Vietnam packs a staggering amount of diversity into one country, from neon-striped mega-cities to Neverland-esque islands to fairytale forests. While most people hotfoot to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh and Ha Long Bay, wiser travellers reserve some time to explore off-beat destinations too. If you fall into the latter category and want to know how to get around, we’ve got you covered with these tried-and-tested top tips on how to travel around Vietnam.
Top tips on how to travel around Vietnam
1. Hop on a bus
Getting a bus is the cheapest and easiest way to get around Vietnam. There’s usually at least one bus station in every town, most with ticket offices displaying the official prices and departure times. Buses can book up fast, so if you’re making a long-distance journey, book your ticket in advance. You can usually make a reservation the day before you travel. Or, you can buy your tickets online.
Buses are a long way from the rickety affairs of the ’70s, these days they have reclining seats and some even have padded beds and TVs.
2. Don’t dismiss the Open Tour Busses
If you’re staying in any of the country’s popular backpacker spots, you’ll see signs for “Open Tour” and “Open Ticket” busses. Even the most sociable travellers might sniff at these, but they’re actually a reasonably comfortable way to get around the country. They allow tourists to hop on and off along the way, stopping off at the odd tourist sight too.
3. Take the train
Vietnam boasts a well-connected train network that weaves along the coast from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, stopping at most major towns and cities along the way. There are multiple trains per day between the two cities and tickets can be purchased on the day or up to 60 days in advance.
There are two types of trains: the smarter, faster SE trains and the slower TN trains. Both trains offer affordably priced tickets, with non-airconditioned and air-conditioned carriages. You can choose from four ticket classes on most trains: hard seats, soft seats, hard sleeper and soft sleeper. Hard sleepers feature six beds, with the cheapest beds up top. Soft sleepers feature four beds that are priced the same. Soft seats usually recline, while hard seats are wooden benches. Some trains have WiFi too.
4. How about the ferry or a boat?
Some of Vietnam’s most showstopping sights are rivers or located out at sea, so you’ll need to hop on a boat to explore the best of them.
Ha Long Bay operates scheduled ferries throughout the year, stopping off at islands along the coastline like Phu Quoc, Cat BA and Con Dao. The Mekong River is best navigated by boat too.
5. Taking to two wheels
Nothing quite prepares you for the sight of thousands of mopeds and motorbikes whizzing around Vietnam’s busiest cities. If you’ve got the bottle, travelling the length of the country on two wheels is doable and relatively affordable. Foreigners can ride a motorcycle with an International Driving Permit, though if you’re an EU citizen you will need to check whether you are legally covered. If not, you can always opt for a motorbike tour. You’ll get to feel the wind in your hair, without the fear of flying off.
6. Pedal power
While it’s best to avoid cycling in the country’s neon mega-cities, outside of the main highways offers ideal biking territory. Vietnam boasts a rugged coastline, forests, mountains and meadows. If you’re looking to get out of the city, it’s well worth hiring a bike.
Vietnam is fast becoming a popular cycle-tourism destination thanks to an increasing number of bike paths and cycling roads that cut through some of the country’s most glorious scenery. And, if you run out of puff you can always pop your bike on the back of a bus for a couple of dollars too.
7. Pick your season and destination carefully
In a country stretching across more than 1,000 miles, it’s hardly surprising that the weather varies considerably from north to south. While the country is a great year-round destination, it’s worth taking the time to work out the best time to visit each spot. Tropical monsoons mean heavy rains and flooding, which can make travelling a little more unpleasant.
Generally speaking, the north of Vietnam experiences cold dry winters and hot and humid summers. Autumn and Spring are the best time to visit. Central Vietnam’s coast experiences heavy rains and typhoons from August to November, while the south experiences warm temperatures all year round.