I was on a time constraint during my Vietnam trip and hence could not experience the public transport system as much as I would have liked to. Despite that, I tried my best to sample the options in front of me. I took flights between major cities but was able to do a couple of overland journeys and use the public buses in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam has a decent rail network that connects most of the popular tourist destinations. The trains fondly called as Reunification Express run North-South from Hanoi to Saigon and vice versa. If time is not an issue, these trains might be a great way to slowly roll through the country and see the countryside.
During my visit in early 2019, I was able to use google maps transit feature in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. The estimated travel times were not very accurate. However, I was able to find the closet bus stop accurately. The people, especially bus conductors were very friendly and would always help me figure out the routes and stops. I had to use cabs and motorbikes in places lacking end point connectivity. I found using Grab cheaper and more convenient than Uber in Vietnam and most of South East Asia.
- From airport in Hanoi
- Hanoi to Ha Long by Bus
- From airport in HMHC
- To visit cu chi tunnels
- Saigon to Phnom Penh
1. Nội Bài airport to Hanoi Old Quarter
There are a couple of different options to travel from the airport to the city. Buses 7, 17 and 90 are the cheaper options and cost 8000VND (~.35USD) for a ride. I chose to ride Bus 86, an express that gets you to the old quarter for 35000VND (~1.5USD). This air-conditioned bus offers free wi-fi and almost everyone on the bus were tourists.
Maps showed me what it thought was the closest stop to my hostel. Upon checking with the bus conductor, she informed a different one and promised to let me know when to get off. The conductor could speak some English, but it is best to show the address of your destination in Vietnamese. Upon reaching our respective stops, the conductor indicated the same to us. She knew exactly where each of us had to get off. Contrary to the estimated time of over an hour, it took less than 30 minutes to get to my stop. A short 10-minute walk brought me to my hostel in the old quarter.
2. Hanoi to Hạ Long by Bus
There are a couple of different options depending on your stay in Hạ Long.
Staying close to Hạ Long Ferry
Your stay can arrange for you to join a day tour group and drop you at the Hạ Long Ferry. Depending on your luggage you can easily walk to your destination.
Bãi Cháy area
Alternatively, if you plan to stay away from the ferry terminal, you can find a bus from Long Biên bus station (close to old quarter) to Bãi Cháy bus station. For those planning to head straight to Ha Long from the Hanoi airport, route 86 stops close to Long Biên bus station. It is very easy to find a taxi or motorbike at the Bãi Cháy bus station.
In case, you take a bus to the other side, taxis and bikes can be easily hailed. The bus ride costs about 8 to 12 USD and the motorbike or taxi cost between 10000 – 80000 VND (~.45 – 3.5 USD) depending on the distance.
3. Tân Sơn Nhất Airport to Ho Chi Minh City Center
Bus routes 109, 49 and 152 service between the airport and city center. I chose to get on the bus 109 which costs either 12000 VND (~.55 USD) or 20000 VND (~.85 USD) depending on the distance. To get to the city center it was 20000 VND. Similar to Hanoi, deciphering my stop was very easy. Maps and the conductor pointed to the same stop. The bus was full, and I could not get a seat. I was able to make room for my backpack and stand comfortably for the 20-minute ride.
4. Visiting Củ Chi Tunnels by Bus
Củ Chi Tunnels are divided into two sites – Ben Douc and Ben Dinh. Ben Douc, the more authentic of the two sites is easily accessible by public buses. You can read more about the tunnels and my experience here.
If you are staying in the city centre, hopping on bus 13 will get you to Bến xe Củ Chi (Củ Chi Bus Stand) which, conveniently is the last stop. This ride costs only 10000VND (~.45 USD). Interestingly, I was not the only adventurous soul on the bus. I met a few other tourists who were also trying to get to Ben Douc. At the bus stand, the bus conductor helped us find the bus 79 which heads to Ben Douc. Upon reaching the site entrance, the driver stopped the bus and showed us the site entrance. Bus 79 costs only 6000VND (~ .28USD).
Self-exploration caused me to exit from a different gate as my fellow bus tourists. Back on the road, there is no indication of a bus stop. I hovered about and decided to just wait. Upon spotting the bus, I just stuck my hand out and thankfully the bus 79 stopped for me. I got reunited with my fellow travellers, who boarded the bus at a previous stop. Having already experienced the bus stand, we were easily able to spot bus 13 and get on board. Interestingly, the same conductor as the morning was on it and started chatting with us.
Despite the online estimated journey time, it took only 2 hours to get to the site from my hostel and another 2 to get back. The whole journey cost only 32000 VND or ~1.45 USD. Traveling by bus, I was able to experience not just the original tunnels but also the current Vietnamese way of life. Bus route 79 goes through an enjoyable rural landscape.
5. Saigon to Phnom Penh
From the capital of Vietnam I was headed to the capital of Cambodia – Phnom Penh. The friendly border between these two countries and the short distance between the capitals encouraged me to travel by land instead of flying. Anyone who has crossed borders by land, will agree about the convenience of immigration on land versus air. The best thing for me – carry as much water and milk as I want! The bus goes through the Moc Bai-Bavet road crossing, which accepts e-Visas on both sides. All you need to cross the border here are your passport and a copy of each required e-Visa.
The travellers that I met prior to reaching HCMC who had already crossed the border talked about their positive experience with both Giant Ibis and Mekong Express. I booked myself a ticket on Giant Ibis a couple of days before my departure. Both the Giant Ibis and Mekong Express buses start from the same area and did not offer pickup.
The whole journey along with immigration took about 7 hours. Barring the minor hitch before the bus started and the visa processing fees, it was a very pleasant experience. You can read more about my experience here.
Traveled: Mar 2019