Insider's tips on how to get around Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City is famous for its swarming traffic. Pictures: Ronan O’Connell

Ronan O'Connell shares insights on navigating this captivating country.

The most obvious way to get around Vietnam is probably the one you will least want to try. The noise of this mode of transport is one of the things which will stick with you when you look back on your trip to Vietnam — the omnipresent buzz of a hive of motorcycles. 

Two-wheeled vehicles dominate the streets of Vietnam. From the gleaming downtown of Ho Chi Minh City, to the historic back alleys of Hanoi, the beachside neighbourhoods of Da Nang and the calm countryside, motorbikes are the preferred means of getting from here to there.

Vietnam’s frenetic and unpredictable traffic means that, for all but experienced riders, motorbikes a very dangerous option. Unless, that is, you want to jump in an old-school sidecar and enjoy one of the quirky sidecar tours of Ho Chi Minh City. 

Australian tourists are technically permitted to drive cars in Vietnam, provided they have an international driver’s permit, but there are grey areas in regards to insurance, which means most car hire companies will reject you. 

It is far easier to just catch taxis for single journeys within cities or towns, with the cost of such trips being miniscule in comparison to Australian taxi fares. 

By downloading the Grab app on your phone, you can, with the press of a few buttons, have a taxi or a private car meet you within minutes.

The three other main modes of transport in Vietnam, particularly for longer trips, are plane, bus and train. The first is, of course, the quickest, the second one is the most adventurous and the latter option is the most fun. 

Vietnam is now blessed with a comprehensive domestic air-travel system, which allows you to fly between its main cities for as little as $25 one way. To get to the country’s more out-of-the-way places, sometimes hopping on a local bus can be the only option.

But it is highly advisable to try to include a train trip into your schedule for Vietnam. 

Because it is such a long, narrow country, with all of its biggest cities lined up on or close to the coast, Vietnam was an easy place to construct a rail system. 

The Reunification Express starts at Ho Chi Minh City in the deep south and travels more than 1700km to Hanoi in the far north. 

In between, it pierces seemingly endless gorgeous scenery and stops at the cities of Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, Hue and Danang. 

This trip takes about 32 hours. It is one of Asia’s most epic rail journeys. 

If you don’t have time to complete this whole journey, then pick out one single section of it, or take the spectacular Victoria Express train, which runs from Hanoi to Lao Cai.


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