Updated November 6th, 2018.
How long should your Vietnam Itinerary be? Will 15 days be enough? Or is it better to plan for 30 days? And should you get a visa in advance? If you’re currently pondering your Vietnam Backpacking Route then this article is for you!
Vietnam Visas – 15 Days or 30 Days?
15 Day Entry Passes
From May 2018, the Vietnamese Government began to offer a 15-day visa-free entry into Vietnam for a further five European nationalities (UK, Germany, France, Spain and Italy). This now makes 13 countries in total that are granted a 15-day pass upon entry to the country and do not have to arrange a visa in advance.
(For some reason lucky Chilean citizens get 90-days!)
Backpackers of the chosen nationalities, in an attempt to save money and avoid the hassle of having to sort out their visa in advance, are taking advantage of the 15-day free offer. However, once they arrive in Vietnam and quickly realise that there is so much to see and do, not to mention how cheap travel in Vietnam is, they quickly regret this decision!
To get a 30-day eVisa to Vietnam, the cost is just $25 USD and it can be done super easily online via the official Vietnamese government website. The whole process takes just three working days and all you have to do is fill in a form online and upload a scan of your passport as well as a recent passport photo.
You’ll be emailed the eVisa and invitation letter and you need to print it out and show it at the airport when you arrive in Vietnam. It’s as simple as that.
More on visas for Vietnam here.
Can You Extend a 15-Day Entry Visa for Vietnam?
Extending your 15-day entry visa once you are already in Vietnam can be a struggle and cost much more than $25 USD! (The last quote we received from a travel agent in a Vietnam Expat Facebook group was $47 USD for a further 15 days.)
If you are following the Southeast Asia backpacking trail and you’re flexible on time, it’s a much better idea to apply for a 30-day evisa in advance as you’ll most certainly end up saving money and alleviating stress in the long run.
Plus, as the title of this article suggests, 2 weeks in Vietnam is just not enough!
1 Month in Vietnam Itinerary!
Here, we present our 1 month Vietnam itinerary! This trip can be done North to South or vice versa. The skinny shape of the country is conducive to an awesome road trip, motorbike adventure, train journey or bus-hopping voyage! This is the most popular Vietnam backpacker route today…
Hanoi – Day 1-2
Throw yourself in at the deep end and start your adventure in the crazy capital of Hanoi. Once you figure out how to cross the road and learn how to sip the sickly sweet Vietnamese coffee, you’ll really start to get into the swing of things!
Pay a visit to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum which houses the embalmed body of the Father of the Nation, Ho Chi Minh and witness a fascinating slice of communist history. Wander around the pretty Hoan Kiem Lake, stop for some street food in the Old Quarter (you must try Bun Cha!) teamed with a refreshing glass of Bia Hoi (street beer) no matter what time of day it is.
Read more about things to do in Hanoi here.
Halong Bay – Day 3-5
Get out of the city and set off for one of the ‘not-to-be-missed’ adventures in Vietnam – a cruise on the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Halong Bay! If you’re looking to party with a young travelling crowd, Castaways Island by Vietnam Backpackers Hostels is your go-to cruise. As well as water sports, rock climbing, drinking games and more… the best bit is that you’ll spend the night on a stunning private island in the middle of Halong Bay. Photos just don’t do it justice.
If you fancy a more DIY experience of Halong Bay, check out this step-by-step guide by a budget backpacker.
Sapa – Day 6-8
You’ll pass in and out of Hanoi on your way to the mountainous city of Sapa. The best way to get here is to take the overnight train from Hanoi which takes around 8 hours. From Sapa, you can arrange treks in the mountains, as well as homestays with the hill tribe communities that live here (Black Hmong, Red Dzao, Thai, Tay Giáy and Phù Lá). Check out this article about hiking in Sapa written by a traveller from the UK. If you’re looking for a fantastic trek and homestay experience, check out the 2-day Real Sapa Experience by Friends of Travel.
If you’re feeling energetic you can even attempt the hike up Vietnam’s highest mountain Fansipan. (Did you know? There’s now a 6km-long cable car that climbs nearly 1,500 metres and takes you more than halfway there, then there are another 600 metres to reach the top.)
Optional: Ha Giang Loop – 3 Days
If you want to spend more time in the North, and you’re up for the motorbiking adventure of a lifetime, the Ha Giang Loop offers what some claim as the most spectacular scenery in Vietnam!
Ninh Binh – Day 9-10
Again, from Sapa, it makes sense to make a short stop in Hanoi before continuing your adventure southward. Just two hours outside of Hanoi you’ll find yourself in the beautiful Ninh Binh Province. You can reach here by motorbike if you fancy it, on a day tour, or by local bus or train. Ninh Vinh is home to Tam Coc Village and the phenomena known as ‘Halong Bay on Land’.
