Traffic in Vietnam can be super chaotic. There are many motorbikes everywhere and sometimes it looks like there are no traffic rules. Surprisingly it often seems to go very smoothly. Driving in Vietnam as a foreigner is an adventure, but we are about to tell you many different options of transportation in Vietnam. You don’t need to drive around Vietnam on a motorbike/moped (you can if you want when you are an experienced driver) as there are many more options to get around Vietnam. By plane, bus or train for example.
Vietnam is a big country and is long stretched. Many travelers travel from north to south, or from south to north. That way you can see a lot! During the Vietnam War (1955-1975), many roads and trail tracks got destroyed. Although it happened decades ago, sometimes you can still see this. The main roads are generally good, but especially the roads in remote areas are less good. So be prepared for bumpy rides.
Transportation in Vietnam is cheap, especially buses and trains. It’s not always necessary to book tickets in advance, but it’s recommended for trains and trips during holidays like the Vietnamese New Year. If you don’t travel during Vietnamese holiday seasons you should be fine without too much planning in advance.
We love booking our tickets through Bookaway. But keep on reading to read everything about transportation in Vietnam.
How To Travel In Vietnam
Buses In Vietnam
You can nearly travel everywhere in Vietnam by bus. The bus is a popular way of transportation in Vietnam. There are sleeper buses, minivans, tourist buses, and city buses. The sleeper buses are for long distances and they are pretty special, as the seats recline so far, it’s nearly flat. So you can lay down and sleep pretty comfortably. Unless you are very tall and you are seated in the back (with 4 people next to each other), but otherwise it’s totally fine!
Most buses are in good condition and like we said before: it’s a cheap way of transportation in Vietnam, but sometimes the ride can get a bit bumpy. Or sometimes the driver likes to horn a bit too much. And it’s good to know that the departure and arrival time isn’t super strict. So it might take a little longer or they depart a later than they said. But that’s part of traveling!
How to book tickets for buses in Vietnam? You can book with travel agents that are located almost everywhere in Vietnam (where tourists travel to) or you can book them online! The convenience of booking online is that you can see up to date timetables and prices.
Vietnam By Train
Traveling by train is something we love, as train travel gives you the most stunning views and is often very comfortable. Vietnam trains are comfortable (unless you pick the hard seats) and most classes have air conditioning. Many trains in Vietnam have been renovated over the past years.
It’s not only comfortable, but traveling through Vietnam by train is also safe, cheap, and a great way to see the country. If you travel during the day, that is. The only downside is that trains in Vietnam aren’t too fast. On average the trains go 40 kilometers (25 miles) per hour.
There are sleeper trains in Vietnam with bunk beds, which are convenient if you don’t have much time to travel, or if you want to save money, as it saves you a night in a hotel. But we recommend traveling during the day sometimes too, if you have the time, to enjoy the beautiful scenery from the window. Rice fields, small Vietnamese villages, mountain ranges, buffalos and so much more. Things you would miss if you travel by plane!
The downside is that Vietnam doesn’t have a super large train network, but there’s a network from south to north. To get to certain places you could combine traveling by bus and train. See below a Vietnam train map with the train routes in Vietnam. It’s best to book train tickets in advance. You can do this online or you can go to a counter at a Vietnamese station. If you want to book tickets for the same day, the faster trains and better seats will probably be sold already.
A very popular train route in Vietnam is from Hanoi to Sapa.
Vietnam Train Map
To travel quickly and comfortably around Vietnam you can choose to travel by plane. Though, this way you will also see less of this beautiful country, and it is more polluting. But if you don’t have much time it’s a good option. Flying from North Vietnam to the middle and to the South makes a lot of sense if you are in a hurry. Flying often is a cheap option too, depending on when you book.
Many people fly from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi (or the other way around). Traveling between these two cities overland is time-consuming. A train ride from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi takes about 35 hours, a flight takes about 2 hours. Most international flights also arrive in these two cities. And they are an Asian hub to travel to other cities in Asia.
There are also many other smaller cities with (international) airports. For example Da Lat, Hué, Nha Thrang, Phu Quoc, and Hoi An. Vietnamese airlines that operate domestic flights in Vietnam are VietJetAir, Jetstar, Vietnam Airlines, and Bamboo Airways.
To get to more rural destinations like Sapa and the Vietnamese Northern Highlands, the best option is to travel by bus, train, or with a driver.
Vietnam By Motorbike
We love driving around by motorbike when we visit a country. As you can decide where to go to! It’s a great way to see off the beaten tracks or to visit places before the crowds arrive. But like we said, the traffic in Vietnam can be chaotic. That’s why we only recommend driving a motorbike in Vietnam if you are an experienced driver.
As a car is a luxury good, many locals don’t own a car but they use a motorbike to get around, so there are many motorbikes everywhere. And yes, sometimes they drive in the wrong direction, drive on pedestrian streets, sit with 4 (or more!) people on one motorbike or transport many things on the motorbike. Nothing is too crazy in Vietnam!
In the tourist areas, you can find many rental places. Always make sure to carefully check the motorbike before you rent it. And make sure to wear a helmet, as it’s obligated by law. And if you go to mountainous regions, it’s best to rent a motorbike with a powerful motor. Otherwise, you might not make it to the top of the mountain. NOTE: some insurances (like our Dutch one) may require you to have an official motorbike driver’s license for being insured while driving a motorbike of >50 CC.
Sometimes there aren’t any petrol stations for a long time, so just to be sure you can bring a plastic bottle and fill it with petrol.
Or another option is to buy a motorbike. Travelers often buy one in Hanoi in the north and sell again in Ho Chi Minh City (or the other way around). As many travelers do this, you often buy and sell one from/to another traveler.
A route we recommended to drive is the Hai Van Pass, a route between Hué and Hoi An. If you decide to travel yourself, make sure to bring an international driver’s license.
Traveling around big cities by taxi is very easy, though in smaller towns there might not be any taxis. It’s a lot more expensive to travel by taxi if you compare it to public transportation in Vietnam, but it’s still a lot cheaper than the taxi prices in the Western world. Always ask for a meter and travel with an official taxi. Some unofficial taxis tamper their meters to go faster, which leads to a higher price. Make sure to bring small notes. The drivers might not have spare change.
If you have internet/wifi we recommend using the app Grab. Like Uber, Grab is a ride-hailing app. We love using Grab in Asia as you don’t need to worry about explaining where you want to go to and the payment can automatically go through your credit card. It’s not only possible to order a car but it’s also possible to order a motorbike taxi with Grab. So if you are by yourself you can just hop on the back of a motorbike taxi!
Traveling for longer distances with a private driver? That’s often possible too. You pay a certain price for the whole day to rent a driver or pay for the specific ride you want to do. For example from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne. You can easily arrange this online!
Boat & Ferry Travel In Vietnam
Coming from or going to Cambodia? Take the boat for a unique trip. A popular route between Vietnam and Cambodia is the fast boat Chau Doc to Phnom Penh (or the other way around). Of course, you could travel by bus, but sometimes you want a different way of transportation.
To get to the major Vietnamese islands like Phu Quoc you can travel by ferry. Boat trips to Ha Long Bay and the Mekong River are also very popular. Ha Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a stunning bay with limestone islands. Day and overnight trips are possible to see the area. Make sure to carefully pick the boat company you go out and explore with. Some are not so trustworthy.
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