Vietnam is a long coastal country stretching 1650 kilometers (1,025 miles) from north to south. Dotting its narrow landmass are beautiful cities, beaches, and exotic locations. Getting from place to place can seem overwhelming however because there are so many options to travel Vietnam by air, land, and water.
In this article, we’ve outlined the different ways of traveling around the country: from fastest and most convenient to budget and boutique options, coupled with slower transportation that takes the scenic route or direct and short means of getting to your destination. We hope this comprehensive guide to domestic travel within Vietnam will help you make the most efficient use of your time in this amazing country!
Listed below are all the ways you can travel Vietnam (click on each link to jump straight to the section):
1. Travel Vietnam by Air
Why travel by plane?
The fastest way to get around Vietnam is via direct, domestic flights. It’s a pricier option compared to other modes of transport, but for those seeking to see much of the country with limited time, it’s often the most efficient way to get around. Travel by air is especially recommended for those looking to see major cities on a north-to-south journey, as it allows you to save time and is more comfortable than any other means of transportation.
- Vietnam Airlines, which is a full-service, government-owned airline.
- Vietjet Air, which is a low-cost carrier.
- Jetstar Pacific, also a low-cost carrier.
Vietnam Airlines, being full service, is the only one of the three that include food/refreshments (determined by flight length), and checked baggage inclusive within the ticket price. On the low-cost budget carriers, the ticket price is generally only inclusive of a 7 kilogram (15-pound) carry-on bag, and no meal. Options for meals and checked baggage will cost additional fees.
(We’ve compiled a chart that shows which major airports are served by major Vietnamese airlines below, See official websites for a full list of destinations and flights)
|Ho Chi Minh to||Vietnam Airlines||Vietjet Air||Jetstar Pacific|
|Hanoi to||Vietnam Airlines||Vietjet Air||Jetstar Pacific|
|Ho Chi Minh City||X||X||X|
|Danang to||Vietnam Airlines||Vietjet Air||Jetstar Pacific|
|Ho Chi Minh City||X||X||X|
If you’re planning on traveling to Vietnam during holidays like Christmas and Tết (early February 2019), you should book flights far in advance to beat the crowds of families returning home for the holidays.
So, where can you fly between?
The three biggest airports in Vietnam are HCMC (Tan Son Nhat) in the south, Hanoi (Noi Bai) in the North, and Danang in the central region. Being the main airports, all three airlines have multiple flights every day between them. There are also several other airports scattered around the country. We won’t list all the airports but will mention the more popular destinations.
In the centre, along with Danang, there is Quy Nhon which is a little further south, Hue, which is North of Danang, and Dong Hoi, which is further North again.
Up North, with Hanoi, are a couple of smaller airports, including Haiphong, which is up near Halong Bay.
It’s important to note that direct flights aren’t always available between all airports, and not all airlines fly the same routes. For example, Vietjet is the only airline that flies direct between Danang and Can Tho, just as Vietnam Airlines is the only one to fly direct between Danang and Nha Trang.
So, apart from the city that the airport is actually in, which airports can you use to get to certain destinations that don’t have their own airports?
- Danang is used to get to Hoi An. Hoi An is about a 40-minute drive from the airport.
- Dong Hoi can be used to get Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park, which is about an hour away.
- Can Tho, being in the Mekong, is a great way to access that area. It saves considerable time on the road between HCMC and Can Tho.
- Hanoi can be used to access Sapa and Halong Bay.
So, which airline to choose?
Well, that depends on several factors, including, personal preference, price, flight times and flight availability.
As a matter of general ratings, Vietnam Airlines is the highest quality, followed by Vietjet, and then Jetstar. It’s also important to note that the budget airlines are more prone to flight time changes, delays, and even cancellations. It’s perhaps better to consider those issues as more often the rule, rather than the exception. This leads us to an important point: It’s a very good idea to spend your final night in Vietnam, in the city that you will be flying out of towards your destination the next day.
So, how to book airline tickets?
