If you’re itching for your first trip as a solo female traveler, Vietnam is the perfect country to start. The S shape of the country makes it very easy to map out a route from the north to the south, which you can cover over a period of two or more weeks. Beyond travel being easy, Vietnam is also a progressive nation, and not only are women respected and loved, but they also play an increasingly important role in society and in the country’s development.
I chose Vietnam as my first ever solo backpacking destination because I kept meeting many female travelers who recommended for me to do so. I had backpacked before, but never alone, so I wanted to give myself a challenge before I took the first proper step in my career. Plus, meeting all these brave women who decided to venture out alone and tackle something out of their comfort zone made me really want to do the same. Vietnam is also a beautiful country with an endless list of things to see, do and eat, so really, how could I miss out?
Naturally, going by myself, there were a few questions I wanted answered.
Is Vietnam safe?
Surprisingly, and despite the extremely sad history, Vietnam is actually an extremely safe country to visit, according to Lonely Planet. While the police keep a tight grip on social order, there are some problems that are endemic to poorer countries, and as with all places, scams and hassles do exist, particularly in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (the two main cities).
In other cities, it happens to a lesser extent. Road safety is an issue, but precautions can be taken to avoid the chances of meeting an unfortunate accident.
Is it safe for women?
Yes. There is a low rate of sexual assaults here, so you do not have much to worry about.
Moreover, women are arguably given more respect in Vietnam than in other countries. Vietnam was actually once a matriarchy and there are many great female heroines in the country’s history; brave women who paved the way for modern day Vietnam, and allowed women to be perceived as resilient and strong-willed.
The full and complete equality of Vietnamese women was also enshrined in the first Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1946: “Women enjoy equal rights with men in all spheres.” You’ll see women handle the same range of jobs a man would in Vietnam – whether it be a white collar job, a store owner, a street-food vendor, or a pedicab operator.
Some women play high level positions in business and get the same pay as men in government. And while there are still improvements to be made, as with the rest of the world, Vietnam is certainly taking a step in the right direction. As a woman, you should know that you are perceived in an empowering light, and more power to you if you decide to explore this land alone.
How should I get around? Is public transport safe?
Public transport is extremely safe and you can get from one city to the other in various ways – through flights, trains, buses, cars, and by motorbike. My recommendation is to stick to overnight intercity buses from brands such as Futa Bus, Sinh Tourist, and Phuong Nam.
These buses are extremely comfortable (seats recline so you can sleep horizontally), offer flexibility during your travels, and also offer great value for the price. Taking the bus will cost you about $10 USD per ride and it is a definite bargain for such a fun, local experience. These buses also stop for toilet and snack breaks every few hours and some often have their own toilet in the back.
Within cities, I suggest you use a motorbike if you know how to drive around, bicycles, taxis, or simply just walk. Public buses are fine too but very inconvenient, and if you do not speak the language, it may be a difficult method to conquer. Do not trust anyone random that offers you a ride. Hitchhiking is also a general no-no.
Often, you can arrange transport from your accommodation. Within the main cities like Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Nha Trang, you can download the apps Grab or Go Viet. These apps are the local equivalent of Uber and Lyft, and are extremely convenient and quite cheap. Different transport options will cost you different amounts, but expect to pay around 25,000 VND ($1.10 USD) for a 2 kilometer journey on a Grab car. Bikes are even cheaper.
What’s a great route to take? Is there anywhere I should avoid?
Before you travel to Vietnam, it’s good to have an idea of the route you will take. You can make your way down south to Ho Chi Minh City from Hanoi or do the reverse. My suggestion is to do north to south. Hanoi is the beautiful cultural capital city of Vietnam, whereas HCMC is more developed and will not give you an authentic introduction to the country. To make your way between these two cities, you can take an inland route, or the more popular beach-side route.
1. The coastal route
Sticking to the beachside route will be safer; more people take this route, the transport system is more developed, and there are many hostels you could stay at where you are bound to meet like-minded travelers on your way.
2. The inland route
The inland route is a little bit more difficult and will require you to be extremely flexible with your plans. Taking both routes though are equally rewarding. The inland route includes these cities: Ninh Binh, Phong Nha, Kontum, Pleiku, Buon Ma Thuot and Da Lat. You can even opt for a mix of both routes.
There are really no places you should avoid. Each and every city is beautiful in its own way and there are so many places to explore. However, when it comes to untrodden, inland areas, there is a risk of coming across unexploded munitions left remaining from the war. It’s very important that you listen to what the locals in the region say and do some research before you visit each city.
Is it easy to make friends?
