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Vietnam - The Internet Travel Guide (FAQ) (part 5/5)

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VIETNAM - Peter M. Geiser's Hotel and Travel Guide

Located in South East Asia, Vietnam starts to emerge as a major
tourist attraction. Vietnam has two main cities, the political
capital Hanoi and the economic capital Ho Chi Minh City (also
known as Saigon). Apart from these cities, Vietnam's countryside
also offers many beautiful attractions.

 An Khe
 Buon Ma Thuot
 Cat Ba Island
 Central Highland
 Chau Doc
 Chua Huong
 Con Dao
 Cu Chi
 Cuc Phuong National Parc
 Dakto / Tanh Canh
 Do Son
 Dong Ha
 Halong Bay
 Ho Chi Minh City
 Hoa Lu
 Hoi An
 Lao Bao
 Long Xuyen
 Mekong Delta
 Nha Trang
 Ninh Binh
 Phan Rang
 Phan Thiet
 Phong Nha Caves
 Phu Quoc
 Quang Ngai
 Rach Gia
 Tay Ninh
 Vat Sat Tourist Parc
 Vinh Long
 Vinh Moc
 Vung Tau

General Information
 Map of Vietnam
 Border Crossing
 Internet Access

 Travel Guides


VIETNAM - Peter M. Geiser's Hotel and Travel Guide

Copyright (c) 1995 - 2005, Peter M. Geiser



New series by Peter M. Geiser and Sibylle Dussy, with many photos:

"Classics", FAQ of

Hotel guides



For books, please have a look at the online version at



Many people worry about safety conditions on flights in Vietnam. This
may have been so in earlier times, but today it is quite ok. Air
France officers are trainig the local pilots, and safety regulations
have been risen to international standards.

The material is excerpted from VIETNAM, CAMBODIA & LAOS HANDBOOK, by
Michael Buckley, (c) copyright 1998, all rights reserved, reprinted with

Reprinted here with permission of Moon Travel Handbooks, California

by Michael Buckley

In the mid-1980s the Vietnamese government issued a series of stamps
showing historic aircraft--a German Fokker Triplane from 1917, a
Soviet Yakolev II from 1946. Cynics wondered if these planes weren't
part of Vietnam's newest fleet. Indeed, in the embargo days, Vietnam's
fleet was composed mostly of aging Russian Tupolev-134 jets and
Ilyushin-18 turboprops that groaned and creaked when aloft. For
hair-raising flights, nothing beat the Yakolev-40 light aircraft. In
Vietnamese, Vietnam Airlines is rendered Hang Khong Vietnam, which
foreigners quickly dubbed "Hang On Vietnam." Former fighter pilots
specialized in vertical takeoffs and landings, learned from wartime
days. Exit doors--if you could find them--were marked in Russian.

Vietnam Airlines was forced to use Russian aircraft because the
embargo prevented leasing planes with American technology or parts. In
1992 Vietnam Airlines found a way around the restrictions by
chartering instead of leasing planes, and by agreeing not to fly under
its own name. This resulted in the acquisition of two Boeing 767s and
a Boeing 737 painted completely white--somewhat disconcerting to
passengers like myself boarding in Bangkok. After our flying ghost
took off, we were relieved to hear a French accent emanating from the
cockpit--hopefully the pilot. The in-flight service was uniquely
Vietnamese: a hostess dressed in a dreamy ao dai trundled down the
aisle to deliver a single fruit to each passenger. I gazed at the
fruit in wonder: I'd never seen this species before. Here I was on an
unmarked plane with an unknown fruit. A new species at 7,000 meters!
Puzzled, I turned to my neighbor, a Vietnamese woman, and she
instructed me in sign language how to dissect the fruit and which
parts to eat. It was delicious.

In mid-1992, Vietnam Airlines purchased two 80-seat ATR-72s from
France. The ATR-72 is a turboprop made by Avions de Transport (ATR), a
joint venture between France's Aerospatiale and Italy's Alenia
Spa. With the lifting of the embargo, Vietnam Airlines is retiring its
old Russian crates--the Tupolev jets--to boost the airline's safety
reputation. There are maintenance concerns with the Tupolevs, which
have to be flown to Moscow for checks. The airline's fleet now
includes Airbus A-320s leased from Air France, an assortment of leased
Boeings, and a handful of ATR-72s.

