Backpacking Route for Vietnam
The Re-Unification express
This is not an official term but it is used to describe the train line which runs between the two major cities. The trip from Hanoi in North Vietnam to Ho Chi Minh City in the South is 1725km long, taking roughly 30 hours and passes some breathtaking scenery along the way.
Of course few people do the trip in one journey as there is so much to see in between the two terminals. This train-line runs close to or through all the major stops on the Vietnam backpacker trail. The journey is pretty comfortable with air-con and sleeper compartments available on night trains. It is also brilliant value potentially costing as little as US$30 (latest prices and more great info on trains in Vietnam). If you take some night trains this may push the cost up to around US$40-50 depending on whether you take the slightly higher quality SE trains or not (It’s even cheaper for the locals).
TIME NEEDED – 3 WEEKS
Could be done in 2 weeks but might feel a little rushed.
POSSIBLE BUDGET – £370 €425 $450
(roughly 10 million Vietnamese Dong as of January 2017. US Dollar is accepted in many places)
Read more on the cost of travel in Vietnam.
Obviously this does not include the cost of flights to/from Vietnam or any visa/vaccination/travel insurance expenses, which in total could dwarf this figure if you’re travelling from far away. You’ll get more value for money in terms of your pre-trip expenses if you combine this with one of our other itineraries in the region (see top of page).
Visitors from other ASEAN countries and many European countries including the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Russia and Italy can now visit Vietnam visa-free for a limited amount of time (normally 15 days). However most international visitors still require a visa to enter the country. A Vietnam visa for US citizens is essential and should be arranged well in advance of your trip.
Highly advisable in Vietnam and all Southeast Asian Countries. Read who we think offers the best travel insurance for backpackers.
Vietnam Backpacking Route
The country’s capital city, home to the Vietnamese government and resting place of the great leader, Ho Chi Minh himself. This colonial city is home to many lakes and a beautiful old quarter where most backpackers tend to congregate. It is also the closest point on the route to the amazing Ha long Bay, Vietnam’s most famous sight. Take a 2-3 hour bus to Haiphong and get a boat to the bay from there.
MFT RECOMMENDS – Hanoi Traveller Hostel
In the historic Old Town near Hoan Kiem Lake, has received outstanding reviews from travellers in the Vietnamese capital over many years. It’s also very cheap with beds going at US$5/night.
journey: 2 hours 20 mins
Unremarkable but ridiculously friendly town. Be prepared for lots of locals, especially children coming to say hello to you in the street. It is a short moto or cycle to the caves at Tam Coc, which are the main reason travellers come to Ninh Binh.
journey: 7 hours 40 mins, passing through Thanh Hoa and Vinh which have little going on really but may be a nice stop if you fancy seeing a completely tourist-free town.
Many travellers choose to skip Dong Hui also and do the night train from Ninh Binh to Hue but if you do stop here, you can visit the quite stunning 55km long Phong Nha Cave.
journey: 3 hours 15 mins
The city is popular with travellers who tend to hit a small section of town near the wide Perfume River. The old citadel isn’t particularly amazing but is the main site in this city which seems to get the worst of Vietnam’s wet climate. It regularly rains here for days on end but there are some excellent traditional Vietnamese restaurants and lively Western bars to stay dry in. Central Vietnam is also where a lot of the most fierce fighting in the War took place. There are plenty of sights relating to this nearby which you may find fascinating or otherwise, depending on your interest levels in the Vietnam conflict, known as the American War in these parts.
journey: 2 hours 30 mins and the most spectacular part of the entire trip
Danang (for Hoi An)
Danang is a big city but has few sights. For most travellers it simply serves as a gateway to nearby Hoi An (above), around a 20 minute taxi or moto ride from Danang Station (shouldn’t cost more than $3-4). Hoi An is the place for tailor-made clothes and boasts a beautiful riverside setting. It is also close to one of the nicest beaches in the country and makes it into our Top 10 New Backpacking Hotspots.
journey: 6 hours passing through Quang Ngai, a non-touristy town where very little English is spoken
Dieu Tri (for Qui Nhon)
Qui Nhon is more popular with local tourists than backpackers but it has a few beautiful deserted beaches just out of town. You can also visit the Cham Temples in the areas surrounding this lively port town.
journey: 3 hours 30 mins
Vietnam’s biggest seaside destination. The beach here is actually quite dirty but it is long and has plenty of water sport options including kite-surfing. The nightlife is lively here with a couple of bars such as Bar Why Not? and an excellent one on the beach open until 3am. Some travellers find it a little bit seedy but there’s a beautiful temple near the train station if you want a slightly more cultural experience. You can also do the trip to the mountain town of Dalat from here although it is quite a long journey on winding roads.
journey: 5 hours
Muong Man (for Mui Ne)
Mui Ne isn’t really a town, more like a long coastal road about 20km or so long with many hostels and restaurants dotted around it. The beach is quiet and very relaxing, while the hot sand dunes are perhaps what the area is most famous for.
journey: 3 hours
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
When backpacking through Vietnam, most travellers head here either first or last. It is the biggest and by a distance, most westernised city in the country. Saigon has a large backpacker scene and many interesting sights, much of which relate to the Vietnam War and the USA’s involvement. More detail here on things to do in HCMC.
The city is also the base for seeing the far south of the country which enjoys a hot climate and is a bit more chilled out than much of this fabulously crazy country.
Obviously you could also do the journey the opposite way around and journey times and prices are almost exactly the same if you start in HCMC and head North to Hanoi.
MFT RECOMMENDS – Saigon Inncrowd
A solid option in HCMC. Very well located with plenty of cheap restaurants nearby.
Budget Accommodation in Vietnam in General
Hostelling hasn’t really taken off as rapidly in Vietnam as it has in it’s neighbours but that is changing fast with the number of backpackers visiting the country increasing rapidly. Hostels can be found but the cost of budget hotels is so low, there’s often no real need to be sweating it out in crowded dorms. You can sometimes get a private room in a decent hotel often with a swimming pool and good facilities for as little as $10 and in the big cities you can find dirt cheap budget rooms for half that although solo travellers may still prefer the more sociable places.
Extending Your Trip
In truth very few backpackers, head all the way to Southeast Asia and then only visit Vietnam, even though it is arguably the most interesting country to visit. Options for extending your trip are plentiful.
Parts of this route feature in our mainland Southeast Asia Route, which also takes in Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos and Singapore. You can easily squeeze this full Vietnam route in, with taking a flight from Vientiane, Laos to Hanoi perhaps the best option and then just following the route from Ho Chi Minh City into Cambodia.
If you’re looking for something a bit different to the well-trodden backpacker trail in SE Asia, take a look at our Myanmar route or our Indonesia Route. If you need help linking them into one trip please use the comments section below and let us know any questions you may have.
Of course in Vietnam, there are cool places that are not on or near the trainline, you may wish to visit. Highlights include the mountain towns of Dalat and Sapa, which you can reach by a different train from Hanoi that heads towards China.
This page was last updated in January 2017.