More than three weeks ago I returned from my Adventure in Vietnam, 17 days along the country from south to north: Ho Chi Minh (Saigón), Hué, Hoi An, Hanoi, Dong Van and surrounding and Cat Ba Island. From my planning and experience I’ve collected some important advice and useful details. If you are organizing a trip to Vietnam you should read this tips. In them, I indicate things describe topics like which taxis are reliable, how to travel by motorbike or public bus, staying in a homestay with ethnic minorities… and information and curiosities about places I’ve visited. To sum up, I’ll tell you details which are good to know 😉.
➽ Public buses in Hanoi.
➽ Public buses in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon).
➽ Reliable taxi companies.
➽ Renting a motorbike.
➽ Uber en Vietnam.
➽ Domestic flights or international from Vietnam.
➽ Plug adapter.
➽ How to cross the street!
➽ Homestay with ethnic minorities.
➽ Transport between Hanoi-Cat Ba.
➽ Tips if you visit Cat Ba.
➽ Tips if you visit Hué.
Most of Hanoi can be visited on foot but if you want to go to further places from the old quarter you can use the public transport. One single ticket costs (currently) between 5000 and 7000 VND, that means about 20/30 euro cents, they’ve air conditioner and are very frequent. The big advantage is that you won’t worry about taxis taking a detour or trying to cheat you. The only disadvantage is that you need to know your GPS location because the bus doesn’t stop in front of places, but that has an easy solution: downloading an offline mobile map application like OsmAnd or MAPS.ME. To know when you should get off the bus you can use the app or ask to the ticket agent (in this case you should have a note with the name of the place in vietnamese).
Which bus number should I take? and Where? You can use Google Maps although there are some stops wrongly placed so I suggest you to check on the official site: Hanoi Transport Management and Operation Center. Here you can see the bus routes and stops (select the line from the options and the routes will appear). There is also a bus map.
Warning: be careful with the line 9. It’s a circular line with two different routes. Keep in mind this, make sure you choose the right direction.
My Experience: we used the public bus several times in Hanoi. The line 14 took us to Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (in Vietnamese: Bảo tàng Dân tộc học Việt Nam). On the other side of the road, we took the line 38 to the Temple of Literature (in Vietnamese: Văn Mieu – Quoc Tử Giám) and after that, we walked to Hoa Lo Prison. Although we had the aforementioned mobile app, we asked to the ticket agent and he let us know when the stop was near.
Same as before, the price is around 7000 VND, they have an air conditioner and are very frequent. If you want you can get a bus map in the stop close to the Ben Thanh market. The map is free but not handy because it’s very big. You search on Google Maps which line you need and after check it on the Ho Chi Minh city Management and Operation Center for Public Transport official website. All the lines appear here, when you select one of them the path, the timetable, etc. are displayed. And in this section you can indicate the from/to addresses and the maximum number of buses you want to take.
My Experience: we used the lines 18 and 10 to go to The Jade Emperor Pagoda (in Vietnamese: Ngọc Hoàng Điện) and the Chinatown/Bình Tây Market (in Vietnamese: Chợ Bình Tây) respectively. In both cases, we had to walk to get to the final destination so you should take one of the mobile applications to know your location. Besides, we tried to take the bus 152 from the airport to city center but, after a bad advice (actually he lied to us telling that the bus departs hourly), we took a shuttle bus for 20000 VND (and then when we seated we saw the bus 152). If you try to take it, you keep in mind that the stop is in front of the domestic terminal, about 600m from the international terminal. There isn’t any sign which indicates the stop.
Not all the taxis are going to cheat you or try to overcharge you but if you want peace of mind the next companies were recommended us by the hotels:
- Mai Linh: company present in all the country. The taxis are green. Be careful because in Hanoi there are others which are green as well.
- Vinasun: company present in all the country. The taxis are white with two stripes, one red and one green.
- Vang: company which they recommended us for Hué.
- Taxi Group: company present in several cities, one of them: Hanoi.
- Other companies recommended by Lonely Planet: Hanoi Taxi, Thanh Nga Taxi, Van Xuan, Hoi An Taxi.
My Experience: we didn’t have any problem with the companies mentioned before but we had bad luck once when they made us to take a taxi out-list. We got out of the Danang Airport and we looked for a Mai Linh taxi. When we finally saw the taxi a man came and said us: not this taxi, take this other one. Consequences: we paid 30000 VND more because of the detour, the taxi driver tried to give us back less money (10000 VND less) and he pointed at another hotel like if it was ours. The only thing which we couldn’t resolve was the detour… Beware of taxis-fraud, a very common practice is to take you to a hotel that is not yours. There are hotels with the same names on the same street, check if it is your hotel before entering.
