The Vietnam transportation system and infrastructure is decades behind that of nearby Southeast Asia countries like Thailand due the many years it has taken the country to recover from the devastation of two wars in the twentieth century—first with France and then with the United States. In many areas, the primary transportation in Vietnam for local people remains bicycles, motorbikes, and river boats. In the mainly agricultural regions of the countryside, oxen and donkey carts are still widely used. For long trips, the locals usually rely on a fairly reliable, albeit far less than deluxe, public bus system. Only those tourists on very tight budgets—usually intrepid young people looking for adventure—will normally use this method to get from place to place. Within the larger cities (Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Hue) that are most visited by tourists, the bus system is very inexpensive and fairly efficient; and taxis are readily available.
Transportation in Vietnam
This status quo was sufficient, until the country finally opened up to tourism for Westerners in the 1990s. To serve these visitors, roads have been improved, and car rental in Vietnam is available in all the largest cities. There is a highway system connecting one part of the country to the other, all the way from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the Mekong Delta area in the far south. The best place to get a car rental in Vietnam is at the international airport on arrival or with the assistance of the better luxury hotels in the larger cities. As is true in most developing countries, car rental in Vietnam is a method the fewest number of tourists choose. In the countryside, almost no signage has English translation, and most Western tourists are more comfortable with booking vacations that include transportation.
By far, the most popular modes of Vietnam transportation for local people are bicycles and motorcycles. You will be quite amazed at how these are utilized to the full limit of their capacity. You are apt see an entire family of four or more people on a small motorbike. Both bicycles and motorcycles are used to transport everything from furniture (even a refrigerator!) to produce and farm animals. These simple vehicles have translated into perfect transportation in Vietnam for tourists. In cities and towns alike, cyclos and trishaws are used as taxis. Many tours of the Old Quarter of Hanoi are in trishaws, and many vacation packages include a ride in one somewhere on the itinerary. Vacation packages also utilize air travel to get from place to place, as there is good air service to all the major tourist regions.
There are great guided cycling and motorcycle tours (with support vans) available in the lovely countryside, and motorcycle hire in Vietnam is possible for those who want to get out on the road on self-guided tours. In some places, like beautiful Pho Quoc Island and the beaches of the Mekong Delta region, rented motorbikes are the primary method of Vietnam transportation for tourists.
Another traditional mode of transportation in Vietnam that has been adapted very successfully for tourists is on the water. There are wonderful river cruises available, especially on the Mekong River and its delta. Some of these last for several days, cruising the river from Thailand, through Laos and Cambodia, and into Vietnam. The river ships for these cruises are beautiful and quite deluxe. Ocean cruises, often aboard deluxe traditional junks, are popular everywhere on the country’ long coastline, especially in beautiful Halong Bay.