Looking for a nearby getaway on a shoestring? Vietnam is your go-to backpacking destination in Southeast Asia, complete with its delectable local cuisine and myriad natural wonders to explore on foot. Here, we present you with an ultimate guide to backpacking the beautiful expanse of Vietnam on a budget.
Before your trip, it’s important to first consider the time of the year and the region you’re planning to visit. Vietnam’s climate varies from North to South. The Northern part bears the brunt of the four seasons; spring and summer weather from February to June, typhoon season from July to November, winter from December to February.
The South, on the other hand, is sweltering most of the year, except rainy season from June to August. It’s wise to plan your trip around these tentative periods so you don’t get unceremoniously rained on midway through.
If you’ve got some time, a month would be an ideal duration to embark on a leisurely exploration of the remote reaches of Vietnam. Planning just a short getaway? A week or two can suffice for just a few major areas so you don’t simply touch-and-go!
Local Vietnamese cuisine is one of the most delicious and delightfully affordable, if you only know where to look. As touristy as Vietnam has become over the years, the likes of Italian, French and American cuisines are popping up all over, with prices that can sometimes rival those you see in your home country. For simple foods, drop by Vietnam’s many markets for a good bargain – be prepared to leave and you’ll find out the real price.
If you’re looking at signature Vietnamese dishes, it’s easy to have a meal for under a dollar. Besides steaming bowls of pho (traditional broth with rice noodles), try the freshly prepared Gỏi cuốn (spring rolls sometimes with juicy prawns) or the flavourful Bun Cha (barbecued pork and noodles drizzled with fish sauce).
In the evenings, chug your weight in dirt-cheap local beer, Bia Hoi, a bottle of which unbelievably only sets you back a few cents! Local watering holes have never looked this good. Even imported beers will only cost you a couple of dollars. In Vietnam, you don’t have to hand over an arm and a leg to have a drunken good time. Just avoid having a meal in restaurants specially catered to tourists unless you’re ready for a bit of a splurge.
On a whole, accommodation is little trouble in Vietnam. Homestays, for one, provide a cosy experience where you can get up close and personal with friendly locals and truly be a part of the culture. Alternatively, for as little as $5 a night, backpacker hostels provide a range of services; some even include free Wifi, free beers and pub crawls.
It goes without saying that placing an early booking will ensure you have a roof over your head during your travel dates. So save yourself the trouble of lugging your bags from door to door and the extra cash too by ideally booking up to 6 months in advance. A general price range for these hostels is between $5 and $20, beating out many other countries by a long shot. If you’re travelling solo, booking a bunk in a shared room is a surefire way to get talking to new people and maybe score a travel companion for the next few days.
Not all of us may be comfortable with holing up in a (possibly) dodgy street hostel – spend a bit more at a proper hotel instead for a proper night’s sleep. Even these aren’t likely to hurt your wallet too much in Vietnam – as long as you steer clear of touristy household brand names.
For the more adventurous of us, brave the elements in a sturdy hammock for the night – simply a one-time value investment so you can save on accommodation. Hammocking in Vietnam is fairly hassle-free (and cost-free!), especially in the rural areas. Some restaurants and families in the remote parts may let you sling yourself up for free. Famous travel bloggers have done this – be sure to do your research beforehand. And equip yourself with a rain fly in case the weather takes a wet turn at night.
From Singapore to Vietnam, there are many budget airlines to choose from, whether Jetstar, VietJet or Air Asia. Your flight probably doesn’t matter as much considering you only have to be in your seat for 2-3 hours anyway. Once you’re there, getting around Vietnam isn’t too difficult if you’re prepared.
Pre-planning your transport, whether bus, train or ferry, with 12GO ensures your travels proceed smoothly. There are a range of bus companies with flexible schedules you can work around. Rest assured, bussing around Vietnam is one of the cheaper forms of transport there is as locals do it too.
Want to truly get around like a local? Plant yourself in the midst of Vietnam’s chaotic traffic on a motorbike; it’s a thrilling adventure in itself trying to manoeuvre through the surging bikes. One of the most popular is Tigit Motorbikes which offers reliable models with free breakdown coverage, safety equipment and the ease of pick-up and drop-off in different cities.
Alternatively, the ultimate budget option is getting a bike off fellow backpackers and then reselling them after you’re done at almost the same price. On a whole, 110-125 cc is sufficient to tour the country – as long as you get a proper, well-maintained bike to save on the hassle and cost of repairs.
Generally, Vietnamese road-users are more polite and aware than in other countries. Unlike elsewhere, the beeping of horns here is not so much an angry gesture, rather a considerate way of letting other drivers know where you are. And if all else fails, Grab is there to cover you – cabs, while more expensive than other modes, are still relatively cheap.
Souvenir shopping may be a tad pricey especially at the usual tourist haunts. These shop owners are probably aware of how much their trinkets are worth back in your country so once again, pretending to leave tells you the true price of an item which the owners will holler after your retreating back. Otherwise, simply walk down bustling streets or explore the nooks and crannies of Vietnam’s many markets to satisfy your inner shopaholic without breaking the bank.
Venture into the untouched countryside for a glimpse into quintessential Vietnam. From sprawling padi fields dotted with water buffaloes and scenic rice terraces to cascading waterfalls and picturesque mountainous landscapes, there is more to Vietnam than meets the eye.
And the best part is, exploring its natural sights is completely free, yet equally breath-taking. For a cultured experience, visit its rural tribes like the famously friendly Ban Pho village. Otherwise, history buffs will be happy to know that popular spots like Hue’s Imperial City, Hanoi’s Temple of Literature and the War Remnants Museum in Saigon only cost a few dollars to get into.