When thinking about renting a motorbike several questions arise Do I need a special driving licence? Do I need to wear a helmet? Is this transport safe? How much is the renting? You can read in many blogs that you don’t need anything to rent a motorbike because the Vietnamese people won’t ask you for licence or anything else. It is truth but is it legal? The answer is no, it’s not. It isn’t legal to drive a motorbike without an international driving licence (or a local driving license, it depends on your country so continue reading).
The consequences of driving illegally are several (I found this information on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain, since I’m Spanish):
– The tourist can be fined or arrested and if an accident happens, the tourist may be involved in complex negotiations about economic compensations.
– It is obligatory to wear a helmet, have a driving licence and insurance. If you don’t obey the law the police may take your passport away and after that they can arrest and fine you.
After searching more information in English about the required driving licence found this page which says:
|Little Bikes are Simple
No license is necessary for motorcycles under 50cc, or electric bikes (e.g. Australian Embassy). You may, however, struggle to find such a bike for rental; electric bikes might be possible to get hold of in the big cities, but you’re not going to be going on a road trip on one.
The Law on Bigger Bikes
For bigger bikes, or cars, it’s more complicated.
Vietnam is a signatory to The Vienna Convention On Road Traffic (1968). It is also a signatory to the 1949 Geneva Convention, but that doesn’t seem to matter here (which is important later).
– You have an International Driving Permit,
– Your license is valid for motorcycles in your own country
– Your license is from a Signatory to the Vienna Convention,
then according to this circular from the Vietnamese Ministry of Transport, you may use it from 1 October 2015. (The signed original is here, but it’s harder to translate.)The Google Translation of Section 11 says:
– Article 11. Using the international driving permit from the countries participating in the Vienna Convention issued in Vietnam
1.Persons participating country IDP by the Vienna Convention upon transport control motor road on the territory of Vietnam must carry the IDP and national driving licenses are issued in accordance with vehicle control class ; must comply with the road traffic legislation of Vietnam.
2.Persons IDP law violated road traffic Vietnam which disenfranchised use IDP duration, the duration is not too time deprived driver is allowed to reside in the territory of Vietnam.
It’s not perfect – “issued in” should be “in” – this is clear from the context of Article 10, which tells you that IDPs issued in Vietnam are not valid here; Bing Translate also agrees with my correction. I’ll hopefully be able to get someone local to confirm this for me as well or get a human translation.
Why the Conflicting Advice? Many countries are not signatories to the Vienna Convention – Australia, the US and Canada are notable examples, and this is presumably why their travel advice tells you that you need a local license. According to the circular, your license is not valid. Only licenses issued by participants in the Vienna Convention are valid, so yours are not.
European countries tend to be signatories, and this is why the UK, France and Germany for example will tell you that an IDP is accepted. The EU countries negotiated for this reform, and are happy with the situation.
I think it is the right information for everyone and as you have read the motorcycles under 50cc don’t need licence but I’m not sure if these motorbikes are usually rented, we only rented 125cc.
About security on road, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh are the more dangerous because of the many vehicles, although I saw tourists by motorbike. However cities as Hué, Hoi An and Cat Ba are quieter and the best way to go all over is by motorbike. Only the center of Hué is a little chaotic but it has nothing to do with the big cities. Important: you should honk the horn when you overtake a car or if there are people walking on the road, it’s used to warn. Renting a motorbike to travel around northern mountains in Vietnam is very common, in this case you should honk the horn before a curve without visibility.
The price is between 5-10$ a day and you’ll pay the fuel (around 40000 VND is enough to fill the tank).
My Experience: in our case, we’re from Spain so we only need an international driving licence, with this licence we can drive motorbikes up to 125cc. To get the international licence we only needed: the driving licence, a photo and 20 euro. The obtained licence is valid for a year. We rented motorcycles in Hué and Cat Ba Island. We didn’t have any problem with the traffic and quickly we got used to honk. They didn’t ask for a licence and we paid 7$ in Hué (in Cat Ba the motorbike was included in our accommodation). Totally recommended experience.
Yes, Uber is everywhere. The disadvantage is that you need a data connexion. Two options: either you’ve a SIM with mobile data or you use the nearest WiFi (hotel, airport, restaurants). The big advantage is that you know how much you’ll pay without cheats neither negotiation. It’s very useful for long distances and you can save half price compared with a taxi.
Another application which is used in Vietnam is: Grab. You can order a car or motorbike with a driver. We saw several motorbikes, they wear a green jacket and helmet, both with the company logo.
My Experience: we used Uber two times. First time from the Hanoi airport to My Dinh bus station and second time from there to Hanoi’s old quarter. The second time it was early morning, about 3 am, and the guy who picked us up seemed drunk or asleep. We didn’t feel fear because the streets were empty but we took more time to arrive.
