Transportation in Vietnam

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Article Index
Transportation in Vietnam
Tips for using Transport System in Vietnam
Vietnam's Railways
Vietnam's roadway
Air Transport in Vietnam
Transport by boat
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I. Tips for using Transport System in Vietnam

1. Transportation in Vietnam: DOs & DON’Ts

Planes, Trains & Buses

DO consider flying if you’re going a long way within Vietnam, because any other means of transport is always much slower and sometimes only slightly cheaper.
DON’T get stuck in the mud: in the rainy season, road and rail are frequently flooded or even washed away in the regions that are hardest hit.
DO reconfirm any flight to make sure there’s no change.
DON’T arrive at the airport just in time for a domestic flight. Until recently, it was actually more expensive for foreigners to travel from Hanoi to Hochiminh City by train than by air. And this is for a journey that still takes a couple of days as opposed to a flight lasting a mere couple of hours!
If what you are after is seeing plenty of scenery and having time to meet people and chat with them, DO let the train take the strain. Trains are still very slow, despite reports almost weekly that they are picking up extra speed. They are also a bit noisy and often rather Spartan, but a very pleasant and civilized means of transport, with much more legroom than any kind of bus, and conserve some of the charm of a bygone era. They offer – for a price – air conditioning, plush seats, comfy sleepers and gourmet food in a restaurant car.
DON’T opt for the bus if you’re prone to claustrophobia, motion sickness, are pregnant, suffer from a weak heart or actually expect to have a good time. The Vietnamese are not renowned for the safety or courtesy of their driving.
DO use local city buses: once you’ve worked out where to catch the ones you want, these present an excellent (and stunningly cheap) way of getting around. Cities in Vietnam are investing in new buses and improving the service in an effort to combat traffic congestion.
DO keep things on the planes, trains, and your hired vehicles clean. In case there’s something wrong you may find, call the master right away, or else you may get into trouble later.

Taxis, xe om, and cyclos

Taxis are fairly cheap and plentiful

DO check that the driver starts the meter, unless you agree to a price before you move off and then stick to it.
If you use taxis, xe om, or cyclos, it’s best to always make sure you have some small notes on you. The “sorry, no change” line is often used to try and round up the fare to fit your bank notes. If you only carry 50,000 VND bills, it might get expensive.
DO make sure the driver has really understood where you want to go rather than just answering “yes” to everything you say and then driving around aimlessly – with the meter running – with the hope that inspiration will strike from some unlikely quarter… If you can’t make yourself understood, show your destination to him in writing.
A xe om is a motorbike taxi, a very popular and practical way of getting around. You’ll find them on every street corner in the country – or rather they’ll find you and eagerly offer their services. This is the fastest way to get across town without having your own bike and is often the best and cheapest way to get to a distant beach, village, site, airport, etc. DO fix a price before you hop on, politely ignore any attempt to renegotiate the amount along the way and check that you are indeed where you want to be before you pay off your xe om. You DON’T need to bring along a helmet cause all xe om drivers carry one more (besides theirs) for customer.
Cyclos, or bicycle trishaws, offer a quiet, leisurely and eco-friendly way to cover short distance. Cyclo features three wheels. DO choose Cyclo to enjoy a city tour as it moves quite slowly.
DON’T take Cyclos late at night, unless you know your way around as this is not a very safe option.

Car, motorbike and bicycle rental

Cars for rent at comfort are Japanese 4x4s and Russian jeeps for long journeys and remote regions visiting. But they usually come with a driver. Yet, car is still not the ideal form of transport for Vietnam’s narrow roads and saturated city streets.
For short stays in Vietnam, your driving license from your own country should be sufficient, provided it applies to motorcycles. If possible, DO obtain an official Vietnamese translation of your license.
DO remember that this driving license will usually only be valid for the same period as your visa! After that, you start the process over again! But experience will make the process much quicker!
Renting bicycles and motorbikes is cheap and easy. And this service is now offered almost everywhere in Vietnam. However, DON’T take the risks involved lightly: the number of foreigners implicated in traffic accidents – from minor spills to major, horrific trauma – is proportionately high, and this is a country with a soaring accident rate.
DO take the time to rent a bicycle for a few days before you rent a motorbike. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with local conditions without quite as much speed, risk and hot metal being involved.
DO check the brakes, lights and wheel bearings on any vehicle before you rent it.
DO keep sharp eye on your rented motorbike to avoid theft.
In Vietnam, horns are heavily used: a motorbike sill runs with no lights or little brakes, but if the horn doesn’t work, the bike needs fixing. Some young sparks have the amusing idea of fixing a powerful car horn to a scooter. So DON’T let it get to you. If you start screaming at people for blowing their horns, they will simply stare at you in amazement.
DO use the horn yourself when you drive, otherwise, it can be dangerous.
Helmets are now used by all motorbike riders as a rule. So DO remember to use one for yourself.
DON’T buy a Chinese helmet: it might look as good and be cheaper but it won’t resist a serious impact.


When walking around in the cities, DO beware of traffic: As crossing the road, follow the zebra crossing, and wait until the light turns blue. Still, remember to look around before crossing as motorbike riders sometimes run even at yellow light and at high speed.

Driving license

Technically, a foreigner needs a Vietnamese license to drive anything above 50cc; while this is rare if ever enforced, your papers won’t be in order if you have an accident, whether it’s your fault or not.
For short stays in Vietnam, your driving license from your own country should be sufficient, provided it applies to motorcycles. If possible, DO obtain an official Vietnamese translation of your license (unless it mentions that you are not entitled to drive). Official translations can be obtained at the public notary’s offices in most large towns. It normally only takes a couple of days and a few dollars.
An international driving license is only a recognized translation of your own country’s license.any official-looking, photo-bearing document can be an asset when negotiating your way out of a delicate situation with local policemen or authorities.
If you intend to stay in the country for longer periods and wish to do more serious driving, then you might want to apply for a local driving license. You will need quite a bit of patience for this and a hefty pile of papers and letters that will include photocopies of passport, visa, driving license and originals of your driving license official translation as well as a letter from your sponsoring agency (not needed if you are on a tourist visa).
DO remember that this driving license will usually only be valid for the same period as your visa. After that, you start the process over again.

2. Ten Tips to Survive Vietnam's Traffic

DON’T spend hours waiting to cross the street on foot: that constant tide of traffic won’t stop until late at night, so
DO as the Vietnamese do: take the plunge and inch slowly across. Observe the Miracle of the Red Sea, as the traffic parts like magic, flowing smoothly in front of you or behind, meeting up again on the other side.
DON’T make any sudden or unpredictable movements: freeze if you have to, but never lunge forward or backward towards the safety of the sidewalk. In fact, you can do just about anything, but do it with conviction!
DON’T forget, if you’re riding or driving, to look where you’re going – all the time: if you hit anything in front of you, then it’s your fault.
DO give way to any vehicle bigger and noisier than yours. Trucks and buses are particularly dangerous: often old, sometimes unsafe and usually all over the road.
DO watch out for unfamiliar obstacles: water buffaloes, rocks of various sizes, broken-down trucks…, people sitting in the road, missing bridges, girls in ao dai cycling five abreast, slow-moving mountains of farm produce, dog fights, impromptu football matches, piles of building materials – and almost no light on anything at night..
DON’T hesitate to take evasive action – even if this sometimes means leaving the tarmac or coming to a dead stop.
DO try to avoid getting involved in one of the all-too-frequent minor accidents that plague Vietnam’s roads (and the major ones as well, of course), but if you are unlucky,
DON’T lose your cool, in spite of the interference of the large and vocal crowd that may gather: try to settle things amicably and swiftly. Sometimes, paying a reasonable amount of money will save you a lot of hassle.
DO remember that the only rule is: you’re not allowed to bump into anybody… irrespective of what they did or should have done, or of what the road signs or traffic lights were telling them to do. Some people still seem to think that anything red means forward, comrade

3. Traveling with Special Items

Airlines have seen it all. They have seen passengers transport every type of item - from tubas to scuba gear, parachutes to perishables - and they have rules in place for each and every piece. Following those rules is critical if you want to board smoothly and arrive at your destination on time.
To help you travel better with the possessions you simply must have at your destination, here are some helpful guidelines from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for transporting special items by airlines.
Please note that some airlines and other countries may have additional rules and restrictions on these particular items, so before you travel, check with your travel agent to obtain the most up-to-date information. Your travel agent can verify your airline's policies before you arrive at the airport, so you don't waste time trying to track down the info yourself.

Alcoholic Beverages
You cannot take alcoholic beverages with more than 70 percent alcohol content (140 proof), which includes grain alcohol and high-proof rums like Bacardi 151, in your carry-on or checked luggage.
As for alcohol under 70 percent, you may take up to five liters per person in your checked luggage if it's packaged in a sealable bottle or flask.

Camping Equipment

Camp Stoves - You can bring these as carry-on or checked luggage only if they are empty of all fuel and cleaned so that there are no vapors or residue left - simply emptying the fuel container will leave flammable vapors, so cleaning is essential. Safest bet: ship the fuel containers to your destination ahead of time - passengers frequently have to leave them at the checkpoint because of fuel vapors.

Gasoline - You cannot bring any flammable liquids, including gasoline, in either your carry-on or checked luggage.

Aerosol insecticides - Hazardous aerosols, such as insecticides, cannot be transported in either your carry-on or checked luggage. Personal items like hair sprays and deodorants are allowed only in limited quantities.

Flares - You may not bring flare guns in either your carry-on or checked luggage.

Knives and Tools - Pack knives and tools in your checked luggage. Sheath or securely wrap any sharp edges so that they do not injure baggage handlers and security officers.

Animal Repellants - You can bring chemical repellants in your checked luggage if the volume is less than four ounces and its active ingredient is less than two percent (most bear repellants exceed these limitations). Safest bet: buy these items at your destination and leave them behind when your trip is over.

Compressed Gas Cylinders - Compressed gas cylinders are allowed in checked baggage or as a carry-on only if the regulator valve is completely disconnected and the cylinder is no longer sealed (i.e. the cylinder has an open end). The cylinder must have an opening to allow for an internal visual inspection, and security personnel will not remove the seal or regulator at the checkpoint.
If the cylinder is sealed (i.e. the regulator valve is still attached), the cylinder is prohibited and not permitted through the security checkpoint, regardless of the reading on the pressure gauge indicator.

Crematory Containers and Deceased Remains
You are allowed to carry-on a crematory container, but it must pass through the x-ray machine. If the container is made of a material that prevents the screener from clearly viewing what is inside, then the container will not be allowed through.
Crematory containers are made from many different types of materials, so it's difficult to state for certain whether your particular crematory container can successfully pass through an x-ray machine. Just in case, purchase a temporary or permanent crematory container made of a lighter weight material such as wood or plastic that can be successfully x-rayed.
You may transport the urn as checked baggage provided that it is successfully screened. TSA will screen the urn for explosive materials/devices using a variety of techniques; if cleared, it will be permitted as checked baggage only. Out of respect for the deceased, the screener may not open the container under any circumstance.
Some airlines do not allow cremated remains as checked baggage so please check with your travel agent before attempting to transport a crematory container in checked baggage.

Currency, Coins, Precious Metals, or Valuable Jewelry
If you are carrying valuable items such as large amounts of currency, coins or jewelry, ask the security officer to screen you and your carry-on luggage in private. This will maintain your security and avoid public scrutiny. Ask to speak with a screening supervisor before you reach the metal detectors and tell them you would prefer to be screened in a private location.

Firearms & Ammunition
You may only transport firearms, ammunition and firearm parts in your checked baggage; these items are prohibited from carry-on baggage. When transporting firearms, firearm parts or ammunition in checked baggage, you must declare them to airline personnel during the ticket counter check-in process. The firearm must be unloaded and in a locked, hard-sided container.
You should remain present during the screening and provide the key or combination to the security officer if he or she needs to open the container. If you are not present, and the security officer must open the container, the airline will make a reasonable attempt to contact you; if they cannot, the container will not be placed on the plane.
You must securely pack any ammunition in fiber (such as cardboard), wood or metal boxes or other packaging specifically designed to carry small amounts of ammunition. You cannot use firearm magazines/clips for packing ammunition unless they completely and securely enclose the ammunition (e.g., by securely covering the exposed portions of the magazine or by securely placing the magazine in a pouch, holder, holster or lanyard).
You may carry ammunition in the same hard-sided case as the firearm, as long as you pack it as described above. Finally, you cannot bring black powder or percussion caps used with black-powder type firearms in either your carry-on or checked baggage.

