Vietnam definitely hasn’t had it easy over the centuries, but it weathered colonialism and terrible wars and came out with its optimism and joy of life intact. Vietnam is vividly colorful, endowed with great natural beauty and a fascinating and rich culture that attract millions of visitors every year. There’s a fair number of world-class resorts in Vietnam, but as luxurious as these are, they are no different than any other resorts in Asia. In order to experience the heart of Vietnamese life and culture, you have to get out into the street and live like ordinary people, and you won’t regret a single second of it! Travelers on a tight budget make the most of Vietnamese cuisine, attractions and nightlife, so here’s a backpacker’s guide to Vietnam for those who capture the essence of this amazing country.
Although the fastest way to get around Vietnam is by plane, this is hardly a budget-friendly way to see the country. If you don’t mind the occasional kink in your neck or cramped quarters, you should travel by bus, by far the cheapest way to travel in Vietnam. The country is crisscrossed by extensive bus networks, and public buses have convenient schedules and no need for reservations. Open tour buses are slightly more expensive, but much more comfortable: you go to a destination, stay as long as you like, and let the tour operator know when you’re ready to move on to another city. If your budget is not overly tight, train travel is a great choice – cozier seating than on the bus, faster, and you can save on accommodation costs if you travel in the sleeper car.
Even if you are traveling on a shoestring, finding accommodation won’t be a problem in Vietnam. There is a wide variety of dorm-style accommodation where you can stay for as little as $5 per night, and the room standards are not bad at all. If you prefer some privacy, you can get basic double hotel rooms for about $10. Don’t avoid inexpensive hotels as long as they don’t look too dodgy, because even in budget hotels the service is quite good, you get en suite bathrooms most of the time, and basic amenities like towels and soap. In the countryside, there are lots of friendly family-run guesthouses to be found.
Although a backpacker’s budget is often too small to allow any incursions into traditional cuisine in other parts of the world, in Vietnam the best food is often the budget food. There will be no need to eat packaged supermarket food in Vietnam, that much is for sure. Food has a special place in Vietnamese culture, and you can taste some of the most delicious dishes for paltry prices. Street-side restaurants serve great food for bargain prices, mostly staples like pho and com (noodles or rice). Interestingly enough, dishes inherited from the French colonists, like baguettes and pastries, are very common and usually come with some Vietnamese twist, like the bánh mì baguette sandwiches stuffed with Vietnamese overn-roasted pork belly for example.