Hanoi was a great starting point for my trip and I found that it was easy to meet people and also learn about different places that backpackers had already gone to in Vietnam. If you are traveling alone, starting in Hanoi can easily calm your nerves and get you set in the right direction with figuring out your travel route in Vietnam. Hanoi is also conveniently located with buses always coming in and out of the city, which makes it a main transportation hub in all of Vietnam.
Recommended places to go from here: Sapa, Halong Bay, Ninh Binh
Sapa is a truly intimate and unique experience if you get the chance to do a homestay with the H’mong, Tay or Dao hill tribes. Trekking tours here are not for the faint of heart, but they are worth the breathtaking views. I have been to Sapa twice and I wouldn’t hesitate to go again to see the stunning views of the terraced rice fields and be accompanied by the splendid locals who make the experience even more remarkable.
Places to stay: Just go, meet a local and do a homestay!
Things to see/do: Trekking, hiking, trekking tours… check out what I did. Also decide if a trekking tour is worth it by reading my post about it. Additionally, you can always refer to Tripadvisor for more suggestions.
Recommended places to go from here: Halong Bay, Hanoi
The first time I went to Halong Bay, I went through my hostel and did a “Party Cruise” where we stayed on the boat the first night and then on a private island the next. Going through an organized tour like a cruise is a great way to meet people and also sums up the popular spots in Halong Bay for your convenience. Although, if you don’t feel like you want to be on a party boat, you can always go to Cát Bá Island and see Halong Bay by taking a tour from there. Either way, you will be able to enjoy Halong Bay, regardless of the exact location that you choose to stay at.
Places to stay: Full Moon Party Hotel (I chose this hotel since the price per night there was as cheap as staying in a hostel, but there was more privacy!)
Recommended places to go from here: Hanoi, Sapa
Ninh Binh was a comfortable distance from Hanoi (2 hours by train) and I found that many people do day trips to Ninh Binh. We decided to spend the night there since we were continuing South, but for people who plan to go back to Hanoi after a day trip, the last bus leaves in the early evening (approximately 17h00-19h00). This could be due to the fact that it was Lunar New Year, but consider the bus/train times before planning a day trip. Ninh Binh was a relaxing getaway from the hustle and bustle of Hanoi and I highly recommend taking a boat tour or renting bikes to ride around the area.
Places to stay: Duc Tuan Hotel
Recommended places to go from here: Dong Hoi, Phong Nha, Hué, Hoi an
Phong Nha was definitely one of the best places that I went to in Vietnam. It may have been due to the fact that this was where the weather first started looking up after being in colder places like Sapa and Hanoi. Regardless, Phong Nha has so much to offer with National Park Tours of the caves such as Paradise Cave and Hang Toi, also known as the dark caves. You can also rent motorbikes or scooters and ride around the park yourself or even check out the other attractions that Phong Nha has to offer.
Places to Stay: Easy Tiger Hostel
Things to see/do: Motorbike rental, National Park tour, Paradise Cave, Dark Caves tour (Highly recommended!) There is so much to see and do! Read my post on Phong Nha and see if the tour I did was worth it!
Recommended places to go from here: Hué, Hoi an
Hoi an was a truly beautiful and unique city and I wish that I spent more time here. With a beach only a 10 minute bike ride away, an ancient quarter bursting with culture and many local dishes to try, you’ll realize that you need to give Hoi an more than two days to see everything. Hoi an is famous for having countless shops where you can have a seamstress create tailor made dresses, suits, shirts, skirts and anything else you could possibly imagine for a very reasonable price! I even had a friend who visited a shoemaker who made him a custom pair of trainers in less than 24 hours. So, if you have some time I would highly recommend getting some tailor made clothes or even shoes.
Places to stay: Sunflower Hotel (The have an amazing breakfast buffet with a wide variety of foods.)
Recommended places to go from here: Da Lat, Da Nang, Nha Trang
Da Lat was easily the second best place that I went to when I was in Vietnam. There was something just so relaxing about the area and being here made you feel like you were in a small European city instead of Southeast Asia. Additionally, the town has a large lake, which is great for running and there are many cafés to check out there as well. Da Lat is well-known for canyoning tours and I absolutely loved my tour that I did with Highland Sport Travel. Many people chose to go through Gecko since they offer a canyoning tour where you can abseil down a 65 meter waterfall. Regardless of the tour group you chose, you will have a great time.
Places to stay: Wolfpack Hostel
Much like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City is a great starting place for any backpacker since there are so many travelers coming in and out of the city. I much prefer Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi and I feel that this is due to the fact that the city feels more open and it is not as congested.