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Ultimate 3-Week Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary (Tried & True!)

Last Updated on June 25, 2024 by Natalie

Are you planning your epic 3-week Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary? I’m sharing the details on my tried & true personal 3-Week Vietnam Backpacking trip.

Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary

If you follow my blog, you know that I’m somewhat of a slow backpacker. Simply put, I don’t always see and do everything.

This feels criminal to say as a travel blogger, but it’s the truth! I often travel for months at a time, it’s just not sustainable for me to race through a country to try to fit it all in, especially Vietnam!

Vietnam is full of scenic motorbiking routes, stunning beaches, buzzing cities, and even theme parks.

This 3 week tried true Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary will help you get a taste of what the country has to offer.

Why Backpack Vietnam?

Vietnam is becoming one of the most popular countries for backpacking. For a country so vast that offers mountains, jungle, and beaches (and for such a cheap price!) It’s easy to see why this is the go-to spot for backpackers.

Not only is it dirt cheap and beautiful, but it’s also safe for solo travelers.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a first-timer, choosing Vietnam to backpack is an excellent choice.

My Tried & True 3-Week Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary (North to South)

This ultimate 3-week Vietnam backpacking itinerary begins in Hanoi and ends in Ho Chi Minh City.

Get a FREE Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary Printable

Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary

Day 1-4: Hanoi (4 days)

Explore the ornate French architecture and the smell of delicious street food in Vietnam’s capital.

There’s much to see in Hanoi and it’s a fantastic place to base yourself to depart on some of the best day trips like to Halong Bay or Ninh Binh. And of course, you can’t leave out seeing the iconic rush of Hanoi’s famous train street.

If you don’t plan on taking any day trips, you can opt for 3 days in Hanoi and adjust your itinerary as needed.

Backpackers can’t miss the pub crawl or free walking tours led by Buffalo Hanoi Hostel and Central Backpackers. Don’t miss my post, 17 things you must do in Hanoi.

How to get to the Old Quarter from the Airport

The best app to download to get around in SE Asia is GRAB. A Grab will cost you around $10-$15 to get from the airport to your accommodation in the Old Quarter.

Where to stay in Hanoi

You’ll want to base yourself in Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

For budget travelers, I recommend Buffalo Hanoi Hostel. I loved this hostel! The staff was so helpful and it was very social. For under $9 USD a night, you can get a bed in a dorm and a full breakfast buffet.

They will also help you organize many top-quality day trips and excursions that are often cheaper than other tourist agencies.

Experiences in Hanoi:

Day 5-6: Sapa (2 days)

is sapa worth visiting

Sapa offers a peaceful escape from the hustle of Hanoi. Filled with lush rice paddy fields and mountain views, it’s a remarkable gem of Northern Vietnam.

I’ll be honest, Sapa can be a huge hit or miss. This is just one of those destinations where it’s all about the weather. Fortunately, the weather was pretty decent during my visit to Sapa and it ended up being one of my favorite stops in Vietnam. So, don’t sleep on it! When the weather is nice, Sapa is truly magical.

I opted for the 2-day, 1-night trek & homestay. I booked this 2 Days 1 Night Sapa Trek from Hanoi for just $59:

Best Hostels in Sapa

While I didn’t stay at Lustig Hostel, it was the base for my tour departure and I spent quite a bit of time using their facilities before and after my tour. It seemed like a great place to stay in Sapa and is within walking distance to Sapa Town.

Hmong Sister House is another highly-rated hostel in Sapa.

Day 7-9: Ha Giang Loop (3 days)

Motorbiking the Ha Giang Loop is one of the biggest bucket list checkmarks for backpacking adventurers! This is considered to be one of the most scenic routes in all of Southeast Asia.

I chose the 3-day, 2-night motorbiking tour.

The Ha Giang Loop experience typically costs around $200 which includes all accommodation and food for the full 3 days.

Check out Jasmine Tours for a large group, party backpacker experience. For a more quality tour, check out the tour below from Chestnut Travels.

Powered by GetYourGuide

Day 10: Overnight in Hanoi (1 night)

Getting from the Ha Giang Loop to elsewhere in Vietnam can be tricky. No matter which way you spin it, you’re looking at a lengthy bus ride.

From long bus rides, trekking in Sapa, and motorbiking through the rice fields of Ha Giang, you will be exhausted! Spend one more night in Hanoi to get your bearings (and do your laundry).

BACKPACKER TIP: If you book your Sapa & Ha Giang tours through your hostel in Hanoi, you can leave most of your backpacking gear there and just pack a small bag to take with you on your trekking & motorbiking.

Day 11-12: Ninh Binh (2 days)

Spend a day exploring Ninh Binh, the ‘Ha-Long Bay on Land”. The boundless limestone karsts filling the Tam Coc landscape are certainly worth seeing.