After getting the cold shoulder from the US for so long, Vietnamese
airline officials are suddenly being treated like royalty. Delta was
the first airline to host a visit to the US by Vietnamese
executives. Nguyen Hong Nhi of Vietnam Airlines was wined and dined,
given a tour of Disney World, and photographed next to a Wookie, the
furry copilot in Star Wars. It was a bizarre experience for Nhi, a
former air force general who shot down eight American aircraft in his
MiG-21, but he said he had "a lovely time" in the States.

Domestic Flights

The airport tax for domestic flights is VND 20'000 (in some cases
VND 15'000).

Some prices are:
Hanoi       Vientiane   USD  90
Saigon      Da Nang     USD  90
Da Nang     Hanoi       USD  90
Saigon      Hue         USD  90
Hue         Hanoi       USD  90
Saigon      Nha Trang   USD  60
Nha Trang   Hanoi       USD 130
Dalat       Hue         USD  75
Hanoi       Saigon      USD 180

Most routes have a daily flight (DaNang - NhaTrang doesn't) and are easily
available (I booked the flight from DaNang to Saigon one hour before

Northern Airport Flight Service has helicopter flights to Ha Long Bay.
There are 2 flights per week at 8:00 and 15:30 on Saturday, departing
from Gia Lam Airport in Hanoi (watch out: this is not the
international airport!). You can get the tickets at the Metropolitan

International Flights

Vietnam Airlines operates international flights to the following

Hong Kong
Kuala Lumpur
Los Angeles
Phnom Penh
Siem Reap (Angkor Wat)

International airport tax is USD 14 in Hanoi and USD 12 in
Ho Chi Minh City.

Hanoi: Noi Bai (the Hanoi airport) is approximately 35 miles from
Hanoi proper. Cabbies wait outside the exit, though a few (high-priced
ones) will attempt to get to you before you exit the building. You
should not get a cab inside the terminal. Wait until you get outside
where fares are totally negotiable. The market seemed to bottom out at
about USD 4/person or USD 25 per cab. Minibus prices are also USD 4
per person. Buy the ticket at the counter in the terminal. For the way
back, there are taxis available at several travel agencies (in
travelling cafes.) However, if they notice that you're late for the
flight, they will ask you for all sorts of money, like to pay the toll
fee of USD 2 to the airport and the one for the way back (where you
won't be in the taxi, but probably another tourist), etc.

Haiphong: Haiphong is serviced only by VA with Tupolov (Russian-made)
aircraft. Flights depart to Hanoi ($50/one way), Danang ($85/one way)
and maybe other spots. Fares from the city of Haiphong to Haiphong
Airport were approximately $4/person for the 20 minute taxi ride.

Danang: Danang Airport is a "hub", again serviced only by VA with
Tupolev (or smaller) aircraft. Taxi service from the airport is a
monopoly controlled by the city of Danang. Fares are fixed. No
competition. No bargaining. From the airport to downtown Danang (about
a 5-10 minute drive) is $5/person (ridiculously high). From the
airport to Hue (approx. a 2 hour drive) is $15/person in an a/c car
(relatively reasonable). A taxi from Hoi-An to Danang-airport is USD 8
for one person and USD 12 for two persons.

Ho Chi Minh City: Tan Son Nhat Airport is located at the north end of
the city. It is approximately a $2 cyclo drive (30 minutes) or a $5
cab ride (10 minutes) from the main tourist areas of the city. There
is also a minibus for USD 4. Note that if you take a cyclo, you will
have to hire another motorbike for the last mile or so because the
airport entrance road is a no-cyclo zone. Tay Son Nhat is serviced by
a variety of carriers including Singapore, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia,
VA, Thai, Pacific, China Air, and others.
There is a money exchange just outside the airport.

Since 16 February 2000 there is a direct flight between Siem Reap
(Angkor Wat) and Ho Chi Minh City. The flights will be every Monday,
Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. It is operated by Vietnam



There are four classes: Soft Sleeper, Hard Sleeper, Soft Seater, and
Hard Seater.

