Vietnam is a country which has long attracted backpackers. It offers a culture that is unique in South East Asia. War history tourism is popular, the food is great and is becoming more and more popular in the West, and it is still a very budget country to visit.
Why travel Vietnam by bus?
Vietnam is a long and skinny country. Most of the countries main cities and towns lie along the coastal area, in a relative straight line, from North to South. The two biggest cities in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City in the South and Hanoi in the North also have the countries main international airports. Basically, the conditions are perfect for flying into one city, travelling overland either North or South, and then flying home from the other major city.
You can travel Vietnam both by rail and by bus. There are many more bus companies available, making this the much more competitive industry.
Getting the best value for your money
How much your pass will cost will depend on a variety of factors. How many stops you want to include, whether you choose a seated bus or a sleeper bus, and which company you choose.
How many stops you choose will depend on what you are interested in, as well as how much time you have. I will outline the route below to help you decide how many stops you want to purchase.
You will also have an option between a bus with seats or a sleeper bus. You don’t need to take the one bus option for your entire journey either. We were able to mix and match our us package. We paid extra for the sleeper bus for longer trips, and just took the seated bus for shorter rides.
One thing to know about the sleeper buses, the quality between companies can vary wildly. Also, the buses are built to comfortably fit the average Vietnamese person. If you are tall like me, then you might not actually fit on the reclining bed/chair. I had to sleep all squished up in a ball which wasn’t really ideal. Also, I found that if you are on the top bunk bed (and just a few inches away from the air conditioning vents) you might get really really cold. Bring a blanket or a sleeping bag on board with you if you have one.
The final thing which will impact the price of your open bus ticket is which company you purchase from. Just walking around Hanoi or Saigon, you will find dozens of agents selling the bus passes. I suspect that many of them are selling for the same company, and yet they can all have wildly different price points. Do your research, ask lots of questions, but don’t be too surprised if your sold slightly different information than what you actually get.
The open bus route travels from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, and vice versa, making it an easy way to get around the country. We took the bus from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, and stopped in as many places as we could, so I will outline the route from North to South.
Hanoi – Hanoi is the capitol of Vietnam. It’s a great place to learn about Vietnam’s history and culture. Highlights include the water puppet theatre, Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum, and the Ethnographic museum.
A great side trip from Hanoi is a trip to Ha Long Bay. This beautiful spot is a highlight for most visitors.
Hue – Hue is a great spot for those interested in the imperial history of Vietnam. Hue is the old capitol of Vietnam and is home to a bunch of interesting ruins to explore.
Hoi An – Hoi An is a beautiful little town situated on a peaceful river. It’s famous for it’s massive tailor business. This is the place to come to get some clothes tailored.
Nha Trang – Nha Trang is a popular beach destination in Vietnam. It’s also a really great spot to get Padi certified on a budget. The large number of dive shops here keep the prices low.
Da Lat/ Mui Ne – You can choose to either visit Da Lat or Mui Ne on your itinerary. We chose to visit Da Lat. Da Lat is located in the hills, and has a much cooler climate than the rest of Vietnam. It’s a quirky little town and has a completely different vibe than other cities in Vietnam.
Mui Ne is another beach destination, but we decided to visit Da Lat instead.
Ho Chi Minh City – Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon, is Vietnam’s largest city and was the capitol of South Vietnam. It’s a massive cosmopolitan city with lots of shopping, temples, and buildings from the French colonial past.
A couple interesting day trip ideas from Saigon include the Cu Chi tunnels where you can learn how people lived, fought and survived during the Vietnam war. You can also visit the temple of Cao Dai, one of the most interesting and colourful religions I have ever learned about.
If you have some extra time in Ho Chi Minh City then head south towards the Mekong Delta. We visited the town of Can Tho where we visited the floating markets and learned about life on the Mekong.