Vietnam has plenty of things to do. Here we have compiled a list of basic ideas for backpackers. The article is not aimed toward a motorcyclist. It is an overview of some different options available.
Ho Chi Minh
Starting with the most likely stop when your plane touches down, Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon. A country once divided into North & South Vietnam, nationalists might still refer to it as Saigon rather than by the name of the once leader, Ho Chi Minh, who was credited with uniting the country. We have a full article on the top things to do in Ho Chi Minh City.
- Food & Dining. With thousands of dining options to choose from, you could spend an entire trip just eating your way around Ho Chi Minh City. For authentic Vietnamese, check out the uber-popular Cuc Gach Quan Restaurant, it has plenty of guidebook name-dropping for a reason. For cheap, street food, stroll Van Kiep Street in Phu Nhuan/Binh Thanh Districts and Su Van Hanh Street in District 10 to get you started.
- Motorbiking. Inside the city walls is a chaotic mess of what feels like blind drivers riding scooters with no regard to silly things like rules of the road. A short drive will take you outside the city and across the Saoi River. Here you can experience a whole other riding world 1 Day Escape Saigon Tour that’s virtually void of traffic in forest and field setting. Get muddy and blow off some city steam like no other motorbike tour in Vietnam.
- Nightlife- Bui Vien Street is the main backpacker street in Saigon, and if you’re looking for some top places to party in the country’s largest city, you can stumble around here for a night. On the high end, grab cocktails at The View. As the name would suggest, the view is a stunning look at the skyline over Saigon, with equally high prices. On the bottom end, check out TNR Saigon. TNR is a dive bar that embodies its description perfectly. No two places in this area could be more different when it comes to atmosphere.
- Tourist Attractions– For a look at what life underground was like during the Vietnam war, get inside the Cu Chi Tunnels. If you like shopping, you can pick up everything from souvenirs to clothes and food at the busy Ben Thanh Market. Then for a look at the city from towering heights, take the overpriced elevator to the top of the 2nd-highest building in Southeast Asia, LandMark 81.
A stunning oceanside playground known for its beautiful beaches, nightlife, and exciting activities. Nha Trang is a top stop for beach bums looking to soak up the sun and splash around for a few days.
- Food & Dining. For the interactive diner in your world, BBQ your dinner at Lac Canh Vietnamese restaurant. The food comes raw, and a mini grill is brought to your table for the authentic Vietnamese BBQ experience. Or, large portions of quality Greek cuisine are found at Pita GR, an expat staple happily curing backpacker hangovers too.
- Motorbiking. From Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang is roughly a three-five day ride. On the way, stop in Dalat and discover the outdoor activities and waterfall routes.
- Nightlife. Nha Trang is the place for backpackers to party on the coast of Vietnam. Live D.J.’s tearing it up to locals and tourists alike can be found all night at the Sailing Club. Friends are found at Amigos Whiskey Bar, and fantasies come to life down The Rabbit Hole. Check our related post on Top Nha Trang Nightlife for a full list of the action.
- Tourist Attractions. Beaches, beaches, beaches, while you’re here enjoy some sun on the beautiful beaches. Tran Phu & Nha Trang Beach are the closest to the city. To feel like a kid, Vinpearl Land is an amusement park on an island just off the coast near Nha Trang. Pools, rides, 5-star hotel, it’s all here.
A night of partying at Sailing Club Nha Trang.
A tropical, wet, and natural wonder located in Northeastern Vietnam. Blessed with emerald green waters and over 1500 limestone karsts that were 500-million years in the making. Halong Bay is a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site that should be seen no matter the length of time you have to visit Vietnam.
- Food & Dining. Surrounded by the sea, the place to go for seafood is Nha Hang Linh Dan Restaurant, try the crab or spring rolls. If you’re looking for a place to get some western food, Sandy Bay Beach Bar can hook you up with budget western staples like a burger and a beer.
- Motorbiking. Exploring Hanoi and the North by motorbike is an amazing way to discover this part of Vietnam with your backpack tied to the back of your bike. Just over 150kms from Halong Bay to the capital city of Hanoi and you can start your journey through remote villages, the Ha Giang Loops, and some of the most underrated riding in North Vietnam, then down towards Ninh Binh.