Trains are a much better (more comfortable) way than buses when you
have to cover long distances. Depending on which class you take you
have more or less space, and meet less or more nice, interesting
people. However, to make sure you get tickets, you will often have to
book well in advance.

There are about five to seven services per day between Hanoi and Ho
Chi Minh City. The fastest train, the Reunification Express
takes around 36 hours, while slower and cheaper trains need 50 or more

Apart from glass, the windows of the trains have a steel mesh to
protect the travellers. For even more protection, there is a steel
wall that can be pulled down. These are remains of the war, where it
was quite usual that people threw molotov cocktails and even grenades
at passing trains.

(Mark) Rail tickets are now no problem as it appears to be
computerised. Everyone and his dog would book trains in Hoi-An (for a
$3 fee). Our tickets from Hue to Hanoi were booked at Danang station
by our hotel receptionist. While some meals are provided it's not very
clear what is included and what you have to pay for. Service seems a
little erratic and meals turn up at strange times.  Hence its wise to
stock up beforehand. Despite what the guides say, there's little
opportunity to buy en-route (especially on night trains). There's not
the selling frenzy associated with station stops in countries such as
India or Thailand.

(Howard) Trains are a great way to get around if you choose to travel
at night, but they aren't for the impatient. This is because they
don't go very fast and because there's only one track in the country.
Thus, trains have to wait at designated passing places for others to
go by. Generally, a 400km trip takes between 9 and 13 hours depending
on whether your train is an express or not. For a hard seat on the
Nha Trang to Saigon leg, fares were about $10. A soft seat (which is
definitely worth the added $$ given the narrowness of the Vietnamese
seats) upped the price to $15, while a sleeper was about $25. Another
thing to keep in mind is that whether a train is an express or not
doesn't matter nearly as much as where the train is coming from. For
example, if you want to go from Nha Trang to Saigon on the express
train (which starts in Hanoi), bad weather in the north might delay
its arrival. Thus, a non-express train starting closer to your
embarkation point (e.g. in Qui Nhon) might get you to your destination
faster than a delayed express.

The train from Hanoi to Haiphong takes 2-3 hours and a hard seat costs
VND 40000.

It takes 10 hours to get from Hanoi to Lao Cai at the Chinese border.
A hard-sleeper is VND 173000.
(Hans and Mirjam) Tickets to Lao Cai are sold at the foreign counter
in the main railwaystation. The trains depart from the Hanoi
'B-station'. From the main station, walk north 350 metres, dan 70
metres east (left) and 70 metres south (left again). The daytrain
(LC3) departs at 05.10 AM and arrives at Lao Cai at 16.00 PM. To get
to the border hire one of the 200 motorcycle-guys standing in front of
the railwaystation (10.000 dong) or walk 3 kilometres down the road to
the right. The border closes at 1700 PM vietnamese - or 1800 AM
chinese time. Provided your visa states "Lao Cai" as an exitpoint,
crossing the border is hasslefree. If not, you pay $40. You're
passport is stamped. You pay the customs 10.000 dong for a form and
you pay another 10.000 dong to cross the bridge. Chinese immigration
is amazingly friendly. We were invited into the immigration office and
friendly asked to sit down and 'would you please fill in this form?'
Less than four minutes later we were allowed into China and we never
saw any customs. The bank of China in Hekou closes at 1600 PM, but you
can change leftover dong in shops to the left of the
immigration-office. The hotel opposite the borderbridge changes cash
US dollars.

For the opposite direction, from Lao Cai to Hanoi, there are two
trains, at 9am and at 6pm. In Lao Cai you can get tickets for the same
day only. The ticket office opens only two hours before the trains
leave. If you are in Sapa, you can buy the tickets one day in

The train to Ninh Binh costs VND 48000 for a soft seat and takes 3

From Ninh Binh to Hue takes 13 hours and is VND 213'000 for a soft

A super berth (airconditioned sleeper, causing condensation so you
won't see much) between Hue and Hanoi is not worth the USD 67.50 it
costs. However, cheaper berths are taken in Saigon and are usually not
available in Hue. A better choice is the second class cabin for two.
The express train leaves Hue at 4:30 pm and arrives in the next
morning at 7 am in Hanoi. The soft sleaper from Hue to Hanoi costs
VND 48'000. Book as far in advance as possible since only four tickets
are available in Hue!

