A Solo Traveller's Guide to Vietnam

Hanois Train Street remains a must-visit for many tourists in the city
Hanoi's Train Street remains a must-visit for many tourists in the city | © Elizaveta Galitckaia / Alamy Stock Photo
Jo Fernandez

Vietnam is the travel gift that keeps on giving. How do you choose between the misty mountains, scenic beaches and bays, energetic cities and cultural sights when travelling solo in Vietnam? Then there’s the gentleness of the Vietnamese people and their show-stopping cuisine. All of this is Vietnam, but there’s much more, as you’ll see in our trusty guide.

An overview of a solo trip to Vietnam

In a week or slightly more, you can graze the length of Vietnam, from north to south, starting in Hanoi, the boulevard-lined capital home to a French quarter and historic hotels. Moving on to coastal Da Nang, a mountain-backed city used as a portal to Hoi An, pretty as a picture with atmospheric lantern-lit lanes. Cooled by the winds of the South China Sea, palm-lined Mũi Né fishing resort is home to desert-like dunes. Last but not least, Ho Chi Minh City – still called Saigon by locals – is a dizzying mix of thriving modern commerce and ancient temples.

Vietnam’s tropical monsoon climate has regional variations and hits different parts of the country at different times. In the south, the driest months are between December and April, while in the north, it’s spring and autumn.

A group of Vietnamese on the port during dawn in a small village close to Mui Ne, Vietnam

Where to stay in Vietnam as a solo traveller

Vietnam is an inexpensive country to travel solo – so you can switch up staying in historic hotels and ritzy resorts for a sail around Halong Bay in the northeast of Vietnam, without worrying about your budget too much. One opportunity that absolutely shouldn’t be passed up is an overnight stay on a wooden boat styled on a Chinese sailing ship, giving you a close-up view of the limestone islands soaring from the deep green waters – either on deck or from the comfort of your cabin.

A classic junk cruise around Halong Bay is a quintessential experience in Vietnam

Check out our favourite Vietnam hostels. If you’re planning on spending a few days by the beach, here’s our pick of top beach hotels in Vietnam, while you can keep your carbon footprint to a minimum at one of these eco-friendly hotels up and down the country. Or take your pick from our best of the best roundup for a real treat without breaking the bank.

A seaside scene at Vedana Lagoon Resort & Spa

What to do in Vietnam as a solo traveller

Vietnam is a deceptively slender country stacked with sights from head to toe. With so much choice, we’ve cherry-picked three very different things to do.

1. Take a walking tour of Hanoi

Architectural Landmark

The Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum with Vietnamese flag located in the center of Ba Dinh Square
© agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo

You can’t visit Hanoi and not be charmed, despite the crazy traffic thick with darting mopeds. Be guided through the city on foot by our Local Insider – as part of our 12-day Vietnam small-group adventure – from Ba Dinh Square, where President Ho Chi Minh declared independence in 1945, to the maze-like, industrious Old Quarter, passing Hanoians balancing produce on bamboo poles, and stopping for street food classics like bánh xeo (savoury pancakes).

2. Go off-roading on Mũi Né’s sand dunes

Natural Feature

Man riding a quad along Dirt Road In Desert Against a blue Sky
© Jiunnlin Chen / EyeEm / Getty Images

Half an hour from Mũi Né, a fishing village turned popular resort in the south, Sahara-like dunes sculpted by the sea breeze rise behind a lotus-topped lake. Hire a quad bike or dune buggy to zig-zag across them as the sun sets.

3. Explore the bustling market streets of Hoi An

Natural Feature

Flower vendors and food vendors selling products at Hoi An market in Hoi An Ancient Town, Quang Nam, Vietnam
© Phong Tran / Alamy Stock Photo

A thriving trading post until the 19th century, today Hoi An draws tourists with its picturesque charm. Wooden pagodas and narrow lanes sell silky pyjamas while restaurants peddle seafood-rich dishes you’ll want to return for.

Eating and drinking in Vietnam

The French occupation left its mark in many ways. In terms of cuisine, the baguettes available on most streets are the bedrock of the popular banh mi – pickle-loaded meat sandwiches. Street food really is the way to authentic Vietnamese food culture. Avoid trendy restaurants where they may only serve you what looks tasty. Instead, opt for such down-to-earth places where you can pull out a plastic stool on the pavement.

Banh mi thit stuffed with pork, ham, pate, egg, scallions, carrot, cucumber

What’s also ubiquitous here is the sight of Vietnamese squatting low as they breakfast on pho, an aromatic rice noodle soup with a bunch of fresh, green herbs and thin slithers of beef, served in homes, street stalls and restaurants.

People eating pho, a traditional noodle soup, in Saigon

You may also want to perk yourself up with a morning coffee – often served cold and sweetened with condensed milk – and later savour an ice-cold beer – the Saigon and Hanoi brands are very popular.

Read our guide on how to spot the best street food stalls in Vietnam, or cut to the chase with our top pick of dishes to eat in Vietnam and the best vegetarian street food Vietnamese dong can buy.

Stay safe, be happy

Vietnam is generally very safe, whether you’re alone or with others. There’s an established tourist trail, which means a huge variety of hotels and plenty of transport options. The main thing to be aware of in larger cities is pickpockets grabbing bags and mobile phones as they whizz by on scooters – but you’d have to be very unlucky to fall victim to this.

Tourist riding a cyclo in Hoi An’s Old Town

For female solo travellers out at night, a metered taxi is the safest form of transport. Booking a small-group trip to Vietnam is one of the best ways to experience the country with the security of a local expert to guide you, yet the freedom to pick your excursions, from street food tours to biking in the hills.

What to do to fit in – and not offend

Vietnamese people are naturally friendly and welcoming to solo travellers. However, if you travel to remote areas, be respectful of their conservative values. Behave as the locals do when visiting pagodas and temples; if they cover up a body part, then so should you. Perhaps unfairly, but particularly if you’re a female solo traveller, dress as the locals do. We don’t mean donning a nòn la conical hat but avoid revealing outfits and don’t topless sunbathe anywhere.

Billboard at a pagoda advising on how to dress in Dalat, Vietnam

Getting around

Vietnam is a delightful country, but some of the roads are dangerous and best left to native drivers. Air-conditioned coaches chug up and down heavily congested Highway 1, the main route that runs between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Less stressful are the sleeper cabins on the trains that run alongside. Buy tickets online or at the station (hotels and agencies will do it for a fee), and pre-book in peak holiday periods such as Tet (Vietnamese new year). Buy the highest class you can afford; lower means less comfort and higher gets softer seats, sleeping berths and faster service.

Enjoying breakfast below the bunks of the sleeper service from Hanoi Railway Station

Alternatively, join our immersive 12-day Vietnam adventure to have all your transportation, accommodation and activities arranged for you – you’ll only travel with a small group of like-minded travellers, and beat the crowds everywhere you visit.

This is an updated rewrite of an article originally by Dung Phan.

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