Vietnam is a beautiful country, with amazing sights to behold in all corners. From the world-famous Halong Bay in the north to the ancient town of Hoi An in the middle and the sprawling Mekong Delta in the south, you’ll find something extraordinary wherever you go.
The problem for travelers is that Vietnam is a whopping 1,650 km long (more than 1,000 miles!) which makes getting around a challenge if you don’t understand the transport system.
This guide to getting around in Vietnam will tell you everything you need to know about transport, from the most appropriate modes of transportation between the most popular areas and money-saving tips.
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- Tips for Taking Public Transport in Southeast Asia
- Vietnam Backpacking Guide
- Vietnam Travel Tips for Backpackers
A Step-by-Step Guide to Transport in Vietnam
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Arriving in Vietnam
If you want to experience more of Southeast Asia, why not travel slow (and cheap) via land from one of the neighboring countries? Buses depart from both Cambodia and Laos to Vietnam and are a lot more cost-effective than flying!
From Luang Prabang or Vientiane in Laos, you can reach Hanoi by bus for less than $40USD. The buses are pretty comfortable but the ride will take up to 24 hours, so be prepared to be seated for a long time!
If you’re coming from Cambodia, the bus from Phnom Penh is a bit more manageable at just seven hours. It costs less than $30USD.
The easiest way to book either of these buses is to use the site 12Go.asia. You can search for transport all over Southeast Asia using their booking engine, without having to locate each bus company’s website. Easy!
Getting Around Vietnam’s Cities
Once you arrive in one of Vietnam’s cities, you’ll need to find ways to get around. There are many transport options to choose from, all catering to different budgets.
A taxi will typically cost between $8-20USD depending on the the distance you need to travel. This is the option that most people are familiar with and is a good way to get to and from the airport.
There’s a ride-sharing app called Grab (available on both iPhone and Android) in Vietnam. It offers a convenient alternative to taxis but is also cheaper, at around $4-13USD a ride, depending on distance. It works exactly like Uber but is more popular. I recommend picking up a local SIM card and downloading the Grab app so you can use it to get around in Vietnam’s cities.
Grab also has an option called GrabBike, which functions just like Uber but for motorbikes. It’s much cheaper than GrabCar (see above) and tends to cost at least a third of the price. It’s a great way to dodge the worst of the city traffic. GrabBikes often cost between $1.50-5USD. If you’re adventurous, you can travel long distances this way too; around $9USD will buy you roughly two hours on a GrabBike.
In popular tourist cities, you will often see cyclos, a type of bicycle carriage where you sit in front of the rider. This is a quaint but touristy way to move around. You will find cyclos in cities like Hanoi, Da Nang, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hoi An. A trip will often cost between $4-10USD. This is a slow way to travel which is mostly used for sightseeing.
5. Rental Motorbike/Bicycle
If you want complete freedom getting around Vietnam, you can also rent a motorbike or a bicycle. This won’t cost you a lot – you can often find motorbike rental for around $10USD per day, or a pushbike for around $3USD per day. It’s a cheap option but be prepared for the Vietnamese roads! The traffic can be wild, but as long as you go with the flow, use common sense, and respect your surroundings, you should be fine.
Traveling Between Cities in Vietnam
Most travel routes in Vietnam follow an inverted crescent shape along the coastline, from Lao Cao and Hanoi in the north, via Hue and Da Nang in the center, to Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City in the south. The major roads follow this rough route, as does the Vietnamese railway.
Transport in Vietnam
Most larger cities have airports, so an obvious way to travel between Vietnamese cities is to catch a flight. This is the most expensive option but it’s always the quickest, making it ideal if you’re pressed for time.
A more scenic way to travel is to take a bus. Most popular cities are serviced by long-distance bus routes and sleeper buses are also an option for longer journeys, for example, Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City. The buses are comfortable but this is one of the slowest ways to travel between cities. There are loads of bus companies to choose from so the easiest way to reserve a seat is online, via a local travel agency or your accommodation provider.
Vietnamese trains run from north to south and you can buy seats across many price ranges. Sleeper trains are common between Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang and also between Da Nang and Hanoi. These make for efficient use of time and you can book train tickets directly via Vietnam Railways or Violette Express.
Keep in mind that even if you take a VIP soft sleeper berth, it won’t be the most comfortable bed you’ve ever slept in. The toilets are often in a bad state too and unlike on long-distance buses, there will be no toilet stops along the way. Align your expectations prior to booking!
A unique form of transportation in Vietnam is an ‘Easy Rider’. This involves you riding pillion (they ride the motorbike, you’re a passenger). The clue is in the name but it really is an easy way to get around Vietnam while at the same time getting a peek into the less touristy side of the country.
The rider can show you spots of interest along the way to your destination and they will likely take the local roads instead of highways. They’ll also ensure that both you and your luggage stay dry on rainy days! An Easy Rider trip can take the form of a single-day trip (see Hai Van Pass below), or a multi-day journey. Book an Easy Rider experience either online, via a local travel agency, or at your accommodation.
One of the most expensive ways to travel between cities is to hire a car with a driver. This will give you complete flexibility and getting from A to B will often be quite fast but sleeping in a car can be uncomfortable. Therefore, it’s not an optimal choice for those traveling at night. If you’re interested in this, speak with your accommodation about arranging a driver.
You also have the option of renting a car, jeep, or motorbike and traveling between cities independently. Riding along the Vietnamese coastline on a motorbike is the quintessential traveler image of the country and for good reason – the views are spectacular!
The downside of this is that you’ll need to handle the chaotic Vietnamese traffic. Both the highways and the crowded cities can prove quite stressful, not to mention dangerous, for foreigners not used to driving in Asia.
