Streets full of food trucks, flea markets, and motorcycles, Vietnam is a country full of stunning natural beauty, delicious food, and complex history that is waiting for you to explore.
A country as diverse as Vietnam is not easy to experience all in one go but like most people, we are often on a limited timeframe and so this backpacking travel guide will guide you through Vietnam in 2 weeks, covering all the places you should see, where to stay and every other relevant information you might need to know to backpack through Vietnam effectively.
Without further ado, let's begin with an overview of my Vietnam 2 weeks itinerary:
- 2 Weeks Vietnam Itinerary Map
- Vietnam Travel Video
- When to Visit Vietnam
- Where to Stay in Vietnam
- How to Get to Vietnam
- How to Get Around Vietnam
- Is Vietnam Safe?
- Internet in Vietnam
- Travel Insurance
- 2 Weeks Itinerary for Vietnam
- Further Reading for Backpacking in Vietnam
2 Weeks Vietnam Itinerary Map
Vietnam Travel Video
When to Visit Vietnam
There isn't really any right or wrong time to visit Vietnam, except maybe during a typhoon, as it is a tropical country located by the sea, with highlands up in the north. You will likely be experiencing everything from the cold north to the high humidity of the lowlands.
That said, clear days are always better than rainy days as you will be able to do more outside and the best time to visit to avoid rain is from January to March where Southern Vietnam is in mid-dry season, Central Vietnam rainy season already passed, and Sapa and the north is in dry winter (temperature should average around 5 - 15°C).
Visiting around this time should maximize the clear days you will have during your trip, all the while, not being melted by the high humidity and the heat from metropolitan areas of the lowland.
Where to Stay in Vietnam
How to Get to Vietnam
Vietnam is such a popular country that you will have no trouble finding a way to get to Vietnam from your home country cheaply. More often than not, most travelers will include Vietnam as part of a big Southeast Asian trip.
If you are one of these travelers, the cheapest way is to fly into any countries nearby that is the cheapest for you (Singapore, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok are big hubs) and then either travel by land through Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City or fly low-cost with AirAsia.
Getting from your home country to Vietnam, if you are from the US, you can fly with ANA Airline via Japan to get to Vietnam or one of the 3 big hubs in the region (Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur).
If you are from Europe, there are several European airlines (KLM, Air France) or Middle Eastern airlines (Emirates, Qatar, and Etihad) that connects Europe to Southeast Asia.
If you are flying from Asia, AirAsia is the way to go with several routes and schedule at a very affordable price.
How to Get Around Vietnam
Trains are a great way to travel through Vietnam. It may be slow, but you will be able to see the countryside at your own leisure. Night trains are also a comfortable way to travel to places like Sapa from Hanoi.
Another option is to take a bus which is cheaper and faster than the train but not as scenic. In Vietnam, there are regular buses and sleeping buses with sleeper berths which makes overnight trips a bit more comfortable.
You can book your bus ticket for Vietnam online here: Get your Vietnam Bus Ticket Online with 12GO.
Watch out for thieves when you travel on an overnight bus! I have heard many reports that they got their money stolen from their wallet when they were sleeping on the bus.
For traveling around the cities, motorbikes and scooters are great options to explore all the attractions in Vietnam at your own pace. You can rent a motorbike through you hostels/hotels in every accommodation in Vietnam and it shouldn't cost more than 6 USD per day.
If you are not a strong driver, I would advise against renting a motorbike or a scooter as Vietnam road is known for being quite dangerous and when you travel through the country, you will often find wounded foreigners everywhere due to road accidents.
That said, if you want to try it out, I would recommend renting it in a calmer place like Hoi An, Ninh Binh or Phong Nha where it isn't as hectic as big cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
If you are not so keen on exploring on a motorbike by yourself, most hotels/hostels will often provide you with a list of day tours you can take so you will be able to see everything without having to ride yourself.
This place is quite cheap compare to all the other countries in the world. If you are planning a trip here, you can expect to pay around 25 - 45 USD per day per person and that should include accommodation and 3 meals.
Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.
Is Vietnam Safe?
