Sapa, Vietnam

Northern Vietnam

Backpacking Northern Vietnam is the perfect trip for an adventure seeking nomad! Your dollar will carry you a long way through this country if you spend it right. From the islands of Ha Long Bay to the mountains of Sapa there’s a breathtaking landscape around every corner.

For information on weather, budget, visas, vaccinations, currency, and more visit our page on Traveling Vietnam. 

Sapa

Getting Here

If you have a flexible travel schedule Sapa is a great place to add to your itinerary. Although slightly out of the way; it`s a highlight of backpacking Northern Vietnam for most travelers. It takes about 9 hours by overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai station. You’ll need to hire a 1 hour shuttle bus or taxi to Sapa town from the train station which costs about ₫68,000 VND ($3 USD).

HighlightsBackpacking Northern Vietnam

  • Muong Hoa Valley: Trekking through the Muong Hoa Valley is a MUST do when you’re in the Sapa area. The views are breath taking and the local culture is fantastic. Sapa is located approximately 3145 m above sea level so the climate is cool and wet for most of the year. Many tour operators based out of Hanoi and Sapa will book excursions to see this valley.
  • Mount Fansipan: The highest mountain in Indochina can be climbed in 2 days with a local tour company for ₫2,500,000 VND ($110 USD). The distance is 20 km and the elevation gain is 1143 m. If you’re not up for the trek there is also a cable car for ₫700,000 VND ($30 USD) that can take you to the top. Because the views can be limited with fog in Northern Vietnam be sure to check the weather beforehand.
  • Markets: Sapa Night Market and Bac Ha Market are both fun places to spend a few hours shopping and experiencing local culture.
  • Ban Gioc Waterfall: There are a few tour companies in Sapa that will take you to see this beautiful waterfall but you can also rent a motorbike and drive there yourself! Additionally; you can take multi day tours out of Hanoi. Prices vary depending on which tour you would like to go on.

Food

  • Good Morning View Restaurant: This small restaurant is just a short walk from the center of Sapa. It has exceptional service and delicious food at a reasonable price.
  • Mountain Bar & Pub: Great place to grab a drink and relax after a long day.

Accommodation

  • Go Sapa Hostel: This hostel is centrally located and includes breakfast with beautiful views. They have plenty of information on tours and treks along with motorbike rentals. A private room will cost ₫387,000 VND ($17 USD) per night.
  • My Tra Homestay: If you’re in search of a more local experience while backpacking Northern Vietnam, this hostel is located just outside of Sapa in Ta Van Village. It has awesome reviews and includes a hot shower and family dinner. A private room will cost ₫500,000 VND ($22 USD) per night.

 Hanoi

Backpacking Northern Vietnam

Getting Here

Hanoi will likely either be the start or end point of your travel route. It’s the busiest city in Northern Vietnam and perfect for getting a taste of Vietnamese culture. The city is very backpacker friendly with many accommodating hostels and tasty restaurants to choose from. A cab ride from the Airport (HAN) to Hanoi’s Old Quarter is about ₫455,000 VND ($20 USD) and pick-up/drop-off can usually be arranged and paid for through your hostel.

Highlights

  • Shopping: You will find “The North Face” brand of outdoor gear at cheap prices. As far as quality goes, I purchased a jacket for ₫341,000 VND ($15 USD) and so far it has withstood a Canadian winter very well. Aside from a couple extra threads hanging out here and there, it`s a great jacket and I would highly recommend doing some shopping in Hanoi! When comparing prices; backpacking Northern Vietnam will be cheaper than Southern Vietnam.
  • Old Quarter: This part of Hanoi is full of tourists looking to spend money and locals trying to make a quick buck! The streets are packed with people and the shops are busy. It’s a perfect way to get a taste of the Vietnamese Culture and purchase a gift or two.
  • Street Food Tour: If your starting your Northern Vietnam trip in Hanoi this is a fun way to learn about the food and how to eat off of the street like a local! It’ll come in handy for the rest of your trip and you will save a ton of money. Don’t pay more than ₫455,000 VND ($20 USD) per person.

