Hi there. I just discovered Travelfish within the past half hour and I already get the feeling that it's going to be a real boon in planning a trip to Vietnam. Can't wait!
But before I get started, I have a very basic, first-time traveler question: How practical is traveling solo in Vietnam--from north to south or vice versa--without booking a flight, joining a tour, or renting a car? My only other experience traveling in Asia was in Japan, where the transportation infrastructure is so finely tuned that you can almost get around in your sleep. I doubt I'll have that easy a go in Vietnam, but can I still rely on buses, trains, and the rare cab and NOT wind up stuck within a ten-mile radius of wherever I touch down?
Any advice would come much obliged! :)
#1 KimDecker has been a member since 2/9/2007. Posts: 3
Welcome to Travelfish Kim,
Getting around Vn is very straightforward. You can choose between train, public buses and an Open Tour (tourist minibuses with set pick-up and drop-off points).
It depends where you're going, but all the key destinations are very straightforward to reach.
You may want to take a look at the suggested itineraries section for Vietnam as they include estimated trip times for the different means of transportation.
#2 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,738
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Awesome! And thanks so much for the pointers. I've only skimmed the itineraries sections, but I'll give 'em a better read now.
Looking forward to planning my trip and combing through the site in the process!
So long for now,
#3 KimDecker has been a member since 2/9/2007. Posts: 3
Where are you from and when are you traveling? We are 5 australians heading over on the 22nd november will you be there around that date?
#4 Mericle has been a member since 7/9/2007. Posts: 3
Hello, five Australians. :) Nice to hear from you over on the other side of the world, while I'm all the way over here in San Francisco, California. And much as I'd love meeting up with you while you're in VN in a few months, I'm not heading over until hot 'n steamy April. (Just bought my plane ticket yesterday. :) Nothing like plunking down a lot of cash to get a body really excited about a vacation.)
Keep me posted on how it goes: what you see, what you eat, where you go, whom you meet. I'm hoping that I can get out and do a lot of walking from place to place, myself. Hitting the ground's a great way to get to know a country and its people.
Have a great holiday!
#5 KimDecker has been a member since 2/9/2007. Posts: 3
You would be best starting off in Ha Noi and working your way to Ho Chi Minh leaving from there. This type of ticket is known as an OPENJAW ticket - best bought from Vietnamese or Chinese travel agents in California as they have the best prices.
Book you Ha Long Bay cruise (best smaller boat is by < www.Tropical-Sails.com > - larger boat use < www.emeraude-cruises.com/ > and once you know your return date go on over to the Ha Noi Rail Station and book your Lao Cai (Sa Pa) rail trip for the night of the day you return from HLB. These rail trips require 2-3 reservation before travel. This means you will relax in HLB knowing you are set for Lao Cai.
After the Ha Noi based trips head south on a train or OpenTour bus. ONLY use AN PHU buses to Hue - the rest are literally killers - at least An Phu buses are mechanically fit.
After Hue - it takes 1.5 days and a night to see using the City Tour bus - many head south to Hoi An using either An Phu or Sinh buses (both safe).
After Hoi An it is an overnight trip to Nha Trang, afterwards a 3-hour trip to Da Lat gets you to south VietNams country garden and honeymoon capital.
HCMC lies 6 hours south of Da Lat by bus.
Alternate travel Ha Noi >> Hue (or Da Nang for Hoi An) and Da nang to Nha Trang is overnight softsleeper rail.
As a female you should know there are only feminine napkins readily available, very few sources of tampons. If you use contact lens - make sure you have enough solution.
On this journey it is not necessary to take anti-malarials unless you head into the Mekong.
#6 CatBa has been a member since 5/3/2007. Posts: 349
Hi it is very easy. I have done it a few times. Cheap flights with Jetstar or the train. There are always lots of tourists and the locals on the train will be friendly and you will be safe, especially in a sleeper berth. Just use your common sense. Most hotels can sort out your tickets (with a small mark-up), you can travel from HCMC to Hanoi by train for about $100.
#7 SeaninHanoi has been a member since 27/11/2011. Posts: 3
If you travel from the North to the South: After about 1 week in the North, you can take an Open Bus ticket or train to Hue .
From Hue to Danang and Hoi An , you can do a private car for some stops on the way, It is so beautiful beach.
From Hoi An to Nha Trang , you can use Open bus or Train
From Nha Trang to Dalat or Mui Ne, you can us Open Bus then take Open Bus to Ho Chi Minh.
If you can choose a good Open Bus you can have a good tour with low price. Of course it is abit tired because of long journey.