Vietnam is relatively safe especially outside of big cities but when you are in big cities, especially around the touristy area like Pham Ngu Lao district in Ho Chi Minh City, there are a few things to have to watch out for:
Do not walk around with your phone out when you are walking along the streets, may it be during the day or night. I have heard many reports from friends that they got their phone snatched from their hands by a passing motorbike.
Do not leave your things unattended on the bus or the train, especially the overnight ones. Many of my friends got their money/bags stolen while they were sleeping on the overnight bus/train.
Do not crash your motorbike, this goes without saying but this is where they will scam you out of more money than you are supposed to pay for a fix so it's better not to crash it.
That said, do not let these warning deter you from visiting Vietnam as these things could happen anywhere in the world may it be Europe or South America.
I have experienced many random genuineness from the locals many times throughout my trip in Vietnam like a guy driving me to the train station for free and my guesthouse in Hoi An cooking lunch for me for free, so don't close yourself entirely, but just be aware of these annoyances.
Internet in Vietnam
Wifi is available in establishments that catered to tourists nowadays but the reliability is still questionable so if you are looking for a solid connection and reliability, I would recommend you get a local sim card from Viettel or any other carriers. Data is cheap (2 USD for 3 GB) and mostly reliable except maybe in Phong Nha and on the train from Hanoi to Sapa.
One of the cafes I often frequent for a nice cup of cafe sua da (coffee with milk) and wifi when I needed to work when I was in Vietnam is Trung Nguyen, a local chain of cafes and the Starbucks of Vietnam. You can find the cafes all over big cities in Vietnam and they often have reliable WIFI and power outlets for you.
For more information on local sim cards in Vietnam: Vietnam Prepaid Data Sim Card.
If you are looking for travel insurance to go along with your trip to Vietnam, I would recommend WorldNomads.com, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure.
2 Weeks Itinerary for Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City (3 Nights)
A great city to start your journey in Vietnam is Ho Chi Minh City or as it used to be known as Saigon. Ho Chi Minh City is a modern city full of history and attractions for you to get the hang of what Vietnam is about. The city itself is like any other big cities in Southeast Asia, it comes with traffic jam, full of nightlife activities and a ton of things to do for city-goers.
But if you are looking to learn a little bit more about the history of Vietnam, the first thing I would recommend you do is to visit the Vietnam War Museum.
Be warned that the content of the Vietnam War Museum is very depressing and some photos are extremely graphic. I was completely exhausted for the entire day that day just reading about all the atrocities that happened during the Vietnam war.
That said, I highly recommend anyone to visit the museum so that you can learn about the Vietnam War from both the Vietnamese side and the US side of the stories.
The museum is divided into several rooms and floors starting from the top floor going down. You can spend at least 2 hours going from room to room, and learning about every part of the war from the cause to the side effects and the aftermath that has yet subsided from the Vietnam War.
After the museum, you can spend the rest of the day exploring the city, visiting the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon located in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City or visiting the Saigon Central Post Office nearby, which should give you a great example of how much French influenced the city when they colonize it in the late 19th Century.
Ben Thanh market is a market that a lot of people recommend to visit but for me, the experience was not as fun as it sounds as we were shouted at by the vendors in the market for standing in front of their stores without buying. That said, the architecture is quite nice from the outside and it isn't too far from the main tourist area (Pham Ngu Lao street).
If you are looking for a way to see Ho Chi Minh city from the top, I would recommend you to visit the Bitexco Financial Tower and go up to their rooftop bar for a stunning sunset view over the city. Everything is expensive up there but the view is unbeatable.
For the second day, you can go on a day trip to Cu Chi tunnels, an old network of connecting tunnels used by the Viet Cong to resist the US forces during the Vietnam War. It is located only 2 hours away from Ho Chi Minh city and you can visit, and even walk through one of the small tunnels yourself.
Be warned though that the tunnels are really small and if you are claustrophobic, I would recommend against entering the tunnel. One of the guys in my group fainted due to him not knowing he was claustrophobic and it was extra hot that day.
The day trip should take you half a day before they drop you off back in Pham Nhu Lao district where you can continue your day exploring Ho Chi Minh city.
One of the coolest things you can do in Ho Chi Minh city is to mingle with the locals at the September 23rd Park in Pham Ngu Lao district. There are a lot of young Vietnamese people who are eager to learn English from travelers and they often hang out in this park. You can simply walk around and you will likely be approached by a group of students asking you to teach them English. This is a great way to mingle with the locals, allowing you to see the country in a more authentic perspective.