It costs $18 for a "soft seat" in a 2nd class coach between Nha Trang
and Danang, overnight train. Meals provided.

I only took one train, from Hue to DaNang which runs along one of the
nicest pieces of railroad you'd ever encounter. Departure time was 1
pm and it cost USD 5 (express fare, normal fare is USD 4). I was told
to be at the train station half an hour before departure time to buy
the ticket. As I travelled off peak there was no problem, I'm
wondering how one will get tickets during high season.

The whole fare between Saigon and Hanoi is supposedly USD 125, first
class. You can stop as much as you like in between.

(John) The train from Hanoi to Hue took fourteen hours and was $25 for
a soft seat. While I was on board a train conductor asked if I wanted
a sleeper. He originally asked $20 more for the sleeper, but I was
firm on my offer of $5. The 'sleeper' was not a real sleeper but a
small flat luggage storage area. It was private and horizontal, and a
blanket was provided.

The day train from Saigon to Nha Trang takes 9 hours and costs
USD 19.

The night train between Hue and Hanoi takes 15 hours and costs
USD 25.



The main road in Vietnam is the national Highway 1 from Hanoi to
Saigon. Although not in the very best condition, it still is one of
the better maintained roads. Every kilometer there is a stone with the
distance to the Chinese border written on it.

Road travel is very slow, averaging from 20 to 40 km/h (an average
bus) up to 80 km/h in a good car on highway 1.



Local busses are easy to travel with, but a bit uncomfortable. Be
aware that you will probably be cheated, i.e. you pay more than the
local people. But prices are still very cheap, about VND 10000 for
100 km. Nha Trang to Saigon is about VND 20000.

(Pascal) As the road between Saigon and Hanoi is gradually upgraded
from a close-to-nothing path to a modern highway, bus travel becomes
increasingly competitive both in speed and comfort. The upgraded
Saigon to Hue and Vinh to Hanoi sections offer a superior alternative
to the train. Hue to Vinh however is currently still mudracing, but
upgrading is under way.
There is a lot of cheat and double pricing on local buses (locals pay
20 USD for Saigon to Hanoi on old and sometimes very crowded buses).
So most foreign travellers sooner or later opt for the tourist-buses,
operated by private agents. These buses offer a much better quality,
are usually less crowded and will drop you at "selected" hotels in the
city centers. However there is no obligation to stay at these hotels,
but also no help to find another one. Generally the touted hotels are
not bad and offer clean comfortable rooms with TV, bath and aircon for
often less than 10 USD. The buses will cost around 30 to 35 USD for
the whole Saigon to Hanoi stretch. You can break your journey at
intermediate stops and pick up the next bus or just by one particular
fraction of the trip. Each company runs one to two buses a day. There
are intermediate stops at roadside restaurants and attractions. In
fact, the one and only disatvantage of the system is that you do not
get in touch with the locals.
Bus companies which usually act as transport company, tour operator,
travel agency and restaurant in one are named "Sinh Caf&eaigu;", "Han
Caf&eaigu;" or similar and will want to make you believe that all the
others are bad.

In moutainous regions with curvy roads, it is advisable not to sit
near local people, since they tend to get sick quite often. 

(Rick) There are two types of bus, express and local. Express buses
are considerably faster than local buses, which drop off and pick up
peasants and their produce at each cluster of houses along the
highway. A good rule of thumb is that local buses average 15-25 km/h
over the course of a journey, while express buses rarely exceed an
average speed of 35 km/h.

Express buses also have the benefit of being given priority at ferry
crossings, which can save considerable time at each crossing. Since
they are slightly more expensive than regular buses, people hauling
around large packages to make a few extra dong reselling something,
will probably consider their time and comfort less valuable and will
choose local buses over express ones.

Most inter-city buses leave early in the morning. Sometimes half a
dozen vehicles serving the same destination will depart at the same
time. Short-distance buses leave when full (i.e. jam-packed with
people), operating throughout the day, but don't count on anything
leaving after 4:00 pm.

