Most travelers are on a tight budget, but part of travel is just being in a new place– experiencing the culture first-hand, getting to know the locals, seeing new sights– and so much of this can really be done for absolutely free! While you travel through Vietnam stretch those dollars a little further by trying out some of these free things to see and do:
Temple tours: If you’ve got a love for temples then you’re in luck. Vietnam has hundreds, and almost all are free to enter (if they do charge an entry fee, it’s usually only a dollar or two). Vietnam’s long and winding history is told in the detailed paintings and carefully sculpted statues that adorn every temple. Each one is unique and offers a beautiful glimpse into this ancient culture, so follow the scent of incense and explore a few (or a few dozen!).
Stroll through marketplaces: Just about every town has their own markets. These are some of the best places to soak up Vietnam’s active and colorful culture. You’ll get to experience first-hand how people live, work, and play– plus you can pick up inexpensive souvenirs, local crafts, and tons of delicious Vietnamese dishes with a whole new array of flavors for you to taste and savor!
Hiking: Go take a hike! Vietnam has mountains and jungles, valleys, lakes, and endless rice and fruit plantations. Pick your fancy and hit the trail for some fresh air, exercise, and adventure. Here’s a list of some of the best hiking treks in Vietnam. Sapa is known for having some really incredible hikes, but there are plenty of others, no matter where you’re at in Vietnam!
Chat with Locals: While you’re traveling through Vietnam, take the opportunity to get to know the local people. Many can speak English in Hanoi and Saigon– especially students, who are often very excited at the chance to practice– so strike up a friendly conversation. Find out about their lives, share a little about yours, make a friend and learn about a culture vastly different from your own (and find out that despite those differences, you’ll still have more in common than you’d first expect!).
Go to the Beach: Spend a few days spread out on the golden sand by the ocean’s edge. All you need is a towel and some sunscreen, after all! But if you feel like spending a few dollars you can rent an umbrella for the afternoon and buy fruit drinks and fresh seafood cooked right in front of you from local vendors for next to nothing. Or, if you prefer, head to one of the more secluded coves for your own private beach day. It’ll feel like a luxury holiday for free.
Hoan Kiem Lake: Stroll around the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. It’s right in the middle of the hectic city and is a peaceful break from all the hubbub. This is a perfect spot to meet locals– they’re sitting in the park playing mahjong, practicing tai chi, walking the lake with a loved one, spending the day with their kids– it’s also the location of Ngoc Son Temple, one of the most famous temples in Vietnam tours.
See Ho Chi Minh: Seeing a preserved body isn’t something you do very often. Seeing a preserved world leader is definitely not something you do very often. General Ho Chi Minh is kept at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, and entry is free to see his remains. The mausoleum has odd and infrequent opening hours, so double check to make sure it’s open before you head over.
Wander the Old Quarter: The Old Quarter is the best market in Hanoi. Even if you’re not in the mood to buy anything you’ll be amazed by the smells of street food, the sights of all the goods being sold, and the sounds of so many people bustling around and living their lives in this unique corner of the world.
Take a Walking Tour: Grab a free map when you’re in the airport, and just head out into the city! (Or check with your hotel or hostel– many offer free guided tours to their guests.) Hanoi is filled with interesting architecture, much of it designed by the French when they occupied the region. Seeing the French colonial Fine Arts Museum or Presidential Palace next to a traditional Vietnamese temple or pagoda is an awesome way to immerse yourself in the local culture.
In Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Explore the French Architecture: The Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica and the Central Post Office are right across the street from each other, and both are beautiful examples of French Architecture (in fact, the Post Office was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the man who created the Eiffel Tower in Paris!). They’re free to enter and well worth exploring.
Take in the Pagodas: Thien Hau and Quan Am are some of the oldest and best preserved pagodas in the city. They’re home to elaborate sculptures and design and are regularly host to religious festivals and celebrations.
See the Reunification Palace: Although there is a small entry fee (30,000 dong, or about $1.50 US), once you’re inside all the tours are free. The Reunification Palace has been virtually unchanged since the fall of Saigon to the North in 1975. It’s a time capsule of war, history, and culture in the heart of the city where you can see the very spot where the war ended when tanks crashed through it’s now infamous gates.
Go on a Walking Tour: Just like in Hanoi, grab a map for free from the airport or hotel and head out on a walking tour. It’s the best way to experience the city up close, find delicious foods to try, meet new people, and see and feel the vibrant energy of this big city.
There is so much to see and do in Vietnam, but don’t think you have to break the bank just to afford it all– there’s plenty that you can do for absolutely free in this warm and exciting country!
- Best Things to Do in Hanoi’s Old Quarter
- Best time to visit each destination in Vietnam