Backpacking Vietnam: One Month Itinerary
In many ways, which I’ve noted below, Vietnam an ideal country for a backpacker, and a first time backpacker at that. I had no idea how much there is to do and see in Vietnam, and am grateful that Will had the foresight to make sure we allocated a full month to exploring the country. Our itinerary begins in the north and moves at a pace that allowed us to really get to know and enjoy each stop. I think we planned a pretty spectacular trip, if I do say so myself.
A few notes on backpacking in Vietnam:
Vietnam’s S-like shape makes it fairly easy to navigate. Starting in the North or South ultimately determines your path. Buses and trains are easy to book and generally run on time.
Sleeper buses are common, even if not doing an overnight ride. Maybe it’s just because I’m tall, but they are not comfortable in my opinion. Always check what type of bus you’ll be riding if this is not your thing.
Cost of living is very inexpensive. Accommodation, food, transportation all make it a great place to be if your on a budget.
Nearly every hostel or guesthouse includes breakfast. Quality varied of course, but it was something we really enjoyed and looked forward to!
We chose to skip some common stops like Mui Ne or Da Nang as we decided they were not what we were looking for from this trip (we worried they would be too heavily build up beach towns), but they could certainly be slotted into this itinerary if desired!
Below is our itinerary followed by highlights from each city (favorite activities, food & where we stayed for each).
1 Month Vietnam Itinerary
Hanoi - 6 nights
Sapa - 3 nights
Hanoi - 1 night
Ha Long Bay - 2 nights
Tam Coc - 2 night + 1 night on the overnight train
Hue - 2 nights
Hoi An - 5 nights
Dalat - 2 nights + 1 night overnight bus
Ho Chi Minh City - 3 nights
Detailed Itinerary with highlights
Hanoi - 6 nights
This is much more time than most travelers spend in Hanoi, so it’s worth noting 2 things: first we arrived late on our first night, so we had 5 full days in Hanoi. Second, since we had already been on the road for about 3 weeks we were looking forward to having some downtime in Hanoi. Our time here was defined mainly by cafe hopping and exploring the city by foot rather than extensive day trips or sightseeing.
Eat - We ate a lot of great food in Hanoi so this is tough, but here are our favorites
Pho Bat Dan
Cha Ca Phan
Bahn Mi 25
Egg Coffee @ Cafe Giang
Cafe Hop (favorites include Tree Coffee, Flora & Book Cafe, Manzi Art Space, Loading T)
Temple of Literature
Hoa Lo Museum
Nui Homestay - This was our first homestay / guesthouse in Vietnam and I think we liked it because of that, the location was good but probably wouldn’t stay again
Rising Dragon Legend Hotel - Was a nice place that we ended up booking our Ha Long Bay Trip through. We able to get a good rate through booking.com which allowed us to stay
Hanoi Bablylon Garden Hotel - probably too nice for us, but we were able to get a good price to stay here.
Sapa - 3 nights
We loved Sapa and can’t help but wonder how this northern mountain town will change in the years to come. I highly recommend staying slightly out of town in a homestay and going on day treks from there.
We nearly exclusively ate at our homestay, so nothing to add here!
Go trekking (day trek is plenty) with Sapa Sisters
Self-guided day trek to Ta phan (suggest getting a motorbike back)
We were able to book a homestay through booking.com. The experience was a little odd given it was very informal, but we enjoyed meeting other travelers and getting some amazing (and cheap) home cooked meal
Travel note: After Sapa we spend one more night in Hanoi before departing early the next morning for Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay - 2 nights
The Eat, Do, Stay framework doesn’t work so well for Ha Long Bay, given the only way to visit is on a boat. We settled on a 2 night, 3 day trip after researching and learning a bit more about what is offered. We technically were on Bai Tu Long Bay, which was recommended to us given how crowded the main bay gets, however I believe we possibly could have gotten even further away from the masses.
We traveled with Oriental Sails on their smallest boat.The food was great, the staff good but generally not around. It was nice to be on a small boat, but that of course also means you get to know the other people on the boat more intimately.
