Although flights within Vietnam are extremely reasonable, sometimes you only need to travel a few hours to another town and thus need to use some form of land transport. There are a wide variety of buses/coaches etc specifically for this purpose – however, some are much safer, more reliable and comfortable than others! This article will guide you through the variety on offer and enable you to travel by road in the best possible way.
TYPES OF VEHICLES
When taking public transport to travel by road there are four main types – buses, sleeper buses minibuses and “ limousines “
BUSES / COACHES
The buses that travel between different towns are of two main types – the local bus service – which will be a local bus and geared for all travellers and the buses which function more like a coach service and are desired for tourists rather than the local people who live in the area.
The local bus service will be more basic and limited in relation to the starting and concluding point as the focus is on connecting all the places in between. Although cheaper, the journey will typically be much longer as rather than going from place A to place B there will be stops every few minutes- which makes this a quite impractical form of taking a journey of more than an hour.
The bus coach service works on a different principle, with there being very few stops along the route meaning that you can arrive at your destination quickly. There are typically two main types of bus coaches – a smaller bus which accommodates about 20 people and a larger size one which is desired for about 35 people.
The bus coaches are typically basic but acceptable – you will get a whole seat to yourself ( not always the case in other countries in the world ! ) and the luggage is typically stored underneath in the hold which means that there is enough legroom. The bus coach has air conditioning but no seat belts.
Although most of them will advertise that they provide free internet, in reality, the internet service is typically not working ( although of course, you may get lucky ! ) In many of the bus coaches there is a prominent television screen towards the front of the bus which will show movies – typically along with volume – so make sure that you have headphones to block out the noise if necessary!
This is something that I had not previously seen and was most impressed by! A sleeper bus is as per its name and instead of seats offers individual “ pods “. There are two levels of pod – the lower one or the upper one ( which you access through one step only – quite a climb ! ) Each pod consists of an elongated area that is large enough for you to lie down in ( although not completely ) with a side panel ( to ensure that you do not fall out ! ) You are also provided with a blanket so you really can get very comfortable!
When you enter the sleeper bus you are given a plastic bag – you put your shoes in that – and then there is a large basket of flip flops – so you take a pair of flip flops which you then use for your journey!
Sleeper buses are more expensive than the normal bus coach however the level of comfort is much higher so if you are planning a longer journey ( four hours or more ) then the sleeper bus is a much better option! When booking the sleeper bus you are asked which seat you would like and it is important to make sure that you go to the correct pod – there is no change allowed.
As with the bus coach, the internet is provided ( although this is not guaranteed ) and the good thing is that there is no television so although sometimes there may be a speaker and music – at least it is music rather than loud fighting noises as with the bus coach movie option!
Minibuses are usually more populous on the shorter routes ( three hours or less ) They are a fast option to the bus coach although they do have a reputation of being more dangerous due to their zooming around.
The mini-bus typically accommodates twelve people at the back and then two people in the front area next to the driver. Seat belts are typically not provided although you may be lucky and get a seatbelt if you are sitting at the front by the driver.
A minibus is typically slightly more expensive than the bus coach and usually makes it to the destination at a quicker pace. Seats are allocated when you book – it is recommended that you choose the seat near the window – not only do you get to look out but if the bus is busy then they often pull down a fold-up seat in the middle so that instead of having sufficient space as you have the aisle you suddenly have someone squashed in next to you.
A limousine in Vietnam is not actually a long black car but instead a very fancy minibus. There are luxury seats in the main section of the cabin ( reminiscent of large first-class plane seats ) and offer a high class and comfortable journey.
Seats are allocated when you book and there are no fold out seats. In addition to the luxury seats, there are also the two front normal seats which can be booked at a lower price. The limousine is the most expensive option however the difference between the basic and most expensive is minimal and thus if you can afford this option it is highly recommended.
Booking a ticket
There are two main ways of booking these forms of transport – online or in person. If you book online then the price is a little higher as you are paying for the agency fees however it is also more convenient.
The two main booking agencies in Vietnam are – baolau.com and 12go.asia – both of which show you which type of bus is provided and the cost and when you book you choose your seat. You can pay with credit card and then when you go to the bus station you simply show your electronic receipt.
Booking in person is slightly cheaper and it also has the advantage of showing you exactly where the bus will be departing from. The bus departure stations for the large bus coaches are typically a large parking area/bus station and it is relatively easy to find – however for the sleeper bus, minibus or limousine the departure point will be a small shop in a back street and can be quite hard to find – so a first visit to purchase the ticket will help you when you are actually going to catch the bus.
The bus station has a toilet ( which you sometimes have to pay a nominal amount for ) and most of the smaller minibus/limousine departure points have a toilet at the back. Note that there are no toilets aboard any of the bus types – instead, they typically have set stops along the route at allocated pit stops – which consist of a toilet / restaurant / take away food area. The driver will tell you how much time you have at the stop ( make a point to ask as there is no headcount when it is time to leave ) and make sure that you note exactly what your bus looks like ( as there will be various and it is easy to get on the wrong one ! ) and that you make sure you return to the bus on time.
Pick up and drop off
In the cities, there are typically two main pick up types – from the set departure point or a pick up from your hotel. The pick-up option within the city will typically be a more expensive option but allows you the luxury of being picked up and not having to wander the streets with your luggage! This option will be clearly stated when booking and you simply fill in the name of your hotel when booking. The bus will typically phone you ten minutes or so before they arrive – to make sure that you are ready – and although they are not often that late it is usual not to be exactly on time but about at least ten minutes late.
However, out of the city, it is common practice in many places ( especially in locations which are more spread out e.g. Vung Tau / Mui Neh ) for the transport to drop you off at your hotel ( although there is an option of being dropped off at the station ) The conductor on the bus will ask you the name of your hotel and will tell you when you are there.
This is a similar procudere when returning to a city – although you have the option of being picked up at the set departure point you can also be picked up from your hotel. There is no additional charge for this.
Overall, travelling by road is an interesting way to travel. You get to see local life and experience reality with the pit stops and the variety of foods available. It is all rather straightforward and organised and although you will not be leaving or arriving exactly on time it will be close enough – and when travelling time has its own meaning anyhow!