The Best Places to Go Backpacking in Vietnam

Ninh Binh province offers plenty of dramatic scenery for travellers in Vietnam to explore
Ninh Binh province offers plenty of dramatic scenery for travellers in Vietnam to explore | © Jaromír Chalabala / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Piumi Rajapaksha
4 September 2021

Between the cascading rice terraces of Sapa, the islands of Ha Long Bay, the caves of Phong Nha, the dunes of Mui Ne and the paddies of the Mekong Delta, Vietnam has a diverse offering of bucket-list attractions to offer travellers. Here we list all the best places to explore, so you can create an itinerary that will make good use of your visa.

Interested in visiting Vietnam? Let our local insider show you the best of the country during Culture Trip’s specially curated 12-day Vietnam tour for small groups.

Hanoi

The chaotic capital of Vietnam is a great place to start or end your journey, depending on whether you plan to head north to south or vice versa. Upon landing, you’re sure to notice the overwhelming amount of motorbikes on the streets. This can feel intimidating but, don’t worry, you get used to it.

The city offers lakes, pagodas, museums and the Old Quarter. It might be a good idea to spend two days here, just to get used to Vietnam before striking out. What makes Hanoi great is that, as a central hub, you can easily catch transport to the rest of the region. Make sure you try a bowl of pho before you leave though. With Culture trip, you can enjoy a walking tour and a street food tour of Hanoi in the company of our local insider on Culture Trip’s exclusive small-group Vietnam adventure.

Make sure to tour the Old Quarter of Hanoi | © Suzy Bennett / Alamy Stock Photo

Sapa

Sapa is Vietnam’s premier trekking base and you can not leave the country without at least a day of hiking through the rice terraces, lush valleys and endless karst peaks of the region. Include Heavens Gate, Mount Fansipan (the highest peak in Indochina) and Muong Hoa Valley in your itinerary. And instead of booking a hotel, strip back the comfort and spend the night in a village homestay to experience the real Sapa. Let them show you what their life is like in the mountains. Happy water (homemade rice wine) is a huge part of hospitality here.

The bustling town of Sapa makes a great base for exploring this mountainous region of Vietnam | @ Asia / Alamy Stock Photo

Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay, crowned one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World, is home to thousands of limestone karst peaks jutting out of emerald waters and hundreds of uninhabited islands topped with dense jungle. Taking a tour here is the easiest way to get around; most are all-inclusive, though alcoholic drinks and water activities usually cost extra. Check out Cat Ba National Park, explore Dau Go cave and make sure you go kayaking.

Tour boats are a common sight in Ha Long Bay | © David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Ninh Binh

You can get to Ninh Binh directly from Ha Long Bay if you do not wish to go back to Hanoi. There are four areas of interest here; Tam Coc, Trang An, Van Long Nature Reserve and Cuc Phuong National Park, the last of which is perfect for camping. Don’t spend less than two days here as there are plenty of mountains, rivers, caves, peaks, ancient pagodas and more to take in.

Ninh Binh is an area rich in natural wonders | © mageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Phong Nha

Phong Nha is home to the largest cave system in the world, Hang Son Doong. Check out our guide on how to explore the caves and the surrounding area. Be sure to book ahead as there’s a two-year waiting list to enter. Don’t let this dishearten you, though, as you can opt for Hang En cave, the third-largest in the world, or Paradise Cave. The Phong Nha Ke Bang national park is also the largest in Vietnam and home to the last wild populations of black bears, elephants and tigers in Vietnam, so you may want to curb the backpacker instincts of wandering off alone.

Vietnam is home to several enormous caves | © Mikołaj Michalak / Alamy Stock Photo

Hoi An

There are plenty of places to explore in Hoi An – from bronze casting, pottery, coconut and fishing villages in the outskirts of the city to An Bang/Cua Dai beach close to Tra Que vegetable village, the first organic vegetable village in Vietnam. The enchanting, Unesco-listed Ancient Town is unmissable; head over to our experiences hub for a curated selection of culture-embracing tours and cooking classes in Hoi An.

From Hoi An you can take day trips to Da Nang, where you can spend time exploring the Marble Mountains and My Son Temples. The beaches in Da Nang aren’t too bad either, but the ones in Hoi An provide a calmer option. Nearby, Hue offers a bunch of things to see, namely the Imperial City, the former capital of Vietnam. Tempted to visit? You can do so as part of Culture Trip’s specially curated 12-day Vietnam tour.

Orange lanterns hang above the street in Hoi An’s Ancient Town | © Soma / Alamy Stock Photo

Nha Trang

Nha Trang makes a great luxury stop in your travels. Spoil yourself with a stay in one of the high-rise hotels or beachside resorts. It’s the perfect way to take a break from backpacking. You can hike, shop and party here and, of course, there are plenty of beach activities. Nha Trang is also the diving capital of Vietnam.

Nha Trang is the diving capital of Vietnam | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Da Lat

After the hot and humid beaches of Nha Trang, the cool weather of Da Lat is a welcome change. The best thing to do here is to rent a bike and explore the many waterfalls for which Da Lat is best known. A popular activity is canyoning or rappelling up a waterfall before jumping into it. You can book white-knuckle rafting tours and canyoning adventures with Culture Trip. 100 Roofs Café and Crazy House are also worth a visit.

Hang Nga guesthouse, also known as the Crazy House, is a great place to stay | © Larisa Dmitrieva / Alamy Stock Photo

Ho Chi Minh City

While Hanoi is the cultural hub of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City is the international one. There are lots of exciting experiences to be had in this city – from Jeep tours to the Cu Chi Tunnels that were used by soldiers during the Vietnam war, to sightseeing tours by Vespa, taking in landmarks such as Ben Thanh Market, the War Remnants Museum and the Mekong Delta. If you crave more beach fun after making your way down the coast, head to Vung Tau, only two hours away and famous for their seafood pancakes named banh khot. Alternatively, go to Mui Ne, home to dunes that look more like something from the Middle East than Southeast Asia.

If Ho Chi Minh City is your last stop, head to one of the renowned rooftop bars, and end your journey with a brilliant panoramic view of the city, while reminiscing about the amazing journey you just had.

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