Using public transportation in Vietnam is a crucial part of life. First arriving in Hanoi, I felt lost and a little overwhelmed by the chaotic traffic all around. At first glance, I thought there was no way I’d be able to drive a motorbike. Walking across the street took courage, there seemed to be no end to the constant flow of motorbikes, cars, trucks, and buses. Getting around can be tough but with the right information it can also be a breeze. In this article I’d like to share some insight on the best methods to get around Vietnam.
Getting around Hanoi and other major cities
First and foremost, you should download the “Grab” application on your smartphone. “Grab” is Vietnam’s version of Uber or Lyft. However, it differs in price and has motorbike options to choose from as well. Grab is super affordable. A 30-minute ride will cost no more than $5. You can link up your Debit/Credit card to the account or pay in cash. There’s always drivers around and can pick you up at all hours. If you prefer a car it will be a little more expensive than a “Grab Bike”. In my opinion, “Grab Bike” is the way to go. They’re extremely cheap and able to navigate city traffic more efficiently than cars. It’s a good way to experience the city and get a feel for how traffic operates.
I spent 2 months on “Grab Bikes” adjusting to the traffic in Hanoi before I felt comfortable renting a motorbike myself. Hopping on the back of a “Grab Bike” is a good way to learn how to drive a motorbike and can also be a lot of fun. The app is really easy to use. Once opened, you’ll be brought to this screen where you can pick between car or motorbike (there’s food and delivery options as well). Click on your preferred mode of transportation.
The next page will show your location and drivers in the area. The blue pin is the pick-up location. It will automatically be placed on your current location but you have the option to move it to a preferred pick-up location.
Enter in a destination and check the route to make sure everything is correct. You can also see the price at the bottom of the screen before you book.
Hit book and the next screen will show your driver’s estimated arrival. Once you’re driver has arrived you can look for their license plate to locate them. Make sure to always check their license plate, with all the drivers in Hanoi it’s easy to accidentally get in the wrong one.
Hanoi is currently building a light-rail network but it’s not scheduled to be completed for another couple years. There are public buses you can use in Hanoi but I don’t recommend this option. Buses have trouble moving in the congested streets and are often packed full with riders. Personally, I have never been in a city bus here in Hanoi and have always used Grab as a means of transportation.
You’ll need data for getting around town. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how cheap phone plans are in Vietnam. Go to any cell phone shop in Hanoi (there are millions!) and ask for a sim card. You purchase the sim card (around 100,000 Dong) and then pay additional for data. Usually 50,000 Dong worth of data lasts me a month. Cell Phone workers will set everything up for you so don’t worry if you’re not tech-savvy.
Getting to and from Hanoi
For traveling outside Hanoi you have a couple options. Coach Buses are common and I’ve used them to travel to nearby destinations like Haiphong and Cat Ba Island. Often you can find a “Sleeper Bus” which will operate over-night. This can be a convenient method if you’re traveling on a short schedule. There are also trains that operate all over Vietnam. For farther destinations you can book a spot in a sleeping cabin where you’re given a bed to sleep in. However, for traveling long distances I would strongly recommend flying instead. Flying around Vietnam is extremely affordable. You can find a round-trip ticket from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City for as low as $40. VietJet is Vietnam’s biggest airline and they seem to always have the best prices for flights around the country.
Getting to and from the airport is easy with the Grab App. The airport in Hanoi is located about 30 minutes from the city center. A ride should typically cost around $10. Security is fast so you don’t need to arrive more than an hour before a domestic flight. Typically it takes somewhere between 10-20 minutes to get through security to your gate. It’s a small airport and easy to navigate. Don’t forget your passport; you need one to fly domestic. It’s best if you can fit your belonging in a backpack as you’ll be charged extra for checking luggage.
Getting around Vietnam can be complicated but it doesn’t have to be. With the right information and methods you can get around pretty easily on a budget. My last suggestion is to never be afraid to ask for help if you get confused or lost. Most people in Vietnam have at least a basic understanding of English and are often more than happy to help.