Bus in Hanoi

How Buses Work in Vietnam: Tips, Fares, and Online Reservations

Image source: xuanduongvan87

Getting around Vietnam by public transportation is easy and cheap– much easier than Canada, USA, Australia, Japan and Korea.

Now more than ever, you can use English-friendly online-tools to help plan and find the right bus.

In this post, we talk about how to search for, plan, and buy tickets for three types of buses:

… plus some annoying pitfalls to watch-out for.

Inter-City Tourist Buses (like Sleeper Buses)

Sleeping buses in Vietnam are a bittersweat: you may be able to sleep a little if you can tolerate loud honking.

Aside from flying on Bamboo airlines between cities, one of the best ways to travel long-distances in Vietnam is through professional, toursit-friendly Sleeper Buses. There are dozens of competiting bus-companies, most of whom specificalize on a specific region or a few routes.

For tourists, the best and easiest way to research bus-routes is through Vexere.com: it is Vietnam’s most-trusted online marketplace for finding buses and making reservations. It also has nice features like “early bird discounts” and details about pick-up locations and drop-off locations.

Key points about professional inter-city buses in Vietnam:

  • You reserve your ticket ahead of time, but pay on the bus.
  • You should wait at the pickup spot 1 hour early.
  • There are many different private companies, each serving different cities and with different pick-up spots. Use Vexere.com to research which company goes where.
  • Tourist buses / sleeping buses are more expensive than what locals use, but less crowded.
  • There are usually early-bird discounts – so book ahead of time (>2 weeks).
  • The bed-size for sleeping buses are tiny: they are slightly uncomfortable for someone >5.6 ft tall.
  • Tourist buses usually have toilets on-board. Also, the bus usually stop every ~4 hours at fun places to eat and stretch.
  • The drivers honk and honk and honk, so bring your earplugs if you want to sleep.
  • Tourist buses typically have WIFI onboard — rarely does it work well.
  • Sleeping buses in Vietnam are rumoured to be dangerous (e.g. drivers falling asleep and crashing), but we’ve never had a problem.
  • Often, locals will sleep on the floor on the bus.

Most tourist buses leave from each cities’ central bus-station. In the big cities, there will be multiple inter-city bus stations. For example, in Hanoi, there is: Giáp Bát and Mỹ Đình However, many private buses will choose a local office as a starting-point (typically close to downtown). So, you may be asked to NOT go to the city’s bus-station, but instead gather at another random place.

If you’re uncomfortable using Vexere.com (read below), your hotel will happily do the reservation for you, including arranging a taxi pick-up/drop-off for a 15-20% fee — it’s not a bad service for peace of mind if you haven’t ridden a Vietnamese bus before.

How to Book Inter-City Buses Online in Vietnam

Vexere.com is Vietnam’s most-trusted online marketplace to reserve seats for regional/inter-city buses. It is also available in English! Using Vexere is much like any other travel-affiliate website: enter an origin, a destination, travel date & time, and hit “search”.

You reserve seats ahead of time, but pay for your ticket with cash at the point of departure (typically 20-30 minutes after the bus departs).

Vexere.com is a Vietnamese online marketplace for inter-city buses.

Tip: Do not provide credit-card or debit-card information to bus-companies in Vietnam. If you do, you will eventually get fake charges: their payment-security is not very good.

Advanced: you will pay a little premium by going through Vexere, rather than booking directly with the bus company itself. If you know how to speak Vietnamese, or if you have a Vietnamese friend who can help you, you should use Vexere for researching companies and schedules, and then contact the company directly on the phone or in-person at their local office — no texting, no website purchases.

In the results-page of Vexere, be sure to read more about each company, e.g. check online reviews, see how long they’ve been operating as a company. You may want to select the “Limosine”-option to have a slightly cleaner experience with moist-toilettes. However, the trip will just be as loud and annoying…

Click on “Details” and be sure to note the bus’s pick-up location. Don’t assume that the bus will arrive/depart from the town’s official bus station: see the example below which shows a weird random location. Be aware!

Notice that inter-city buses have a variety of starting-points: not all depart from the city bus-station, many start from a tiny local office. Why? To avoid paying terminal fees. Source: Vexere.com

Are Sleeping Buses Safe in Vietnam?