- Nightlife. Known more for pubs and less for parties Halong Bay has a few good stops. If you must go clubbing New Halong Club is likely your only option. For 180o views over cocktails, head up to the Rooftop Cafe Bar.
- Tourist Attractions. The number one thing to do is tour the islets by boat. Take a sail or junk boat tour to get you out to the top limestone islands. There is a staggering number of boat options to choose from. Explore some of the hidden caves on the islets, Hang Sung Sot Cave is one of the most interesting with two chambers to explore.
Hai Van Pass
Connecting beautiful Hoi An and Danang with historic Hue. The Hai Van Pass overlooks the warm, blue South China Sea on one of the most popular destinations and passes for backpackers to visit in Vietnam. More than just the pass, the whole area is rich with beaches, activities, and culturally interesting places to explore.
- Food & Dining. For those Instagram moments you won’t soon forget, the best choice is to pack a lunch and stop at lookout points at Hai Van Quan or make your way out to the Top Of Hai Van further towards the sea.
- Motorbiking. This route exploded in popularity after the Top Gear Vietnam Special and this central Vietnam route is best enjoyed on a motorbike rental. If you’re looking to explore the region, hire a bike for a few days, or Hai Van Pass motorbike rentals one way are available too.
- Nightlife. Stopover in Danang for the best nightlife options. To get the night going on weekends, book a table near the Dragon Bridge at 7 Bridges Brewing or Bamboo 2 Bar for the best views of a fire breathing dragon. Or watch for free from the waterside.
- Tourist Attractions. After the Hai Van Pass, take your bike out and explore Hue, Danang and Hoi An. In Hue visit the historic Thien Mu Pagoda, then take a floral float down the Perfume River on a romantic rowboat. In autumn the flowers on the riverbank fall into the water and give it a perfume scent. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage in Hoi An Ancient Town, a part of the country locked in time. If you’re headed north from here, detour to Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.
A look over the stunning Hai Van Pass, probably the most photographed pass in Vietnam,
A seemingly endless flow of rivers, distributaries, wetlands, stilt houses, rice paddies, fisheries, floating markets, and historical relics. The Mekong Delta is considered “The Rice Basket Of Indochina” covering over 40,000sq kms of live-giving land, abundant in food and nature.
- Food & Dining. Go right for the full experience and take a tour to the Cai Rang Market where you can experience local delights. On the floating produce boats, you’ll find fresh durian, pineapple, rambutan, longan, mangosteen, and other tropical delights. Search a little deeper and discover some local Vietnamese coffee, Pho, and other noodle dishes.
- Motorbiking. Within a days ride of Ho Chi Minh, making the trek to the Mekong Delta is fun and exciting. The main tourist areas are easy to find, but for those looking to get off the tourist trail and ride around the fruit and fish farms, spend a night in a local homestay, and understand the local culture. The Mekong Delta is best explored with a motorbike and a local guide.
- Nightlife. With thousands of tourists visiting the Mekong Delta region regularly, the nearby city of Can Tho is expanding to meet the entertainment demand. You won’t find throbbing parties, but some top places to enjoy a drink are Holiday One Sky Bar. Good views and good cocktails in a smart setting. For casual mid-week drinks and weekend partying, the stars will align at Gemini Pub (cheaper too).
- Tourist Attractions. Plenty of tourists mean plenty to do around the Mekong Delta. You’ll definitely want to take a boat tour to visit the Cai Be or Cai Rang Floating Markets. Sticking to the water theme, tour the Tan Lap Floating Village. More like a nature preserve as no one actually lives here, it makes for stunning photos. Other notable stops include Tram Chim National Park, Vinh Trang Temple, and visit one of the many local orchards.
Phu Quoc Island
Nearly as much to discover offshore as there is during mainland Vietnam travel, getting to know some of the countries islands is a must do. Phu Quoc Island is located in the Gulf of Thailand, bordering Cambodia, accessible by plane from Saigon or ferry from the shores of the mainland.
- Food & Dining. With the island focused more on luxury, the options for cheap are harder to find. For ambiance and romance spice things up at The Spice House. Packed with westerners, Winston’s Burgers is just like what it sounds, a rave-review burger bar catering to the flashpacker crowd.