Food

  • Marvel Restaurant: A little restaurant offering delicious food for good value.
  • Street Carts: Don’t be afraid to grab a Vietnamese sub from a street cart for a cheap snack!
  • Giang Café: Egg coffee is well known in Hanoi and this is the best place to give it a try!
  • Hanoi Food Culture: This restaurant is all about the atmosphere and quality food.

Accommodation

Hanoi 3B Hotel is one of many great places to stay. The staff are extremely helpful and knowledgeable so don’t hesitate to ask them plenty of questions! The breakfast was good with a few local dish’s to choose from. A private room here will cost ₫523,000 VND ($23 USD) per night.


Cat Ba Island

Getting Here

Many backpackers will travel from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay for a boat tour to see Ha Long Bay.  If your backpacking Northern Vietnam on a tight budget you can purchase a bus-ferry-bus trip to Cat Ba Island instead. Cat Ba is the largest island in the Cat Ba archipelago, which makes up the southeastern part of Ha Long Bay.This hidden gem is becoming more and more popular among tourists. There is a long street of hostels and a few new resorts are popping up; stay here and check out the unique culture.

Highlights

  • Lan Ha Bay Trip: We booked our tour through Asia Outdoors which is an awesome company to deal with. You can do a day tour through the islands of La Han Bay which include your choice of yoga, kayaking, paddle boarding, climbing, or trekking. You’ll also get to see the floating village which is quite impressive. Many of the guides come from all over the world and decide to stay in Cat Ba for its Deep Water Solo Climbing. They are all very knowledgeable when it comes to the area’s history.
  • Hospital Cave: Cat Ba is the perfect place to Learn how to Ride a Scooter while exploring the island. Cayleigh and I drove up to hospital cave which has a series of rooms and was built in the side of a mountain during the war. You pay ₫45,000 VND ($2 USD) for a ticket at the restaurant across the road and it will take you 30 minutes to 1 hour to explore the cave.
  • Cat Ba National Park: A small national park that is a short drive from town. They have information about area and some monkeys to see. There’s also an excellent trek you can do to the top of a mountain. It offers beautiful views and will take you approximately 2 hours round trip.

Food

Accommodation

Le Pont Bungalow Hostel is a good place to crash for the night. Beautiful views and only a short walk from the main street. A private room will cost ₫364,000 VND ($16 USD) per night.


Phong Nha

Backpacking Northern Vietnam

Getting Here

Hung Thanh Bus Company runs from Hanoi to Phong Nha. To be honest, we did not have a good experience with this bus company but it is one of the only ways to get to Phong Nha.  There are plenty of reviews/stories online about how terrible this company is and they are largely true. The journey consists of driving 10 hours through winding mountainous roads on a sleeper bus. You depart at 6 pm and arrive at 4 am; and our bus drove quickly and dangerously.  The bathroom floor was covered in sewage from the toilet sloshing around so I would strongly recommend not drinking water beforehand. Gravol, Melatonin, headphones, and a clear schedule for the following day are all necessary.  At the end of the day it got us from A to B. If you prefer not to take the overnight bus or are traveling to Phong Nha from a different city there are other options on how to get there by following this Link.

Highlights

  • Scooter the Loop: You can rent a scooter for a day and drive a beautiful loop around the Phong Nha area. You will come across multiple caves included the Dark Cave. We didn’t actually go into the cave but there’s an awesome zip line and water park you can spend a few hours at that I highly recommend! Along the route there’s a beautiful little garden.

    Backpacking Northern Vietnam
    Phong Nha, Northern Vietnam
  • Caving: The Unesco World Heritage Site of Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park is a must do if you’re an outdoor enthusiast. Home to some of the largest caving systems in the world, Phong Nha is renowned for its caving tours. The tour we chose to do was the Tu Lan Cave Explorer for 3 day/2 nights with Oxalis Adventure Tours. For us, this was the highlight of backpacking Northern Vietnam! The company is incredible and they do a lot to support the local town that gets flooded yearly. Our tour guide was exceptional; I can’t recommend this company enough. Son Doong is the world’s largest cave and for those who want to do this 5 day/ 4 night tour  book at least a year in advance. While backpacking northern Vietnam this is an incredible experience to take advantage of.

Food

Phong Nha Bamboo Cafe had an awesome atmosphere, quick WiFi, and comfy chairs. They offer a great menu and a spot to catch some down time on a rainy day.