I don’t know why but the cancellation, modification and big delays of flights are very common in Vietnam, domestic flights as well as international like our flights between Vietnam and Cambodia. In fact, several websites are warning about this. They suggest us to keep in mind the problem and do not stopover with little time.
I’ve read many cases on the Internet. Some people received an email the same morning of their flight which said that the flight has been modified. Others have waited hours because of delays.
My Experience: we reserved all the flights one month in advance, all of them with the most recommended company: Vietnam Airlines. Every two or three days I checked the flight status on the website to see if something was changed. Effectively, two weeks before the first flight (Ho Chi Minh – Cambodia and Cambodia – Danang) the next message appeared on the status: ‘Unconfirmed Flight. At least one of the flights you have booked is not confirmed. Please contact us to check which options are available to you.’. We got in touch with them and they didn’t tell us anything, only that the flight was OK. We verified again the status on the website and the message had been removed. Few days before flying to Cambodia I checked again the status and the same previous message appeared, together with an extra one (the second message said something like ‘one of the flights don’t fly anymore’). We got in touch again. They rescheduled both flights. This modification didn’t fit in our planning (they changed the days!) so we cancelled both (paying 20 euro more or less…) and we reserved with Cambodia Angkor Air. We had another flight with Vietnam Airlines (Danang – Hanoi). It appeared with the message ‘Unconfirmed Flight…’ but, after we asked about the problem, the message disappeared although my tranquility didn’t return until we took the flight.
The worst thing is that they don’t usually send an email to notify about the changes and I suppose when they notify is too late and you can’t change it by yourself. For all this, I suggest you to check every few days the flight status until the day before the flight and to avoid having another transport immediately after the arriving time.
It depends on the type of plug in your country. Vietnam uses 220V, 50Hz with sockets and plugs Type A, Type D and Type C (Type F is also OK). In Spain we used type C and F and we don’t need an adapter.
My Experience: I carried one plug adapter and I gave him a nice trip around Vietnam 😂.
This is a big adventure, especially in cities as Ho Chi Minh(Saigon) and Hanoi where the traffic is scary. You don’t wait for the vehicles to stop before you cross. They don’t stop unless there is a traffic light, in this case they stop except the motorbikes which are going to turn to the right (or which decide that the traffic light is optional…). Then how do you cross the street? As a famous Latina song says pasito a pasito y despacito that means in English step by step and slowly, the motorbikes will avoid you. The zebra crossings are decoration, there they don’t stop either. You can watch a video to learn how to do it, we recorded it before crossing (this street was the worst, a lot of vehicles during peak hour): How to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh – Vietnam.
My Experience: we’re still alive and we didn’t cause any accident while we were crossing 😆. Go holding hands and synchronize steps are the tips I can tell you. Good luck!
All travellers who visit the northern mountains of Vietnam stay overnight with one of these families. You’ll sleep in a typical house of an ethnic minority and you’ll do trekking to get to the house because it’s normally located in the middle of the mountains, in small villages. I think that everybody knows how these people live. Their main resource is the land and some of them speak their own language. For me it was like sixty years ago living in a village in Spain. For you not to be disappointed I’ll tell you some details and I’ll show you pictures of when we stayed with a Hmong family. With this short summary I only want you to know what to expect, what stuff is necessary and which things are useless to carry.
– Men and women sleep in different rooms, they can’t sleep together.
– The bed was a board with a blanket so you shouldn’t expect to sleep too much. Besides if the family have animals you’ll hear them all the night (cows with cowbells, roosters, dogs, birds…).
– There was electricity: a light bulb between the living room and the kitchen. You’ll need your phone or a flashlight if you want to see something in your room.
– You won’t take a shower. You can take with you a change of underclothes in case you get wet but you’ll not wash yourself. At least we couldn’t do it. In fact, we didn’t brush our teeth.
– You won’t need a pyjama. The guide and we slept with the same clothes that we wore during the trekking.
– You won’t charge the battery of your phone. There is electricity but I didn’t see sockets and if there is any you shouldn’t consume their resources.
– You should take a raincoat. We got wet a little during the route but we dried when we arrived to the house, with a fire.
– The best food that you’ll try in Vietnam will be here, in this house! You should be ready for the Happy Water, I’m not going to explain it, you need to live it! 😜
– And the toilet? The toilet surprised me, it was enormous! you’ve all the countryside to pee. For the ‘other things’ there was a room outside the house with a hole in the floor. Basically it was a room with 3 walls without roof and a hole in the land. The best part: the views when you stand up, it was a beautiful place to defecate 😍. Important: in the house there was toilet paper.
It isn’t sound like something nice but we enjoyed the experience (except my partner the part of not being able to sleep). The time with the family was fun and even we taught them the typical spanish toast: ‘arriba, abajo, al centro y pa’ dentro’ (which means in english: ‘up, down, to the center and inside’) and the food was very tasty.
