Vietnam is my favourite country in South East Asia. There are so many amazing places to visit, the food is delicious, people are nice and plenty of activities to do without breaking the bank. The best thing about backpacking in Vietnam is that it is very easy to meet people and travel with them. This is because the country is aligned north to south and everyone is having more or less the same itinerary (or the reverse one).
If motorbikes are your thing, then you might like Vietnam a lot. It is very common here to buy an old motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi and ride it to the other end of the country where you sell it. Don’t worry if you don’t have an international driving license because nobody does. The police will stop you anyway and bribing is a common thing.
I spent one month in Vietnam and I travelled from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi. This post will cover the first part and can be done in a two weeks holiday.
Ho Chi Minh City – 3-4 days
Ho Chi Minh City, also known as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and it has a great historical importance. It was the capital of the South Vietnam during the French colonial period and it played an important role during the Vietnam war (or the American war as the Vietnamese refer to it).
- Where to stay: There is a street called Phạm Ngũ Lão, also known as Backpackers street which is full of hostels, restaurants and clubs. I stayed at Hideout Hostel, which is more of a party hostel and it is very easy to meet people there.
- What to do: On top of the list are the Cu Chi tunnels. You will find a bit of communist propaganda there, but I had the luck to have Vietnamese war veteran as a guide, who told us a completely different story. He was from the south and he fought against the communists. Other things you can do: Mekong delta tour, War Remnants Museum (a lot of propaganda there as well), visit some french buildings like the Post office or Notre-Dame basilica.
- Where to eat: There is plenty of street food in Saigon, but my favourite dish is Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches). I definitely recommend Banh Mi 37, very close to Backpacking street. Another great restaurant I’ve been to is An Nam restaurant (check map). Very popular among locals with good prices.
- Warnings and tips: If Ho Chi Minh is your first city in Vietnam, take extra care about your belongings. It is very common for thieves on scooters to grab your phone or bag and run away. It happened to a friend of mine on a busy street in the middle of the day. If you need a taxi ride, you can safely use Uber or Uber moto if you are brave.
Mui Ne – 2-3 days
If you are into water sports, then Mui Ne is the place to go, otherwise you can skip it. There are many schools where you can learn how to kite surf or wind surf. My plan was to spend there around a week and do a kite surfing course, but the winds were not on my side.
- Where to stay: There are two big hostels in Mui Ne, owned by the same person. Mui Ne Backpacker Village is one of the best hostels I stayed in and I highly recommend you to book it in advance.
- What to do: Except for the water sports and the beach, another very popular attraction is the sand dunes tour. It also includes a visit to the fishing village and to the fairy spring.
- Where to eat: Mui Ne is full of sea food restaurants. You can pick your own fish from the big aquariums and they will cook it the way you want.
- Warnings: If you walk on the main street during the night, beware of rats. I’ve never seen so many rats in my life. A friend of mine stepped on one by mistake.
Dalat – 3-4 days
Dalat is my favourite city in Vietnam. It is located at a higher altitude (1,500m) and is the best escape from the crowded cities or the heath. Most hostels here are offering “family dinners“, where the host cooks traditional Vietnamese food and you eat with everyone from the hostel. For adrenaline junkies, the canyoning is a must do.
- Where to stay: The Family Hostel has a great social atmosphere that makes it very easy to meet people, but there are many other good hostels in Dalat. Try to get one close to the center. If you want something special, check out “The crazy house“.
- What to do: Canyoning! It is a bit expensive, but it is totally worth it. Another cool thing that I’ve done in Dalat is an Easy Riders day tour around Dalat. You will be at the back of a professional biker and you will visit some coffee plantations ( where they make weasel coffee), a silk farm, a rice wine distillery, a waterfall and the big laughing buddha. In the evening, go have a drink at 100 roofs bar, it’s gonna be a unique experience. It is designed by the same architect as the crazy house.
- Where to eat: Dalat’s main industry is agriculture, which means there are a lot of fresh products and markets. You can find a lot of street food around these markets, but if your hostel has a family dinner, I recommend that.
- Tips: If you are with a motorbike here, go on a hill around the city during night for spectacular views of the green houses lighted up.
Hoi An – 3-4 days
Hoi An, a Unesco World Heritage site, is that traditional Asian city with bicycles, boats, street food and lanterns. You will be impressed by the number of tailoring ateliers and cool coffee shops.
- What to do: Rent a bicycle and cycle around the old town. Also by bike you can go to the beach that is a few km away and enjoy a bit of the countryside. Get some tailor-made clothes.
- Where to eat: There are a lot of nice restaurants in Hoi An, but if you want a quick-lunch, try Bánh mì Phượng.
- Tips: From Dalat to Hoi an is a long way. I actually took Easy Riders from Dalat to Nha Trang and from there a bus next day to Hoi An.
Hai Van pass
Hai Van pass is the highlight of my trip to Vietnam. This is one of the most beautiful and scenic coastal roads in the world according to Top Gear. For around 25$ you can rent a scooter in Hoi an and return in Hue the same day. If you don’t feel comfortable in riding a motorbike, you can take Easy Riders and enjoy this at the back of a professional motorbike rider (price 50-60$).
If you prefer white sand beaches and coconut trees, you should consider Phu Quoc island. It is easily accessible from Ho Chi Minh City by bus+ferry or plane. I haven’t been there personally, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.
Safe & fun travels!