Vietnam North to South with Open Bus
Our wish was to travel around Vietnam North to South by train, but when we arrived in the country we discovered that maybe train was not our best option. So, Join Me There in Vietnam and see how we found out the best way to travel along the tiny but long country with such a painful, but beautiful history.
All started in Hanoi
Actually our first stop by in Vietnam was in Ho Chi Minh City, click here to read more about this vibrant capital and what you can do around there. But actually, from the old Saigon we took a plane to Hanoi and our intention was to go down the borders again. Well, why we picked it this way is a bit complicated and might be some topic for another day. For this article the important thing is how in Hanoi we discovered that taking a train in Vietnam wasn’t what we expected.
While getting out of the taxi in Ho Chi Minh City, Simon made a bad move and some high back pain hit on him. Well, if you are older than 25, the chances that you’ve been there and done that with the back pain is huge. So you also know that our next days should be a bit slow, so he could recover from his back pain. We were backpacking, so have a healthy back was our priority number one. Because of that we decided to take it easy in Hanoi and we just explored the areas around our hotel, which was very well located by the way. It was in one of those walking arounds that we found Grace and her amazing juice store. She came to save us!
Grace Juice Store
From the outside was a very small door and everything looked like a small cave. The place was very cute and she was super helpful. We went inside to ask for some information on where to exchange money around there and we ended up finding the person who would solve our problems on traveling around Vietnam. As an extra bonus, we had some amazing Mango Lasse for only 15.000 VND (around 0,60 euros), but really amazing ones. For me was the best I ever tried!
Unfortunately Grace shop is not there anymore, but if you also need some help with traveling around in Vietnam, you can contact here through her Facebook page. She will help you as much as she helped us. Plus, her english is pretty good and she is such a sweet person!
Open Bus vs. Trains
On our first visit to Grace she briefly mentioned to us an “Open Bus” way to travel. She also told that our intention on going by train could be expensive and slow. Actually we were not too concerned about the speed, but prices definitely would be something that would take us. Well, in the end, what was the “Open Bus”? It is like a Hop On Hop Off along Vietnam. They have in their list serveral cities that you can use as a stop. When going out on those cities, you can stay as long as you want. The only rule is to book the next bus 24 hours before your departure. Very simple and very practical!
Besides all this information, we decided to look for some trains. We went to the Hanoi central train station and with 1 stop, the train travel from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh would cost around 100 euro per person. Also, we wouldn’t have the same flexibility than with the buses and we would have to plan our entire trip before buying the tickets. So, this was information enough for us to decide for the Open Bus.
The Open Bus
Our first itinerary was: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hue, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh. But the bus Hanoi to Ha Long Bay was not included in the Open Bus itinerary, so we had to book it separately. For this bus we payed a total of 120.000 VDN (around 5 euros) and for the Open Bus tickets we payed 980.000 VND (around 40 euros) per person. Yes, to travel from one edge to another in Vietnam we payed 90 euros for both of us. Much better than what we had to pay for the trains. Much better! AND, yes, there is an and, we got even 1 free hostel night in Ninh Binh and another one in Hue. It was a great deal! The company of our Open Bus was The Long Travel.
So, how did that work?
All we got from Grace was a pinky invoice, hand written with our itinerary on it. She promised us that our bus would pick us up in the hotel next day and gave us her phone number. Also, in Ha Long Bay, we should go to the address she wrote down on the paper, so we could take the bus to Ninh Binh. After that she told us that we always have to book the next bus on the same place that the bus dropped us. A bit scary in the beginning, but as soon as everything starts you feel a bit safer.
From Hanoi to Ha Long Bay – The not Open Bus one
The bus was supposed to pick us in our hotel between 8:15 and 9:00 in the morning. They arrived only 9:30, which gave us some goosebumps and the feeling we were scammed, but we were wrong. This first bus was a Mini Bus and it was already super crowded. We had to take the back sits and Simon (that is 2,02 m!) had to fight for some space for his legs in the corridor. The travel was around 4:30 hours long and had one stop in a very horrible place where they sold statues everywhere, but no food. We were starving and all we could find was some ice cream. They also dropped us in the part of Ha Long Bay that was a bit far from the budget hotels, so we had to get together with other backpackers to share the expensive taxi to the hotels area.