#8 johnkazy has been a member since 20/11/2011. Posts: 4
You seem pretty set on travelling on your own but you may want to consider a guided tour as an alternative. I booked a 10-day tour with Intrepid and we went from Hanoi to HCMC. I was reluctant about a tour at first but looking back, I am really glad I did it! I was also travelling solo and having never been to Vietnam (or Asia), the tour saved me a lot of time I would have spent figuring out where to go and what to see, and still allowed me enough time to explore on my own. I got to see and experience really cool things (a motorbike tour of a village near Hue, a bicycle tour in Hoi An, visiting an orphanage, Halong Bay overnight cruise with kayaking just to name a few). You could obviously do these things on your own but it's fun to share them with other people. There were 10 people in our group and the tour guide was really good and fun so I am sure that made a huge difference in how much I enjoyed it.
Anyway, like I said, it looks like you want to travel on your own but this is just something to think about. Not that I don't think you wouldn't be fine on your own. I found Vietnam to be one of the safest countries I've ever been to. You will love it!
#9 tijana88 has been a member since 27/9/2011. Posts: 8
hey, I agree with nearly everyone. Me and my boyfriend travelled vietnam for just over 3 weeks. I would recommend starting in Hanoi as travellers seem to go in this drection. (make sure you pick your self a copy of the lonely planets travel guide) I would also say defo to do the Hanoi backpackers hostel halong bay tour....we met such a great group on this boat (its like a booze cruze/sight seeing tour) honestly though if you want to meet people that is the place. we found the travel fine. trains and buses both easily cheap and safe as can be. we met a few solo travelers along the way but to be honest what i loved about vietnam was because everyone went the same direction down the coast we always bumped into everyone all the time. youll have a ball. xx
#10 danielleandmike has been a member since 6/4/2011. Posts: 19
Hi Kim - I'm a former San Franciscan, and have been to VN 4 times so far. Vietnam is great for a solo gal, or solo anyone. The Vietnamese are extremely outgoing, so you don't really feel alone. Compared to Japan or Korea, VN is somewhat crude, and the taxi drivers can be aggressive here. Stand up for what you believe to be right, and you'll be fine (this is not really the best place for the timid!)
Inexpensive, small hotels here are wonderful. The 2 big cities are no longer dirt cheap, but still very affordable when compared to prices in California. Transport will be your only real headache - stay off the roads as much as you can (some of the world's worst drivers live in Vietnam!!!) I like Vietnam Airlines for domestic travel here, and certain train routes are quite good too, but I do not suggest you take a train the length of this country.
I strongly suggest that you develop a relationship with a good, local travel agent in either Hanoi or Saigon. You will need visa help, and a good agent can be invaluable in this country. It will be cheaper for you to book online yourself for Vietnam Airlines (agents charge for that service), and I also like to book my own hotels. English is widely spoken here, and you will have few if any problems communicating with locals in the travel business. A good hotel or agent will respond to your emails within 24 hours, and if they do not, then I would not consider them to be any good. My travel agent can be contacted by Skype, as many others can also.
I usually spend no more than $50. a day in Vietnam for everything, and live quite well on that. I do admit on spending a little more for a hotel recently ($45. in Hanoi and Saigon). When you go too low, you end up with a windowless room, or a bathroom that has no shower enclosure. It is also possible to find rooms that have in-room computers for your use, and a free breakfast is almost standard in this country. Just about all hotels will meet your flight or train for an additional charge - this is the safest way in my opinion as there are just too many problems/scams with cabs in this country.
The very best thing about this part of the world are the people themselves. I make use of the wonderful, free student guides (Hanoikids, Saigonhotpot and Danangkids) - you need to arrange their tours at least a month ahead of your trip. All of these organizations will have their own websites with booking info.
I forgot to add this - As a San Franciscan, you will certainly appreciate the city of Hanoi . In my mind, they have much in common, and Hanoi is by far my favorite place. Sarah from the Travelfish staff now has a Hanoi blog that you will learn to love. Hanoi just seems to attract all the artistic and interesting people of the world in one small place, and the result is that it's now a favorite place for foreigners to live full time as expats. Saigon is also interesting, but it has evolved into the "LA" of Vietnam in my opinion - too many business types for my liking. The most colorful place in this country is Sapa - full of tourists, but very beautiful and well worth at least 2 or 3 days. Vietnam has changed considerably since the American War, and you will be shocked at how popular Americans are in this country. The other thing that will shock you is how little you will see of the Communist State!