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Boats in the Mekong Delta.  <img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click for full image
Travel Guide > Asia > Vietnam

Vietnam Getting around

  
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By plane

Flights are the fastest way to travel the distance of this long country; the trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City will take about 2 hours by plane.

There are quite many flights connecting the two largest cities, Hanoi andHo Chi Minh City, to major towns such as Da Nang, Hai Phong, Can Tho, Hue, Nha Trang,Da Lat and Phu Quoc. Most of these flights are cheap compared to North American or European standards. For example, a return connecting Hanoi to Da Nang will probably run around $80 US (including all taxes).

By train

Although more expensive than buses, trains are undoubtedly the most comfortable way to travel overland in Vietnam. There is one major train line in Vietnam, the 1723-kilometer trunk between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, on which the Reunification Express runs. HCMC to Hanoi is more than 30 hours, and overnight hops between major destinations are usually possible, if not entirely convenient. It's a good way to see the countryside and meet upper-middle class locals, but unless you are traveling in a sleeper car it is no more comfortable than buses.

AC Soft or hard sleeper is recommended, and purchasing as early as possible is a good idea as popular berths and routes are often bought out by tour companies and travel agents well before the departure time (hence being told the train is sold out at a station ticket window or popular tour company office does not mean there are no tickets available--they've simply been bought by another reseller).

Tickets

Booking at the train station itself is generally the safest way, just prepare on a piece of paper the destination, date, time, no. of pax and class. However, unsold tickets can often be bought last minute from people hanging around at the station--a train is rarely sold out for real, as the railway company will add cars when demand is high. Commissions on these tickets will drop away as the departure time draws nearer.

In addition, there are shorter routes from Hanoi leading northwest and northeast, with international crossings into China. One of the most popular of the shorter routes is the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (with bus service from Lao Cai to the tourist destination of Sapa).

Always try to buy your tickets at least 3 days in advance, to avoid disappointment, especially during peak holiday season, during which you should try to book at least a week in advance.

By bus

Long-distance bus services connect most cities in Vietnam. Most depart early in the morning to accommodate traffic and late afternoon rains, or run overnight. It is important to note that average road speeds are typically quite slow, even when travelling between cities. For example a 276km journey from the Mekong Delta to Ho Chi Minh City by bus will likely take about 8 hours.

Public buses

Public buses travel between the cities' bus stations. In bigger places, you often have to use local transport to get into the city center from there. Buses are generally in reasonable shape, and you have the chance to interact with locals.

Open Tour buses

Open Tour buses are run by a multitude of tour companies. They cater especially to tourists, offering ridiculous low rates (Hanoi to HCMC: US$20-25) and door-to-door service to your desired hostel. You can break the journey at any point and continue on a bus of the same company any time later, or simply buy tickets just for the stage you're willing to cover next. Note that if you're not planning to make more than 3-4 stops, it might be cheaper to buy separate tickets as you go (ie Hanoi to Hue can be had for as little as US$5).

Most hotels and guesthouses can book seats for any connection, although you're better to shop around at travel agents, as prices will vary on any given ticket/bus company. Going to the bus company office may net you a commission-free fare, but most major bus operators have fixed pricing policies, which can only be circumvented through a travel agent.

By car

International driving licenses are not accepted in Vietnam. The concept of renting a car to drive yourself is almost non-existent, and when Vietnamese speak of renting a car they always mean hiring a car with a driver. (After a short time on local roads with their crazy traffic, you will be glad you left the driving to a professional.)

Since few Vietnamese own cars, they have frequent occasion to hire vehicles for family outings, special occasions, etc., and a thriving industry exists to serve that need. Vietnamese can easily charter anything from a small car to a 32-seat bus, for one day or several. Tourists can tap into that market indirectly by way of hotels and tour agents found in every tourist area.

Car rental

Additionally, international car brands have started to surface. Budget Car Rental, one of the largest car rental companies in the world, now offers chauffeur driven services in Vietnam. Hiring a small car for a day trip returning to the point of origin costs around US$60 for eight hours (though the price changes with the cost of gas). (If you shop around and bargain hard for the lowest possible price, you will probably get an older, more beat-up car. If you are paying more than bare minimum, it's worth asking what sort of car it will be, and holding out for something comfortable.) Few drivers speak any English, so make sure you tell the hotel/agent exactly where you want to go, and have that communicated to the driver.

Driving habits

Generally speaking, describing Vietnamese driving habits as atrocious would be an understatement. Road courtesy is non-existent and drivers generally do not check their blind spot or wing mirrors. Vietnamese drivers also tend to use their horn very often to get motorcyclists out of their way.

In addition, most roads do not have lane markings and even on those that do, drivers generally ignore the lane markings. As such, driving yourself in Vietnam is not recommended and you should leave your transportation needs in the hands of professionals.

By bicycle

Adventurous travelers may wish to see Vietnam by bicycle. Several adventure travel tours provide package tours with equipment. Most of the population gets around on two wheels, so it's an excellent way to get closer to the people, as well as off the beaten path.

Bicycles can be rented cheaply in many cities, and are often a great way of covering larger distances. Good spots for cycling are Dalat, Hoi An, Hue and Ninh Binh. On the other hand, attempting to cycle in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City is virtually suicide without proper experience of traffic rules (or lack thereof, 'proper experience' in this case means understanding that everyone around you could potentially change direction at any moment.)

In cities like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, parking bicycles on the sidewalks is not allowed, and you'll have to go to a pay parking lot. 2000 dong per bike.

