1. HOW TO BOOK LOCAL BUSES AND TRAINS
Easily the cheapest (and slowest and most sustainable way) of traveling Vietnam is via its local buses and trains. When I first went, we took all sleeper trains! If you want to make sure you have a spot, use booking sites like Baolau or Bookaway. Otherwise, you can buy when showing up at the bus or train station. I personally don’t recommend showing up at the bus stations to buy a ticket because they’re absolutely bonkers. Like a million people yelling at you at once. Even I got overwhelmed!
2. SLEEPER TRAINS VS SLE EPER BUSES
So if you’re not familiar with these… interesting forms of transport, they’re essentially buses or trains built to sleep on! For buses, you don’t have seats but you have 3 rows of essentially beds. Everyone takes their shoes off before they got on board. It’s actually not too bad unless you’re on a mountain getting swung about. Sleeper trains are split between hard sleepers, soft sleepers, soft seaters, and hard seaters. When we took a soft sleeper train from Da Nang to Ha Noi, it was 4 beds to one room.
Sleeper buses are very hit or miss, and if you have trouble sleeping these will be absolute hell. The trains are much steadier. I’ve done the bus twice from HCMC – Vinh Long and Ha Noi – Mu Cang Chai. The south was fine because it’s a relatively flat road but Ha Noi – Mu Cang Chai was probably the most miserable 8 hours of my life. For 7 1/2 hours you’re on mountainous road and just getting swung about!
3. GRAB IS KING WITHIN CITIES
The way everyone gets around if they don’t have their own motorbikes is via Grab (or one of the other iterations of it). Grab is SE Asia’s Uber or Lyft, and it’s also used for food delivery. You can book either a motorbike or a car. The car is safer, of course, but the motorbike is so much faster. If you’re really concerned about safety, I would recommend buying your own helmet that goes all the way around your face and over your ears. The grab helmets are pretty useless if you get into a crash.
4. FLYING IS SUPER EASY IN VIETNAM
Honestly, the best and easiest way to get around Vietnam is flying. It’s usually not much pricier than the trains and it’s so much faster. For airports, I also recommend booking a driver or Grab car because motorbikes usually can’t drop you off at the entrance. They have a designated spot and it’s a pain in the ass to get from that spot to the departure area.
Pro Tip: Leave off going to the smaller airports until like 30-45 minutes before. Usually they don’t even let you check in until then and there isn’t that much to eat or drink.