First of all, Vietnam is the country of bikes. If you feel comfortable riding one, go for it. It’s cheap, and they’re everywhere. You can buy one and then sell it on in another city, or just rent for a few days, or hours at a time. Bikes are everywhere!
However, as whimpy girls, not covered for any sort of motorbike or scooter we had to explore other options to get to each destination. So this blog post is about the other public transport in Vietnam.
Vietnam is pretty spread out and many of the key destinations are hours of travel apart. As a traveller with limited time, this kind of sucks. But, it’s not all negative – travelling by night means saving a night on accommodation. So, here is what we’ve learnt for travelling place to place.
If you want a laugh, check out tripadvisor reviews for “sleeper buses Vietnam”. The reviews consists of phrasing like “death wish”, “hell” and “never again”.
After reading those, we got pretty freaked and, for our first long journey (Hanoi to Sapa), we opted to travel by train. We booked a “soft sleeper” which cost roughly £12.50, per person, one way, for a 10 hour journey. Now, don’t get me wrong it’s no Hilton hotel and be prepared for a bumpy ride… But, I’m a light sleeper and I reckon I got a solid 5-6 hours. The bed cabins are either in sets of 4 or 6. Our £12.50 stay was an air-conned 4 bed cabin. All things considered, no complaints, but pretty pricy for a budget traveller.
But, travelling by bus is way cheaper. After speaking to fellow travellers and basically being told to “man up” we thought we’d try and see just how bad these night buses are. We googled to find the best (I.e. safest) company and decided to go for Hung Thanh. Considering I was prepared for the worst (we travelled for an hour on a very crappy sleeper bus on our journey to Cat Ba Island), when the bus pulled up, I was surprised by how flashy it looked! Fully reclined cushioned seats forming 3 rows of bunk beds.
We even had to take our shoes off, and put them in a bag before, getting on! For £17, for an open bus ticket, valid until Hoi An, roughly 20 hours of travel… This is definitely the budget way to travel!
So the breakdown: Train vs bus
Bus – cheaper, quicker
Train – safer, quieter
The comfort level of the “beds” is pretty similar but the small cabins in trains means less noise. Less noise from fellow passengers (less chance of a snorer or a 3 hour chat about that guys piss-up holiday to magaluf) and no road horns (beeping horns are part of the Vietnamese soundtrack). The other noticeable difference is fellow travellers. Sleeper buses are usually all filled with fellow travellers, which offers a sense of security, whereas the trains are used a lot by locals.
If you opt to travel by train overnight, go for sleepers not seats if you want to get any sleep. The hard seats resemble park benches.
And even the soft seats are a mission to get any rest on; as we discovered on our return journey from Sapa. However, it was half the price of a bed.
Overall, our experiences have been pretty positive but there are some real horror stories out there, particular the night bus to Sapa.
In terms of short journeys, taxis are very reasonable. In Hanoi, roughly £1.50 for a 5km journey. The prices will vary from city to city but generally speaking it’s affordable. Wherever you can use the meter rather than a agreeing a price before getting in – less risk of being ripped off. Beware of the notorious scams from Hanoi bus station though! We were charged an extortionate rate for a short journey, so much so though that we asked the driver to pull over and let us out! Just walk down the street a few blocks and hail a cab off the street.
Travelling in Vietnam is certainly an experience whatever mode of transport you use…