Phong Nha – Day 11-14
Home to the biggest cave in the world that was only discovered as late as 2010 (Hang Son Doong) Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park is a must stop on the backpacker trail. The attractions here are, of course, the caves, of which there are many that travellers can explore, although unfortunately, Han Soong Dong itself will be off-limits to most backpackers. (The cave has a 2-year waiting list and costs over $3,000 to visit!)
The countryside here is beautiful and you can enjoy it by trekking, cycling or via a motorbike. While many backpackers try to cover the whole park in just 2 days, it’s worth staying at least 3-4 days here to really soak up the rural atmosphere of this beautiful part of Vietnam.
Hue – Day 15-16
This historical ancient city is worth a visit for a day or two. Hire a bicycle for a few dollars and explore the impressive Imperial Hue Citadel or the Tomb of the Former Emperors. Try some local street food such as ‘cơm hến’ baby clams or mussels from the Perfume River served with rice. Read more about Hue here.
Getting to Hoi An
In between Hue and Hoi An lies what Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear called “one of the best coastal roads in the world”, the legendary “ribbon of perfection” known as the Hai Van Pass. Instead of getting the bus (which doesn’t pass over the road), many backpackers decide to take a Hai Van Pass motorbike or jeep tour to experience the high mountain pass with the wind in their face! The views are incredible, you’ll stop at historical sites and deserted beaches along the way and you’ll no doubt make travel buddies who you can explore Hoi An with! It’s a must-do backpacker experience.
Hoi An – Day 17-19
Hoi An on the central coast is an ancient colonial town (and now UNESCO World Heritage site) which was founded as a trading port in the 13th century. Today, it’s Instagram heaven for travellers to sip a latté by the river and a cheap place to get a tailor-made suit!
Many people take a cooking class in Hoi An and learn to make local delicacies such as Bahn Xeo (prawn pancakes) and Cau Lau (pork soup). Those craving the beach will be pleased to hear that An Bang Beach is only 20 minutes bicycle ride from the town offering clear cool seas and water sports, even surfing at certain times of the year.
If you’ve always wanted to try SUP (Stand Up Paddle Boarding) Hoi An is a great place to do it with the awesome SUP Monkey tours for backpackers where you can explore the rivers and waterways of Hoi An and see the city from a totally different perspective.
Spend a night or two at the brand new first ever ‘backpacker resort’ of Ninhvana. Located on the secluded and stunningly beautiful Ninh Van Bay, this is a new concept in luxury backpacker hostels. There are loads of activities from kayaking to trekking, yoga, cliff jumping, jungle trekking, free bicycles, plus lots of partying! It’s a great place to relax and take some “time out” on your backpacking Vietnam route!
Dalat – Day 20-23
Head next to the town dubbed as the ‘Alps of Vietnam’, the old French colonial hill station of Dalat, now a popular place for outdoor adventures like rock climbing, rafting, mountain biking and canyoning. The temperatures here are cooler than the rest of the country which enables the area to make some pretty decent wine!
Mui Ne – Day 24-27
To reach Mui Ne, you’re not going to get the bus as there’s a much much better way to get there! Throw your backpack in the back of a van and take to the road on a mountain bike for this three-hour journey. The best bit? It’s all down hill! Once in Mui Ne, you can enjoy relaxing on the beach, try a spot of kitesurfing or visit the nearby white and red sand dunes.
Ho Chi Minh City – Day 28-30
HCMC, formerly known as Saigon, is the country’s biggest city and home to more motorbikes than you ever thought possible to see on the roads! From here you can brush up on your Vietnamese history by visiting the American War Museum and the nearby Cu Chi Tunnels, an underground network of tunnels where Vietnamese soldiers hid during the war.
30-Day Visa Package with Vietnam Backpackers Hostels
Vietnam Backpackers Hostels is offering a fantastic deal to help travellers to sort out their 30-day visas in advance of their arrival. They will provide you with a free visa invitation letter (which costs $25 USD). The offer is applicable to air arrivals and only requires a 1-night advance booking at one of their hostels to qualify.
If you have already paid for the $25 USD invitation letter they will reimburse you with a food and drink voucher to spend at their hostels upon arrival. Also, they are offering a fantastic promotion pack to pair with the 1-month visa which is a “Book 10 nights, get 10 nights free,” available at any of their hostels upon arrival. (that breaks down to $4 per night dorm beds at any of their 7 hostels throughout the country). Now that’s a deal!
Option: 3 Weeks in Vietnam Itinerary
Looking for more Vietnam Itineraries? If you don’t quite have one month to spend, then the above itinerary can be adapted to a 3 week Vietnam Itinerary. You would just need to spend less time in each place or miss out a few of the stops mentioned above. Here’s what we’d recommend for the perfect 3-week travel route, Vietnam!
- Hanoi – 2 days
- Halong Bay – 3 days
- Sapa – 2 days
- Ninh Binh – 2 days
- Phong Nha – 3 days
- Hue – 1 day
- Hoi An – 3 days
- Dalat – 2 days
- Mui Ne – 2 day
- Ho Chi Minh – 1 day
= 21 days in Vietnam!
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