30 Day Vietnam Backpacking Route – ‘Cos 2 Weeks is Not Enough!

Vietnam Itinerary Backpacking Route

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!

How much time should one spend in Vietnam? That is the question…

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!

30-Day Visas

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.)

Our advice?

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!

Three travellers look out over Halong Bay, Vietnam
30 Day Vietnam Backpacking Route: ‘Cos 30 Days is 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! 

The roads in Hanoi Vietnam are carazy!
The roads in Hanoi Vietnam are crazy!

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! 

A great way to get to know the city (through your stomach!) is by taking a food tour. We love this Hanoi Street Food Tour where you get to sample a variety of 15 Vietnamese delicacies whilst exploring the backstreets and quirky corners of the city. It’s the perfect way to set you up for more foodie adventures as you travel down south. The same company also run an excellent half day Hanoi Bicycle Tour.

Read more things to do in Hanoi here.

Bia Hoi Hanoi Vietnam
Sipping a glass of Bio Hoi at the roadside is a must do activity in Hanoi at any time of day!

Where to stay in Hanoi? When it comes to choosing a hostel in Hanoi, a backpacker is spoilt for choice! The best place to base yourself is the Old Quarter and many of the hostels have great features like rooftop bars, free walking tours and even free beer happy hours! Vietnam Backpackers Hostels is super popular for a reason, as well as Chien Hostel, which has an awesome rooftop bar with great views across the city. For more options (25 to be precise!) check out our list of best hostels 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. The Halong Hideaway Tour is also a good option for budget backpackers (it’s the cheapest Halong Bay tour around). 

Kayaking in Halong Bay, Vietnam
Kayaking in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, an alternative to Halong Bay is the less touristy Lan Ha Bay. It’s no less beautiful than Halong, with huge limestone karsts dotted with tiny white beaches and intriguing caves. The advantage? It’s much quieter! Check out this 3-Day Lan Ha Bay Tour where you’ll spend the night in a homestay in Lan Ha Bay and feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Hai Phong Harbour!

Or, if you fancy a more DIY experience of Halong Bay, check out this step-by-step guide by a budget backpacker who arranged a tour from Cat Ba Island. Still not sure how to explore Halong Bay? Read more about how to choose the right Halong Bay Tour here.

Where to stay in Halong Bay? – For those of you wanting to explore the Halong Bay and Lan Ha Area, the place to base yourself is Cat Ba Island. From here, you can arrange tours out into the bay, go trekking, cycling or visit the intriguing ‘Hospital Cave’. For a decent hostel, check out Secret Garden or Cannon Fort Hostel which were recommended by travellers in our Facebook Group. (Which if you haven’t joined yet, is a jolly good place to be…)

Sapa – Day 6-8

You’ll pass in and out of Hanoi again 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.

Hiking in Sapa with the Black Hmong Hill Tribe is a must on your Vietnam Itinerary!
Hiking in Sapa with a local ethnic minority guide is a must on your Vietnam Itinerary!

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!) If you’re feeling super adventurous and want to hike the mountain yourself, then check out the Extreme Fansipan Tour!

Where to stay in Sapa? – If you want more time to explore the countryside of Sapa then you might want to base yourself in Sapa Town. We love the Go Sapa Hotel or the Check In Sapa Hostel. Check out more options in our travel guide to Sapa here.

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! You can hire a motorbike from Hanoi and drive the route yourself, or if you’re not a confident driver, you can hire an Easy Rider (a local Vietnamese bike guide) to drive for you. Warning – there are a lot of accidents on this route and we advise that you do not attempt it unless you are an experienced rider. Another alternative is to do the True North Ha Giang Tour organised by Flipside Hostels, where you can either ride the bike yourself or ride pillion (on the back seat!) with a group of biking buddies!

Black rocks jut out in a valley, Ha Giang Loop
The scenery on the Ha Giang Loop, Vietnam. One of the best-motorbiking routes in the country.

Ninh Binh and Tam Coc – 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 from Hanoi (we recommend this Ninh Binh Tour with Friends Travel Vietnam), or by local bus or train if you want a more local experience. Ninh Binh is home to Tam Coc Village and Lake and the phenomena known as “Halong Bay on Land” as well as ancient temples, mysterious caves and amazing viewpoints. Read more about Tam Coc and Ninh Binh here.

Tam Coc River, Ninh Binh
Tam Coc River, Ninh Binh.

