Travelling & Getting Around in Vietnam 2023/2024
Vietnam is a precious gem on the crown of the Indochinese Peninsula, and every aspect of this country offers travelers the opportunity to explore extraordinary landscapes and discover surprising reflections of its rich history and culture.
Today, Vietnam is an increasingly popular destination for tourists due to its enduring allure, even though its growing reputation is a hotspot for travelers in Southeast Asia.
Distinguished by its distinctive “S” shape on the map, Vietnam shares borders with China, Laos, and Cambodia and boasts a 3,200 km coastline washed by the Gulf of Thailand, the Gulf of Tonkin, and the South China Sea. It also includes two major river deltas: the Mekong River in the south and the Red River in the north, with mountainous and plateau regions in the west. Here are our top recommendations for traveling around Vietnam and using local transportation.
How to Get Around Vietnam
With such geographical diversity, traveling around the country demands the use of various modes of transportation. This means there are numerous opportunities for exploration and new experiences, although it also comes with some pitfalls to avoid, which this article will help address while offering tips to make it easier.
Long-Distance Transport in Vietnam
To give you an idea, the distance from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City is approximately 1,700 km and takes about 32 hours by car. Cars and buses are clearly the choices for budget-conscious travelers who want to explore the scenery or enjoy the open road. However, for longer journeys, like those of such great distances, planes and trains remain the best options.
Flying in Vietnam
For most people, the consensus is that it’s best to cover long distances in the shortest time possible, especially on shorter trips with a lot to see and do. Time is of the essence, and as a result, the abundance of airports scattered across Vietnam, coupled with the frequency of flights, makes flying the most popular choice for transportation.
Domestic airports are typically quite small, and you won’t spend much time finding your departure gate. However, passport checks can take about an hour, depending on the day and time of your flight.
Vietnam Airlines, the national carrier, has a good reputation. Its fleet, one of the youngest in Asia, serves 20 cities across the country, creating a dense and convenient network with affordable prices. The company operates modern aircraft with efficient service and helpful flight attendants who are accustomed to foreign travelers, providing an enjoyable experience.
Additionally, there are two budget airlines that fly to most airports in the region. Bamboo and VietJetAir offer great value flights on modern planes, especially if you’re traveling without checked baggage.
Visas are required in Vietnam, so make sure you’ve arranged this before entering the country. They typically last for 30 days, but if you love the country and want to stay longer, you can extend them while you’re there. As always, it’s best to check this through official channels before traveling.
Traveling by Train in Vietnam
Trains are an efficient means of travel when journeying across Vietnam, connecting travelers to the next destinations on their itinerary.
Vietnam’s railway network, the Reunification Express, includes the main high-speed line connecting Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, with three trains running each way daily. This route passes through some famous coastal towns such as Hue, Danang, and Nha Trang, allowing travelers to stop and explore more of the country if they wish.
Travelers are encouraged to book “soft-sleeper” class for the most comfortable journey, which includes a berth in a cabin for four people. Due to the communal nature of these journeys, you’re likely to meet fellow travelers with whom you can spend part of the trip. You’ll also find a dining car, and sometimes even a karaoke car! Modernization of train carriages and routes is underway, but train travel remains slower compared to buses, though it’s faster, safer, and more comfortable.
For shorter journeys, the SE and TN registered trains are a safe and affordable option, with the same fares for foreigners and local residents. If you want to visit northern Vietnam, you can take the train to Sapa from Hanoi. This route is one of the most beautiful in Vietnam, and the sleeper cabins provide a great way to reach Sapa. There is also a line connecting Hanoi to Hai Phong, a major port near Halong Bay, where you can enjoy an overnight cruise on Halong Bay.
To book train tickets, you must go through an agent, so be cautious with last-minute bookings. It’s best to book at least two days in advance to ensure availability. You should also consider the duration of typical train journeys, as this will need to be factored into your travel plan if you decide to use this mode of transportation:
– Hanoi to Lao Cai by train: 10 hours
– Hanoi to Hue by train: 14 hours
– Hue to Ho Chi Minh City by train: 20 hours
The laid-back nature of this country is reflected in the relaxed departure times of train journeys, so don’t be surprised if you arrive or depart a little late. Instead, consider this part of the experience.
Bus Transportation in Vietnam
Most private bus companies are hired by agents to travel between major cities or visit attractions. You can traverse Vietnam by bus using open bus tickets. SinhCafe is an agency offering tickets priced from £20 to £30, allowing you to catch buses from one location to another at any time.
This is perhaps the most cost-effective way to travel across the country, but like train travel, the time spent traveling by bus should be factored into your overall travel plan. All buses are air-conditioned, but if you choose this mode of transportation, be prepared for long journeys.
Local Transport in Vietnam
One of the best ways to truly see Vietnam is through the impressive waterways. Traveling by boat offers a unique and distinct way to explore this beautiful country.
Boats and Sea Travel in Vietnam
The long coastline of the South China Sea lies to the east of the country and is intersected by numerous rivers flowing through the mainland and connecting with Cambodia, China, and Laos. If you are drawn to exploring these mesmerizing locations by boat, you won’t have to look far. From small round bamboo boats in Nha Trang to fishing boats in Mui Ne, there are countless options.
The beauty of traveling on water is that you have several choices to pick from. If you prefer to embrace traditional, rustic transportation methods, try paddling a rowing boat. These small boats are still used by fishermen and offer a unique way to travel from one place to another, especially on short distances.
For an even more personal experience, try round basket boats. They are highly maneuverable due to their spherical shape, and they are popular among tourists. Hoi An has become a popular spot for tourists to paddle these round boats and row down the Mekong River at a leisurely pace alongside local fishermen. It may not be the most efficient mode of transportation, but it’s certainly a unique and unparalleled experience in Vietnam.
However, to this day, the best way to explore the Mekong River is by embarking on a Mekong River cruise. Whether it’s a small speedboat or a large tourist ship, traveling on water is one of the best modes of transportation to enjoy all that this special region of Vietnam has to offer.
You may also be interested in our Mekong River Travel Guide.
Traveling on Halong Bay is also an experience not to be missed when visiting northern Vietnam. Many traditional boats offer overnight cruises, allowing you to explore the stunning limestone karsts and emerald waters of Halong Bay. This mode of travel lets you soak in the beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Taking a ferry from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) to Vung Tau is considered one of the least rated journeys in Vietnam. It is an exciting trip from the city center, along various rivers, and crossing the sea to Vung Tau, a tranquil and attractive coastal destination.
Even after the introduction of new expressways and improved highways between Ho Chi Minh City and Vung Tau, traveling by boat remains a much more pleasant, comfortable, and scenic option. Buses, taxis, or motorbikes are simply means to an end, but traveling by boat is an experience.
To get to Ho Chi Minh City from Phnom Penh, travelers have the option of traveling by boat. Several companies offer this route with boats ranging from slow to fast, high-speed, and tour boats. Be sure to book your tickets at the Phnom Penh International Port, located about ten minutes by tuk-tuk from the Royal Palace. The high-speed boat option takes just over one hour, and upon reaching Chau Doc, you can transfer to another boat to reach Ho Chi Minh City.
Traveling around Vietnam is easy; choose to save time and fly to your next destination in your itinerary, or take a slower mode of transportation for a more intimate encounter with this fascinating country. However you want to explore Vietnam, our Vietnamtravellands.com can assist you – just ask online if you have any questions.