The fastest, cheapest, most comfortable, most adventurous or most convenient transport methods for getting around Vietnam. There's a few ways of getting around so lets cover them quickly.
- Flying - Fastest method, and in absolute terms very cheap (Vietnam's small)
- Night Bus - Perfect for long distance, cheap, and you save on accommodation
- Bus/Minivan - Absolute cheapest method for inner-city and medium length travel
- Motorbike/Scooter - Complete freedom for travel within Vietnam, over 3 weeks+ becomes the cheapest way to travel
- Train - Mid to long distance, great substitute for routes with no flights
- Ferry/Speedboat - Go to method for getting to islands, but also for cruises
- Taxi/Grab - Easiest method for inner city travel, very affordable
Now let's get into specifics on how to book, what's the right method for you, and how to go about all of it.
The most popular routes within Vietnam are flights between the North, South and Middle of the country. The following major cities are the hubs for some of the best destinations in Vietnam.
- Hanoi - Access to Sa Pa, Ha Long Bay, Ninh Binh
- Da Nang - Access to Hue, Hoi An
- Ho Chi Minh City Access to Da Lat
Comparing flights on Skyscanner and booking at least a week beforehand will make sure your flights are between $20-$60. This doesn't seem dependent on whether it's high season or low season, it's more about purchasing in advance, and watching out for the months of June/July where its known to be higher prices (still within the range.)
Hot Tip: Either start in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and work your way up or down using each major city above as an entry/exit point to explore the surrounding towns/points of interest.
Popular Budget Airlines for Vietnam:
Night buses in Vietnam are the peak of comfort when it comes to traveling by bus. The seats recline to almost the level of a bed, they're comfortable, you've got toilet facilities on the bus, and snacks are offered most of the time. If you struggle to sleep while traveling, this might be the one time where it comes easy - and best of all, it's really cheap.
For example: Going from Hanoi to Hue would cost around $18 USD
The best way to find buses and book online is through 12Go Asia - this is also true for other land based traveling, but be on the lookout for potentially cheaper options from brick and mortar travel agents around the city you're in.
Hot Tip: If you're going to take the night bus, there's 3 essential items you should have to make sure you sleep well. Items and links to Amazon below.
- Travel neck pillow - https://amzn.to/2RveMRT
- High quality earplugs - https://amzn.to/2E0SeAz
- Sleeping mask/blindfold - https://amzn.to/2thCbMt
You can get a night bus almost everywhere when the journey is 6-13 hours. Some of the most popular routes take a while but backpackers opt to use these anyway, as not only are they cheaper, but you save on accommodation for the night.
This method is a Thrifty Backpacker favorite.
Bus or Minivan
Not all buses are night buses, but the mode of transport is still one of the cheapest, fastest, and most comfortable. With pickup and drop off on these shorter <6 hour journeys, and the fact that they'll take you directly to where you need to go rather than a train station nearby, makes this quite a favorite.
Routes like Hanoi to Hai Phong (for Ha Long Bay), Sa Pa, or Ninh Binh are the easiest with bus or minivan. The vehicles can go all the way to Sa Pa unlike a train, and they cost $10-$12 dollars one way, much cheaper than alternatives.
Again the easiest way to find a bus for your destination is going to be 12Go Asia, through your hostel/hotel or a travel agency. No harm in comparing prices to find a good one for yourself. There are many businesses that offer these services.
You can also catch public buses within the city just like back home, this is a cheaper alternative to Taxi's if you're really going thrifty - check bus timetables for the city you're in with a simple Google Search.
Motorbike or Scooter
Ultimate freedom and the cheapest method of travel if you're going long term, and you're solo or with other people who are traveling the same way.
It's a right of passage for the freedom seeking backpacker to buy a cheap fix-me-up motorbike in Ho Chi Minh or Hanoi, and ride it up or down, hitting most towns along the way. You'll see dozens of blog posts and videos on the topic, people documenting their journey and sharing tips. So here's a quick introduction before you look into this further.
- The main method is to buy a cheap motorbike in a major city and carry your backpack, nomad style, until your reach your destination and re-sell the bike. You'll see signs up with people selling bikes between $200-500, with a similar resale value. Another place to look is on Facebook - there's a ton of buy/sell/swap pages for motorbikes like this one.
- Another method is to use one of the many rental companies that allow pickup and drop-off over longer periods, usually between $8 - $15 a day, or $250 a month. Tigitmotorbikes is one company, but you should most definitely ask the hostel for recommendations and have a look around before committing.
- You can also rent them daily for cheaper rates to use within the city - stick to scooters when you do this.
These prices may seem a lot, but in the end you're reselling the bike, and even if you rent, you're not spending any money for you entire trip when it comes to traveling between towns, inner city, or cross country. It'll come out to be much cheaper as the bikes don't require a lot of petrol either.
- Go for known brands when it comes to bikes, stick to Honda and Yamaha
- Most mechanics will be able to fix issues with your bike but you should also watch a few videos on the basics so you can spot a scam
- 100 to 125 cc will be enough to travel the country, higher cc will mean you can climb through places like the Hai Van Pass a little easier but it's not a necessity
- Driving the bike isn't your only issue, if you're not experienced in driving in Asia definitely try in a smaller town or island first. It can get chaotic and will take some getting used to in terms of understanding how the rules (or lack there of) work in practice
- Your travel insurance likely doesn't cover an accident unless you have a motorbike licence in your home country, make sure you check the policy
- Wear a helmet, pads/guards, and long pants for longer distances - this could save you a world of injury in the event of an accident
This is a good method for relatively straight medium routes, especially in the North. Hanoi to Lao Cai (main town close to Sa Pa) and Hanoi to Ninh Binh are popular. There aren't any flights for these routes so going by Train is one of the options.
However, going by Bus/Minivan is cheaper by rule of thumb, includes pick up and drop off, in most cases is faster, and can get to places trains can't - like going directly to Sa Pa instead of Lao Cai.
So unless you're using a train and traveling up and down Vietnam in a luxury suite for the experience, a bus/minivan is going to be the better option.
Ferry or Speedboat
Mostly used with a joint ticket for a bus and ferry to an island. For instance Hanoi to Cat Ba island in Ha Long Bay. Joint tickets can be bought at travel agencies and through hostels/hotels, and of course on 12Go Asia. This is the most common reason to be on a boat in Vietnam.
Besides using ferries and boats when necessary, they're also options in places like Ha Long Bay to do party boat style cruises. These can get expensive although for the right person it may be worth it.
Castaways 3 day 2 night tour, all you can drink party boat is about ~$170. More exploring the area (while partying) than traveling, but worth a mention.
Taxi or Grab
The most convenient method of travel within a city or town, second to renting a scooter on the daily. Taxi's are very cheap in Vietnam, and Grab's can be even cheaper.
Grab is a ride-sharing app like Uber/Lyft but it's predominantly for SE Asia. You can download it on the App Store and Google Play store. I'd highly recommend looking at getting several other apps before heading to SE Asia in general.
You'll need to get a Vietnamese phone number before installing this app though. Payments can be done through an online gateway or with cash, and there's no need for haggling, or a taxi meter. Which is incidentally the benefit of using Grab over a Taxi.
Those are the 7 ways to get around in Vietnam! Hope you enjoyed and got some value out of this article. If you want more info on traveling SE Asia on a budget, check this out. Enjoy your trip!