Getting Around Vietnam

Vietnam domestic & international flights

At present there are 7 registered airlines in Vietnam: Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific, Air Mekong, VASCO, VietJetStar and Viet Star Airlines. The first 4 airlines are currently operating both domestic and international flights.

Below are five good domestic airlines in Vietnam currently:

1. Vietnam Airlines: www.vietnamairlines.com

3. VASCO: https://www.vasco.com.vn/

4. Viet Jet Air: www.vietjetair.com/Sites/Web/en-US/Home

5. Jetstar Pacific: https://www.jetstar.com/us/en/home

Of course, Vietnam Airlines: is the biggest and most popular in domestic flights. They allows 20 kg + 7 kg for hand luggage

Cheap brands: Viet Jet & Jestar allow 7 kg free & you need to buy over luggage with 143 – 165,000 dong ( 7 – 8$) for 15 – 20 kg


Public train in Vietnam

Public train in Vietnam, Vietnam’s air-conditioned trains are safe, comfortable & inexpensive, the ideal way for independent travellers to get around and see Vietnam at ground level. The train journeys are a genuine Vietnamese experience in themselves, an integral part of your visit to Vietnam. You might even meet some Vietnamese people. Inexperienced travellers sometimes think they’ll save time by using internal flights – in fact, an overnight train ride from Hanoi to Hué or Danang actually saves time compared to flying, because the train leaves Hanoi city centre in the evening and arrives in Hué city centre next morning, but it’s more than this, the train journey is a genuine Vietnamese experience, flying is a wasted opportunity. Flying takes 4 or 5 hours out of your sightseeing day in getting to a remote airport, checking in, taking the flight itself, collecting your bags and getting back into the city centre. And the sleeper train saves a hotel bill, too. And what’s the rush anyway? Air-conditioned trains with sleepers and on-board catering link Hanoi, Hué, Danang, Nha Trang, and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Hoi An has no station, but it’s just 30km by bus or taxi from Danang. There are also trains from Hanoi to Haiphong (for Halong Bay) and Hanoi to Lao Cai (for Sapa).

Public train in Vietnam, The 2600km Vietnamese railway system, operated by Vietnam Railways (Duong Sat Viet Nam; 04-747 0308; www.vr.com.vn), runs along the coast between HCMC and Hanoi, and links the capital with Hai Phong and northern towns. While sometimes even slower than buses, trains offer a more relaxing way to get around and more room than the jam-packed buses. The trains are also considered safer than the country’s kamikaze bus fleet.

Vietnam’s railway authority has been rapidly upgrading trains and facilities – with air-con sleeping berths and dining cars available now on express trains – and lowering the price for foreigners. Foreigners and Vietnamese are now charged the same price, a big change from a few years ago when foreigners were charged 400% more.

The quickest train journey between Hanoi and HCMC takes 30 hours. The slowest express train on this route takes 41 hours. There are also local trains that only cover short routes, but these can crawl along at 15km/h, as there is only one track with many passing points and local trains have the lowest priority. Vietnam is planning a massive overhaul of its rail network in the next decade, including the introduction of high-speed trains. Hoorah!

Petty crime is a problem on Vietnamese trains. While there doesn’t seem to be organised pack-napping gangs, such as those in India, thieves have become proficient at grabbing packs through the windows as trains pull out of stations. Always keep your bag nearby and lock or tie it to something, especially at night.

Public train in Vietnam Another hazard is children throwing rocks at the train. Passengers have been severely injured this way and many conductors insist that you keep down the metal window shield. Unfortunately, however, these shields also obstruct the view.

Bicycles and motorbikes must travel in the freight car. Just make sure that the train you are on has a freight car (most have) or your bike will arrive later than you do.

Eating is easy, as there are vendors at every station who board the train and practically stuff food, drinks and cigarettes into your pockets. The food supplied by the railway company, included in the ticket price on some long journeys, isn’t Michelin-starred. It’s a good idea to stock up on your favourite munchies before taking a long trip.

Odd-numbered trains travel south and even-numbered ones travel north. The fastest train service is provided by the Reunification Express.

Aside from the main HCMC–Hanoi run, three rail-spur lines link Hanoi with the other parts of northern Vietnam. One runs east to the port city of Hai Phong. A second heads northeast to Lang Son, crosses the border and continues to Nanning, China. A third goes northwest to Lao Cai and on to Kunming, China.

Several Reunification Express trains depart from HCMC’s Saigon station between 9am and 10.30pm every day. In the other direction, there are departures from Hanoi between 5am and 6.40pm daily.


Car & motorbike

The relative affordability of vehicle hire makes the latter a popular option. Having your own set of wheels gives you maximum flexibility to visit remote regions and stop when and where you please.

Hire

The major considerations are safety, the mechanical condition of the vehicle, reliability of the rental agency and your budget. Don’t think about driving a car yourself in Vietnam (a motorbike is challenging enough) and moreover, hire charges for the car include a driver.

Motorbike

Motorbikes can be rented from cafés, hotels, motorbike shops and travel agencies. If you don’t fancy self-drive, there are plenty of local drivers willing to act as a chauffeur and guide for around US$6 to US$10 per day.

Renting a 100cc moped is cheap from around US$5 per day, usually with unlimited mileage. To tackle the mountains of the north, it is best to go with a Minsk. The ‘mule of the mountains’, these sturdy Russian steeds don’t look up to much, but they are designed to get you through, or over, anything. They are available for rent from specialist shops in Hanoi. For the ultimate experience in mountains of the north, consider joining a motorbike tour to discover the secret back roads.

