At the time of writing this post, I just finished traveling from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, Vietnam. It is a common route for most travelers or alternatively traveling from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh. My objective for this trip, in addition to traveling was finding a place that I wanted to live. Oh boy!
I wanted to document my experience on how to get around Vietnam because there are so many ways to travel through this country along with other counties in southeast Asia. As I was traveling, I wanted to be cost-conscious when deciding on the best transportation option while still being comfortable.
A popular trend in Vietnam for travelers is touring the country via motorbike. I did not consider this because my girlfriend does not like riding motorbikes, either as a passenger, or driver, so that was not an option for us.
But! If riding motorbikes through Vietnam sounds like something that you would consider, be aware that it has many advantages and some disadvantages. I will save that for another blog post. 🙂
If you are arriving from outside Southeast Asia then it is most common to arrive via an international flight into Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. There are no clear advantages that I can think of when considering whether to travel South to North or vice-versa.
Once you are in country, the option to fly domestically to your next destination is a viable option but an expensive one, in relationship to other transportation modes. If you have more money than you have time, then you should fly, but you cannot fly to every town in Vietnam.
The common means of transportation in Vietnam are as follows, flying, riding a motorbike, taking a bus, minivan, or train. Each has unique advantages and disadvantages which I will outline below.
Flying In Vietnam Domestically
As I traveled through Vietnam, flying domestically was never an option that I considered. I enjoy taking local forms of transportation and seeing areas of the country that are less visited by tourists.
You will not have that opportunity to see more remote areas, if you travel strictly by air. But! If you are mainly concerned with how fast you can get to the beach, then flying is the best option for you! Skyscanner is a great website to start your research and Vietnam airlines is another good source if you are researching domestic flights.
Riding A Motorbike In Vietnam
A motorbike is a great form of transportation as it allows you a lot of independence; since you are not waiting on anyone else then you can leave at your leisure. Your upfront costs include buying a bike, fuel and maintenance.
While talking to other travelers that were biking across the country, a motorbike will cost $200-$400+ depending on the model and year.The cost of the bike assumes you get a bike such as a Honda Win or Honda Wave. These bikes are advantageous as they are mechanically basic and are easy to fix for most mechanics, as the bike parts are very common.
Additionally, once you finish your trip, you will most likely be able to sell the bike to another backpacker assuming that you take good care of the bike. While touring Vietnam via motorbike, you are able to see many places that most people do not see. I would recommend this form of transportation if are looking for an adventure and do not mind the risks that come with motorbiking.
I have lived and driven in Thailand for a year and I am familiar with some of the risks that driving a motorbike include. Although you have a lot of freedom, you also carry a great amount of responsibility. Driving in Vietnam requires an extremely cautious and attentive driver. I would recommend visiting and walking around the big cities before adventuring on a cross-country tour.
You need to be prepared for possible mechanical failures, bad weather (riding in the rain sucks….), getting lost, and overcoming adversity. I am not saying that you are not up for the challenge but it is not an easy task.
Taking A Bus In Vietnam
Riding a bus through Vietnam was a popular transportation method for me because they are relatively comfortable, cheap, and available in most places. Buses are EVERYWHERE! When I first arrived to Ho Chi Minh City and was staying in the main tourist area. There were easily 5 buses in a line, all-day, everyday, picking-up and dropping-off travelers.
It is very easy to book with a travel agent or the bus company itself. The buses have plenty of storage for your bags but the seating can be uncomfortable. I generally rode on sleeper buses which means that each seat is in a permanently reclined position.
I do not mind sleeping but since I am 6′ 3” (190cm) tall, it feels a bit cramped. The very back of the buses generally have more space but the seats are literally next to each other and you may wake up cuddling with a random stranger… But, if you are traveling with a group of friends and do not mind getting close with each other than I would see if the back is available.
When you enter the bus, the driver will generally give you a plastic bag to put your shoes in, as an effort to keep the bus clean. The aisles are narrow and there is no space to store your things in the main cabin. If you have anything in your bag that is extremely valuable then I would bring it on the bus.
During my travels in Vietnam and prior, I had heard rumors of people losing their valuables on their bus rides. This was especially true for overnight bus rides as the bus would stop and let an employee snoop around as the passengers were sleeping.
Out of all my bus rides, I never got anything stolen to my knowledge but I also had a small numerical lock for my bag. I also brought my computer, passport, and money with me on the bus.
Money Saving Tip: One way to save money while traveling in Vietnam is by taking the overnight train or bus to your next location, therefore saving the cost of accommodation.
Riding The Train In Vietnam
I saved the best for last. Riding the train in Vietnam was my favorite transportation method for a variety of reasons. The train in Vietnam is not the most technologically advanced and does not travel at light speed but it is comfortable, easy, and affordable.
The train route follows the coastline while stopping in most coastal cities and towns.
The train has a variety of seating options that can easily be found on their website and they comprise of a hard seat, soft seat, soft berth, and hard berth. For more detailed information check out the Vietnam Railway Website.
Travel Tip: Do not purchase tickets from the Vietnam railway website as their prices are massively inflated.
I will share an example story of the price fluctuation for train trips that I experienced. My girlfriend and I were in Ninh Binh, Vietnam and wanted to travel to Hanoi, which is a relatively short distance and takes approximately 1.5 hours.
I went to the Vietnam Railway website and enter the route information. The website gives a quote of $20USD for a soft seat. I am very skeptical that a 1.5hr bus ride costs $20USD. I then call the number listed on the website at+84 904619926 and I am quoted at 80,000 Dong or $4USD for the same route and seat… Following, I go to the train station and I am quoted at 63,000 Dong or $3USD… The lesson of the story is to buy train tickets at the train station and NOT on the website.
I never took the train on an overnight trip because riding in a bus was always cheaper but I have heard from other travelers that it is comfortable and worth while. I think that if you are considering the train verses a bus for an overnight trip I would personally opt for the train if the cost is not an issue for you.
Overall, there are many transportation options in Vietnam and each one has benefits and disadvantages unique to them. I hope that this article will aid in deciding the best way to get to your next destination in Vietnam.