Vietnam has instated a 'foreigner with insurance' fee for the local

The bus between Sapa and Lao Cai costs about USD 2 to 4.

There is a local bus from the border at Lao Bao to Hue at around 3:15 pm.
It cost VND 20000 (foreigner price or bad bargaining?).

The minibus from Hue to Hoi An costs USD 6 and tekas 6 hours.

The tourist bus from Hoi An to Nha Trang is USD 15 and takes 12 to 16
hours. Going the other direction, from Nha Trang to Hoi An is more

(John) I took a local bus from Nha Trang to Danang.  The local price was
$1.70.  The 'foreigner with insurance' fee price was $6.30.  The seat was
a board. The ride was the most uncomfortable I have ever experienced. The
bus broke three times on the way.  The tourist bus cost $7 and I really
wish I had taken it.

(John) Generally, the tourist busses are fairly comfortable.  Since most
travelers go from the south to the north, the northbound busses tend to be
more expensive. Beware of the tourist busses stopping at restaurants that
expect tourists to order off menus that have no prices.  I know some
tourists who were GROSSLY overcharged at these establishments.  I
personally don't order off menus that have no prices.  The driver stops
there because he gets a free meal, and perhaps a cut of whatever the
restaurant makes.

Saigon: The bus station for the busses leaving south is Mien Tay Bus
Station, 10 km west of Saigon on Hung Vuong Blvd. in An Lac. It is
about half an hour by cyclo from Ben Thanh Market.

Express buses to Bac Lieu, Camau, Cantho, Chau Doc, Long Xuyen, and
Rach Gia depart twice a day: at 4:30 am and at 3:00 pm.  Tickets are
sold beginning at 3:30 am for the early buses and from 12:00 noon for
the afternoon runs.  Express bus tickets can also be bought at
121 Chau Van Liem Blvd. in Cholon; 142 Hung Vuong Blvd. west of
Cholon; and at 638 Le Hong Phong St. in District 10.

Local buses from Mien Tay serve An Phu, Bac Lieu, Ben Tre, Camau, Cantho,
Chau Doc, Ha Tien, Long An, Long Phu, Long Xuyen, My Thuan, My Tho,
Phung Hiep, Rach Gia, Sa Dec, Tay Ninh, Tra Vinh, Vinh Chau, and
Vinh Long.

Busses to PnomhPenh, Cambodia leave Monday to Saturday at
140 Nguyen Du and at the Phnom Penh Garage at 155 Nguyen Hue Blvd. at
5 am and take around 9 hours. It costs USD 5 or USD 11, depending if
it is a Cambodian or a Vietnamese one. You should buy the tiket in
advance at the ticket office next to the Rex Cinema.
There are busses run by Sinh Cafe that leave from Pham Ngu Lao and De
Tham Streets in Saigon. They go to the Cambodian border at Moc Bai and
cost USD 5 per person. For information after the border, see the
section on border crossing in the Cambodia guide.

Mytho: The bus station is 2 to 2 1/2 miles (3-4 km) from town on the
road towards Saigon and Vinh Long (continuation of Ap Bac St.), a
third of a mile (1/2 km) past the city gates. It is open from 4:00 am
to 5:00 pm. There is no express service between Saigon and My Tho.
However there are regular connections with Saigon's Mien Tay station
in An Lac that leave when full from early in the morning until about
5:00 pm and take 1 1/2 hours to complete the trip. There is also daily
bus service to Cantho (5 hours), Chau Doc, Phu Hoa, Tay Ninh
(6 hours), and Vung Tau (5 hours).

Cantho: You can find the station just over a mile (2 km) northwest of
town along Nguyen Trai St., near the intersection with Hung Vuong St.
and Route 4. Regular connections with Saigon's Mien Tay terminal take
4-5 hours and other buses serve additional locations in the Mekong Delta.

Long Xuyen: The station is about a mile (1 1/2 km) east of town on Tran
Hung Dao Street  The route serving Saigon's Mien Tay station takes 6-7
hours to travel, while Chau Doc is 1 1/2 hours away.  Buses also go to
Cantho, Vinh Long and other destinations in the Delta.

