VIETNAM TOURIST TRANSPORTATION IS CHEAP AND PLENTIFUL
Travel in Vietnam is extremely reasonable – actually CHEAP.
There’s a mode of travel for every kind of tourist. There’s fast – airplane, slow – bicycle and everything in between. Strike a balance between time and money for your situation. Most citizens travel by long-distance bus or train. If you travel by train you’ll have the opportunity to meet Vietnamese that may not have the chance to converse with foreigners on a daily basis.
As mentioned earlier, air travel is very reasonable. Viet Nam Airlines flies mostly Boeing and Airbus planes. The cabin crews are friendly and competent. I have flown Viet Nam Airlines in and out of Viet Nam and JetStar in-country and have had no problems. JetStar Airlines is also a small domestic carrier and seems to have a good reputation.
Trains run north and south for the most part. The Reunification Express runs from Hanoi to Saigon. Tourists can enjoy new, air conditioned passenger cars. The overnight from Hanoi to Danang was very enjoyable. I shared the “soft sleeper” cabin with 3 Vietnamese. We had a bit of a language problem, but it was still a good trip. They wake you up in the morning with a traditional breakfast of “Pho” (Vietnamese Noodle Soup). However, I suggest you plan on taking your own food on any trip you take by train. The “local cuisine” on the train leaves a lot to be desired, unless you’re a “hardcore” backpacker.
I also took the night train from Danang to Nha Trang on a “soft seat”. “Soft sleepers” have mattresses, “hard sleepers” are benches, “soft seats” are padded and “hard seats” are benches. Take your pick – “Ya, right!!” Hanoi – Ho Chi Minh City now takes 30 – 32 hours. You can enter and exit Vietnam by train through China. There is also an awesome side trip to Sapa by train (See DESTINATIONS). The special cars for the Sapa trip aimed at foreign tourists are basically regular sleeper cars with wood paneling added to make them more attractive. The rooms/bunks aren’t any larger than the regular Vietnam Railway sleeper cars. Compare the costs carefully. If you take the train try to stay awake during day-light hours, there’s a lot to see.
See the Viet Nam Railways Website for tourist information and schedules for rail travel. Buy your tickets at the train station if possible. Get your ticket as soon as you know your travel arrangements. Hotels and travel agencies can do this for you for a service charge (not a lot of money), but I always feel better with the ticket in my hand.
First, I do not recommend public bus transportation in Vietnam. Yes, it is very cheap! But usually not air-conditioned. Reliability is questionable – at best. Only for the hardiest of backpackers.
Secondly, private tour buses operate what is known as the OPEN TOUR system. For about US$30.00 you can buy a ticket that will get you from Hanoi to Saigon. The great attraction of these buses is that you can get a ticket that lets you get off and on along the trip and visit towns and sights along the way. I have done this from Hue to Hoian to Nha Trang to Dalat to Saigon. I see travelers of all ages on these buses. You can buy tickets for each leg of your journey – my recommendation even though it costs a few dollars more – or from city of origin to final destination.
First there are several kinds of ‘taxis’: traditional automobiles, cyclos and, finally, motorbikes. Automoble Taxis are pretty much the same as the rest of the world except for accounting for the cost of the ride. There are some metered taxis, whose meters are unreliable. It’s best to make some inquiries in advance of how much it will cost to take a trip and then negotiate with the driver. Agree on a price before departing. For instance: Ho Chi Minh Airport to the corner of Pham Ngu Lao & De Tham St. should be about US$5.00 maximum for 1-3 people. Less than 30 minutes from the airport. This corner is the center for budget Saigon Hotels. It’s less than an hour from Hanoi Airport to the Old Quarter – $10.00. A minibus will charge $4.00, but make sure they take to your hotel. If you’ve made hotel reservations in Hanoi, it’s best to have the hotel send a car. Danang Airport to Hoian – $12.00 for a sedan or $15.00 for a van – 30 minutes maximum.
Second are Xich Lo or cyclos, these are mostly human powered rickshaw type vehicles where the passenger serves as the front bumper. Usually hired by one person for short tours or going from a hotel to dinner and return. These are actually a very entertaining mode of transportation. Cruising down the street after dinner in Saigon is very much a tourist pastime. Usually hired for $1.00 or $2.00 for a short ride.
Last of the taxis are motorbikes or “xe om”, used by backpackers and other light luggage travelers to zip from place to place as a passenger. “Om” translates as “embrace” in Vietnamese. It really means “HANG ON”. Actually, after acquiring skill as a passenger, you don’t have to hang on. This transport should cost a bit less than half that of a sedan for the same distance. Check “Easy Rider” tours in Dalat.
Car and Driver For Hire:
No one rents cars in Vietnam. But they do hire a car and driver. Anything from a taxi for a day tour to a four wheel drive to explore the Central Highlands. A car and driver run about US$75.00 a day, a van $100.
Motorcycle and Motorbikes:
Touring motorcycles are rare, but not unheard of in Vietnam. Motorbikes are the most common method of transportation in Vietnam. There are about 8,000,000 people in Saigon and there are 4,000,000 motorbikes – 125CC and less. We’re talking organized chaos in the streets! Legally, you shouldn’t be driving, much less renting a motorbike. But, it happens all the time. If you don’t ride ‘bikes’ in your homeland, I wouldn’t advise riding in Vietnam, especially in the big city – Hanoi or Saigon. Negotiated rentals – $5 -$10 a day for a local rental. Motorbike touring is very popular in some parts of the country. I took a trip down the Ho Chi Minh Trail from west of Danang to Dalat. About 700 kilometers (about 400 miles) @200 kilometers a day – fantastic scenery and very few tourists. I met an Irish motorcycle mechanic in Hanoi in 2003. He had purchased a Minsk 2 cycle motorbike (made in Russia, probably before he was born) and was headed south with a backpack and a bag of motorcycle tools. Saw him in Pleiku about 10 days later and he was having a great time. In Dalat there is a loosely organized group of motorbike tour operators known as the “Easy Riders” , they provide a bike and driver for tandem tours. I recommend them highly; ask for “TiTi” (given name: Duong Ngoc Trac) and “Wing Man” when in Dalat, Vietnam.
Bicycles are very common for Vietnamese. You’ll enjoy a real photo opportunity when the schools let out and the young girls pedal by in their ao dais, the traditional dress for women. Bicycle tours are also very popular. I met a 70 year old lady from Canada, part of an organized tour, coming down the mountain from Dalat to Nha Trang as I was taking a tour bus up. She had put on about 50 miles that day – it was mostly down hill, but still…
Boat tours are very popular. Of course, Halong Bay Boat tours are the premier boat tours. Two days/one night aboard a ‘hotel junk’ is the basic tour. You can move up the scale depending on your budget and time available. Just about any town on the Vietnam coast will have boat tours – there are hundreds of beaches and islands to explore. Other types of day tours run US$15.00 and up. Hoian has day tours in conjunction with visiting the My Son ruins and other sites. My friend, “Captain Dan” , runs a day tour in Hoian and charges about US$4.00 per passenger. This is pretty much the standard price for a half day tour. Nha Trang has regular day tours – US$6.00 and also scuba (US$40.00 for two dives) and snorkeling tours (US$6.00). Day tours consist of visiting nearby islands and fishing villages. Saigon tour companies also have one and two night tours to the Mekong Delta – about US$275. These prices are negotiable and you should shop around if you have time. You can also take a speed boat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia – about a 5 hour trip if a swing through Angkor Wat is on your itinerary. Hydrofoil trips out of Saigon attract thrill seeking tourists wanting to visit nearby resorts and attractions.
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