Travel in Vietnam and what transportation options to consider
It’s true. Almost all forms of transportation in Vietnam is chaotic, energetic and seem like utter maddness from the sidewalk (or usual lack there of). Heck, even crossing the road succesfully can seem like a miracle some days.
Not so though. We’ll arm you with some basic information that will take the hectic right out of it.
What are the most common forms of transportation in Vietnam?
Vietnam has many travel-friendly traits and is well known for being cheap to travel within. One of those traits is that you can get anywhere you need super easy.
The country has a vast network of roads and rail lines. Old and new alike, connect almost every inch of the country.
Before we go any further we have some business to take care of first and that is, our
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So, what are the best ways to get around Vietnam? Let’s find out.
What are the options? They are public buses and tour buses.
Public buses can get you (and cargo, lol) almost anywhere in the country. It’s one of the main methods of transportation in Vietnam and also one of the cheapest for travelers.
Getting info online can be tricky for remote or rural areas but less so in the cities.
Da Nang, for instance, has DanaBus which offers a very useful website in English that includes,
- Clear route layouts
- Time tables/schedules
- Fares, and
- Ticket booking facility
If you’d like to see it in action, have a look at Leon’s bus trip from Da Nang to Hoi An.
In rural areas, you may find yourself in a bus station trying to buy tickets over the counter. If you can’t speak the language, don’t stress. Google translate is your friend! Locals are pretty good at interpreting the most interesting translations. Once you get past that you should be okay.
If you can’t find the bus station but know which bus you want, then no stress either. You simply hop on and pay for your ticket on board.
We had to fall back on this option in Coa Bang on our way to the Ban Gioc Waterfall. It was a hilarious adventure.
Travel Tip!: Be aware of scams. We came across many during our search for bus options. The most common was over charging when buying a ticket on the bus. Operators will try to charge tourists more than locals, then extra for your baggage. If it’s only a couple of bucks out of your pocket, don’t sweat it but be aware of unusually large amounts.
Tour buses are everywhere! In fact, they will find you before you find them. Most activities from main centres offer tour buses to get you there and back.
We experienced a few like our trip to Ha Long Bay from Hanoi which was a very pleasant experience. (There are some horror stories out there too so do your research first.)
We looked for tours with good English reviews (you can tell the local attempts from real reviews easily) and photos. Photos are your friend because amongst the fravolity lies the gold. Look for things like condition of the vehicle exterior and interior.
If you’re happy with the condition put them on the list of possibilities. Also reach out to the travel communities on social media. Facebook groups in particular were very helpful and insightful with our searches.
The least of the favorites
Couple of things to know;
- They are not comfortable if your height average is above 5’7”
- Night time can be the most dangerous time on the road (no police, poor vehicle maintenance, lack of care)
- Theft is also a common occurrence on these buses, not only on the bus but we’ve heard for situations where people luggage have been ransaked in the cargo compartment during the trip. (we have a solution for that though)
If you can live with the above then go for gold.
As a traveler, there is only one train line you’ll be looking for and that is the Reunification Express.
This national trunk line stretches from the Mekong Delta all the way up to the capital Hanoi. While that may seem basic, it’s anything but.
It’s a fluid line integrated with a generous amount of stops to help you get anywhere in the country. This is why it is the second most preferred method of transportation in Vietnam.
The stretch between Da Nang and Hue alone is enough to make angels weep. Views that are worthy of its spot on the list of top ten train rides in the world.
Travel Tip!: Make sure you sit on the side of the train that looks out over the water. You’ll get the best views, especially if you want to take photos and video.
Not quite a taxi and not quite a tour. Private transfers are not only easy to find but a very budget friendly option. Especially for short trips like Hoi An to Hue or Hue to Dong Hoi.
They advertise in mysterious ways though. In popular tourist areas, they will spray paint their telephone numbers and ‘transfer’ on street sides. Not ideal if you can’t speak Vietnamese.
The best option here is to ask for quotes through your accommodation or local tourist kiosk. The former will be cheaper as they generally ‘know some people, who know some people’ and get the best deals.
Travel tip!: We used a private transfer from Hue to Hoi An and asked to go via the Hai Van Pass for sunset photos. It was the best thing we did!
Motorbikes / Scooters
We get asked about this one a lot. We did after all, travel the country by motorbike for over six months.
In that time we learned some valuable lessons. Lessons want to share to give you an opportunity to make informed choices.
During our time, things were fairly lax around foreigners renting and riding motorbikes in Vietnam. That is changing fast though.
With an influx of visitors comes a steady rise in fatalities involving foreigners. We’ve seen many debates and arguments online about this topic. We don’t claim to be experts, all we can do is speak from experience.
What an amazing experience it was too!
The freedom of your own transportation in Vietnam
On a bike, you get to make your own itinerary and with it, a greater freedom to travel your way. It’s not all amazing though.
We almost got wiped out on day one of our road trip by not only one, but three heavy vehicles. One was a bus from a well-known company that couldn’t be patient enough to wait for a clear stretch.
When you’re jammed up against the safety rail on your side of the road with nowhere to go, watching a tour bus barreling down on you, sh*t gets real, quick!
What saved us on many occasions was experience, advanced training and taking it slow. All you have to do is watch one of our riding day videos to understand what we mean.
What that freedom could cost
Some things to think about before hopping on a bike;
- Helmets, they save lives. It’s your brain, so think about what it’s worth to you.