About supermarkets I just tell you one curiosity: if the shop assistant doesn’t have enough change it’s possible he/she gives you a candy instead of 1000 VND.
The traveller knows that every time we withdraw money from an ATM the Mr. Commission will keep some of it so it’s advisable to take a lot of money out at once. For this reason, it is good to know that some ATMs have a limit of 2 million dong, you can’t take more. It doesn’t happen always, so if you want more money, try another ATM. Citibank allows until 8 million dong or even more.
Recently I’ve read that Agribank ATMs don’t have a commission. It was truth some years ago but currently, the commission could be around 22000 VND as some forums say. If this is so this ATM would have the cheapest commission.
My Experience: we used the next ATMs: TechcomBank, VIB and Citibank. Their commissions were 66000, 50000 and 60000 VND respectively.
The easiest way to get to Hanoi from Cat Ba or vice versa is to buy a combination ticket: bus + boat + bus. There are two recommended companies: Hoang Long and Good Morning Cat Ba. If you compare both companies, the first is cheaper but the second has an advantage: they pick you up from your hotel. We bought the ticket in advance for the route Hanoi to Cat Ba, with Good Morning. We booked the return through the hotel in Cat Ba for 13$ pp. The price was the interesting part because the return was with Good Morning as well but for less money, 5$ pp less. You keep in mind this and don’t book the return when you’re on the one-way bus (when we were going to the island on the bus some people bought the return ticket) so you can wait and buy the ticket in your accommodation!
Some tips and information if you visit:
- Hospital Cave. The ticket can be bought in the bar/shop in front of the entrance, on the other side of the road. In the entrance, there were two guys who offer themselves as guides. The remuneration is up to you, you decide how much to pay him. Visiting this cave without a guide doesn’t have any sense, you only see empty cement rooms. The guide will tell you for what the rooms were used, how the Vietnamese got water, the different exits, etc.
- Cannon Fort. The ascent to the Fort is a long way up the hill which is better to do by motorbike 😉. The views are beautiful, especially during the sunset. The Fort is very interesting, you should go through every hideout, inside the U tunnel and every corridor!
- Lonely/abandoned beach. If you look for Cat Ba’ beaches on the internet you’ll find 3 but there is another not so close to the center where some Vietnamese go to walk during the afternoon. This is its location, on the way you’ll cross big derelict roads and some half-built houses. The great advantage is that there is no one but the beach isn’t maintained so you’ll see rubbish on the sand.
- Monkey Island. If you book a tour along the Lan Ha Bay you will probably stop by this island. There is a resort with a small viewpoint and on the other side one beach where your boat will stop. In this area, there are a bar, toilets and the access to a dangerous viewpoint. You’ll need sport shoes, no flip flops either sandal. You should be careful during the climb, the last part is the worst because it becomes climbing over sharp rocks. Amazing views are worth the effort though.
- Imperial Citadel ticket + Mausoleums tickets. There is a combination ticket to visit the citadel and several tombs (only valid the same day). The ticket is bought at the Citadel’ tickets office. You should ask for this ticket, they won’t offer you by default. On the official website, you can check the prices and which tombs are included.
- Train from Danang to Hué. This part of the railway is well-known because of the sea and cliff views. If you don’t have a seat next to the window (on the right side of the train if you go from Danang to Hué), you’ll have to go between the coaches to see something. On the Official Website of Vietnam’ Trains, you can check the timetables and the kind of coach (with air conditioner, sleeping coach, hard seat…). The payment system doesn’t work with foreign cards (although you can try it). You can ask your hotel to buy the tickets in your place (obviously it’ll have a commission, I paid 10000 VND more per ticket). On other websites, this ticket cost more than double and you can’t choose the seat well (like on 12go.asia).
- Gia Long Tomb. To get there you should cross a metal bridge, at the end of it, you may run into a guy who wants money. He won’t allow you to go on if you don’t pay. He asks for 20000 VND, we gave him 10000 VND (after an argument through signals).
My Experience: we didn’t buy the combination ticket because it didn’t suit us well but something curious happened to us. When we arrived at the Minh Mang Tomb there were women who were selling the combination ticket half used, so you could use it to see this tomb. We examined them (date and appearance with the other tickets we had) and we decided to buy them, obviously, we bargained. Finally, we save 70000 VND. The women said that we could pay after the visit. She didn’t have any problem if we paid later. When we were inside the mausoleum we’re wondering how a big group had visited the Citadel and one tomb before 11 am (to see the Citadel you need 4 hours at least). It didn’t fit in us but it didn’t matter.
I hope these tips are useful in your adventure and if you have some questions please write a comment! 😀