From Ha Long Bay to Ninh Binh
Booking this bus was a bit complicated. We rented a Scooter and went to the address where Grace had written to us. To find this address was a bit challenging. We had to ride to the port area at the small island Dao Thuan Chao in Ha Long Bay and from there we had to stop few times to ask for information. After a quite long ride, we arrived at a Port Shop completely full of people coming and going for the water tours. I contacted Grace again and she told me to wait there, that someone would go to find me. That took almost half an hour, because, of course, was not that simple to be found or find anyone there. The place was really crowded. Tony was the guy that found us and arranged the bus to pick us at the hotel on the next morning. He also gave us his phone number in case something goes wrong.
Of course they were around half an hour late when they arrived at our hotel. The bus was a normal travel bus and completely full. The only two combined sits available were in the first row with no space to the legs at all. Again Simon suffered a bit. Not happy with the crowded bus, they still stoped to pick more and more people until they got to a point where no sits where available anymore, but still one passenger had to sit. They improvised with a plastic stool without support for the back, positioned by the side of the driver. Completely unsafe. Another 4 hours of travel and we got to Tam Coc, that is exactly where you want to be when going to Ninh Binh.
From Ninh Binh to Hue
In Ninh Binh we had our free hostel night, which was in a not so clean hostel in a 20 beds room. The lower beds had curtains and the upper ones didn’t. The mattress where pretty uncomfortable and we regret a bit taking the free offer. We would rather pay a bit, but have better conditions. The bus to Hue left from the door of our hotel and it was a night bus with beds. The beds were individuals, but very small for someone like Simon. Actually anyone taller than 1,75m will already find it uncomfortable. The last line beds have more space to the feet, so if you are a tall person, always try to get those beds. The negative part is that those beds are connected to each other so you will have to travel arm with arm to somebody else. It was also in Hue that they changed our ticket to a proper Open Bus ticket with individual tickets for the rest of the trip. The good thing about it is that they didn’t check our itinerary and gave us a block with two extras stops: Nha Trang and Mui Né. Lucky us!
This travel was supposed to be 15 hours long, but our driver did it in 12. Sometimes they speed too much, which is a bit scary.
From Hue to Hoi An
Here the travel company couldn’t take us in our hotel, because the bus couldn’t drive in the central area. We took a taxi to the bus company, but this costed us around a dollar. This travel was during the day, but even though they had the night buses with beds. This makes the travel a bit more comfortable, we must say. We were lucky to get an empty bus and we had the back beds just for us. The travel took around 4 to 5 hours and we were again lucky that their route passed almost in front of our hotel and after request they dropped us there. It was a very nice deal.
From Hoi An to Nha Trang
We decided to skip Nha Trang and go straight to Mui Né. But even though we had to take this bus to Nha Trang and wait another hour in Nha Trang to take the bus to Mui Né. This bus was very full, but we managed to take the back beds. This time Simon had to deal with the Arm-to-Arm situation, but at least he would fit in the bed and could travel more comfortably. This travel took around 10 hours and it was a night travel.
From Nha Trang to Mui Né
At the same place where the bus dropped us, the other bus would depart from, so we just had to wait. This travel was again quicker and during the day, but the bus was very empty. We had again the back beds just for us, which is pleasant when you have bigger hand luggage.
From Mui Né to Ho Chi Minh
Besides being a bit longer, this travel was also during the day. The bus picked us up in our hotel around 9 in the morning and dropped us in Ho Chi Minh by the end of the day. I guess this was the most empty bus during our Vietnamese tour and again we took the back beds, but this time sharing them with another couple, but with a free bed between us. Very comfortable for both couples! This was our last Open Bus travel and we finished our tour in Vietnam back in Ho Chi Minh.
Like I said before, in the beginning looks like something that it won’t work so well. The things are not so well organised and you might get a bit insecure. Our best tips is to always have somebody’s telephone number for you to call in case they get late. Also keep in mind that they are always late. They managed to get late even on the day that the bus was parked in front of the bus company all the time. So, it is a Vietnamese charm to get late.
Even with some delays that was definitely a great experience and the best way to travel in Vietnam from north to south. You save a lot of money and enjoy the cities as much as you want. Can’t be better than this! 😉
Date of our visit to Vietnam: from 12.04 to 01.05.2017