A bicycle in Hue.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

By motorcycle taxi

The xe ôm (literally 'hugging vehicle') is a common mode of transport for Vietnamese as well as tourists. They are widely available and reasonably cheap -- about 10,000 dong for a 10 minute trip, which should get you anywhere within the city center. Longer trips to outlying areas can be negotiated for 20-25,000 dong. Always agree on the fare before starting your trip. As with most things, a tourist will often be quoted an above-market price initially, and you need to be firm.

If quoted anything over 10,000 dong for a short trip, remind the driver that you could take an air-con taxi for 15,000 so forget it. Occasionally drivers will demand more than the negotiated price at the end, so it's best to have exact change handy. Then you can pay the agreed amount and walk away, end of discussion.

By motorcycle

The 110-cc motorbike is the preferred mode of transport for the Vietnamese masses, and the large cities swarm with them. It's common to see whole families of four cruising along on a single motorbike. In most places where tourists go, you can easily rent your own, with prices ranging from 100,000 to 160,000 dong per day.

Commuting in Hue: No end of scooters in sight.  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Before reading on, however, you should be aware that it is illegal for foreigners to ride a motorbike in Vietnam unless they are in possession of a temporary Vietnamese motorcycle licence, which in turn requires you to have a current licence issued by your home country/country of residence or an International Driving Permit.

Road safety

Desk clerks at small hotels often run a side business renting motorbikes to guests, or have a friend or relative who does. Tour booths can usually do the same. In small towns and beach resorts where traffic is light, e.g Pho Quoc, it's a delightful way to get around and see the sights, and much cheaper than taxis if you make several stops or travel any distance. Roads are usually decent, though it's advisable not to ride too fast and always keep an eye on the road for the occasional pothole.

Riding long distance in the countryside can also be harrowing depending on the route you take. Major roads between cities tend to be narrow despite being major, and full of tour buses hell-bent on speed, passing slow trucks where maybe they shouldn't have tried, and leaving not much room at the edge for motorbikes.

By cyclo

While slowly being supplanted by motorbikes, cyclo pedicabs still roam the streets of Vietnam's cities and towns. They are especially common in scenic smaller, less busy cities like Hue, where it's pleasant to cruise slowly along taking in the sights. Though the ride will be slow, hot and sometimes dangerous, you'll generally need to pay more than for a motorbike for the equivalent distance. On the plus side, some drivers (particularly in the South) are very friendly and happy to give you a running commentary on the sights.

A reasonable price is about 20,000 dong for up to 2 km, and if the driver disagrees, simply walk away. (You won't get far before that driver or another takes your offer.) Prices for a sight-seeing circuit with intermediate stops are more complex to negotiate and more subject to conflict at the end. If you plan to stop somewhere for any length of time, it's best to settle up with the driver, make no promises, and start fresh later. To avoid trouble, it's also best to have exact change for the amount you agreed to pay, so if the driver tries to revise the deal, you can just lay your cash on the seat and leave.

By boat

You will be missing a big part of Vietnamese life if you do not spend some time on a boat. Do be careful though because many boats are although seaworthy are not designed to first world standards. An example is the ferry from Phu Quoc to the mainland. This ferry has one tiny entrance for all passengers to board. When full, which it usually is there are approximatly 200 people on board. In the event of an accident, the chance of everyone getting out of the boat fast enough would be very small. The idea of an emergency exit also does not exist there.

Tour boats

Tour boats can be chartered for around US$20 for a day's tour; but beware of safety issues if you charter a boat, make sure the boat is registered for carrying Tourists and has enough lifejackets and other safety equipment on board. Or you can book a tour through a tour company; but be aware that in Vietnam most Tour Agents charge whatever markup they want and therefore the tourist is often paying margins of 30-40%! and the boat owner and operator (of anything from a van to a boat etc.) are paid very little of the total amount!

Ha Long Bay is a famous destination for one- to three-day boat trips among its scenic limestone islands. Problem is that all the boats seem to visit the same places - and with high prices and poor quality boats and service real value is hard to come by! Many boats have a 10 US corkage fee, and forbid bring-your-own alcohol, with on board alcohol and seafood is about the same price as Europe in some places! If there is rain, mist or low cloud, you may not see much. try to pick a clear day.

Dozens of small family-operated boats ply the river in Hue taking visitors to the imperial tombs southwest of the city. This journey is long because the boats are slow taking about 4 hours or so to make the journey in one direction.

Transport Companies in Vietnam

Airline Aeroflot
(Moscow-Sheremetyevo)
in Hanoi
Airline AirAsia
(tel: +603 2171 9222) - Many good offers from Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.
in Hanoi
 
Airline Air France
(Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi, Paris-Charles de Gaulle)
in Hanoi
Airline Asiana Airlines
(Seoul-Incheon)
in Hanoi
 
Airline Cathay Pacific
Upscale airline with flights to/from Hong Kong.
in Hanoi
Airline China Airlines
(Taipei-Taiwan Taoyuan)
in Hanoi
 
Airline China Southern Airlines
(Beijing, Guangzhou)
in Hanoi
Airline Dragon Air
(Hong Kong)
in Hanoi
 
Airline EVA Air
(Taipei - Taiwan Taoyuan)
in Hanoi
Airline Hong Kong Airlines
New carrier with daily flights to/from Hong Kong.
in Hanoi
 
These are just 10 of 30 Transport Companies in Vietnam. Show more.




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