If you’ve never travelled to Vietnam, then you’re in for an unforgettable trip. Be prepared for delicious seafood, fantastic coffee and jaw-dropping scenery. The country is great for roaming travellers, and you’ll find plenty of activities to fill your days. Go armed with these tips, which are also helpful for backpacking in other Southeast Asian destinations, like Thailand, Malaysia or the Philippines.
1. Bring H2O wherever you go
The general rule of thumb in Vietnam is to avoid tap water. Some people stick to bottled water, but you can be more environmentally friendly by bringing your own reusable water bottle and water treatment system.
It’s so easy to get dehydrated when you travel, especially in hot climates. If you notice yourself feeling cranky, light-headed or dry in the mouth, then you’re probably already dehydrated.
Pro traveller tip: Electrolyte tabs are a quick way to give your water some flavour, which will entice you to keep sipping and stay hydrated. And fresh coconut juice is a good way to stay hydrated, too! Bến Tre is a hotspot for coconuts in Vietnam, and is known for its tasty coconut desserts.
2. Learn to say hello and thank you
If you speak English and don’t have experience with the Vietnamese language, it can be tricky to pick up. Many locals will have a good grasp of the English language in touristy areas, but finding English-speakers in more remote areas of Vietnam is difficult. Try a few basic Vietnamese words – it goes a long way. You’d also be surprised at how much you can communicate simply by hand signals and body language (and don’t forget to smile). Feeling motivated? Get some basics before you go with a language learning app, like Duolingo, or start here:
Hello: Chào (pronounced chow)
Thank you: Cám ơn (pronounced gahm un)
Pro traveller tip: You may find some locals, especially older citizens, speak French (great for bilingual Canadians).
3. Stock up on sunscreen and repellant
Sure, you can find sunscreen and bug repellent once you land but they’ll be much more expensive and of varying qualities. If you’re taking your backpack as a carry-on, don’t forget to follow the 100ml rule for liquids and gels.
Pro traveller tip: If you burn easily or are running low on sunscreen, avoid the sun from 11am to 3pm (peak scorching hours).
4. Combine history with activity
One of the best ways to take in all the ancient structures and scenery? On the move. Sign up for a cycling tour (bikes are big in Vietnam) to combine the expertise of a local guide with enough activity to work up an appetite for bún chả (BBQ pork with rice vermicelli) or cà phê trứng (fluffy egg coffee). Roll past pagodas and temples, eucalyptus forest and rice fields, as you explore cities and countrysides.
Pro traveller tip: Bring a daypack with you to carry your essentials. Look for a hydration-compatible daypack so you can sip water on the move.
5. Be prepared to do some bargaining
Bargaining is part of the culture, so don’t be shy. There’s usually no fixed price in Vietnam’s tourist industry, which means the price is often decided by whatever you’re willing to pay. Study up on general prices, make an offer (try 20–30% below asking as a starting point) and be prepared to walk away if you don’t get a fair deal. Be alert that prices in the tourist areas are usually very high, but don’t let it prevent you from experiencing Vietnam’s unique adventures or connecting with the locals.