Most places will ask to keep your passport until you return the bike. Try and sign some sort of agreement – preferably in a language you understand – clearly stating what you are renting, how much it costs, the extent of compensation and so on.

Insurance

If you are travelling in a tourist vehicle with a driver, then it is almost guaranteed to be insured. When it comes to motorbikes, many rental bikes are not insured and you will have to sign a contract agreeing to a valuation for the bike if it is stolen. Make sure you have a strong lock and always leave it in guarded parking where available.

Do not even consider renting a motorbike if you are daft enough to be traveling in Vietnam without insurance. The cost of treating serious injuries can be bankrupting for budget travelers.


Vietnam Buses & coaches

Coach Services

Express interprovincial coach services are usually large, modern and comfortable. Many provide free Wi-Fi, TV and water facilities. Some coach companies also have their own rest stations with restaurants and shops along the route. Tickets should be bought from the registered ticket booths at the bus terminal.

Main coach companies

Children under the age of five travel free of charge and tickets are half price for children between the ages of five and ten. Discounted monthly tickets are also available for regular users.

Most coaches are not equipped with facilities for disabled passengers, although some special services are available on some routes.

Open tours

In backpacker haunts throughout Vietnam, you’ll see lots of signs advertising ‘Open Tour’, ‘Open Date Ticket’ or ‘Open Ticket’. This is a bus service catering mostly to foreign budget travellers, not to Vietnamese. These air-con buses run between HCMC and Hanoi and people can hop on and hop off the bus at any major city along the route.

Competition has driven the price of these tours so low that it would practically only be cheaper if you walked. Sample prices from HCMC are as follows:

Ho Chi Minh City–Dalat US$5

Ho Chi Minh City–Mui Ne US$6

Ho Chi Minh City–Nha Trang US$6

Ho Chi Minh City–Hoi An US$13

Ho Chi Minh City–Hué US$15

Ho Chi Minh City–Hanoi US$23

Hanoi – Sapa – Hanoi 15$ per way

In some ways they should raise the cost of the tickets and, by actually making money on the bus fare, allow passengers some freedom of choice on arrival at a destination. Unfortunately, they depend on kickbacks from a very elaborate and well-established network of sister hotels and restaurants along the way, making the whole experience feel like you are part of the herd.

As cheap and popular as it is, the open-tour deal is not the ideal way to experience Vietnam. Once you’ve bought the ticket, you’re stuck with it. It really isolates visitors from Vietnam, as few locals travel this way. Buying shorter point-to-point tickets on the open-tour buses costs a bit more but you achieve more flexibility, including the chance to take a train, rent a motorbike or simply change plans.

Nevertheless, cheap open-tour tickets are a temptation and many people go for them. A couple of shorter routes to try are HCMC–Dalat and HCMC–Mui Ne Beach, two places that are not serviced by train.

Bus

Vietnam has an extensive network of dirt-cheap buses that reach the far-flung corners of the country. Until recently, few foreign travellers used them because of safety concerns and overcharging, but the situation has improved dramatically with modern buses and fixed-price ticket offices at most bus stations.

Bus fleets are being upgraded as fast as the roads, so the old French, American and Russian buses from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s are becoming increasingly rare. On most popular routes, modern Korean buses are the flavour of the day. Most of these offer air-con and comfortable seats, but on the flipside most of them are equipped with TVs and dreaded karaoke machines. You can ignore the crazy kung fu videos by closing your eyes (or wearing a blindfold), but you’d need to be deaf to sleep through the karaoke sessions – ear plugs are recommended!

Figuring out the bus system is not always that simple. Many cities have several bus stations, and responsibilities are divided according to the location of the destination (whether it is north or south of the city) and the type of service being offered (local or long distance, express or nonexpress).

Short-distance buses, mostly minibuses, depart when full (ie jam-packed with people and luggage). They often operate throughout the day, but don’t count on many leaving after about 4pm.

Nonexpress buses and minibuses drop off and pick up as many passengers as possible along the route, so try to avoid these. The frequent stops make for a slow journey.

Express buses make a beeline from place to place. This is the deluxe class and you can usually be certain of there being enough space to sit comfortably. Such luxury comes at a price, but it’s very cheap by Western standards.

It is also perfectly feasible (and highly recommended) to kick in with some fellow travellers and charter your own minibus.

If possible, try to travel during daylight hours only. Many drivers refuse to drive after dark because the unlit highways are teeming with bicycles and pedestrians who seem oblivious to the traffic. However, if you like living dangerously, there are some overnight buses.

Be aware that luggage is easily pilfered at toilet stops unless someone is looking after it. Bound to the rooftop, it should be safe from swift hands, but try to keep the bags in sight. A distinct disadvantage of having your gear on top is that it will be exposed to constant dust and sometimes heavy rain. You may want to consider putting your luggage in waterproof liners, if you can.


Taxi in Vietnam

Western-style taxis with meters, found in most major cities, are very, very cheap by international standards and a safe way to travel around at night. Average tariffs are about 12.000d per kilometre (~ USD 0,55 / 1km) . However, there are many dodgy taxis roaming the streets of Hanoi and HCMC and the meters are clocked to run at two or three times the normal pace. Only travel with reputable or recommended companies.

– Always use a licensed taxi – check the back of the taxi , and writing down the car number to your note paper.
– Never carry large amounts of money with you, but always make sure you have only enough for a taxi back to hotel ( max USD 50).
– If you need immediate assistance when traveling on a bus or train you can call the Vietnamese Transport Police free on 113.