It’s strongly recommended you use the airline’s official websites:
Renting a car in Vietnam generally means that you will rent a car with a local driver. If you want to drive yourself then you will need to obtain a Vietnamese driver’s license which can be complicated if you’re staying in the country for less than 3 months. Please note that international driver’s licenses are not currently recognized here and it is probably not a good idea to drive in Vietnam if you are not accustomed to the chaotic traffic. If you get into an accident you will most likely be found at fault by the police.
Renting a private car with a driver is a great option for travelers looking to explore short distances around their surrounding area comfortably and safety. Renting a car with driver for multiple days is not really feasible unless you are willing to pay for accommodation and meals for the driver also (read the terms of your rental agreement carefully). Additionally, if you book a one way trip over multiple days, then you will have to incur the cost of transporting the car back to the original city in which you rented it. That being said, renting a private car with a driver in Vietnam is relatively inexpensive, and by comparing prices between companies you’ll find that prices range from around $50 to $100 USD per day, depending on the type of car.
If you rent a car with a private driver, be aware that most drivers in Vietnam only speak rudimentary English. Ensure you have a written address of your intended destinations, along with a maps app downloaded on your phone (Google Translate helps as well!).
3. Travel Vietnam by Bus
While we don’t recommend traveling Vietnam by bus, it’s the cheapest means of transport between cities. For instance, to travel from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang (over 400 kilometers) by bus, the ticket will only cost you around $8 USD. Overnight sleeper buses are often cheaper, with berths to lie down and sleep. The bus is the preferred way for Vietnamese to get around the country, so if you’re looking to travel like a local, this is the way to travel!
Risks of traveling by bus
As a disclaimer, traveling via bus comes with inherent risks: Most bus drivers in Vietnam drive very fast and reckless, so injuries and deaths due to accidents are not unheard of. Additionally, travelers often complain about the theft of their personal belongings while they sleep, along with their luggage stored during transit. Few (if any) bus company employees speak English, so if an issue occurs in transit, you will likely be on your own.
Moreover, if you are tall or larger than average Vietnamese, sleeping onboard overnight buses may prove to be an uncomfortably sleepless experience. Bus companies will provide you with blankets, but they are never cleaned. Toilets are quite rare on buses and are often broken, so you will have to wait long periods of time for bathroom break stops. The limited opportunities to get off the bus means passengers don’t have time to take photos or explore outside the bus during transit.
Furthermore, rides may be longer than advertised as many of Vietnam’s roads are in poor condition. Combined with Vietnam’s traffic, it’s better to try and entertain yourself with a book or electronic device than try to count down the time. When you reach your destination, factor in the cost of a taxi, as most bus stations are located on the outskirts of cities (away from central attractions).
How can I book bus tickets?
The easiest way to book a bus journey is to go directly to the bus office and book in person, but you can also reserve seats online. Our recommended companies for comfortability and safety include Futabus, The Sinh Tourist, and Mai Linh. These companies often provide water, blankets, alone with wet wipes for the journey. Futabus’ website is in English, book your tickets here, and to see bus schedules for The Sinh Tourist, you can click here. To compare rates for buses, you can check out this website which gathers information from multiple companies.
Open tour bus
Another option for bus travel is open tour buses—an excellent way of traveling through the country. It’s not much more expensive than regular buses, and they are geared to serve cities for tourism, including the Hanoi-Hue-Hoi An-Nha Trang-Dalat-Ho Chi Minh City itinerary. You buy one ticket for the entire itinerary, but can stay as long as you want at each destination along the way—open tour buses allow more flexibility for travelers who want to get off and explore at stops.
On arrival in each city, the bus drops you in front of the company bus office and you will have to get to your hotel via your own means. To purchase open tour bus tickets, you will have to purchase them at company offices through private companies like The Sinh Tourist. The Sinh Tourist has many offices throughout the country, but ensure you check out the website to find the correct location, as many knock-off tourist agencies try to masquerade as The Sinh Tourist.
