Given Vietnam’s sliver-like shape, travelling from one major city to the next can be a time consuming affair. There is no question that travel by air is the fastest and most convenient means of getting around for those who don’t mind the extra expense. Vietnam Airlines offers the greatest coverage, with service to 15 cities. Vasco Airlines and Pacific Airlines only operate service to a few regional capitals but offer the most affordable fares.
The most comfortable mode of land-based travel is by train. The primary railway artery in the country travels 1,000 miles between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The Reunification Express (an icon of national unity named following the end of the Vietnamese-American War) operates a two-week journey along this stretch of railway, stopping in various towns across the countryside. Total travel time is 30 hours.
Less practical as a means of outright transportation, scenic boat trips are offered in many parts of the country. These are especially popular in the Mekong Delta region and to a lesser extent in Nha Trang and Hue. It is also possible to charter two- or three-day tours of the karst limestone formations in Ha Long Bay.
Once you are based in a particular city in Vietnam, there are several viable means of getting around town. Once ubiquitous, bicycle rickshaws (cyclo) are now most common in smaller, provincial cities. Slower and more expensive than their petrol-powered counterparts, cyclo can be incorporated into a pleasant sightseeing tour of compact towns. Be sure to negotiate the price ahead of time.
Motorcycle taxis (xe ôm) offer an efficient means of transportation. Again, tourists are likely to be quoted an inflated price, so a bit of polite negotiation is essential before boarding. It is also possible to hire a motorbike from travel agencies across the country.
Metered taxis are on hand in mid- to large-sized cities. MaiLinh taxis, the most trustworthy line of vehicles, are identified by their green logo. Don’t necessarily rely on the meter as unscrupulous drivers have been known to employ overzealous meters displaying inflated prices. As with other modes of transport, this situation can be averted by pre-negotiating a price and then sticking to the agreement.
Hire cars are not a viable means of transportation as international drivers’ licenses are not recognized.