There are a number of private minibus companies in town offering a faster
and more comfortable service than the regular buses. They stop on Hung
Vuong St., not far from the cathedral, but check with the An Giang Tourist
Office at 6 Ngo Gia Tu Street.

Chau Doc: The bus station is southeast of town on the south side of Le Loi
Street, about a mile (1 - 2 km) from the town center and past the
church. You can pick up minibuses in town on Quang Trung Street. Buses
to Saigon's Mien Tay station take 6-7 hours to make the trip,
including 2 ferry crossings. Buses also go to Long Xuyen, Cantho and
other points in the Delta.

Rach Gia: Rach Gia Bus Station is south of town on Nguyen Trung Truc St.
Local and express buses (taking 8 hours) go to Saigon's Mien Tay
terminal and to Ha Tien near the Cambodian border. Also, there are
non-express connections with Cantho, Dong Thap, and Long Xuyen.

Bus services to rural destinations near Rach Gia operate between
3:30 am and 4:30 pm. These include Duong Xuong, Giong Rieng, Go Quao,
Hon Chong, Kien Luong, Soc Xoai, Tan Hiep, Tri Ton, and Vinh Thuan.

There is also an express bus service leaving from an office at 33 30
Thang 4 Street. The Cantho bus leaves at 5:00 am, one for Ha Tien at
4.30 am, and Saigon at 3:45 am.  Another express bus to Saigon leaves
every morning at 4:00 am from 78 Nguyen Trung Truc Street.



A very convenient way of transportation (very touristy as well) are
special minibusses travelling between tourist centers. They are more
expensive than normal busses, but at least you get a whole seat. They
also fetch you from your hotel (or you can ask them) and drop you at a
cheap hotel (or any hotel of your choice) at your destination
city. Some prices:

Hanoi    - Hue       USD 20
Hoi An   - Hue       USD  5
DaNang   - NhaTrang  USD 15
HoiAn    - NhaTrang  USD 11
NhaTrang - Saigon    USD 10 to 11 (depending on the travel agent)
Saigon   - Dalat     USD  7

There is an open ticket between Saigon and Hanoi, available at Sinh
Cafe (and probably also at other travellers cafes). With this ticket
you can get on and off the bus along the way wherever you want. From
Saigon to Hanoi costs USD 57, from Saigon to Hue is USD 35, and from
Hue to Hanoi is USD 22. In case you do not use all of the ticket, it
may be possible to get some of the money refunded. The times of the
busses are:

From       To         Distance  Departure  Time
Saigon     Nha Trang  450 km    7 am        9 h
Nha Trang  Hoi An     530 km    6 am       11 h
Hoi An     Hue        120 km    8 am        8 h
Hue        Vinh       350 km    7 am       10 h
Vinh       Hanoi      310 km    7 am        8.5 h

It is also possible to rent a minibus. This may be a good alternative if
your party is large enough, although I'm not quite sure if it is cheaper.



It should be possible to rent or buy a car, but I didn't check
it. Anyway, with the traffic in Vietnam it would not be fun anyway.

It certainly is possible to rent a car with a driver for a day. The
rates are somthing like USD 15 to USD 100 (depending on the car, the
place you rent it from, the region, and your bargaining skills).

A taxi from Da Nang to Hoi An (30 km) is USD 15.

A day trip with a taxi and a driver from Hoi An should cost about
USD 25.

(John) Three other people and I rented a Russian jeep in Hanoi to
travel in northwest Vientam.  The cost for the six-day trip was $320
including driver.  Be forewarned: Travel in an old russian jeep can be
quite uncomfortable due to its tight suspension and firm seats.  Also,
check to see that there is a seal on the rear door of the jeep because
the dirt roads in the Northwest can produce massive amounts of dust
that will enter the vehicle if the seal is missing.  The dust can make
the trip quite uncomfortable.  Our jeep was very slow and stopped
working near the end of the trip.  If a modern vehicle such as a
Toyota landcruiser is available, I would suggest taking it, even if
the landcruiser costs $450.

(Rick) In Saigon, it is possible to hire good Japanese cars and
minivans for day trips or week-long excursions. If your party or
expense account is large enough, this can be a reasonable means of
travel. Ask to go for a test ride to see if the car is running
properly before deciding on a driver. Expect to pay US$40 per day for
a comfortable car from a reputable tourist agency. Try Burotel Tourist
(Tel: 8293727) for car rental services that are considerably cheaper
than Vietnamtourist, Saigontourist, and most hotels.