- Motorbiking. You can take your motorbike to Phu Quoc Island via a ferry to tour around. Once there, visit the pepper plantations, Phu Quoc National Park, fish sauce factory (gross), fishing village Ham Ninh, and the Suoi Tranh Waterfall.
- Nightlife. An island to unwind, you’ll find oceanside cocktails more than d.j.’s and dubstep. For sunset views bike down to Mango Bay Resort and get a table overlooking the white sand beaches. Rory’s Beach Bar is a casual pub with rave reviews, grab a beer, watch some sports and get to know your fellow traveler.
- Tourist Attractions. Holding two spots on the list for best beaches in Vietnam, Long Beach is where you should let the sun melt away your days. If tranquility in talcum-powder-soft-sand is more your thing, ride down to the private Khem Beach, a lesser-visited part of the island.
Khem Beach on Phu Quoc Island. Where else would you want to be right now?
Nestled along the central coast of Vietnam, roughly halfway between Saigon and Hanoi, Danang makes for an amazing stop for a few days to take in some of the countries top attractions both new and old. Beaches, amusement parks, temples, caves, and UNESCO World Heritage sites that were once under French colonial rule. Danang offers plenty to do for the backpacking motorbike traveler.
- Food & Dining. This might be the city of hidden dining gems, to get to know the local food scene set yourself up with a local food tour. For those looking to explore on their own, one slowly discovered secret is Tam’s Pub & Surf Shop. Rent a board then come back after for a vegetarian burger, mango smoothie, or a beer & fries.
- Motorbiking. Right next to the famous Hai Van Pass, after you’ve ridden this route venture out to some of the other nearby sites. My Son Temples make for an excellent day trip to learn about the history of the area. Or venture out to the Son Tra Peninsula for a look at the 67-meter tall Lady Buddha.
- Nightlife. A night in Danang might turn to two after you discover some of the popular pubs. Simple Man is a casual joint serving possibly the cheapest pints by the river. For a live music fix in a lively atmosphere, The Dawn Beach Bar keeps the drinks flowing for happy tourists. If you’re looking to party your face off until 3am, Golden Pine caters to the drunk and debauchery types.
- Tourist Attraction. Dang has some top attractions hidden in the hills nearby. Ba Na Hills for example, is a must for a days entertainment. A Guinness World Record cable car takes you to the top of a mountain to see the Harry Potter looking Hand Bridge, enjoy the amusement park, or stroll the Love Gardens. Nearby Marble Mountains were once a hidden community during the war. This site named for the earth five elements is exciting to explore. There’s a long list of Danang activities to add on when you’re looking for more.
This once French resort town still holds onto its roots, and as you explore the region known for its “eternal spring”, you’ll easily spot the French colonial architecture and influences. More than just cathedrals and brickwork Dalat is also known for its abundance of adventure activities. We have a full list of things to do in Dalat.
- Food & Dining. Set your sites on local cuisine while in Dalat. The local market is great for cheap eats like Hot Pot and Rice bowls. For some sitdown dining in an authentic locally run establishment, try Quan 33 restaurant. The snail and oxtail dishes are well reviewed.
- Motorbiking. Getting to Dalat is a great addition when coming from Ho Chi Minh, Mui Ne, or through the mountains to Nha Trang. Once here you can spend a day or two exploring the Dalat Waterfalls Route that will guide you around the endless number of flowing falls. There are mini amusement parks and watersports at some of them to keep you entertained.
- Nightlife. Dalat serves up drinks in all settings. For casual cocktails, pull up a seat at the Escape Bar, it’s the place to go for live music. For happy hour, hit up B21 Bar from 3-8pm daily and stay here all night if you like dance parties. Or for confusing cocktail fun Maze Bar will mess with your memory even before your drunk!
- Tourist Attractions. Dalat has plenty going on. After the waterfalls route you can stroll around town and check out Boi Dai’s Summer Palace, take some photos around the French Quarter, or walk through the artistic Crazy House. We have a complete guide to Dalat attractions for those looking to do it all at the must visit places in Vietnam.