Transportation In Vietnam: DOs & DON’Ts

Planes, Trains & Buses
DO consider flying if you’re going a long way within Vietnam, because any other means
of transport is always much slower and sometimes only slightly cheaper.
DON’T get stuck in the mud: in the rainy season, road and rail are frequently flooded or
even washed away in the regions that are hardest hit.
DO reconfirm any flight to make sure there’s no change.
DON’T arrive at the airport just in time for a domestic flight. Until recently, it was
actually more expensive for foreigners to travel from Hanoi to Hochiminh City by train
than by air. And this is for a journey that still takes a couple of days as opposed to a flight
lasting a mere couple of hours!
If what you are after is seeing plenty of scenery and having time to meet people and chat
with them, DO let the train take the strain. Trains are still very slow, despite reports
almost weekly that they are picking up extra speed. They are also a bit noisy and often
rather Spartan, but a very pleasant and civilized means of transport, with much more
legroom than any kind of bus, and conserve some of the charm of a bygone era. They
offer – for a price – air conditioning, plush seats, comfy sleepers and gourmet food in a
restaurant car.
DON’T opt for the bus if you’re prone to claustrophobia, motion sickness, are pregnant,
suffer from a weak heart or actually expect to have a good time. The Vietnamese are not
renowned for the safety or courtesy of their driving.
DO use local city buses: once you’ve worked out where to catch the ones you want, these
present an excellent (and stunningly cheap) way of getting around. Cities in Vietnam are
investing in new buses and improving the service in an effort to combat traffic
DO keep things on the planes, trains, and your hired vehicles clean. In case there’s
something wrong you may find, call the master right away, or else you may get into
trouble later.

Taxis, xe om, and cyclos

Taxis are fairly cheap and plentiful
DO check that the driver starts the meter, unless you agree to a price before you move off
and then stick to it.
If you use taxis, xe om, or cyclos, it’s best to always make sure you have some small
notes on you. The “sorry, no change” line is often used to try and round up the fare to fit
your bank notes. If you only carry 50,000 VND bills, it might get expensive.
DO make sure the driver has really understood where you want to go rather than just
answering “yes” to everything you say and then driving around aimlessly – with the
meter running – with the hope that inspiration will strike from some unlikely quarter… If
you can’t make yourself understood, show your destination to him in writing.
A xe om is a motorbike taxi, a very popular and practical way of getting around. You’ll
find them on every street corner in the country – or rather they’ll find you and eagerly
offer their services. This is the fastest way to get across town without having your own
bike and is often the best and cheapest way to get to a distant beach, village, site, airport,
etc. DO fix a price before you hop on, politely ignore any attempt to renegotiate the
amount along the way and check that you are indeed where you want to be before you
pay off your xe om. You DON’T need to bring along a helmet cause all xe om drivers
carry one more (besides theirs) for customer.
Cyclos, or bicycle trishaws, offer a quiet, leisurely and eco-friendly way to cover short
distance. Cyclo features three wheels. DO choose Cyclo to enjoy a city tour as it moves
quite slowly.
DON’T take Cyclos late at night, unless you know your way around as this is not a very
safe option.
Car, motorbike and bicycle rental
Cars for rent at comfort are Japanese 4x4s and Russian jeeps for long journeys and
remote regions visiting. But they usually come with a driver. Yet, car is still not the ideal
form of transport for Vietnam’s narrow roads and saturated city streets.
For short stays in Vietnam, your driving license from your own country should be
sufficient, provided it applies to motorcycles. If possible, DO obtain an official
Vietnamese translation of your license.
DO remember that this driving license will usually only be valid for the same period as
your visa! After that, you start the process over again! But experience will make the
process much quicker!
Renting bicycles and motorbikes is cheap and easy. And this service is now offered
almost everywhere in Vietnam. However, DON’T take the risks involved lightly: the
number of foreigners implicated in traffic accidents – from minor spills to major, horrific
trauma – is proportionately high, and this is a country with a soaring accident rate.
DO take the time to rent a bicycle for a few days before you rent a motorbike. This will
allow you to familiarize yourself with local conditions without quite as much speed, risk
and hot metal being involved.
DO check the brakes, lights and wheel bearings on any vehicle before you rent it.
DO keep sharp eye on your rented motorbike to avoid theft.
In Vietnam, horns are heavily used: a motorbike sill runs with no lights or little brakes,
but if the horn doesn’t work, the bike needs fixing. Some young sparks have the amusing
idea of fixing a powerful car horn to a scooter. So DON’T let it get to you. If you start
screaming at people for blowing their horns, they will simply stare at you in amazement.
DO use the horn yourself when you drive, otherwise, it can be dangerous.
Helmets are now used by all motorbike riders as a rule. So DO remember to use one for
DON’T buy a Chinese helmet: it might look as good and be cheaper but it won’t resist a
serious impact.

When walking around in the cities, DO beware of traffic: As crossing the road, follow the
zebra crossing, and wait until the light turns blue. Still, remember to look around before
crossing as motorbike riders sometimes run even at yellow light and at high speed.

Driving license
Technically, a foreigner needs a Vietnamese license to drive anything above 50cc; while
this is rare if ever enforced, your papers won’t be in order if you have an accident,
whether it’s your fault or not.
For short stays in Vietnam, your driving license from your own country should be
sufficient, provided it applies to motorcycles. If possible, DO obtain an official
Vietnamese translation of your license (unless it mentions that you are not entitled to
drive). Official translations can be obtained at the public notary’s offices in most large
towns. It normally only takes a couple of days and a few dollars.
An international driving license is only a recognized translation of your own country’s
license.any official-looking, photo-bearing document can be an asset when negotiating
your way out of a delicate situation with local policemen or authorities.
If you intend to stay in the country for longer periods and wish to do more serious
driving, then you might want to apply for a local driving license. You will need quite a
bit of patience for this and a hefty pile of papers and letters that will include photocopies
of passport, visa, driving license and originals of your driving license official translation
as well as a letter from your sponsoring agency (not needed if you are on a tourist visa).
DO remember that this driving license will usually only be valid for the same period as
your visa. After that, you start the process over again.

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