Getting there and away
Dong Ha is on the main north-south railway line between Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) and Hanoi, but many of the express trains do not stop here.
The Market Trains
These trains are meant for locals, a lot of whom use them to transport goods to and from various markets along the route -- thus the name. While they are cheaper than the bus, they are a lot slower, and often have to sit and wait for the express trains to go by. Tourists are usually steered away from these trains, but if you've got the time, we can definitely recommend you give one a try -- after being touted and hawked to death on the tourist trail, you'll be spending quality time with actual Vietnamese people -- you may experience for the first time things like warmth, friendliness, and genuine curiosity -- and that's an experience no one should miss out on in Vietnam.
Market trains include a 07:55 train to Dong Hoi (3 hours, 25,000 dong), 15:46 to Hue (3 hours, 10,000 dong), 08:34 to Vinh (8 hours, also stops in Dong Hoi). A number of other local stops are available.
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Regular buses leave from the Phiai Bac station 5 km outside Hue, from 05:00 to 18:00 (20,000 dong, 1 1/2 hours). See our Hue Transport section for more info.
The Southern Bus Station: 68 Le Duan (Highway 1) at the junction of Le Van Huu. T: (053) 851 488, 852 183
Northern Bus Station: Two km north of Dong Ha on Highway 1. T: (053) 524 330
Sepon Travel: 189 Le Duan, Dong Ha. T: (053) 855 288-289, (0905) 140 600. F: (053) 552 688. vusepon @ yahoo.com
Transport out of Dong Ha is very dodgy for foreigners. All the local buses are controlled by the black market. The ticket sellers get in trouble with the xe om mafia if they sell a ticket directly to a foreigner, so they may wave you off, tell you the buses are full, and keep you waiting for hours. Basically they are trying to force you to buy your ticket on the bus where you can be overcharged. One way to avoid the grift is to flag down a passing bus rather than taking a bus from the station, and know what the fare is ahead of time.
This does not apply to legitimate through-buses to Laos, which are controlled by a private company, or Hanoi-bound buses that originate in Hue. But it does apply to Saigon-bound buses originating in Dong Ha.
But, in any case, these buses are painfully slow and uncomfortable, so if you value your sanity, you'll head to Hue and book a bus to Saigon from there. If you're headed north, you can hitch a ride on an Open Tour bus, which can drop you off at anywhere you're likely to be headed between Dong Ha and Hanoi. You can book tickets for these buses in Dong Ha at several restaurants and guest houses in town. Try Sepon Travel, catycorner to the Southern Bus station. Tickets to Hanoi cost 110,000 VND, originate in Hue, and pick up in Dong Ha at about 18:30 or 19:00 every evening. They arrive in Hanoi at about 06:00.
The other option is to head to Dong Hoi first and catch your northern departure from there.
Mafia buses to Hue and Lao Bao leave every ten minutes, and any bus heading north can take you to Dong Hoi, and should charge 30,000 VND.
Here are the rates posted in the ticket office, so you'll know how much you're overpaying.
Dac Lac (Da Lat): costs 138,000 to travel 850km.
Gia Lai (Pleiku): costs 145,000 to travel 650km.
Ho Chi Minh City: costs 177,000 to travel 1,140km.
Hue: costs 28,000 to travel 77km.
Khe Sanh: costs 15,000 to travel 65km.
Lao Bao: costs 30,000 to travel 85km.
Quang Ngai: costs 48,000 to travel 298km.
Through Tickets to Laos
Dong Ha is the only town in Vietnam which has approval from the Vietnamese government to offer international bus tickets to cities in Laos. If you buy a ticket elsewhere, say in Hue, you'll be changing buses here anyway.
If you're coming from Hue, expect to be put on a DMZ tour bus, and get off when it arrives in Hue in the morning. Don't worry about missing the connection: they'll be waiting for you in Dong Ha. Just don't lose the receipt you're given in Hue -- you'll need it.
While respectable companies will transfer you to the legitimate through bus to Savannakhet, others will put you on a crowded 12-passenger van and make you change transport again at the border, at which point things get confusing and people often end up having to repay for the last portion of their ticket.
The tickets offered at Sepon Travel in Dong Ha are on the legitimate through-bus. In Hue, Mandarin Cafe and Sinh Cafe will also give you the real deal.
Buses leave Dong Ha at 08:00, and arrive in Savannakhet at about 16:00 (US$12). Buses leave every other day on odd numbered days, and no buses leave on the 31st of any given month.
There are two ways to tell if you're getting the bum steer. If you're departing on an even numbered day, it's not legit. Also, the scammers usually only charge US$11 or $12 from Hue to Savannakhet, and the genuine tickets cost US$14 from Hue. You should have no troubles with the companies we recommend, but if you do, let us know.
If you can't wait for the next international bus, you can buy a Mafia bus ticket to the border and sort out the rest of your Lao journey from there. When you get to the border, talk to someone at the Vietnamese customs counter and they should be able to hook you up. Otherwise, you're at the mercy of the motor-taxi guys. - Savannakhet is about 250km from Lao Bao, and the bus should cost around 70,000 kip or 115,000 VND.
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You'll get plenty of offers to take a xe om ride in Dong Ha, though unless you're headed out on a tour, there isn't much of anywhere to go. Motorbikes can be rented at Sepon Travel for US$10 per day.
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