Since becoming location independent, Vietnam has become one of our favorite countries to visit. It’s rich in tradition, abundant in fresh produce, incredibly scenic, and – not to mention – very affordable. In this post, we share our top places to visit in Vietnam so far: Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, and Mai Châu.
Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, is a bustling city with a lot to explore. Cost of living is fairly cheap so there are many things to do in Hanoi on a budget. Despite not loving big cities and traffic, we have really enjoyed our past two visits to Hanoi where we have expat friends who graciously host us and share Hanoi’s treasures with us.
Vietnam is known for tasty, affordable food, and Hanoi is no exception. Just about everything you can think of is available in Hanoi – from traditional Northern Vietnamese street food to Domino’s Pizza to sushi. Vietnamese meals, especially if it’s in an open-air shop, can be found for under $1 per person, meanwhile, the “expat food” tends to come with an “expat price.” Below are just a few examples of where you can eat in Hanoi on a budget.
There are so many amazing cafes and different coffee concoctions in this country. Cà phê sữa (coffee with sweetened condensed milk) is most typical and can be ordered hot or iced. Another specialty of Hanoi is the sweet, creamy egg coffee and Cong Cà phê’s delicious coconut ice cream with coffee poured over.
For a map of things to do in Hanoi, including our favorite cafes and several other attractions, see our post Things to Do in Hanoi On a Budget
Huế can be a great stop for travelers in central Vietnam. Once the national capitol and home to the royal Nguyen family, much of the Imperial City was destroyed during the Vietnam-American War but it has since become a UNESCO World Heritage site. We spent two full weekend days exploring this relatively small city, which seemed like the right amount of time for us.
There are several possible tours, museums, and attractions you can visit in Huế. Souvenir and clothes shopping is also a pretty big draw. But for independent budget travelers like us, you can still get a lot out of the city’s free or inexpensive activities.
Our number one recommendation for this town is the free walking tour. Every Saturday and Sunday, a group of young locals who want to practice English, take the time to introduce visitors to their city on this two-hour walking tour.
Once we had some background info under our belts, our guides-now-friends confirmed that biking to Thien Mu Pagoda and around the Citadel would be a great next step. We had rented bikes through our Airbnb host (30,000 vnd, about $1.35 for a day).
This UNESCO World Heritage town was our personal favorite in Vietnam. Our day-long motorbike tour from Huế to get there was another highlight of our trip.
Hoi An’s beautiful Old Town, variety of restaurant options, and full moon lantern festivals draw visitors from around the world. While the dependence on tourism does affect certain aspects of the experience in Hoi An, it has so much to offer, which is why it makes one of our top places to visit in Vietnam.
Hoi An’s full moon festivals are one of the biggest draws to this town. Colorful lanterns adorn the streets of the Old Town year-round, so you can always get those picturesque photos any time you go. But on the 14th day of each lunar month, Old Town becomes pedestrian-only (bicycle and motorbike parking is available along the outskirts for a small fee) and the crowds flock to the river. Floating lanterns are sold for about 25 cents, the idea being that you make a wish and release it into the river.
Another popular draw to Hoi An is the abundance of tailor shops. If you’re in the market for made-to-order, custom clothing, then Hoi An is the place to get it quickly and affordably.
Hoi An Ancient Town has earned its UNESCO World Heritage designation for its well-preserved trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. Exploring produce markets tends to be one of our favorite activities in places like this. Of course, souvenir shops are also plentiful in Old Town, too.
Two beaches are just a short bike ride away, through peaceful rice fields. Nearly every hotel and homestay in town either rents bicycles or provides them for free.
Hoi An has an abundance of choices when it comes to accommodations. We highly recommend staying with a homestay family in Hoi An. We chose Leaf Homestay because of the great reviews on Airbnb and the family’s emphasis on sharing culture with their guests. Their private bedrooms are appointed like nice hotel rooms, each with its own bathroom and mini fridge. The daily room rate (about $20) includes hot breakfast, good wifi, and use of their bicycles.
For more information about visiting Hoi An, including a map of destinations and restaurant reviews, see What to Do and Where to Stay in Hoi An, Vietnam on a Budget.
About 100 miles from Hanoi, tucked away in the mountains of northern Vietnam, is the small district of Mai Châu. Its lush landscape and relaxing village atmosphere make the perfect respite from the big city. Pom Coong Village is at the center of the area’s modest, grassroots tourism development. Accommodations range from luxury huts to traditional stilt house homestays.
We stayed in a traditional, open-air homestay room with our friends’ family and ordered most of our meals there as well.
This area is great to explore on foot or by bicycle, with tons of pathways weaving through the rice fields and past villages. Whenever we had nothing else to do – or if the little one in our group was getting restless – we’d go out and meander through the rice fields or the craft market where there was always plenty to see. There seemed to be animals behind every corner: cows, water buffalo, ducks, chickens, cats, rabbits, wild birds, pet birds, and an interesting variety of dogs. Temperatures were almost always agreeable for outdoor activities – not too hot, but sometimes requiring a jacket.
Weaving and wood crafts are a key part of Mai Châu’s heritage. The craft market, which takes up several blocks of the Pom Coong village, was evidence of the growth of tourism in the community (though, beware, not all the products are locally made).
People come to Mai Châu to see something new and experience the simple, rural life of the minority tribespeople who live there. According to our homestay family, we broke the mold, staying more than one or two nights. The attractions are few, so the real draw is tranquility and relaxation.
Have you traveled to Vietnam? If so, what were your favorite places?
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This is a guest post by Michelle and Jedd of Intentional Travelers. This 30-something couple left their full-time jobs to join the Peace Corps, then became digital nomads, doing work online as they travel the world.