Guidebook Getting around

The Basics

Getting around

Most travel takes place on the roads, explains Rough Guides. The condition of road surfaces and vehicles is fairly good, “with air-conditioned coaches ferrying tourists (and an increasing number of locals) up and down Highway 1, a desperately narrow and shockingly busy thoroughfare that runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, passing through Hué, Da Nang and Nha Trang en route.” Trains run alongside Highway 1, and their sleeper berths “are far more comfortable than buses for longer journeys,” while Vietnam’s domestic flight network “continues to evolve, and the cheap, comfortable services may save you days’ worth of travel by road or rail.”

Walking around Vietnam, especially in the main cities, is a challenge, says World Nomads. “Drivers honk their horns constantly, often for no good reason,” and “confidence is key” when crossing the road. Walk with purpose, and be quick on your feet. And if you have a traffic accident, don't expect that anyone will call an ambulance. “Make sure you tell locals clearly that you will pay the ambulance fee … hospitals will also not admit you unless you prove that you can pay the bill.”

If you observe the way the locals navigate the streets you’ll soon notice a pattern, says The City Lane -- “firstly there’s no hesitation -- when a local decides the time is right to cross the road, usually when there’s a slight break in traffic, they just walk across … secondly you’ll notice their hand gesture to vehicles as they cross, a sort of arms by their side, palm faced towards the oncoming traffic ‘easy there’ gesture.” The key is to “maintain the same speed while crossing and not to hesitate or stop.”

Catching a taxi in Vietnam is unbelievably cheap, explains Around The World Plus Kids. “Especially when you have children with you, an air conditioned taxi can be the best option for shorter distances … stick to the bigger taxi chain companies to avoid being ripped off -- Vinasun and Mai Linh are very popular … they use meters every time, so there’s no need for negotiations.”

I love the train in Vietnam, says The Hungry Suitcase -- “it’s a great way to see the pastoral landscape safely, peacefully and without the constant honking.” But make sure you buy the tickets at the railway station, rather than through hotels who regularly charge a substantial “service fee” -- but tickets tend to sell out days in advance, “so don’t go to the train station with no ticket expecting to hop on the next train.”

The Reunification Express has been “cutting a path along the East Coast” since 1936, writes Traveller. The 1726-kilometre, 33-ish hour journey from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh in the south averages 50km/h, “only marginally quicker than it was in the 1930s.” But it's still “a reliable mode of transport for travelling between some of Vietnam's most popular tourist destinations,” and an overnight leg is something of an adventure -- “the pace, excitement, local insight and occasional chaos are all part of the experience.” This historic train has been “bombed, abandoned, rebuilt and then, in December 1976, reopened to mark a nation's rebirth, just 20 months after the end of the Vietnam War,” explains The Independent.

Local buses are either a nightmare or a delight, notes Frommers, depending on your expectations. “If you're prepared to be the main character in a piece of bad, chaotic performance, then your appetite will be pleased; if you want grist for the travel journal, you will find it; if you want to get somewhere efficiently and with all of your sensory nerve endings intact, you will be disappointed.”

The Basics
  • Guidebook