12 things to know before you do a Vietnam Backpacking Trip

Hai Van Pass - Da Nang

Vietnam is recently in the news for being a loving spot for travellers. Why wouldn’t it be? It has almost everything to offer – from beautiful sceneries to modern cities, from finger licking food to interesting traditions. So no wonder, Vietnam can be in your travel bucket list as well.

Here I have made a list of things that you should know before making a backpacking trip to Vietnam –

English is not a common language. In fact, very less local people will know it or speak it

When I first was reading about Vietnam, I saw that there are lots of opportunities there if you know English or have a TEFL certification. Lots of English centres with really high paying jobs. So my basic assumption was that I will not have any problem with communication. Little did I know that the reason behind such a huge demand of English was that very small percentage of people speak English.

Learn basic Vietnamese with proper pronunciations

The lack of English speaking population helped me with one thing specifically – it forced me to learn the basics of Vietnamese. Although I always wanted to learn more and more languages but this challenge made it a necessity that I learnt the Hello, Thank You, Sorry, Goodnight, the numbers, etc in their particular accent. Also, if you know the local language, it helps a lot in making the connection with the locals – which also sometimes helps in getting free food or accommodation or just a good smile that will help you out through the day. Trust me, being a backpacker, such seemingly small things are priceless.

Do not trust the weather – best time to travel Vietnam depends on your plans

Vietnam’s weather changes frequently. That is quite normal for me as I am from Assam, India but if you are not used to changing weather – from hot to cold, from sunny to rainy in a couple of hours, please be prepared. Also, it is advisable that you keep a raincoat handy. It rains a lot in Vietnam – but then again, it also depends on the time of the year and the place you are in. And yeah, the North and the South can be totally different in terms of the weather department.

People are more lovely than you are used to

If you think that people can’t be any nicer, you would be wrong. Vietnamese can be some of the most friendly people you will ever meet. They are always ready to help with their big smiling faces and they aren’t looking for anything in return. They are just there to assist you. I have had really good experience with all the Vietnamese I met.

Paradise for foodies

Love food? Search no more. Vietnam is a paradise for those who love food. Every place you go, you will find more food stalls or restaurants than anything else. That is why I was always happy when I was in Vietnam. But please mind that, you have to give extra effort to find pure Vegetarian Food – there are places where you will get Vegetarian Food (look for the word ăn chay in front of restaurants) but there aren’t everywhere. Ask the locals. They will direct you to the right place.

Street Food is what you should be looking for

Vietnam is a place for foodies. And whats best is that you get amazing food on the streets. You don’t have to empty your pockets to go to high end restaurants to taste good food. Just sit in those small chairs on the roadside and you will get local food served hot. Amazing food I tell you. Also I would suggest to visit the shops where the prices are written because there can be a few instances where you might be charged more if you really look like a confused tourist. Here – knowing the numbers help. You can name your price in Vietnamese – that gives you an edge over other travellers.

Haggling can take you way ahead

It is a common practice to haggle in Vietnam. Well, for me as an Indian, it is common for me as well, especially my mother. Its funny that while buying something, my mother will start the price at around 30% and she manages to get the object at around 40% of the price she was told. So the same scenario can be applied in Vietnam as well. Start your price low and then move little bit up and yeah – be firm and most of the time you will win the war.

Don’t keep tours as your first priority

This is for people who have more than a week of travel. If you are on a tight schedule, then it is difficult but if your time is a little bit loose, I would suggest you to skip the tours and travel on your own. Do a little bit of research and head on your own because Vietnam offers really cheap but good transportation from one place to the next. The night buses are a must try and also there is Grab and GoViet etc which are pretty cheap for day to day travel. Also – if you want to travel like a local, use buses. They are super cheap – all information is given in Google Maps. Just hop onto a bus and go to your destination.

You do not need to worry about Wifi – great for working people

Aah! This is the part I have been wanting to share with you all. Vietnam is awesome when it comes to Internet Connectivity. You get free Wifi everywhere – from small shops to hotels, hostels, etc. Even really cheap hostels will have free wifi in your room. So all those digital nomads who are working remotely, no need to worry about your work. You are safe in Vietnam.

Take Sleeper Buses – cheaper and awesome

As I mentioned above, travelling in public transports are really easy and cheap and one of the main attractions according to me are the Sleeper Buses. They are cheap and freaking comfortable. Depending on the distance, it usually costs between 150k-300k Vietnam dong for overnight journeys. These buses are two storeys with space for you to sleep – literally. You are given a blanket and also water for the journey. You can stretch your legs fully but mind it – these buses aren’t meant for people above 6 ft – so all those huge people, you might have to see if you could bend your body in unusual positions and stay like that for 8 hours or something. I am 5’8 and I fairly enjoyed the journey.

Learn riding a scooter and be confident about it – you will need that

Vietnam offers great landscapes and roads but the problem is – you will not fully enjoy it unless you can ride a motorbike but I feel, you cannot fully enjoy the roads when you arent on the roads – with freedom. With that said, Vietnam poses a challenge for people who are not from busy cities or who are new to driving because although there are traffic rules, people tend to bypass those – well, like in India. The good thing is that, people in Vietnam do not usually drive fast but the quantity of motorbikes on the roads is huge. So if you want to ride a motorbike, the trick is to be confident about your skills and not care that much about others and ride slowly but steadily. Same goes with crossing the road. No one will stop for you – you will have to make them stop but slowly walking forward.

Avoid the touristy places

Although I can write on and on but I will end the list with this one – avoid the touristy places. Vietnam has to offer really beautiful places, awesome people, astonishing culture but the thing is that, you will see the real Vietnam if you go the road not taken or less taken. If you stay in the busy areas, the touristy areas, the most famous areas – you will be charged high, you will meet people who are more concerned about the money, who will not care about you at all. While I was travelling in Vietnam, I usually skipped the main areas and went into alleys or villages where I met some of the amazing people I could ever meet. I saw the super helpful people who are curious about you and your culture, smile always and offer anything that they can offer. Even the less touristy places are super cheap which is huge for backpackers.

Hope these points gave you some insight of Vietnam and should make your Vietnam travel a bit easier.

Feel free to drop your comments down below or contact me for any further information about Vietnam.

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Your Friendly Neighbourhood Traveller