How to Cross the Road in Vietnam

Getting around Vietnam is an art in itself.


Photo © iStock/egadolfo

Taxis, overnight trains and buses, the back of a local’s motorbike – whichever mode of transport you choose, chances are you'll leave Vietnam with plenty of stories to tell. 

We've got a few tips to make your journey as smooth as possible (potholes not withstanding) whichever way you choose to travel.

How to Cross the Street in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh

Walking around Vietnam is a challenge, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.

Drivers honk their horns constantly, often for no good reason. A honk could mean get out of my way, apologies for getting in your way, I’m turning left and/or right – or all of the above!

Confidence is key when crossing the road in Vietnam. Walk with purpose, and be quick on your feet.

The single biggest danger you face while traveling in Vietnam, is having a traffic accident.

If you do become injured on the road, don't expect that anyone will call an ambulance. Make sure you tell locals clearly that you will pay the ambulance fee. Hospitals will also not admit you unless you prove that you can pay the bill.

Grab a firm hold on your bag while you cross the street. It isn't uncommon for the 'snatch and grab' manouver to be played on un-assuming tourists.

Motorbike Rental Tips for Vietnam

Vietnam is crawling with motorbike rental scams and misunderstandings. Keep in mind these common-sense tips:

  • If you rent a bike and it doesn’t start, it isn’t a God-send that the next person you see just happens to own a mechanic shop 10 meters away.
  • Ensure you aren’t being followed as soon as you drive away from the rental shop. There have been reports of shop owners copying keys and “stealing” their bikes back so you have to buy them a shiny new one.
  • Contrary to what people say, it's illegal for travelers to ride motorbikes in Vietnam without a temporary Vietnamese motorcycle license. To convert your license or International Driving Permit into a temporary Vietnamese license, you must hold a Vietnamese residence permit of at least three months' validity or a three-month tourist visa.
  • Unlicensed riding resulting in the injury or death of a third party can be subject to imprisonment of 10–20 years, and compensation to the victim or victim’s family.
  • Don’t expect your travel insurance provider to come to the party either, they simply cannot insure you for illegal activity (unlicensed riding), so you’ll be paying your own hospital, or (heaven forbid) medical evacuation bills.

Travel by Bus in Vietnam

Overnight buses are a favorite hunting ground for thieves.

Don't fall asleep with earphones on, or your phone in sight. Get a padlock for your luggage, as it'll be stowed beaneath the bus, and keep valuable items such as your passport with you.

Try using your bag as a pillow if you find it takes up space. Though, you might find the driving is so erratic and terrifying you probably won't sleep for long anyway.

These buses are designed for the Vietnamese to travel long distances, so travelers may find it a little uncomfortable. Most sleeper buses do have reclining seats which can be transformed into a bed. Try to get on at one of the first stops, and cuddle up next to the window for extra comfort. 

There have been reports of buses being over booked, so ensure you book your ticket in advance so you’re not left standing for 14 hours. Shop around for a good deal, as bus prices do vary.

When you stop for a bathroom break, take your belongings with you. The toilets can be pretty ordinary, so pack some hand sanitsiser and wet wipes.

There's not much to eat and will be very few rest stops, on these bus journeys. But it's a cost effective way to get from A to B, and sometimes the sights oustide the window are the best part! If you don't care much for views, just close your eyes and think of the cold Saigon beer you’ll be enjoying at the other end.

Seeing Vietnam by Train

Trains are a popular, and more comfortable, way to travel through Vietnam. It's sometimes safer to buy your ticket at the station, as tour companies and travel agents have been known to sell you a budget ticket at an inflated price. 

You won't know this until you turn up at the train station, as there's nothing printed on the ticket saying which class you're booked in.

A few thousand Dong to upgrade your class is money well spent, but that all depends if you prefer sleeping on a wooden mattress, or your're a lover of foam mattress sleeping arrangements. 

If you're allergic to dust or mould, avoid sleeping on the top bunk. One of our very own Nomads had an allergic reaction on the overnight train from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Trang.

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  • Ashley said

    I travelled by three sleeper trains whilst travelling through Vietnam, each trip was an adventure and each train in varying states of disrepair but definitely worth it. My last train from Hue to Hanoi was slightly more harrowing as the air-conditioning broke half way through the night and the windows didn't open and it was hot!


  • Shonna said

    Taxis: make sure you use the ones from the companies Vina Sun and Mai Linh. They have meters and good rates.
    A different company charged me about $12 for a trip that should have cost > $3.


  • Mike Venuto said

    Vietnam has not changed much... both good and bad : )


  • Mel said

    I lived in Hanoi for 5 weeks and never saw a "snatch & grab". I never saw the sun either. The dry season (winter in the U.S.) in the north of Vietnam is simply less rainy than the wet season - and it is cold.

    As for taxis, yes, the two companies mentioned are more reliable, but even their drivers may take the long route to your destination, and their meters are set at a slightly higher rate for all trips.

    Sleeping on long-haul buses is next to impossible. The drivers keep Bollywood style videos playing 24/7 and loud, probably to stay awake, but you will too.

    Train travel in Vietnam is the way to go. Fellow travelers are friendly and accommodating. The only down-side to the lower berth is that people tend to sit on it during the day. Also be aware that people get on and off the train during the night, and you may wake up with different companions than you went to sleep with.

    No matter how you travel in Vietnam, you will never get to your destination on time, so factor in lots of delays . It is a gorgeous country with wonderful people, so GO!


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