Exploring Vietnam Within Any Budget – A Guide By Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet's travel magazine recently praised a Vietnam travel itinerary for being easy to plan and workable for any budget.

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When it comes to traversing the lush, green countryside of Vietnam, tourists have several options for transportation. The Reunification Express train line, which runs from Hanoi to HCMC, offers scenic views and stops along the Vietnamese coast. Travelers can also choose to explore by local bus or by motorcycle, allowing them to visit off-the-beaten-path destinations. Another immersive way to experience Vietnam is by boat, following the country’s meandering rivers and venturing out to offshore islands, as recommended by Lonely Planet.

Getting to Vietnam is easily done via trains and buses from China, with convenient connections from Nanning to Hanoi and from Kunming to Hanoi through Lao Cai. International buses also operate daily routes from Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville in Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), as well as from Savannakhet in Laos to Hue.

Convenient Buses in Vietnam

Bus travel in Vietnam ranges from convenient and comfortable when traveling between major cities, to slow and cramped when traveling in less-touristed areas. However, bus travel is generally affordable. In popular tourist spots like Hanoi and HCMC, travelers will come across “Open Tour” or “Open Ticket” buses, which offer flexible routes between major cities, allowing passengers to hop on and off at any major city along the way. While slightly pricier than ordinary buses, these services provide the convenience of centrally-located start and stop points.

Lonely Planet: Getting Around Vietnam Is Easy Whatever Your Budget
Long-distance deluxe sleeper buses come with seats that convert to beds in Vietnam. Photo: Shutterstock / Robert Podlaski

Regular bus services operate from dedicated bus stations, with some towns having multiple stations serving different destinations. It’s important for travelers to check which station they need to go to. These stations usually have ticket offices displaying prices and departure times. It’s advisable to buy tickets a day in advance to secure a seat.

Moving Around on Motorbikes

Riding a motorcycle from Hanoi to HCMC is a dream for many experienced bikers. There is a thriving industry that caters to travelers attempting this journey, but it’s not recommended for novice riders due to local driving conditions. It’s also important to thoroughly check the condition of motorcycles being rented or purchased from hostels and hotels, as some may be in poor condition.

Lonely Planet: Getting Around Vietnam Is Easy Whatever Your Budget
Motorcycles are a popular mode of transport in Vietnam © lichtbildfotograf / Getty Images

Exploring the mountainous northwest region of Vietnam requires a more powerful motorcycle for tackling steep inclines and potholes. Along the coast and in tourist hubs, it’s easy to rent low-powered scooters or motorcycles from cafes, hotels, and travel agencies for local exploration, sometimes at a daily rate as low as US$5.

Rental agreements for motorcycles in Vietnam are often informal, and travelers may be required to leave their passport as security. It’s advisable to seek rental firms that offer insurance and provide a formal rental agreement. Wearing a motorcycle helmet is a legal requirement. Alternatively, some local riders offer chauffeur services on two wheels for around US$30 per day.

Exploring Vietnam’s Backroads on Bicycle

Lonely Planet: Getting Around Vietnam Is Easy Whatever Your Budget
Cyclists, drivers, moped-riders and pedestrians share the road in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Sean Hsu / Shutterstock

Cycling can be a delightful way to get around Vietnam, especially on quiet rural roads away from the crowded highways. Much of the country’s terrain is flat, and foreign cyclists are often warmly welcomed by locals. Bike workshops can be easily found in case of a flat tire or mechanical issue.

Taking Vietnam’s Most Famous Train Between HCMC and Hanoi

If travelers want to visit both Hanoi and HCMC, as well as the various sights in the central part of Vietnam, there is no better way to explore than by train. The country’s main railway line runs along the coast between these two bustling cities, with stops at numerous destinations along the way.

Lonely Planet: Getting Around Vietnam Is Easy Whatever Your Budget
Vietnam’s most famous train line runs along most of the coast. Photo: Matt Munro / Lonely Planet

In addition to the Hanoi to HCMC route, trains also travel from Hanoi to Haiphong for excursions in and around Halong Bay, as well as from Hanoi to Lao Cai, which is a one-hour drive from Sapa, Vietnam’s busiest trekking hub. For travelers heading to China, there are train services connecting Hanoi to Kunming via Lao Cai, and Nanning via the border town of Lang Son, with onward connections to Beijing.

Charlotte Pho