HOW TO TRAVEL AROUND IN VIETNAM?
Traveling around Vietnam is a fantastic adventure that I recommend to anyone planning to visit this fascinating country. Yes, scooters are usually the most popular among locals and tourists, but in the long run they feel uncomfortable and quite slow, which is why I would not limit oneself only to them. Despite the fact that neither buses nor trains reach high speeds on Vietnamese roads or rails, they offer greater comfort and peace of mind on further journeys. During our trip to Vietnam, we tried most of the available ways of transport: we drove four different rented scooters with different degrees of wear; a comfortable inter-city coach that allows you to sleep on half-seated, half-lying seat; dirty and stuffed city bus in Ho Chi Minh; a train with excessively turned air conditioning; a taxi with a crazy driver ramming everything he encountered on his way; and we also sailed by a ferry resembling a party cruise on Zakynthos ... in Asian style. Are you curious about the details? Let's go…
MOTORCYCLE / SCOOTER
The top way of transport for any backpacker! Apparently you can buy a used Honda or Yamaha for as little as $ 400, drive through whole Vietnam and at the end of the journey sell it to another willing traveler - at least you get refund for fuel! I’ve read about such stories before I left and heard about them on the spot from people who actually did it. The most popular route is Ho Chi Minh - Hanoi, so I recommend you start in Hanoi, on the contrary, and buy a motorcycle there, because it will definitely be cheaper. Will you need documents and skills? Well ... not necessarily ... you can learn how to drive in practice, and driving license is just a piece of paper with a photo on ... But remember to always put a helmet on - it's an obligation!
You do not have to buy a scooter right away - you can rent it. Prices per day vary significantly and depend on the owner's mood. One thing is certain - haggle as much as you can - in the end you will overpay a bit, but it will not cost you a fortune. For one day of renting a motorcycle, we paid about USD 8-12 on average.
HO CHI MINH CITY BUS
It's not easy to get on with the timetable, or find the right bus stop, so it's best to use the help of Google Maps, which will tell you which bus and where you should get on. Regardless of how many stops you go, the price is one: 10,000 VND (= 0.45 EUR). There is no cheaper way to travel around Saigon, and the distance between destination points can be large. City buses are not the newest, they do not have air conditioning, nor comfortable seats, but you will not meet tourists there, so you will certainly feel a Vietnamese atmosphere. How do you know where to get off? The easiest way is to count down the stops - at most, you will mistake for one or two - do not count on a chat with the driver, unless you know Vietnamese, although he will not understand you anyway, because you probably have a bad accent.
This is definitely the best way to travel around in Vietnam! Coaches are comfortable, air-conditioned and punctual! If they can, they move fast, although on worse roads it can rock in them hard...but don't worry! These buses are equipped with special single stacked seats with a place to stretch your legs - a real luxury! In addition, you can not enter with you shoes on inside - you have to leave them in front of the door and get the passengers' slippers, which I would rather avoid because you can simply walk in your socks or barefoot. While traveling, you can use free Wi-Fi and recharge your phone. Every three hours, there are stops at special parking lots, where you can use the toilet in a hangar, or buy something to eat and drink. In the evening, the driver dims the light and plays calm music, so that you can relax or have a nap - and the lamps placed above the seats allow for example to read a book. You can find coach timetable f. ex. from Ho Chi Minh HERE.
Trains in Vietnam are not a popular means of transport. At least such an impression was made on us when we entered the deserted main station in the six-millionth Ho Chi Minh, which was situated somewhere in the suburbs of this vast agglomeration, in a rather sordid district. Even a taxi driver, taking us early in the morning to the train station, did not know exactly where it was and on the way he asked passers-by for directions ... Make sure you get your train tickets the day before the departure. You can do it at the train station or online (f. ex. HERE) because, as it turned out, during the holiday season they can be sold out. Wagons on trains do not divide into classes, only on types of seats, and the carrier offers various types of them: hard seat, soft seat and a bed in a four- or six-passenger sleeping car. The prices depend on the distance and type of seating, f. ex. a transfer from Ho Chi Minh to Mui Ne on a soft seat costs 16 USD, and to Hanoi 64 USD, which is not so cheap, so I recommend checking domestic flights before the journey (f. ex. HERE) too. There is a restaurant car on the train where you can buy several dishes such as chow mein; and snacks, like: sliced aw mango with salt and chili. On the train, the air conditioning is turned up to the max, so take a warm sweatshirt and covered shoes with you, because it can get really cold! The only places where you can get a little warm are the toilet, restaurant car and the last vestibule between the cars, where smoking is allowed.
It's an easy and cheap way to reach the Vietnamese islands of Phu Quoc or Con Dao. Travel guides usually advise against traveling with this mode of transport, because ferries often sail overloaded (they do not have a luggage limit) and do not pay attention to the sudden changes in the weather. Despite the threats, there is no shortage of people willing to cross the waters to the islands, so it is necessary to book tickets at least a few days before departure. Travel to the island of Phu Quoc from Rach Gia, which can be reached directly by bus from Ho Chi Minh, is very popular. Even in the off-season it is difficult to get vacancies, as we have experienced ourselves. However, ferries on Phu Quoc also depart from the town of Ha Tien, located near the border with Cambodia and usually they are not so full, so check both options. Tickets for the ferry can be bought HERE (though it's not easy to figure out how to get them), and the price for a ticket f. ex. from Rach Gia to Phu Quoc is USD 20.
Traveling by ferry is an attraction in itself. After boarding, the crew takes passangers' luggage and places it on the blades or, when there's no more room, in the aisle. Fortunately, they hand out bottled water and hand towels to moisturize to all the passengers. There is one bathroom on the ferry, which is better not to use. Passengers sit below deck in a room resembling a cinema room. All seats are directed towards the black wall, which have two screens the size of old televisions. Throughout the trip, the crew is playing video performances of Vietnamese pop stars, that look like a poor quality talent shows. Cat's music, rumbling from the loudspeakers, does not let you collect your thoughts, let alone trying to talk to the fellow travelers. Nobody, however, feels overwhelmed, apart from these few lost tourists ...
The first rule is: discuss the price before the ride, otherwise you overpay a lot. The second rule is: always try to bargain. The third rule is: pay once you get to your destination. By following these guidelines, traveling by taxi will not cost you a fortune. I recommend hiring a taxi only in exceptional situations and for short distances, because the price for tourists will always be higher. The prices vary greatly, depending on the distance, the place where you catch a ride and of course your bargaining skills. For example: we paid about 10 USD for the transfer from the airport in Ho Chi Minh to the hostel (about 9 km).
Which of the above ways of traveling do you like most? Or maybe you have tried Vietnamese airlines and would like to share your experience? Please let me know in the comments :)