For first-time tourists in Vietnam, you’re almost guaranteed to hear rumours about horrific accidents involving sleeper buses, with gory tales about bus-drivers falling sleep and crashing in the mountains. Some netizens tell tales about being robbed on Vietnamese buses!

From our personal experience, sleeper buses don’t seem to be more or less dangerous than other forms of vehicular transportation in Vietnam (car, taxi, motorbike). Overall, transit feels more dangerous, in general, in Vietnam.

However, we aren’t totally dismissive about the dangers: we always do a little digging into the bus companies, just to assuage our nagging fears of a fiery death. Consider reading other people’s anecdotes on this Tripadvisor forum. TL;DR: lots of rumours of accidents, no big concern about theft.

Tourists Getting Swindled at Bus Stations

Alternatively, you can research and book tickets by physically going to the bus station. However we do not recommend doing your scheduling / research at the bus station, unless you are fluent in Vietnamese and are very shrewd.

More likely, you will pay too much, or may get confused, or duped into an incorrect trip. Why? See the cheap-regional busses below.

An anecdote of what can happen at the bus station:

I wanted to go to Mai Châu from Hanoi. I walked around the Giáp Bát bus station asking the various vendors at kiosks “Đi Mai Châu không?” I eventually found a cheap ticket, and they said “yes yes yes! Mai Châu Mai Châu!”. The trip was fun: the bus driver even invited me have some Lao tabacco and drink. However, instead of dropping me off at Mai Châu, they only took me half-way. At the half-way point, they waived down another bus that did go to Mai Châu, which I had to pay, again, the full fare.

Was this trip a diaster? No. Were they unhelpful? Not really. But it wasn’t exactly what I wanted and it was kind of confusing. These kinds of surprises are common if you don’t know what you are doing. This is why it is often better to do research online (with Vexere) and reserve online.

Xe Dù – Regional Cheap Buses in Vietnam

While tourists take the big Greyhound-like buses, locals prefer the Xe khách dù (unofficial buses). These are usually 30% cheaper than the official touristy buses.

As a tourist in Vietnam, its unlikely that you’ll be able to reliably use the Xe dù — only locals really know about them and where to find them.

Xe dù are unofficial, small bus-businesses that travel between cities, beloved by locals. They often stop randomly (like in the middle of a busy street) to pick-up/drop-off passengers. Source: atgt.vn

However, if you want to save some money, watch for these buses driving slowly near the bus station, door ajar, yelling the destination at pedestrians trying to get a few extra passengers to board before they depart.

What can we say about the Xe dù? They are:

  • Small family-run businesses
  • Cheaper
  • They will stop wherever you want (within reason)
  • Unprofessional, no website, casual, temperamental — but flexible
  • Older buses
  • Smaller buses
  • Usually late, or have no fixed schedule
  • They do all sorts of side-hustling, like delivering parcels and animals
  • Crowded
  • May have Wifi (the driver’s mobile hotspot)

On the pro side, these buses are cheaper and more flexible (“Hey can you drop me off at X?”). On the con side, they don’t like tourists with giant backpacks. You should really only consider the xe dù if:

  • You regularly travel between two towns (and so you can become familiar with a particular bus-company)
  • You have a small back-pack
  • You have become Vietnamese

It may sound like we are disparaging the Xe dù — we aren’t! they are used by many people everyday and are a fine way to get around. They are just highly variable and difficult to understand as a non-Vietnamese.

Metro Buses in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City – How to Plan and Get Around

Bus stop markers in Hanoi: standardized and noticeable.

Inner-city transit is surprisingly effective in Vietnam’s largest cities, with Hanoi more so than Ho Chi Minh City, especially with the new monorail (opened in 2022).

Tourists can reliably use Google maps to plan their trip within cities. For example, here is a trip we’ve made many times: how to get from the Old Quarter to the Museum of Ethnology link (google maps trip ).

Vietnam’s city-bus schedules are quasi-reliable, but you should expect buses to be late. If you need to get somewhere on-time, you should plan to leave ~20 minutes earlier to account for bus-problems (actually, this isn’t unique to Vietnam — we do this in Toronto as well).