After spending 2 full days in Ho Chi Minh City, we continue our journey to Hoi An, the river-side town, known for its colorful houses and lanterns.
From Ho Chi Minh City, you can either take an overnight train (17 hours) to Danang and continue with a bus/taxi to Hoi An or take an overnight sleeper bus (22 hours for 12 USD) to Hoi An. You can book your bus ticket to Hoi An here.
If you are not so keen on spending almost a day on the bus/train, you can fly domestic to Danang (1.15 hrs) and get a bus from the airport to Hoi An. This is by far the fastest way to get to Hoi An but it will cost you at least 80 USD for a flight.
Looking for a complete travel guide to Ho Chi Minh City? 3 Days In Ho Chi Minh City.
Hoi An (3 Nights)
Hoi An is one of the most photogenic towns in Vietnam. It is an ancient port town that used to be an important Southeast Asian trading port between 15th - 19th Century.
Its beautiful blend of traditional and foreign influence on the architecture of the ancient town draws a ton of tourists from around the world each year. It can get crowded at times especially by the river at night but Hoi An just have too much to offer that it will be a mistake to ignore it.
On your first day, you can spend the morning exploring the crisscrossing streets of the ancient town which should still be quite empty, visit the Japanese bridge and have a nice lunch eating some of the best food you can eat in Vietnam such as the Cao Lau (signature noodle dish), Bahn Bao Vac (a Vietnamese dumplings) and Bahn Mi (Vietnamese Baguette sandwich).
Be sure to also drop by Reaching Out teahouse for a cup of tea or coffee when you are in Hoi An. What makes this establishment special is that they only employed people who are deaf and mutes, giving them jobs while providing with wonderful service and cozy atmosphere.
Try Cao Lau for lunch at Quán Cao Lầu Thanh restaurant and for dinner, I would highly recommend you try Bahn Mi at Bánh Mì Phượng , one of the best Bahn Mi places in Hoi An. Beware that due to its deliciousness and how cheap it is, you might have to wait in line for quite a while but I can assure you, it's well worth the wait.
You can also rent a bike and go and explore a different part of Hoi An away from the bustling ancient down like visiting the beach or learn how to cook Vietnamese food in one of the many cooking schools around Hoi An. If you are lucky, your homestay might be able to teach you for free.
Right before the sunset, the ancient town of Hoi An becomes alive, lighted up and illuminated by all the lanterns from the houses making it quite a sight to behold. It will also be quite crowded with many activities happening all around, almost the opposite of what you saw in the morning.
For the second day, you can go on a day tour to My Son Sanctuary, an ancient spiritual capital of the Champa empire which occupied much of what is now central and lower Vietnam between 7th - 10th century.
The tour shouldn't cost you more than 5 USD and it will take you half day until they drop you back in Hoi An. My Son ruin, although not very well maintained, is a fun half-day visit allowing you to walk through and learn about the ancient history of Central Vietnam.
Next up, we are heading to Phong Nha. From Hoi An, you can get on a bus operated by Hung Thanh Travel leaving Hoi An at 8:30 AM and will arrive in Hue city center at 11:30 AM and from there, you can go to DMZ Bar and buy the 2 PM DMZ Bus ticket directly from the bar. With the DMZ bus, you should arrive in Phong Nha by 6:30 PM.
This is a great option if you also want to see the Hue Citadel which is located just across the Perfume river since you will have around an hour and a half to explore Hue.
Looking for a complete travel guide to Hoi An? The Colorful Lanterns Of Hoi An's Ancient City.
Phong Nha (2 Nights)
After 2 days in Hoi An, it's time to go on a little adventure on to the cave region of the country that has been steadily gaining popularity, Phong Nha, best known where they discovered the largest cave in the world, the Son Doong Cave.
In order to visit Son Doong Cave though, you will have to go with a very expensive expedition with Oxalis travel agency which cost 3,000 USD and takes 4 days. It's not exactly affordable but thankfully there are many caves to explore still in Phong Nha.