- Driver licenses. The most epic subject on travel in Vietnam. The short of it, you have to have a Vietnamese drivers license to legally ride on the road. Most police will wave you off or hit you up for a bribe but it doesn’t save you when it comes to,
- Insurance. If you do not adhere to the T&C’s on your insurance policy they may not cover you. For example, our insurance policy stated we needed, a) a legal motorcycle license from our country, b) a Vietnamese issued drivers license and, c) helmets complying with AU/NZ minimum safety standards. If you’d like a good place to start your insurance research then we recommend starting with the team at Worldnomads for great info on travel insurance and things like riding a motorcycle overseas.
- International driving permits aren’t as straightforward either, more on that here.
- Accidents. It’s not a case of if but when. Vietnam has the world’s second highest fatality rate in the world. Think about that. Say you end up involved in an accident? You could get seriously injured or worse die. If not, local law could deem you responsible causing a whole lot more hurt. Jail, compensation to the deceased family, damages, etc. I can go on but I’m sure you get the grim picture. I’ll add one more thing though. If you don’t comply with your insurance policy, it could get a whole lot worse.
- Emergency care. No insurance means you’ll end up in public hospitals. In a developing country, it can be hit or miss on what you get. Do you really want to try it?
If like us, you’re happy to make everything you need align then, Vietnam is your oyster! It was by far the best way for us to explore the country and we wouldn’t hesitate to do it again!
How does this two wheel thing work anyway?
These are a dime a dozen and are literally everywhere. We do recommend doing some research.
Look for options that offers help for mechanical failures, have branches in areas you are traveling to or through and have good reviews. Look for reliable, well-maintained bikes too. That one is the most important. Don’t know how to do that? Then keep an eye out for an upcoming vlog on how to do a quick safety check before you ride.
Your hotel will almost always has a rental or two or hand. If not they most likely have a deal with a local rental company.
Compare prices, look for options with good English reviews and check you are happy with the condition of the motorcycle before you sign up.
Tourists are able to buy motorbikes in Vietnam no problem. Thing is you cannot legally put it in your name unless you have a temporary resident card or a local friend to help you.
Buying and selling a motorcycle among tourists is easy. Best way to look for them is to hit up social media platforms.
The biggest piece of advice we can give you is to make sure you have the blue card. This little blue document has all the manufacture and registration details of the motorcycle.
One, if you get pulled up by local law it’s the best way to prove the motorcycle isn’t stolen. Two, it makes things a lot easier come time to sell. You’ll be able to sell to locals as well as travelers but locals need the blue card to register it in their name. See the appeal? Nice.
The average Vietnamese person earns about US100 a month. True! When you think about a one way trip from HCMC to Hanoi costing around US60, it’s easy to see why it’s the least used mode of transportation in Vietnam by locals.
Tourist rejoice! For us, it’s heaven sent.
There are three main operators;
- Vietnam Airlines – good reputation, well-maintained planes, almost always on time but usually the priciest.
- Jetstar Pacific – good reputation, well-maintained planes, hit and miss on reliability and usually a good deal.
- VietJet Air – good reputation, well-maintained planes, known for being late but the cheapest option (especially if you book a couple of weeks in advance)
This was our least used method of transportation in Vietnam. In fact, we only ended up using the Cat Lai Ferry get into and out of Ho Chi Minh City.
It’s the fastest way to cross the Saoi Rap River if you’re traveling by motorcycle. There is a shiny new bridge but it’s an expressway and that means no two wheels allowed.
There are plenty of ferries running throughout southern Vietnam to many tourist-worthy destinations. Make sure to leave us a comment if you have used any of these, we’d love to know more.
The best local transportation in Vietnam
I’m guessing your first thought is Uber? Uber is no more in Southeast Asia and sold out to GRAB.
GRAB is one of the best and cheapest ways to get around in local towns and cities. It has a user friendly app and they offer plenty of discounts if you keep up with the messages you get.
If you would like to know how to get the GRAB app and how it works (even earn yourself a first-time user discount), then just go and follow our easy instructions – Registering and using Grab Share Ride,
There are other ride share options, but we found GRAB to be the most reliable and cheapest option. You can book one person rides on motorbikes all the way to people movers taking small groups. Easy Peasy.
We’ll admit this one can be a bit of a mine field. While they are convenient they are also riddled with scams and dishonorably behavior.
We found two companies, VinaSun and Mailinh, that we never had issues with. In some instances they even ended up being cheaper than GRAB.
If you’re in a situation where neither VinaSun nor Mailinh are available, then always check the fare BEFORE you get in the car. Also it pays to be able to do currency conversions off the top of your head. If a five minute fair is going to cost USD 25 then walk away.
Travel tip!: We used to check the GRAB app to get an estimated cost on the trip. That way we could tell if we were getting ripped or not.
Driving a car
Can you drive a car in Vietnam? We get this a lot.
If you’re a local, yes you can. If you’re a foreigner, not so much. There are two good reasons for this. One, cars are hellish expensive in Vietnam. They also make the roads more treacherous than they already are. Two, you cannot hire a car in Vietnam (nor would you want to).
To be honest, the options listed above will get you anywhere and you don’t really need to use a car.
Other methods of transportation in Vietnam
There are still a few simple solutions to getting around in main cities and towns.
- Cyclo – the traditional method of people carrying. While it had a hey-day, it’s more of a tourist trap now but still fun.
- Xe Om – motorcycle taxis. They still exist in an ever-growing rideshare world and are widely used by locals. If you cannot speak the language though, it may not work for you.
- Bicycles – another widely used hire option and great for exploring rural rice paddis in Hoi An for example. Not so great for main roads unless you know what you’re doing.
We hope this post answers some of your questions with regards to transportation in Vietnam. If you do have any more, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us directly.
If this is your first visit to our site, then welcome! Head on over to our Things to do in Vietnam Page where we tell you about more things you should add to your Vietnam itinerary.
Thanks for reading guys and we’ll see you in the next post…