Accommodation

  • Phong Nha Farmstay is a little piece of paradise. Situated just outside of Phong Nha with a view overlooking rice fields. All of the staff are very friendly and they have scooters for rent. It’s a great place to stay and relax. A private room will cost ₫750,000 VND ($33 USD) per night. If you’re looking to treat yourself while backpacking Northern Vietnam; this is a great place to do so.
  • Phong Nha Midtown Hotel is centrally located and open 24 hours. This comes in handy when you’re arriving at 4 am on a sleeper bus. Breakfast is good generally offering pancakes or eggs. Rooms are clean and fairly large as well! A private room will cost ₫340,000 VND ($15 USD) per night.

Hue

Getting Here

The Hung Thanh Bus Company also has a route between Phong Nha and Hue. We decided to take it since it was only 4 hours and we knew what to expect. If you prefer there is a train that runs through Hue as well.

Highlights

  • Visit The Citadel: Hue Imperial City (The Citadel) is Hue’s main tourist attraction. I would recommend getting here early before the crowds and the heat of the day sets in!
  • Tombs: Tomb of Minh Mang, Royal Tombs, and Imperial Tomb of Dong Khanh are a few of the most popular tombs in and around Hue. You can either book a day tour through your hostel or rent a motorbike to visit these tombs on your own.
  • Dragon Boat: Ask your hostel about booking a ride up and down the Perfume River in a dragon boat!
  • Motorbike the Ha Van Pass: The Ha Van Pass tour with Le Family Riders a great way to spend the day! It’s a fun and safe tour with great guides, small groups, and amazing views. The company picks you up at your hotel in Hue and gets you all suited up with elbow pads, knee pads, rain coat (if necessary) and a helmet. A driver takes everyones luggage to your final destination in Hoi An.

Food

Accommodation

  • Jade Hotel: This hotel has a great location, friendly staff, AC, and breakfast included. A private room will cost ₫340,000 VND ($15 USD) per night.
  • Sunny A Hotel: Another perfect hotel to stay at while in Hue! The staff love to give you information about the area and tours. Breakfast is not included; however tea and coffee are served all day. A private room will cost ₫295,000 VND ($13 USD) per night.

Hoi An

Getting Here

Da Nang is the closest international airport if you plan to fly or you can choose to bus from most cities in the country. Well known for custom tailors; you will also find great cafe’s, markets, and restaurants in Hoi An. This is a must see destination while backpacking Northern Vietnam!

Highlights

  • Custom Tailored Clothing: Get some clothing made in Hoi An from a custom suit to shoes and everything in between.  Keep in mind that it takes one to two days for your clothes/accessories to be made. Ideally; spend a day or two exploring the shops before ordering to decide exactly what you want to have made. I would recommend shipping them back home so you don’t have to carry them around for the rest of your trip. We went to the Post Office which was decently priced and the staff were very helpful. You can also throw in any other souvenirs that you don’t want to pack around!
  • Hoi An Ancient Town: A beautiful area to walk around and explore free of charge! At night the town erupts with color and people where you can immerse yourself in the culture of Northern Vietnam.
  • Thuan Tinh Island: A highly recommended cooking course if you need a break from shopping! They offer friendly instructors and delicious food for ₫770,865 VND ($34 USD) per person. Hotel pick-up is at 8:20 am and they return you to old town around 1:45 pm.
  • Hoi An Night Market: A perfect place to spend the evening walking under the brightly lit streets and enjoying the culture. bakpacking northern Vietnam. backpacking northern Vietnam. backpacking northern Vietnam

Food

  • Restaurant & Café Tuan: If you stay at the Countryside Moon this place is within walking distance or a short bike ride. A great atmosphere and friendly staff. They have local dishes, delicious pizza and many other western dish’s for a good price!
  • Nhan’s Kitchen: Another excellent restaurant near the Countryside Moon that is worth checking out!

Accommodation

Countryside Moon Homestay is peaceful, quite, includes breakfast, and downtown is just a short bike ride away(which they provide for free). A private room will cost ₫364,000 VND ($16 USD) per night.

Travel Guide to Northern Vietnam