Vietnam: How to Get Around
Vietnam is a country full of wonderful sights to see from the countryside to the seaside, from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, Ha Long Bay to ancient Hoa Palace at Hue, cities and rural districts; you’ll never be able to see it all in one vacation just walking. You’ll barely get out of your hotel if you don’t figure out a faster way to travel. What are the best ways to travel when on the ground in Vietnam?
Taxi and car rental for the city
As a foreigner, you won’t likely be bringing a car across the sea just to drive. If you did, you’d need a local Vietnamese license and a road legal car. Or you can entrust yourself to the services of people who already have both of those things. One of the more popular ways of traveling is by car rental or taxi services.
Taxi services are mostly just for cities, like the capital of Hanoi or the historical “Saigon” now known as Ho Chi Minh city. Hanoi even has a company specifically for tourists which can offer multilingual drivers who can help you learn your way around the city. Taxi services get you wherever you’re going, but are usually more expensive as you’re also renting a driver.
If you just want the car for yourself, the good news is this helps you get around the license law for a while, and cars in Vietnam are pretty much the same as cars anywhere. However, with no help, you’ll need to keep your GPS on full alert so you know where you’re going. These will help you get to places within the major cities while staying cool from summer or fall heat waves.
Costs vary per company and per service. For a Taxi service, you may pay as little as $10 for the day, or higher rates closer to $20 or $30 if they are rented directly from a travel agency or hotel.
And do not worry, Vietnam in general is a pretty safe country.
Motorbikes: the local choice
Long ago when Vietnam was modernizing, they didn’t get the car right away. They focused mostly on rail work, and in the meantime, used what vehicles they could get, which were mostly motorbikes. After reconstruction, motorbikes remained just as popular, more common than cars by magnitudes. They are cheaper, easier to maintain, and quick to replace in an emergency.
Motorbikes are the most popular method for travel in Vietnam, so much so that you’re likely to find many streets or interchanges designed specifically for bike usage rather than cars. Helmets are required, but if you know how to ride a bike you’re good to go. Rentals can go between $8 and $15 a day depending on the quality of the bike you pick. You’ve got about a 75% chance of getting a Honda brand motorbike, the most popular model in the whole country, if you’re just picking blind.
Bikes for 1$ a day
The bicycle is the number one favorite personal transport method for the people of Vietnam. It’s not uncommon for other parts of the world as well, of course. Bicycles are widely available and can be rented even out of unexpected places like cafes. You can expect to pay $1 to $2 for a day rental. Even if you end up overusing it and are asked to buy it, the cost won’t be exorbitant.
Trains for inter-city with views
Traveling by train is a scenic treat on its own. Vietnam has a rail that goes from the far south to the north, connecting major cities along the coast along the way with occasional stops in more rural locations where nature is prominent. The trains aren’t high-speed rails, they can average about 40km per hour across a 2,600km track linking the far north and far south of the country.
Going from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh, nearly the full length of the country, can take up to 36 hours on The Reunification Express rail line. These trains offer various options for shorter or longer trips, with soft or hard seats and even a sleeper cabin beds.
These range in cost from upwards of 1,500,000 VND which is just about $65. Yes, the exchange rate for Vietnamese Dong is really this much. That’s a day-and-a-half cross-country trip in one of the nicer, air-conditioned cabins with a full complement of services for under $100, and it gets you from one historic and scenic corner of the country to the other almost non-stop.
If you’re planning for maximum efficiency to see as much as possible, trains are the way to go.
Buses: cheap inner-city or sleepers for inter-city
The happy medium between city-to-city travel and inner-city travel, buses have regular runs to the most popular spots in and around cities, as well as longer tours with sleeper cars that go across the country to its most esteemed tourist spots and vistas. These are great for going on a planned holiday tour, but are popular even with locals, so plan on booking a ticket in advance.
The roads in Vietnam are about as dependable as the rails. You’re in for a mostly smooth but occasionally bumpy ride no matter what route you get to take, so prepare accordingly. Sleeper buses are just as advanced and modernized as sleeper cars in trains with charging stations, storage and loft-style beds, but the whole space is shared with other passengers. It’s more like a traveling hostel than a private room hotel. You’re also dependent on stops for visits to the toilet.
Simple, inner-city buses can cost about $2 for a ride that’s under an hour. Sleeper buses with 8 hour or more timetables can cost around $12 for a ticket, but you’re likely to spend a lot of that time asleep.
Boat: for that famous bay
Bikes, cars and trains can get you almost everywhere, but there is beauty beyond the roads and rails which you can’t get to without a proper boat. Of course you can’t miss the famous Ha Long Bay. A gorgeous and historic natural wonder of hundreds of limestone islands and floating villages of people who’ve never set foot on the mainland before. You can tour such a lovely place, see natural caves, and drink at a floating bar in the middle of the ocean for an $85 one day tour.
Travelling in Vietnam can seem stressful at first but it’s not that complicated at all. To travel within a city, you can just catch a taxi, which are quite cheap, or rent a bike or moto. But watch out while driving on your own – for Europeans or Americans it might seem like there are no traffic rules at all!
To travel between the cities, it’s quite simple – if there’s a rail, take a train for the amazing scenic routes.
And before going, do not forget to check the travel requirements and our visa guide.
Graduated in art history and law. Professional writer, she works for communication agencies of all horizons, but also manages a blog of literary critics. His second passion after books and writing? Travel of course!