The sign-posts for bus stops are pretty obvious and easy to spot:

  • popular bus-stops have wind-shelters, seats, and sometimes even electronic displays
  • small/infrequent stops may just have a pole and bus-marking (see the photo above)

Bus Fare on Vietnamese City-Buses: How to Pay for Bus Tickets

In Hanoi and Saigon, there is no such thing as prepaid bus tickets or metrocards. Here is how you pay for bus-fare in Vietnam:

  • Hop on the bus and take a seat.
  • A fare-guy will approach you to collect cash.
  • The fare for one leg of the trip is typically 7,000 to 9,000 VND.
  • Pay with cash. You don’t need exact fare! — he will give you change.
  • To request a stop, there will be little red-buttons throughout the bus.
  • When the bus stops, the back-door will open automatically.

There are monthly bus passes available from major bus stations — they are super cheap! For a student, a monthly pass is 100,000 VND (~$5USD), or 200,000 VND for regular adults.

Are There “Transfers” for Vietnamese City Buses?

No! Each hop-on/hop-off is 7,000 – 9,000 VND. There is no such thing as a transfer or time-window in which you can switch buses for free.

So, if your trip requires changing buses, you’ll need to pay 9k VND for each leg of the journey.

Airport Public Transport and Shuttle Buses in Vietnam – Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City

Minivan shuttle buses are cheap (40,000 VND) and go from central locations to the airport. Each airline has their own shuttlebus. Source: timchuyenbay

If you don’t want to pay for a Grab (like Uber in Vietnam), you’ll generally have two options to get from the International Airport to the city’s down-town: i) inter-city buses, and ii) dedicated shuttle services. Both of these are quite reliable and cheap (a few bucks).

How to Get from Noi Bai International Airport to Downtown Hanoi by Bus

The Noi Bai International Airport is about 1 to 1.5 hours away from Hanoi proper. Aside from a ~250,000 VND Grab taxi, there are several options bus options.

At the the Noi Bai Domestic Terminal (T1), you can find city-buses just outside the terminal’s entrance (see English-sign photo below). Also, there is a place nearby parking lot where several buses wait, just ~300m west of the terminal’s entrance here

Bus stop at the Noi Bai Domestic terminal

At the Noi Bai International Terminal (T2), you can pickup local buses in front of the airport entrance, here

  • The bus 86CT (Ga Hà Nội) goes closest to the Old Quarter Hanoi (stop here ), after which it proceeds to the Hanoi Train Station. The trip takes ~1 hour and 40 minutes, and costs 40,000 VND. Bus 86CT departs every 25 min during normal business hours.
  • Bus 17 (Long Biên) goes close to the downtown, just north of the Old Quarter(stop here ). It take 1 hour and 50 minutes, and only costs 9,000 VND.
  • Other city buses that depart from Noi Boi are: #07 (Bãi Đỗ Xe Cầu Giấy), #109 (Bến Xe Mỹ Đình), #68 (Sân Bay Nội Bài)

Cheap Airline Shuttle Buses

For a cheap fare of 40,000 VND, you can skip the rickety public buses and take an airline shuttle bus: a faster, cozier, 16-seat mini van. You don’t need to fly on Vietnam Airlines in order to use them.

The Vietnam Airlines shuttles depart every ~30 minutes, either way, in front of the Vietnam Airlines kiosks at the airport. In the Old Quarter, they go to (and depart from) the Vietnam Airlines office at 25 Tràng Thi, Hoàn Kiếm just south of Hoàn Kiếm Lake in the Old Quarter.

Likewise, Jetstar and VietJet have shuttle buses with an identical service. From Hanoi, Jetstar departs/arrives from Tràng Thi and Quang Trung (4 Tràng Thi, Hoàn Kiếm ). From the airport, look for the buses near the Jetstar Kiosks.

How to Get From Tan Son Nhat International Airport to Downtown Saigon District 1)

The Ho Chi Minh City international airport is very close to the city’s downtown. We basically just always take a taxi (or grab) for ~₫50,000 – ₫100,000 (~$2 USD).

However, there are several public bus options that cost ₫5,000 – ₫20,000. The Airport pick-up stop is right outside the terminal’s entrance.

  • 109 (Bến Xe Buýt Sài Gòn), ~56 min hour trip. this goes to the main HCMC Bus Station
  • 152 (Airport – City Center – Ben Thanh), ~1 hour. ₫5,000

Both pass by Ben Thanh along Lê Lai Street from which you can easily walk to Pham Ngu Lao (the famous Backpacker Street).

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply