpacker Itinerary 1, which guides you through Hoi An, Da Lat and sunny Mui Ne.

Days 43-50

After you’ve enjoyed the best food in Hoi An and topped up the tan in Mui Ne, it’s time for the chaos of Ho Chi Minh City. Be warned: this city isn’t for everybody. If you want to get out quick head to the sea around Phu Quoc Island for some scuba diving and more beaches. Finally, check out the Mekong Delta, where you’ll have the option of a day-trip or some more luxury-style cruises on your way to Cambodia.

A vietnamese man works his paddy field in Hoi An, Vietnam
The amazing rice fields on the cycle to the beach

Still feel like you want to see more? Then read up on 50 of the best things to do in the county here.

Typical Vietnam Backpacker Budget Breakdown

If you’re anything like us and you’re travelling long-term, then your daily budget is important. We’ve outlined our budgets below for our (short) time in Vietnam – what we personally spent and where. While this isn’t written with 100% accuracy, it’s not too far from it and should give you an idea on what you’ll spend on transport, attractions and accommodation.

Budget Breakdown (Itinerary 1):

UK Visa: free (less than 15 days)

Bus from Luang Prabang – Vinh: 1,510,000d ($65)

Accommodation: 2,650,000d ($114)

Attractions: 950,000d ($41)

Local Rentals/Transport: 335,000d ($14)

Domestic Transport: 1,929,000d ($83)

Total for 12D/12N: 7,374,000d ($318)

This example budget is for two people. Food and drink is not included. The currency exchange rate was accurate at the time of writing (Dec ’18).

This total doesn’t include potential bike hire costs, some Hoi An costs (the drink at An Bang Beach parking, An Bang Beach Bar drink [including free sun lounger] or any of your new tailored goods). The prices for all of these vary too much to include.

To see the budget breakdown for each individual destination, you can find them at the ‘Budget Breakdown’ section of our WIT articles for Hoi An, Da Lat and Mui Ne (Ho Chi Minh City not included).

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Vietnam Budget Travel Guide with Itineraries and Budget Breakdown for Backpackers

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