Tam Coc - 2 nights
Aroma Indian Restaurant in Tam Coc - So good we ate here twice
Family Restaurant - good traditional Vietnamese food
Our homestay had incredible breakfast, so that was the best!
TamCoc was the first place we rented our own motorbike and I highly recommend doing this. It’s a great, flat area with relatively little traffic for first time riders
Bai Dinh Pagoda - give yourself plenty of time to explore it, which we did not
Mua Cave (this is more of a hike, didn't even see the caves), went at perfect time (unplanned) around sunset
Trang An Boat Tour
Tam Coc Happy Home - Highly recommend! Inexpensive, comfortable accommodation with some of the best breakfast we had in Vietnam.
Travel note: We took an overnight train from Ninh Binh (Tam Coc) to Hue, so we had 2 full days in Tam Coc which I’d recommend
Hue - 2 nights
We really liked Hue but it is a sprawling city, which made it a little hard to navigate at first. We ended up hiring a driver for a half day to help us see some of the Tombs.
Madam Thu - Amazing food, recommend making a reservation
TA Coffee & Bakery (great smoothies)
Visit Tombs: I recommend Khai Dinh, Tu Duc, and Thien Mu Pagoda
New Life Homestay - this was really a hostel, run by a young couple. It was a nice vibe in a great location.
Hoi An - 5 nights
Despite the crowded downtown area, we loved having plenty of time to relax in and enjoy Hoi An.
Eat - There is so much great food in Hoi An, so it’s tough to cut this list down!
Banh Mi - Will ate a lot of Banh Mi In Hoi An. Favorites include Bhan Mi Phuong (this is the most well known, Madam Khanh - The Bahn Mi Queen (The best traditional sandwich according to Will), and Phi Banh Mi (get their marinated chicken and egg)
Nu Eatery - this was a splurge for us but some of the best food we ate in Vietnam
Nostalife - great central Vietnamese cuisine
Hi! Restaurant - great inexpensive local food
Rosies Cafe - Western brunch spot but great smoothies and food
An Bang Beach
Rent a bicycle and bike around town
Cafe hop & explore the old town
Tam Coc Happy Home - This was a little far from the old town & the beach for my liking, but gave us the opportunity for some nice bike rides (which were free to use)
Minh Phat Homestay - great location just outside of the old city, but close enough to walk and for an easy bike ride to the beach
Travel note: We found really inexpensive last minute flights from Hoi An to Dalat. We were lucky, otherwise it wouldn’t have been so easy.
Dalat - 2 nights
Goc Ha Thanh - We really liked the coconut curry here
Le Chalet - we only had drinks but they were delicious. The food looked good too but was too pricy for us
An Cafe - great food and coffee and beautiful ambiance
Kem Phung - This is ice cream but deserves a spot - get Avocado Ice Cream here!
Self-guded walking tour (We used this site and it was great: walking tour)
Crazyhouse - included in the walking tour noted above, but a definitely highlight of Dalat
Motorbike through countryside - We ended up hiring a man named Stephane who had approached us on our first day on the street. Highly recommend him (+84 909 644 832)
Forelsket 2 - We were pleasantly surprised by this accommodation which was inexpensive and located in easy walking distance from everything we did
Travel note: We took an overnight bus from Dalat to Ho Chi Minh City which ended up being one of our worst travel experiences. Even though it was a luxury bus, the driving was terrible and we arrived 2 hours early - which meant getting in at 4:30 am vs. 6:30 am. The fact that we also arrived during a thunderstorm didn’t help the situation.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - 3 nights
Little Hanoi Egg Coffee - Egg coffee really is a Northern Vietnamese thing, but this was better than Cafe Giang in Hanoi, in my opinion. It was so good and close to our hostel that we went twice
Pizza 4Ps - surprisingly delicious pizza
Veggie saigon - really good vegetarian Vietnamese food
Bun Cha 145
Cu Chi Tunnels - We went with Hana Tourist. Was good price for small group tour, we also liked that they went to Ben Duoc, not Ben Dinh, since it is apparently a less crowded with tourists
Massage - nothing better on a hot day!
Lala Home - awesome hostel in ‘backpackers alley.’ We liked the location and the breakfast served in the morning