Trains provide an authentic (albeit longer) way to get around Vietnam for incredibly low prices. Trains are safer than buses, along with avoiding the traffic and accidents of Vietnamese highways. They have more comfortable accommodations (including legroom) and provide an unforgettable sightseeing experience.
Risks of traveling by train
As with any means of transport within Vietnam, you should be aware of the risks which come with taking trains to get around. Onboard hygiene is lackluster, as bed sheets and pillows are not often changed (bring your own). Bathrooms may be not clean and toilets may be broken, and there is no toilet tissue provided. Make sure to wear flip-flops or socks, as the floor is often dirty.
For those of you who don’t book a private room, you will be with locals and must pay attention to your belongings under to prevent theft, especially during stops and when you go to the bathroom. Ensure that your door is closed at all times to protect your belongings and reduce noise in the cabin. Earphones and earplugs are also recommended to block out noises. Be sure to bring your own food and drink for the duration of the trip, as many vendors will not speak English.
Onboard, there are 4 classes of seating: hard seat (it’s a wooden seat), soft seat (with cushioning, hard berth (a compartment of 6 berths without a door), and soft berth (a compartment of 4 with a door). The trains categorized as “SE” travel faster than “TN” trains.
How can I book train tickets?
You should book tickets in advance at least a day before your departure, but if you want to choose a sleeping berth it’s recommended to book several days in advance. Make sure to choose arrival and departure times that are convenient (as opposed to midnight arrivals, etc). You can book your tickets on this website in English, and learn more about booking, fares, and timetables from Seat 61.
Traveling by motorbike is the ultimate “local” way to experience a nation where motorbikes far outnumber automobiles. Motorbike travel avoids all the inconveniences related to using buses and trains, with the exception of heavy traffic.
Driving license in Vietnam
Acquiring a legal drivers’ license in Vietnam is certainly a “grey area.” We know for a fact that thousands of foreigners drive across the country every year without a license without issue. But to retain some semblance of legality, look into acquiring an international driving license from your home country, in conjunction with a motorbike license. As the law is somewhat unclear on this matter, you will have to approach it on a case-by-case basis in your own country and hope for the best in Vietnam.
Insurance and security
In preparation for your motorbike journey, you should inquire about insurance through your home country. If you drive without a license, it’s at your own risk as most insurance companies will not cover you. Crashes do happen in Vietnam, and if you are seriously injured and do not have insurance, you may have to deal with expensive medical care and the costs could run you into the hundreds of thousands of dollars if you need to be airlifted out of the country.
If you still wish to rent a bike, it’s important to look for a reputable business like Tigit Motorbikes which operates out of Ho Chi Minh City, Danang and Hanoi. Tigit is a responsible company which offers their customers western-quality service (unlike its competitors), and they only sell and rent quality Honda motorbikes which are bought new, are regularly serviced and well-maintained. You can book a long-distance travel packet based on the western model of renting cars—it will cost you $250 USD for 1 month or $10 USD day. If you’d prefer a guided tour, there will be all-inclusive packages.
6. Travel Vietnam by Water
Some areas of Vietnam—like Halong Bay and parts of the Mekong Delta—are only accessible via boats. Moving around these areas via guided tour boats is the safest way to experience these natural wonders.
Halong Bay tours range from luxurious, overnight cruises for $200+ USD per pax via companies like Bai Tu Long Bay Cruise to $45 USD budget day tours provided by Charming Vietnam Travel. If you’re looking to only spend the day exploring, guided tour boats leave from Tuan Chau Pier and cost around $20 USD. The Mekong Delta hosts an array of boat excursions as well, including Mekong Boat and Experience Travel Group provide extensive options for luxury, mid-range, and budget tours for all travelers.
For either tour, make sure you bring some form of waterproof bag/container to prevent damage to your phones/cameras.
However you choose to travel Vietnam, we wish you a safe and pleasant journey as you explore this incredible country! If you want to experience some fun and authentic Vietnam Tours while traveling to Ho Chi Minh City or Hoi An, please check out XO Tours!