Transportation Around Vietnam
After a month of traveling around Vietnam, we took almost every mode of transportation to get around. We walked, biked, motorbiked, took buses, trains, boats, and planes. Overall traveling around Vietnam was very easy. There are so many backpackers in Vietnam and all of the hostels are very helpful in booking tickets and giving recommendations on where to go and how to get there.
As backpackers we walked everywhere. We found that Google Maps was reliable in telling us the amount of time it took to walk somewhere. Walking in Vietnam was not easy. You had to always be alert, watching out for motorbikes, cars, trucks, and buses. Even when you were on a sidewalk you were not safe from motorbikes or cars. A lot of the times there was no sidewalk so we had to walk single file along the street.
Biking in Tam Coc
We rented bicycles in Tam Coc for a day to explore some closer tourist attractions. The roads around Tam Coc were beautiful with high mountains and cliffs.
Motorbiking in Tam Coc
I don’t like motorbikes, but they are a huge part of Vietnamese culture and sometimes they are the best way to get around. I decided that when we were in Tam Coc I’d go on the back of a motorbike for a day. The roads were wide and it wasn’t a city so I felt it was better than renting on in Hanoi. We rented our motorbikes from our Hotel and you could rent them for a few hours or for a full day and they would give you helmets and fill the tank. We were able to visit the Tam Coc river and a couple Pagodas.
Our favorite way to get around Vietnam was the Sleeper Buses. We only took one sleeper bus but it made our 8 hour bus ride very pleasant. Sleeper Buses felt like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. They are large buses with reclined seats that you can comfortably, if you aren’t extremely tall, stretch out and sleep in.
As with many buses in South East Asia, we switched buses three times and made frequent stops to pick up and drop off passenger and packages. There is no real warning if it is your stop, so you have to pay attention and get off the bus very quickly becuase they are not very patient.
Train from Phong Nha to Ning Binh
We took a train from Phong Nha to Ninh Binh. We tried to buy our tickets online unsuccessfully but thankfully, our hostel was kind enough to call and reserve our tickets.
On our way to the train station from Phong Nha we got into a minor car accident. We ordered a taxi with our hotel and as per usual our taxi was 30 minutes late. When we finally got our taxi and told him what time our train was he sped the whole way. Many roads in Vietnam are only two lanes and everyone passes in the other lane and crazy fast speeds. Our taxi was trying to pass a scooter and a van was coming the other direction and we narrowly missed it but their mirror hit our mirror and smashed our drivers seat window. Our driver was very calm, stopped, pulled out the glass and kept going and we made our train!
The train ride itself was very pleasant. When booking the train tickets we had the choice of AC and soft seats or non AC and hard seats. We chose the AC with soft seats and it felt like the Amtrak train in the US. There was even food on the train like an airplane, there was also a trolley cart with snacks like mangoes and chips.
Boats at Cát Bà Island
We booked tickets from Tam Coc to Cát Bà with our hostel. Cát Bà is a beautiful island right next to Halong Bay, one of the natural wonders of the world. To get there you need to take a boat. On the way there we took a large ferry with pedestrians, bikers, and cars.
The reason we went to Cát Bà Island was to visit Halong Bay. We took a day boat trip, which was great but if you take an overnight trip you can go further into Halong Bay where it is less crowded. Nevertheless, our boat tour was beautiful, filled with tall limestone cliffs, and floating fishing villages.
On the way back from Cat Ba, we booked tickets from Cat Ba to Hanoi with our hostel. This time instead of the ferry we were packed into smaller boats that took us back to the dock and then got on a bus.
Ride-Sharing and Grab
In the beginning of our Vietnam trip Uber was available in Ho Chi Minh City and in Da Nang. In the Spring, Grab bought out Uber, when I asked some drivers what they thought about it, many had come over from Uber and said they preferred the Uber GPS system and app. Grab was available in all the large cities like Da Nang, Hoi An, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City. We found it was the easiest and cheapest option. It was reliable, and the drivers knew where they were going because they had a GPS. We were also able to pay with a credit card if we didn’t have cash. You had the option, depending on the city, to take a normal car, large car, or a motorcycle. We never took a motorcycle Grab but we always saw them around.
We flew around Vietnam a lot. It was very easy and cheap and when you had the option of a 10 hour bus ride or an hour long flight it was very hard to argue the bus. We got a multi-entry visa for Vietnam and flew in and out of Vietnam twice and found that the visa process was very easy.
We flew in and out of three airports, Tan Son Nhat International Airport (Ho Chi Minh Airport), Da Nang International Airport, and the Noi Bai International Airport (Hanoi). We liked the Hanoi airport the best. It was easy to get to, about 30 minute drive from our hostel. It was a huge and modern airport and was the easiest airport security experience ever. From the time we arrived at the airport to getting past security it took us 20 minutes.