It's easy to rent a motorcycle to get around. Usual rates are USD 4 to
USD 7 for a day for a 50 cc to 100 cc Honda or Yamaha. Minsks are
available in Hoi An for USD 5. Fuel is a bit less than VND 3000 for
one liter, although you'll be charged VND 3000 flat. But then, you'll
be able to get fuel every couple of meters, so you don't have to be
too careful about running out of it.

If you rent a motorbike, make sure that you don't leave your passport
with them, and that in the contract they don't overdo the price. For
some it is a very lucrative business getting the money for a 'stolen'
bike (you'll be able to rent the same moto at the same place the next
day ...) And, of course, take a big lock with you. If you stay in a
hotel, try to get the bike into your room or at least the lobby

Traffic in Vietnam is heavy and sometimes resembles these old computer
games where you have to avoid oncomming cars as well as possible... In
other words, it is very dangerous.

Motorcycles (in Vietnamese xe om, meaning "hugging vehicle": the
passenger wraps his or her arms around the drivers waist so as not to
fall down) are replacing the cyclo as a means of transportation. The
rate is comparable to cyclos.

If you are in a hurry, you can try to flag down a motorcycle for a
ride on the back (most drivers are not adverse to making a bit of
extra money) or ask a local to find a Honda ong for you.

It is also possible to buy a motorcycle. This is especially
recommended if you would like to go longer distances, or off the
beaten track. There are old Russian motorcycles (Minsks, 125 ccm), as
well as both new and old Hondas, but they are not quite fit for a long
journey. One problem is the bad quality of the motorbikes; mechanical
knowledge is a definite advantage. Typically, you will plan to buy in
Saigon and sell in Hanoi. Be prepared to wait for a while after your
trip, since there normally isn't somebody waiting for just you to come
by and offer an old motorbike... If you sell to local people, they
won't pay a good price, knowing that eventually you'll have to leave
Vietnam and the bike behind. If you consider having your own vehicle
for a couple of days or even weeks and the amount of money you would
have to spend for transportation otherwise, it might be cheaper even
if you cannot sell it. Be sure you buy a good lock, so you can tie
your bike to some post or tree.



It is fun to rent a bicycle and to ride around. Rates are around USD 1
for a day.

It is also possible to buy bicycles and even mountainbikes, but beware
of the quality.

Maintenance is very widely available, but original spare parts are
rare. Instead, any spare part that "fits" will be used.



A nice way to tour a city is to rent a cyclo. Rates are start from
VND 5000 to VND 10000 for a ride of up to 10 minutes in Saigon (there
seems to be no way to get a cheaper one, even for only a couple of
hundred meters). Locals pay half that price. You can also get a tour
of one hour for USD 1! In Hanoi prices are more related to the
distance and are a bit more expensive.

Lars used to get short cyclo-rides, <20 min, for VND 2-3000 in
Saigon. But not always, some drivers refused to go for this price.

When riding in a cyclo, make sure that you hold fast to any bags.
There are motorcycle drivers that try to grab your bag, even big
In case someone gets a hold on your bag, be careful that you don't get
hurt. There was a report from a Swiss woman who held on to her bag and
as a consequence was pulled from the cyclo and broke her leg!

Drivers that regularily drive foreigners can make up to USD 100 a
month, four times what a factory worker gets. A cyclo costs USD 150 to
buy or USD 1 to rent for a day.

There are about 37000 cyclo drivers alone in Ho Chi Minh City.

The routes a cyclo may use is beeing limited by the government because
they would cause traffic congestion, so what seems to be a short trip
could in fact become quite a long one because of having to take an
indirect route.



Many cafes offer organised tours from one to 12 days. Although the
tours are touristy sometimes they provide an easy and time saving
(sometimes even money saving) way of seeing a lot. Prices vary
depending on the organising cafe and on what is included
(accommodation, meals, etc.) You can try to bargain, I heard of
someone who get a Halong Bay Trip for only USD 8!)