The Paradise cave tour is a great way to see the Phong Nha caves on a budget with limited time. You can buy the tour at the Easy Tiger Hostel or any hotels in the area. The tour will take an entire day and you will be going into the restricted and untamed area of the Paradise Cave.
The tour provides you with a guide (mine was hilarious) headlamps, caving clothes, helmets and all other necessary equipment that allows you to explore the dark caves of Phong Nha in detail. This is a real adventure and will require you to be in good shape to walk through water and wet mud, all the while watching your head so you don't bump into the stalactites.
Equipped with your headlamps, you will be heading into many caverns, some as large or even larger than a football field, filled with alien-looking stalagmites and stalactites. My experience exploring the caves of Phong Nha was nothing short of extraordinary and I would highly recommend you to visit Phong Nha just for the cave.
After a full-on adventure in Phong Nha, we continue our journey north towards the city of Ninh Binh, a Halong Bay on land.
From Phong Nha, you will have to book a train ticket from Dong Hoi to Ninh Binh via a local travel agency in Phong Nha the day before (Jungle Boss Tour Office can help you with the ticket).
After you have the ticket, the next day, you will have to get up as early as 5 AM to catch the first bus to Dong Hoi at 5:30 AM (just stand on the main street and flag down a bus and ask the driver if they are heading to Dong Hoi). It will take you 1.5 hours to Dong Hoi and from there, you can get a taxi to Dong Hai train station and get on the 8:45 AM train to Ninh Binh (10 hours). It should cost you no more than 20 USD for the bus and the train.
Looking for things to do in Phong Nha? A Guide To Go Caving Inside Paradise Cave, Phong Nha.
Ninh Binh (2 Nights)
After a long 10 hours train ride from Phong Nha the day before, it is time to explore Ninh Binh at your own leisure and the best way to do that is to rent a motorbike. You can ask your hotel/hostel to help you get a hold on this 2 wheeler and off you go, explore the stunning landscape of Ninh Binh.
One of the best place to watch a sunset is at the Hang Mua Cave Viewpoint a scenic mountain spot overlooking the Tam Coc river. You will have to climb 500 steps to get to the top but I can tell you, the view is definitely worth it. Be sure to go there way before sunset to get a spot. You can also visit in the morning instead to avoid the crowds.
There are also a few caves you can explore around the Mua Cave area but the highlight for me was definitely the viewpoint.
After seeing the Tam Coc river from above, it's time to grab your helmet and ride down to see the river from the bottom. You can get on one of these boats and sail along the river as well, completing your Tam Coc experience 😉.
Another nice place that you shouldn't miss in Ninh Binh is the Bich Dong Pagoda, an ancient tiered pagoda nestled into a mountainside of Vietnam. You can climb the stairs up to the middle-tiered pagoda but the top-tiered pagoda will require you to scramble up a steep path which is not recommended if you are there on a rainy day.
After spending a day in Ninh Binh, getting used to riding a motorbike in Vietnam, it's time to continue our journey north to the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi.
From Ninh Binh, it's only 2 - 3 hours journey by train to Hanoi for only 5 USD. Book your train tickets from Ninh Binh to Hanoi here.
Looking for a complete travel guide to Ninh Binh? What To Do In Ninh Binh?.
Hanoi (1 - 2 Nights)
Hanoi is a bustling capital city of Vietnam where motorbikes weave through the roads like unstoppable water flowing in a river. I didn't spend much time in Hanoi but one of my favorite things to do in the city is to go out and try all the delicious street food there.
You can spend one night in Hanoi and get on an overnight train to Sapa allowing you to have 2 half-days to explore the city, which should be enough, or you can spend 2 nights and have more time to see what Hanoi has to offer.
A tourist attraction worth visiting in Hanoi is the Tran Quoc Pagoda, the oldest Buddhist temple in Hanoi which is located on the West Lake, another great place to walk around in the evening. Within the same area, you can also drop by and admire the stunning Presidential Palace and visit the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.
After Hanoi, it is time to make our way to our last destination in Vietnam, Sapa. From Hanoi, you can either get an overnight train which leaves at 9 - 11 PM and arrives around 5 - 6 AM and it will cost you 35 USD for a bed berth per person.
You can also get a bus which is faster and cheaper than taking the overnight train. Sapa Express runs twice a day from Hanoi leaving at 7:00 AM and 10 PM. The bus takes 6 hours and cost around 12 USD.