I booked a day trip from my hostel in Hanoi which included my transportation and all must-do activities like a Tam Coc boat & bike riding, climbing the Mua Cave viewpoint, and a guided tour around the ancient capital of Hoa Lu.

Instead of going back to Hanoi, I stayed overnight in Ninh Binh and continued my journey South.

Where to Stay in Ninh Binh:

Choosing a region to stay in Ninh Binh can be confusing because it’s quite a wide region.

You’ll want to stay in Tam Coc or Trang An. Don’t bother booking anything in Ninh Binh City as there isn’t much to do.

Tam Coc has more to offer in terms of nightlife, restaurants, and hostels. I recommend where I stayed, Banana Tree Hostel.

Trang An is great if you’re looking for a quieter stay.

Day 13-14: Hue or Da Nang (2 days)

After spending your first two weeks exploring the North, it’s time to head to central Vietnam. Getting south takes a full day of travel, any way you look at it.

Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary

You have two options for getting to Central Vietnam:

Taking a 13-hour bus from Ninh Binh to Hue. This costs around $15-$30 USD.

Getting a transfer to the Hanoi Airport and flying into Da Nang. $40-$60 USD.

Since I had a bunch of flight points, it was actually cheaper for me to fly to Da Nang rather then the 13-hour bus.

Hue or Da Nang?

Hue realistically has more to do for tourists than Da Nang.

Hue is the former imperial capital, has a super cool abandoned water park, and is the starting point of the iconic Hai Van Pass.

Da Nang is more known for its beaches, nightlife, and resorts. However, it is near the wondrous Ba Na Hills and the Golden Dragon Bridge.

Da Nang is only a couple of hours from Hue so it’s possible to do both if you have more time!

I chose Da Nang because I was starting to get a little burnt out on exploring cultural sights and was ready to bum out on the beach.

Where to Stay in Da Nang

I stayed at Seahorse Hostel which was clean and had nice perks but lacked a social environment.

Lighthouse Hostel is also a nice choice for a more quiet/digital nomad experience.

The most popular party hostel in Da Nang is Rom Casa. They have nice facilities, but I knew a few people who got bed bugs while they were there so just check the most recent reviews.

Day 15-18: Hoi An (4 days)

Hoi An is often a Vietnam favorite so you’ll want to spend plenty of time here!

With this Hoi An itinerary, you’ll be able to explore the historic old town, take a crafting lantern class, and get those iconic tailor-made clothes. You’ll even get to squeeze in some beach time.

3 day Hoi An Itinerary

Where to Stay in Hoi An

Honestly, there is no perfect hostel situation in Hoi An (that I’ve come across!)

I stayed at Mad Monkey Hoi An and while the facilities, staff, and organization were great – it was just a bit far from the town center.

If you have the budget for it, consider a budget hotel or homestay near the Hoi An Old Town.

Day 19-21 Ho Chi Minh City (3 days)

Many people are told to skip Ho Chi Minh City, but that would be a huge mistake!

Saigon is full of some of Vietnam’s most defining history. Additionally, it’s filled with remarkable architecture and loads of amazing food!

Spend 3 days in Saigon to get an idea of what Vietnam’s largest city has to offer.

The Cu Chi Tunnels and the War Remnants Museum were the highlights of my trip to Ho Chi Minh City.

Where to stay in Ho Chi Minh City

where to stay in saigon
Meander Saigon Hostel

Saigon is broken into districts. District 1 is considered the best place to stay for tourists because of its easy access to restaurants, museums, and tour meetup points.

I recommend Meander Saigon Hostel for digital nomads, solo female travelers, or those who just want a quieter and “bougie” hostel experience.

If you’re looking to party, check out The Hideout.

Budget for Backpacking Vietnam for 21 Days

With most hostels costing less than $15 USD and budget busses always an option, you can backpack Vietnam for very cheap. I use the app TravelSpend to help me budget. It’s free!

This budget includes all accommodation, food, transfers, and even tours.

Budget $30/day$630 USD
Moderate$45/day$945 USD

Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary Additions

Planning to stay in Vietnam a little longer?

This ultimate Vietnam Itinerary largely covers the highlights. However, if you’re looking for something more unique, check out these spots.

Northern Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary additions:

  • Cat Ba
  • Lan Ha Bay
  • Phong Nha National Park

Southern Vietnam Backpacking Itinerary additions:

  • Mui Ne
  • Nha Trang
  • Dalat
  • Phu Quoc

Where to Continue Backpacking After Vietnam

After you’ve fully explored Vietnam, it’s time to consider where to go next!

Take a bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for less than $15 USD and just 6 hours.

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