Getting Around Vietnam



Getting Around Vietnam

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With the rapid development of Vietnam’s infrastructure, the country’s internal transport system is improving at a fast pace, and becoming more convenient and affordable. Railway lines run from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, connecting several cities en route, before passing on into China. Reasona bly comfortable and inexpensive trains are the most efficient mode of transport. Long-distance buses are popular with backpackers, but can be uncomfortable after a few hours, although the more expensive express buses are comparatively luxurious. Most popular is the Open Tour bus system, which links major centers. For quick travel between major cities, the airline system is great, while ferries and hydrofoils connect some ports. Travelers can also hire a motorbike or a car and driver.

Domestic Airlines

The four domestic airlines are Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific Airlines, Vietnam Air Service Company (VASCO), and Vietjet Air. Vietnam Airlines and VASCO are state-owned; the former is the major carrier, servicing the entire nation; VASCO operates in southern  Vietnam. Jetstar Pacific, part- owned by the state, serves the  six largest cities. Vietjet Air, the country’s first privately-owned airline, serves several major cities; while it is usually the cheapest option, it suffers frequent delays.

Plane Tickets, Fares, and Reservations

Tickets can be purchased online or at the airlines’ booking offices  in major cities or at the reserva- tion counter at the airport. An  English-speaking attendant is usually on duty. Any of the many travel agents through out Vietnam can also arrange air travel, and their prices are usually no more than what you would pay at the airline office. You can also book tick ets at the travel desk of some of the better hotels, or even through some diving operators and select souvenir shops. Domestic fares are usually under US$150 excluding baggage fees. It is a good idea to make advance reservations if planning to travel during  the peak season, from mid- November to mid-March.

Railroad Network

The railroad network services almost the entire length of the country. It mainly follows the coast from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, with stops at several big cities along the way. From Hanoi, a few lines connect to Halong Bay, Sapa, and China. The running times vary, but the fastest transit between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi is about 30–33 hours. Trains commonly run late but, curiously, can also  sometimes arrive early. Even- numbered trains run from  north to south, while odd- numbered trains run in the opposite direction. Although trains connecting Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City are call ed Reunification Expresses, no train is actually so-named.


Most passenger trains in Vietnam are fairly affordable, clean, and reasonably comfortable, if not really luxurious. Some of the carriages are air-conditioned. Four classes of tickets are on offer here: Hard Seat, which is basically a wooden bench; Soft Seat, a cushioned recliner in a carriage with a TV; Hard Sleeper, which is a compartment with six bunks; and Soft Sleeper, a private compartment with four bunks and a lockable door. Meals and snacks are available in all classes for an extra charge. Passengers may also alight at stops to buy food. Long-distance trains have a dining car, and vendors bearing a variety of drinks and snacks roam the trains.


Train Tickets, Fares, and Reservations

Tickets can be purchased at the stations, as well as through travel agents  and good hotels. Note that some travel agents are limited to single destination tickets, and cannot take you beyond certain points. Other agents may have more ticket options. Check the stations, the Vietnam Railways website, and with travel agents for up-to-date schedules. Train fares range from a few dollars to over US$100, with the most expensive being the private Victoria Service from Hanoi to Sapa. Be sure to make advance bookings if traveling during popular Vietnamese holidays.


The advent of new and clean express buses has made bus travel the preferred means of getting around for visitors traveling bet ween major cities. The vehicles are more expensive than their non-express  counterparts and local mini- buses, but are faster, safer, and  more comfortable. Their chief dis advantage, however, is the karaoke machine most of them  carry. In addition to the regu- larly scheduled buses, another  viable option is the chartered mini bus. Most travel agents and hotels can arrange one to carry  up to 16 passen gers for out-of- town trips.  The Open Tour bus or coach travels between major destinations and is a popular and quick method of transportation for tourists. Many tourist cafés run these services. Tickets are one-way, cheap and flexible, and allow stop-offs as well.

Bus Tickets and Fares

Bus fares are low, with the Ho Chi Minh City–Hanoi routes ranging  from US$20 to US$25. The ticket- ing and scheduling system,  however, can be maddeningly complex. Tickets can be bought on the day of travel or before, but a station can sell tickets only to certain destinations, and connecting routes complicate the matter even more. It is  usually best to make arrange- ments via an agent or hotel.

Renting a Car or Motorbike

If you choose to rent a car, you must also hire a driver licensed in Vietnam. A car plus driver costs between US$90 and US$120 per day. The price varies with the distance you expect to cover and the amount of fuel needed. The driver takes care of his own meals and lodgings on trips lasting more than a day. Legally, a license is required to rent a motorbike but is rarely asked to be shown. If you want to get around by motorbike, it is best to hire a motor cycle taxi, locally called xe om or a Honda om. Depending on the distance you expect to travel, it should cost upward of US$10 per day. A helmet is required by law.

Boats and Ferries

Boats sail all the way from Ho Chi Minh City to Chau Doc at the Cambodian border and on to Phnom Penh. The river trip takes two days on a slow boat, and eight hours on a fast boat. There are also some ferries to Phu Quoc Island from Rach Gia, and to many points among the islands of Halong Bay. Hydrofoils, which are run by reliable companies such as Vina Express, operate regular services between Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau


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