Sapa (3 Nights)
Sapa is one of my favorite places in Vietnam. The area is full of beautiful mountains and hills with rice terraces for me to hike around in the cool breeze of the highland. Sapa is also home to the Black Hmong minorities and they will make themselves known immediately when your bus rolls into Sapa.
Sapa is a prime place for tourists to hang out and for the Hmong minorities to make money, and so you might get overwhelmed by the number of people trying to sell you trinkets. Do not let that deter you from visiting Sapa though as the place has a lot to offer from a unique experience, staying in a homestay with the locals in the mountains, hiking around the rice fields, and exploring the hills of Sapa on a motorbike.
You can either rent a motorbike and drive up to these places by yourself, or if you are more than one, you can rent any taxi driver in Sapa to take you there and back. Be sure to negotiate the price before you get in the car.
Photo by Constant Loubier.
As of 2019, you can now get to the top of Fansipan (3,143m), the highest point of Indochina, with a cable car. When I was there, they were building it and the only way to get up there was to trek. The cable car ticket cost around 25 USD (600,000 VND) and the operating hour is from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM, every day.
If you are a little more adventurous, you can rent a bike and drive south and explore the beautiful landscape and small villages at your own pace. In my opinion, this is the best way to explore Sapa. Once you get away from the town center, you will be able to experience the true beauty of Sapa. You will have the infinite view of rice terrace, all to yourself.
If you are interested in seeing a local village, you can also visit Cat Cat Village, but I think it's too touristy and isn't really worth the walk. I'd say, if you decided to stay in a homestay with the locals, you are more likely to have an authentic experience than to visit Cat Cat Village.
After 2 full days in Sapa, you can take the bus or an overnight train down to Hanoi and end your trip in Vietnam from there, unless you have a few more days to spare.
Looking for a complete travel guide to Sapa? A Hiking & Motorcycle Guide To Sapa, Vietnam.
Halong Bay (Optional 3 Nights)
If you have a few more days to spare in Hanoi, I would suggest you go on a cruise in Halong Bay. It is no doubt one of the most touristy things in Vietnam to do but, like I often said, "I am here. Might as well just do it and get it over with" 😆. Try to avoid looking into the party boats and look straight for nature and you will enjoy yourself more 😉.
The cruise can range from 50 USD all the way to 150+ USD for 1 day 2 nights and remember, you will often get what you paid for in Halong Bay.
Other than the scenery, you will get the chance to visit local villages, explore caves and swim in the water for 2 - 3 days. Not a bad way to end a long 2 weeks trip in Vietnam, if you asked me 😉.
Further Reading for Backpacking in Vietnam
Are you looking for more information about traveling in Vietnam? Here are a few more articles that can help you with your trip in Vietnam:
- Are you planning to travel to Vietnam as part of a big Southeast Asia trip? Check out our 3 months backpacking itinerary for Southeast Asia.
- Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to start your journey in Vietnam and you can read more about Ho Chi Minh City here: 3 Days In Ho Chi Minh City
- Looking for things to do in Hoi An? Be sure to check out an article I wrote about my experience in Hoi An here: The Colorful Lanterns Of Hoi An's Ancient City
- If you are looking for an off-the-beaten path destination in Vietnam, do not miss a chance to explore the caves of Phong Nha National Park.
- Ninh Binh is a great alternative to Halong Bay if you are not so keen on sleeping on a boat for a few days and having to deal with cheap tour agencies and drunk tourists. You can read more about my experience of Ninh Binh here.
- I have written about my experience traveling to Sapa by train, hiking and exploring the mountains and hills of Sapa on a motorbike.
- Not convinced by my words about Vietnam? Here are 33 photos that will inspire you to visit Vietnam now.
- You can see all my Vietnam related articles on my Vietnam Travel Guide page.
- For more of my travel guides like this, visit my Destinations page.
And there you have it, a complete backpacking and travel guide for spending 2 weeks in Vietnam. As always, if you have any questions regarding your trip to Vietnam, do not hesitate to ask me in the comments below. Have a safe journey!
The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by BucketListly where we will follow our founder, Pete Rojwongsuriya around the world as he singlehandedly travel alone and experience different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.
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