The Most Popular Transport Routes in Vietnam
The following routes are some of the most popular travel routes in Vietnam. To help you plan how you’ll be getting around, I’m going to break down the best transportation options available in each.
Hanoi to Sapa
Many people start their journey in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. It’s a backpacker-friendly city and serves as a travel hub as well as a cultural center. Many travelers head to Sapa after spending a few days in the capital. This small town northwest of Hanoi is famous for its rice terraces and incredible hiking opportunities.
You can reach Sapa by first taking a train to Lao Cao (approx. $11USD) and then a taxi to Sapa town. However, this is the slowest and least convenient way to travel there. A better option is to take a direct bus for around $15USD. The bus takes around six hours, as opposed to nearly eight for the train.
You can also take a package tour from Hanoi. This is a more expensive option that affords less flexibility but if you value convenience over cost, it might be your best choice. A short Sapa tour will set you back between $100-150USD but prices can rack up well into the hundreds of dollars depending on what you want to see and how many days you want to travel.
Hanoi to Ninh Binh
Ninh Binh, south of Hanoi, is chock-full of temples, pagodas, and ancient villages, and it’s a favorite destination for travelers to Vietnam. Getting to Ninh Binh from Hanoi is easy. Take the train for around $8-9USD, the journey takes a little over two hours.
Hanoi to Halong Bay
Halong Bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Vietnam. Consisting of more than 1900 islands, there are plenty of amazing sights here. It’s easy to get to Halong Bay from Hanoi independently via bus. It costs roughly $13USD and the trip takes three hours.
However, the best way to explore Halong Bay is undoubtedly on a cruise. Therefore, it makes the most sense to arrange transportation inclusive of your tour. Most cruises will allow you to add transportation or it may already be included in the package.
Bear in mind that if your cruise company arranges your transport for you, you may have to make a short stop at a partner company en route, for example, an oyster farm. However, you’re not under obligation to buy anything and this often doubles up as a good opportunity to grab a drink and stretch your legs.
Hanoi to Central Vietnam (Hue, Da Nang, and Hoi An)
If you start your trip in the north, you’ll likely want to explore the mid-regions of Vietnam too. That means that you have to travel from Hanoi toward Hue, Da Nang, or Hoi An. Luckily, all of the towns sit very close to each other.
A bus from Hanoi to Da Nang or Hoi An should cost you less than approx. $20USD and you can either travel during the day or via a sleeper bus. A train to Da Nang offers a bit more comfort but is more expensive; tickets cost between $28-48USD, sometimes more if you want a luxury sleeper.
Good to know!
If you’re renting your own car or motorbike to explore Vietnam, that will be the cheapest option. You’ll need to gear up though – you’re in for a long ride!
Hai Van Pass
The Hai Van Pass was made famous in an episode of Top Gear. It’s been called one of the ‘Best Ocean Roads in the World’, not only because of the stunning scenery but also because there’s not much traffic – a welcome change from the rest of Vietnam!
An Easy Rider tour is an excellent way to travel the Hai Van Pass. The pass itself is easy to ride by yourself on a motorbike, but with an experienced local you’ll get more history and see more of the surrounding countryside. An Easy Rider through the Hai Van Pass will likely cost you less than $50USD.
If you don’t want to ride pillion, you can also get a car or jeep to drive you for around $50-90USD. Another more adventurous option is to do a one-way motorbike rental and arrange for your luggage to be transported to your destination in Hue or Hoi An. This will cost you around $25USD (but you’ll also have to fill up the bike before you return it).
The Hai Van Pass is pretty safe to drive by yourself but keep in mind that you’ll have to pass through the cities of Da Nang and Hue, and traffic will be a lot more intense there. This option is only recommended for those who are confident on a motorcycle and have experience riding in Vietnam.
A tunnel has been built through the mountain which provides a quicker (but much less beautiful) route between Hue and Da Nang. This is an option if you need to get to your destination quickly but the Hai Van Pass is still a scenic route worth taking!
Da Nang to Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City
When traveling from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City, the options are very similar to the aforementioned Hanoi-Da Nang route. The only noteworthy difference is that many people split up the journey to visit Nha Trang in between.
The available transportation options are essentially the same; between buses, trains, and driving yourself. The cost is around $14-23USD between Da Nang and Nha Trang and $24-32USD between Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City, depending on if you take the bus or the train.
Nha Trang to Dalat
The city of Dalat sits four hours from Nha Trang and the contrast between the two is striking. Nha Trang, known for its sunny beaches sits in direct opposition to the misty mountains of Dalat, famous for its gorgeous vistas and outdoor activities.
Bus is the recommended transport method along this route because all other options involve expensive flights or taxi rides. The bus typically departs in the morning and will cost you around $13USD.
Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta
Easily accessible from Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta is a magical destination full of floating markets, quaint villages, and ancient pagodas. The town of My Tho often acts as the gateway into the river delta and lies 1.5 hours south of Ho Chi Minh City. The town of Can Tho is a bit farther away, three or four hours by bus, and is also a popular entry point.
Most visitors opt for an arranged tour to explore the Mekong Delta. These can be taken by car, bus, or even speedboat! Expect to pay around $25USD to join a tour or approx. $75USD for a private trip.
You can also visit the Mekong Delta independently. Public buses depart from Ho Chi Minh City to Can Tho and cost between $7-14USD. This is a good option if you want to see a little more of the ‘authentic’ Vietnam instead of just a curated set of destinations on a package tour.
Knowing how to get around Vietnam will help you save money on the road and keep your journeys stress-free. I recommend saving this guide to transport in Vietnam so that you can use it for reference later. All that’s left to do is to enjoy your trip!