Something I learned while traveling alone is that you’re never really fully traveling alone. You always end up meeting new people – sometimes just for a few minutes, and sometimes you end up joining forces for a leg of each other’s journeys. When you part ways, you have a friend for life, and may even end up reconnecting in another part of the world. I can’t count the number of times this has happened to me.
The great thing is that it’s completely up to you if you decide to meet other people on your journey or if you want to do the whole thing alone. To meet others, stay at hostels. Hostels often have events and common areas where you end up meeting other people and having a drink or two or playing board games.
Through other people, you’ll also learn of great hidden spots to go see, which you might not have known of otherwise. Plus, if you don’t know how to ride a bike and want a lift somewhere (like me), then you may just find someone to help you move around, assuming they are on the same path as you, of course.
Some great places to stay:
If you’re flying into Hanoi, the Central Backpackers hostel is a recommended place to stay. This was a great hostel for me to start my journey as I met many cool people who were on a similar path to mine. I’m happy to say that I am still in touch with them and I’ve made some very special connections.
The reception also arranges awesome tours around the northern region and will help book transport for you. Best to book your stay in advance of course, but generally you’ll be able to find a dorm bed for yourself even if you walk in. If not, there are plenty of other hostel options around within walking distance.
When in Da Nang, head over to Rom Casa – a cool accommodation concept where all rooms are made from refurbished containers. You’ll meet a lively crowd in the common areas that include a bar, restaurant, pool, library and rooftop. Dorms and rooms will cost you upwards of $10 here, which is a fine price to pay because you will be just a quick walk from the beach.
Once you’ve made it to Ho Chi Minh City, stay in District 1 which is the city center. Here you will find plenty of hostels in the backpacker district which encompasses Bui Vien, De Tham and Pham Ngu Lao streets. However, the nightlife here can get quite rough, so I’d recommend you stay a little further away. Try Lela Homestay, a unique and cozy hostel that attracts a chill crowd. Prices here start at $12 a night which is not bad for an upscale hostel.
Pro tip: Many hostels offer single-sex dorms, so you can choose where to stay.
What else should you know?
Here are some further tips that will come in handy so you can avoid the sticky situations I got myself into:
1. Plan your intercity transport in advance – find out which bus station to go, which bus to take, etc., and don’t play it by ear. I got scammed twice (on the same night…), an experience I wish on no one. Also, make sure to plan your trip in a way that your bus arrives at the new destination during daylight. Plan your accommodation in advance too, and try to arrange a pick-up, especially if you arrive at night.
2. Many people will offer you rides here, mostly out of the kindness of their hearts. However, trust your instincts and don’t be too trusting of everyone.
3. Separate your money and keep a chunk hidden in your bag – this is in case you get robbed, so you’ll still have some money left. Keep your cards and passport in your hidden stash too. Remember not to leave your bags lying everywhere when you do this though! At hostels, always keep your valuables locked. Keep a photo of your transport on your phone and don’t flash your valuables around. Also, keep a fully charged power bank.
4. When eating local food, head to the crowded restaurants. From the crowds, you can deduce that the restaurant is popular and serves healthy food in a sanitary way. Have some pills ready in case you have a weak stomach. Luckily, I barely get food poisoning because I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life in Asia.
5. Get a SIM card from the airport – this way you can call during emergencies, keep your family updated on your whereabouts (remember to give them your itinerary), and also (big tip!) access Google Maps – very useful here. Maps.me is a great offline alternative too.
6. Keep translations of a few important terms in your wallet such as:
“Can you help me find…” – “Bạn có thể giúp tôi tìm”
“I am vegetarian” – “Tôi ăn chay”
“I do not feel safe, can you help me?” – “Tôi cảm thấy không được an toàn. Bạn có thể giúp tôi không? “
Remember, if you ever feel unsafe, draw on the support of total strangers, especially those in groups.
7. While there are convenience stores almost everywhere, there may be times when you will not come across one for miles, especially in rural areas. It would be wise to stock up on tampons and sanitary pads. A pack of wet tissues and extra toilet paper is a great idea too.
8. Having an extra sweater and a pair of long trousers is great when you’re headed to religious sites that often require that you wear clothing that covers your shoulders and knees. These will also come in handy when you take overnight transport (buses, trains) that can be cold due to the overuse of AC.
9. If you’re going out to party – know your alcohol limits, especially when you are alone.
10. Lastly, the Female Expats group on Facebook is a huge help. These ladies will come to your rescue wherever, and whenever you need.
Other than that, pack comfortable shoes, walk everywhere, meet all the locals you can, and enjoy a hell of an adventure. Lastly, remember to trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, get out of there.
As a woman, I love traveling alone. I want to explore every nook and cranny of every city in this world, and the freedom to so at my own pace. I think you will too.