Some tours are:

Hanoi (Darling Cafe, Queen Cafe, Green Bamboo, most hotels)

Halong Bay                    Two days   USD 22 - 25
Halong Bay and Cat Ba Island  Three days USD 28
Hoa Lu                        One day    USD 10
Ba Be Lake                    3-4 days   
Sapa                          Three days USD 27
Sapa                          Four days  USD 40
Dien Bien Phu                 Five days  USD 48
Perfume Pagoda                           USD 36

(John) The $10 'Around HaNoi' day tour arranged through The Green
Bamboo Cafe I found to be a particularly good value.  It included
visiting a silk village, noodle village, snake farm (for lunch),
pottery village, and some caves.

Note carefully: many tours take one day for one way, so a 3 day tour often
offers you only one day at your destination.

Hue (many hotels)

DMZ                           One day,    USD 15

Saigon (Kim Cafe, Sinh Cafe)

CaoDai temple, CuChi tunnels  One day      USD  4
Mekong delta                  1 - 5 days   
                              e.g. 1 day   USD  8
                              e.g. 3 days  USD 27
Dalat, Nha Trang              Three days   USD 20
Hue                           Ten days     USD 140

They usually have excellent guides that speak very good English.

Beware: Some companies (though not many) do not deliver what you
bargained for. Sometimes tourists are put up on local busses, both
express and regular. Of course, this is not the same service, since
these busses do not take you to a hotel as do the tourist busses.
Sometimes, tourist busses 'behave' like regular local busses, stopping
all the time and picking up other people. This decreases the already
limited space even more, and considerably slows the trip.

There is an open ticket from Saigon to Hue, where you can stop your
trip anywhere you want for and get back on the bus at a later time.



Many guides approaching you in pagodas are students that ant to
practice their English. They often have a depp understanding of the
symbolism, structres and religion. Of course, they will be happy about
a small donation for their services.

(Howard) Guides: Many people will approach you offering their services
as guides, drivers, etc.  We averaged between $6-15/day for one guide
with a motorbike (they pay petrol; we paid most meals). You will
*need* to hire some of them as a means of transportation and to make
your day go more smoothly (they know the way; they know if roads or
bridges are washed out; they are able to drive for hours without
losing their minds or their limbs; etc.). Moreover, a good guide can
make a trip into an experience.  Unfortunately, a bad guide can be
quite frustrating and end up costing you money. In general,
professional guides take you to the restaurants and shops of their
friends and get a cut of whatever you buy. There's nothing wrong with
that as long as the shops have what you want *and* they are giving you
a fair price *and* you want to go to the shops (remember, the guide
was hired by you to look after *your* interests). Knowing what things
should cost is the key to not getting screwed. If you tell your guide
that you need a bus from a to b, don't buy a ticket at the first place
he takes you unless you know the market rate for the trip. We got
suckered in Danang by Thai Quang Lam ("Lam") and Nguyen Van Tien
("Tien") solely because we didn't follow this rule. They were good
guides, but they let their friends really rip us off on a minibus trip
to Nha Trang. Moreover, be assertive. If you want to go to a certain
hotel, don't let a cyclo/taxi driver take you somewhere else -- even
if he assures you in his most earnest tone that his recommendationis
cheaper, nicer, cleaner, etc. Be as insistent (and as polite) as they
are. Having endured many such experiences, I found that we *always*
went where I wanted to go when I threatened to hop out of the
cyclo/taxi in mid-trip.



There are some boats between the mainland of Vietnam and the islands.

Rach Gia to/from Phu Quoc takes 6 to 10 hours and costs VND 44000.
Officially, it should leave every day at 8 am in Rach Gia and at 10 am
in An Thui. In reality it waits until there are enough passengers, so
be prepared to wait for one or two days.

Ha Tien to/from Phu Quoc: This is officially not allowed, since the
boat crosses Cambodian waters.

There is a boat between Vung Tao and the island Con Dao. One way takes
13 hours.


VIETNAM - Peter M. Geiser's Hotel and Travel Guide

Copyright (c) 1995 - 2005, Peter M. Geiser



New series by Peter M. Geiser and Sibylle Dussy, with many photos:

"Classics", FAQ of

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