Where to stay in Ninh Binh? – If you want to spend more than just a day in Ninh Binh, then why not spend a night at the lovely Tam Coc Green Garden Homestay with its lovely riverside views. Tam Coc Homestay is also a great option with a swimming pool, mountain setting and dorms from just $5 US per night!

Phong Nha National Park – 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!)

Paradise Cave, Phong Nha, Vietnam.
The epic stalagmites of Paradise Cave, Phong Nha, Vietnam.

The countryside here is seriously 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. Read more about Phong Nha here.

Where to stay in Phong Nha? – Phong Nha Farmstay or Easy Tiger Hostel are popular budget backpacker hostels in Phong Nha.

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.

Thien Mu, Hue, Vietnam.
Historical Hue, Vietnam.

Where to stay in Hue? – For a backpacker option, don’t miss Vietnam Backpackers Hostels Hue where there’s a lively bar and it’s easy to meet fellow travellers. If you’re looking for a more tranquil option, we love the Tam Family Homestay!

—> 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 Hai Van 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.

A Group on the Hai Van Pass Jeep Tour
Making new travel buddies on the Hai Van Pass Jeep Tour!

Hoi An – Day 17-19

Hoi An is located on the central coast of Vietnam, an ancient colonial town (now a 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!

The lovely streets of Hoi An, Vietnam
The lovely streets of Hoi An, Vietnam.

Many people take the popular Hoi An Street Food Tour and sample delicious local delicacies such as Bahn Xeo (prawn pancakes) and Cau Lau (pork soup) as they explore the city. 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. There’s also the interesting Tam Thanh Mural Village, which is worth a day trip – a small fishing village that’s been made into a living art gallery by local artists, as well as the nearby My Son Sanctuary – home to ancient ruins from the Champa era of Vietnam. Read more about Hoi An here.

Where to stay in Hoi An? – Yes, Vietnam Backpackers Hostel do have a branch in Hoi An, and it has a swimming pool, a lively bar and daily activities! There’s also the nearby Tribee Hostel (Tribee Ede – which has a swimming pool) or if you prefer to base yourself right by the beach in An Bang (a great option!) then Under The Coconut Tree Homestay is a good choice.

Optional stopover:

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! Read our full review of Ninhvana here.

Ninhvana Backpacker Resort, Vietnam.
Ninhvana Backpacker Resort, Vietnam.

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 – always a bonus when backpacking in Southeast Asia! Read more about Dalat here.

Dalat, Vietnam.
Dalat, Vietnam.

Where to stay in Dalat? – For a cheap and cheerful place to stay in Dalat, look no further than Redhouse Backpacker Hostel. If you’re looking for something more upmarket, check out ‘A Little House‘ which is a more flashpacker option that gets superb reviews.

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. Photo opportunities just don’t get much better than this. Read more about Mui Ne here.

Sunset over the sand dunes in Mui Ne, Vietnam
The Red Sand Dunes of Mui Ne.

Where to stay in Mui Ne? – Mui Ne Hills Hotels have a variety of different hotels and hostels to suit all budgets! You can also check out Mui Ne Backpacker Village which is another budget backpacker option.

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. Read more about Ho Chi Minh City.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam.

Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City? – Pham Ngu Lao is the backpacker district of Ho Chi Minh City where you’ll find loads of cheap hostels, restaurants and travel agencies. Flipside Hostel is a friendly choice with a nice rooftop bar, as is Hangout Hostel or the quirky Common Room Project. For a flashpacker option, check out the Chill Suites.

Optional excursion:

A tour to the Mekong Delta is one of the most popular excursions from Ho Chi Minh City. This unique part of Vietnam is a maze of canals, floating villages and tiny bridges over waterways. Many of the local hostels and travel agents will offer you a day trip which includes a boat trip and a local lunch, but if you’re looking for something different, check out the Mekong Madness Adventure offered by Flipside Hostels. Read an in-depth Mekong Madness bike tour review here.

A Vietnamese lady rows towards other boats on the Mekong River. Photo by Anne Lin on Unsplash
Mekong Life – South Vietnam.

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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    Nikki Scott is the founder & editor of South East Asia Backpacker. A traveller-turned-entrepreneur, she left the UK in 2009 and after 6 months on the road, she started a bi-monthly print magazine about backpacking in Asia. South America Backpacker soon followed and today she runs her backpacking enterprise from her base in Spain. Her honest and fascinating book, Backpacker Business, tells the story of her success in the face of adversity.