Vietnam seems to be one of those places that people either fall in love with or end up disliking. I know several people who fall on both sides but I’m happy to say I was one of the lucky ones who fell in love with Vietnam. That being said, compared to other destinations in Southeast Asia, I didn’t necessarily find Vietnam as easy to travel through by myself. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but, based on my experience, there are a few things to be aware of for anyone planning to travel solo in Vietnam.
Solo Travel in Vietnam is Popular and it’s Easy to Meet Others
Like many countries these days, especially in Southeast Asia, Vietnam has an established backpacker route. Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat, Hoi An, Hue, Sapa, Hanoi, and Halong Bay all fall on this route.
The good thing about this route is that it makes it really easy to meet other travellers. Whether you go north to south or south to north depends on you, but you’ll find plenty of travellers going each way. It also means that these places are built around tourism. There are plenty of affordable places to stay and very social hostels. Likewise, day trips, city tours, and even transportation options (like overnight buses for tourists) are readily available.
I got really lucky as a solo traveller in Vietnam because I connected with several fellow solo travellers in Ho Chi Minh city (where I started) that I then travelled with for my entire time in Vietnam. Not only was it nice to have some great friends to explore with, but having these connections also came in handy several times when things got a little out of hand (which I will share more of below).
*PS: Check out my list of the best Vietnamese street food dishes to try during your visit!
Solo Travel in Vietnam Requires a Little More Awareness and Caution
Let me start this section by saying that I always felt safe in Vietnam. I do believe that solo travel in Vietnam is safe including for solo female travellers like myself. That being said, I will say you do need to be more mindful and cautious. Especially when walking around the bigger cities alone.
I was warned about theft before arrival in Ho Chi Minh City. To be fair, this is a problem in large cities around the world, so I wasn’t too worried. However, here the warning was against individuals on motorbikes driving up beside you and snatching your phone or bag from your hand. I kept this in mind as I walked around, I tried to walk closer to the buildings rather than beside the road and I didn’t keep my phone out and visible when I wasn’t using it. I had no issues.
However, a fellow traveller from my hostel did fall victim to one of these motorbike thieves. Her cross-body bag, which was slung over her shoulder, was snatched as she walked alongside the road. The scariest part was that the strap did not break, and she was actually dragged.
In the end, she was ok. She was scuffed up, but nothing serious. However, that incident really stuck with me because it happened in a busy place in broad daylight proving that it really can happen to anyone. So, as you explore Vietnam, just make sure to be mindful of your surroundings. Especially in the larger, busier cities.
Language Barriers can be a barrier with Solo Travel in Vietnam
I’ll preface this by saying that I travelled solo in Vietnam in 2016, so it’s been a few years and I’m sure things have changed (including wifi access). However, when I visited finding English speakers was very hit or miss. In the tourist sectors, no problem. In hotels and on tours- there is plenty of English spoken. However, out in the streets can be a different story.
When I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh city I couldn’t find my hostel for the life of me. It was near a small local market and I tried to ask a few people for help but was brushed aside. To be completely honest, I was nearly in tears after an hour in the sun with my backpack and no idea where I was. In the end, I was rescued by an older woman who led me down a tiny alley to my hidden hostel after I showed her screenshot of the building on my phone.
I had a similar incident in SaPa. I got off the bus and then needed to find my way to a smaller village in the hills. I had no idea how to get there and ended up catching a ride on the back of a motorbike taxi, but only because someone else stopped by and helped translate where I needed to go.
My final example is a homestay that a couple of girls and I stayed at in Ninh Binh. The homeowner’s brother spoke English but the rest of the family didn’t. Honestly, this was kind of fun because and we laughed a lot conversing over Google Translate, but others may find that situation awkward or uncomfortable.
Of course, we need to recognize that, as visitors to another country and culture, we can’t expect English to be prevalent. However, compared to places like Singapore and Thailand, I found that communicating as a solo traveller in Vietnam wasn’t always easy.
Solo Female Travellers in Vietnam Should Know That Women Aren’t Always Treated with the Same Respect as Men
This is, unfortunately, common in many places around the world and as someone from Canada, I still find it difficult to deal with. For the most part, the Vietnamese people (men and women) are very kind and respectful. However, there were a couple of incidents where I felt like I was being taken advantage of as a woman. This was typically in terms of men approaching me wanting to give me rides and take me places. I felt like as a young, solo, female tourist that they saw me as an easy target to take advantage of. A couple of times I had to be incredibly firm by saying no because they kept harassing me. Once I just turned around and flat out walked away (in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go) because the man wouldn’t get out of my face and leave me alone.
I also had a very uncomfortable incident with the homestay I mentioned above. As I said, three of us stayed with a local Vietnamese family in Ninh Binh. The family was lovely. However, the homeowner’s brother was in town and he was an aggressive drunk. He basically took over our plans, dictated everything we would see and do. Since we were in a more rural area, we really didn’t have a choice. We decided to leave early because we just felt so uncomfortable with him and we could tell he was incredibly angry at us for this decision. I was so glad there were three of us and I wasn’t alone with him. You can find the whole story here.
Again, these types of things can happen anywhere. However, I was more conscious of aggressive men as a solo female traveller in Vietnam than I was in other countries in SE Asia.
Do I recommend Solo Travel in Vietnam?
Absolutely! I loved my solo travel experiences in Vietnam.
Yes, some aspects as I shared above made it a bit more challenging than other solo travel destinations but I do think Vietnam is an incredible country that is safe and easy enough to get around for solo travellers.
Looking for some more inspiration? Check out my 2 weeks in Vietnam itinerary for my recommendations.
A Note on Travel Insurance in Vietnam
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine multiple times. While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance as they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found, plus, they are who I use and I have had great experiences with them. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.