Most travellers to Vietnam plan to visit as much of the beautiful country as possible. Whether travelling South to North (Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi) or North to South, there’s a huge amount of distance to cover and inevitably you will need to use some form of transport. Here’s our short guide covering what it’s like to take different forms of transport in Vietnam.
What are the buses like in Vietnam?
Unless you’re willing to fly everywhere or pay for private taxis, buses are somewhat of an inevitability when you travel in Vietnam. But what should you expect of this transport in Vietnam?
For short haul for example from Hue to Hoi An, you can expect to travel by mini-bus. These are small buses with around 8 to 10 seats and are fairly luxurious. Often, you’ll be given a bottle of water, a comfortable seat and somewhere to charge your phone.
For long haul buses in Vietnam, the experience is a little more variable. You’ll see most buses in Vietnam are described as “VIP” or “limousine,” and actually they don’t tend to disappoint. For example, the sleeper bus service from Hanoi to Sapa with Sao Viet is a fantastic experience. Each ticket entitles you to a spacious bunk with a blanket, plug socket and bottle of water. Some of the bunk beds also have an inbuilt massage function. Compared to 10 years ago when passengers frequently didn’t get seats on the buses, the buses have really improved in Vietnam.
On the other hand, travelling with VIP Queen Cafe buses is a slightly different experience. We found that these sleeper chairs were extremely cramped, especially for 13 hours and there were no plug points. The staff were also a little curt, no wonder they have the worst review on TripAdvisor.
Generally long haul buses will have toilets and will stop at least once to allow passengers to use facilities and buy food and drink.
How much do buses cost in Vietnam?
A short bus trip (such as 3 hours) will cost less than $10. Conversely, a longer sleeper bus in a VIP or limousine bus will cost between $20 and $30 depending on the length of your journey.
How to book buses in Vietnam?
By far, our best booking experience was on the website Bookaway. You can also normally book bus tickets with the hostel or hotel that you’re staying in, but sometimes you will need to pay a little more.
In general, you can leave booking until last minute as most routes have frequent services. But if you want to be on a specific bus, we would recommend booking.
Tips for travelling by bus in Vietnam
- Make sure you get to the bus stop early, at least 30 minutes before. Buses do sometimes leave early in Vietnam
- Check on your ticket to see what facilities there are on the bus – noting that some do not have plug sockets
- Take food and drink on long / sleeper buses
- Pack layers, buses can get chilly and sometimes blankets are not super clean so you may not wish to use them
- Make sure you have some spare change to use the toilets in the bus stops during your journey
- Normally you have to remove your shoes, so wearing flip flops is easier
What are the trains like in Vietnam?
Many people choose to travel by train in Vietnam. Trains are either public or private tourist trains. The tourist trains tend to have sleeper carriages with either 2, 4 or 6 beds.
For certain routes, the train is a much better option. For example, from Hoi An to Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh, the train is a better alternative to the bus as it’s much quicker. For other routes, you may find that the bus is a more direct route (e.g. from Hanoi to Sapa.)
Trains tend to be comfortable and well equipped, but they are also slightly more expensive than the bus. For a 2 person cabin, expect to pay around $70 for a long distance sleeper train. Often, you may find that a domestic flight is cheaper and more convenient. But, the train gives you more of an opportunity to see scenery in rural Vietnam. And, as travel writers, we still think long distance trains are a little more romantic.
What are domestic flights like in Vietnam?
Taking a domestic flight in Vietnam, is a little like getting on a bus. It’s really easy and mostly cheap as a form of transport in Vietnam. There are three main airlines which operate domestic flights in Vietnam – Vietjet, Vietnam Airlines and Bamboo.
All domestic air travel can be booked via Sky Scanner. Expect to pay less than $50 for most domestic routes.
Airports tend to be well organised and you don’t need to be at the airport too far in advance. To speed things up and avoid luggage charges, we recommend travelling with hand luggage only. When you land, you will not have to get your passport checked, so it’s quick to disembark and leave the airport if you don’t have to wait for luggage. You can also carry liquids in hand luggage in Vietnam on domestic aircraft too.
What are taxis like in Vietnam?
Taxis in Vietnam are easy to arrange so they can be a convenient form of transport in Vietnam. From the airport, you can grab one outside the terminal, but expect to pay a little more and make sure you fix a price as you get into the cab. Elsewhere, we recommend booking a cab through your hotel to get the best price and to use a reputable company.
You can also use the app Grab in Vietnam to book a taxi or ride on a scooter but you’ll need to get a text to your phone in order to set up the app. Either do this at home before you leave or with a Vietnamese SIM card.
You’ll probably find that most taxi drivers in Vietnam do drive a little too quickly. Feel free to ask the driver to slow down if you’re uncomfortable. You can use google translate if you need to communicate with them.
What’s it like to drive a scooter in Vietnam?
You can rent a scooter in Vietnam very easily so this is a really good option for transport in Vietnam. Either arrange this with your hotel or with a rental company. Expect to pay between 120,000 and 150,000 VND per day (approximately $4 to $5.)
Aside from the main cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, we found it fairly easy to travel within towns and cities in Vietnam. Hanoi and HCMC are too busy (in our view) to warrant hiring a scooter. It’s far better in these cities to explore by foot. In Hoi An, we also think that a bicycle is a really good alternative to a scooter.
Most scooter rental places will want you to return the scooter to them, or to your hotel. So scooters aren’t really an option to get from one city to another. The exception may be travelling between Hoi An and Da Nang. But in general, the distances would be too far to travel by scooter anyway.
In general, the roads are in good condition in Vietnam. But, there are occasional pot holes in the ground. So you will need to have your wits about you.
One thing we noticed is that turnings and cross roads can be a bit of a wild west in Vietnam. Frequently, local drivers on scooters will also drive on the wrong side of the road at junctions or to get to a specific shop/ restaurant/ venue. This can be a little alarming when you first see a scooter coming towards you in your lane, but you soon get used to it.
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