Hunting & Fishing Equipment
Hunting Knives, Spear Guns, Bow and Arrows - All are prohibited from carry-on luggage and should be packed in checked luggage. All sharp objects should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and security screeners.
Fishing Rods/Poles - Fishing rods are permitted as carry-on and checked baggage. But before you travel, check with your air carrier to confirm that it fits within its size limitations for carry-on items.
Tackle Equipment - Fishing equipment should be placed in your checked baggage, for some tackle can be considered sharp and dangerous. Expensive reels or fragile tackle (such as flies) can be packed in your carry-on baggage.

Knitting Needles, Needlepoint & Sewing
Knitting needles are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage. However, security officers have the authority to determine if an item could be used as a weapon and may not allow these items to pass through security. To avoid this from happening, bring circular knitting needles made of bamboo or plastic and blunt scissors. In any event, be sure to carry a crochet hook with yarn to save the work you have already done in case your knitting tools are surrendered at the checkpoint
Most of the items needed to pursue a needlepoint project are permitted in your carry-on baggage or checked baggage with the exception of circular thread cutters or any cutter with a blade contained inside. These items must go in your checked baggage.

Lighters, Matches and Zippos
You cannot bring lighters (fueled or without fuel) in carry-on luggage or while going through the security checkpoint, but you may bring up to four books of safety (non-strike anywhere) matches in your carry-on baggage or on your person. For safety reasons, you may not bring "strike anywhere" matches at all.
You may take up to two fueled Zippo lighters in your checked baggage if they are properly enclosed in a DOT approved case. You can bring unlimited quantities of unfueled lighters in your checked baggage. If you are uncertain as to whether your lighter is prohibited, please refrain from bringing it to the airport.

Musical Instruments
You may bring musical instruments as carry-on or as checked baggage, but first check with your airline prior to your flight to ensure your instrument meets the size requirements for their aircraft. Security officers must x-ray or physically screen your instrument before it can be transported on an aircraft.
As for specific instruments, pack brass instruments in your checked baggage and stringed instruments as carry-on items, if they are within carrier size limitations.
If you have an instrument in your checked baggage, include short instructions (very clear and understandable to someone with no musical background) for handling and repacking your instrument. Make sure these instructions are easy to find on or near your instrument.
Per TSA Screening Policy, you may carry one musical instrument in addition to your one carry-on and one personal item through the screening checkpoint. Individual airlines may or may not allow the additional carry-on item on their aircraft, so check before you arrive at the airport.

You may bring skydiving rigs with and without Automatic Activation Devices (AAD) as carry-on or checked luggage. Typically, a rig will move through the checked luggage or carry-on security screening process without needing physical inspection. However, security officers have a duty to thoroughly inspect any item that raises suspicion. If security officers determine that they need to open a rig to inspect it, you must be present and will be allowed to assist. For this reason, skydivers should add at least 30 minutes to the airline's recommended arrival window when they are traveling with their parachutes.
When checking the parachute in as luggage, pack the rig separately without any other items in the bag. Additional items, if suspicious, could trigger an inspection of the entire bag. Parachute owners may help security officers unpack and repack the rig.

Scuba Equipment
You may bring regulators, buoyancy compensators and masks, snorkels and fins as carry-on or checked baggage.
Knives and spear guns are prohibited from carry-on luggage and should be packed in checked luggage. Sheath or securely wrap any sharp objects you pack in your checked luggage to prevent them from injuring baggage handlers and security officers.

Sporting Equipment
Certain sporting equipment cannot be brought on-board an aircraft, but they may be transported to your destination in your checked baggage. These items include: baseball bats, cricket bats, hockey sticks, martial arts devices, golf clubs, pool cues, ski poles and ice skates. Any sharp objects in checked baggage should be sheathed or securely wrapped to prevent injury to baggage handlers and security officers.