Vietnam: Accommodations & Transportation

Jenn Sutherland-Miller

This guide is part of a series of country-by-country focused resources for Southeast Asia addressing accommodations and transportation. You’ll find some overlap with the posts for other countries within the region. We’ve separated them by country because that’s what our readers are looking for. Feel free to skim past the parts that don’t suit you or seem redundant. Let us know if you’ve got insider knowledge to add!

Traveling is Vietnam is always an adventure. Learning to dance to the rhythm of the chaos is part of the allure.

The trick is not to pre-book everything. Resist the urge to organize every aspect of your on the ground adventures in Vietnam before you leave home unless you are on the very tightest of schedules. Not only will your flexibility be increased, you’ll save money as well.

Table of Contents

Vietnam Accommodation: Luxury & Resorts

There are some spectacular luxury resorts in Vietnam. Not only is the natural beauty of the country breathtaking, some of the man made getaways are worth the trip half way around the world to make a memory in.

Six Senses Ninh Van Bay, Nha Trang: Overlooks the East Vietnam Sea and offers beaches, gardens, and modern architecture that incorporates traditional Vietnamese design.

Novotel: A go-to for hotels in general. Novotel has three hotels in Vietnam, in Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City.

The Nam Hai, Hoi An: overlooking the bay, this resort feels like it’s a world away. If you are looking for luxury, this is it.

Mia Resort, Nha Trang: Designed and built for those who demand nothing but the very best, stay in exclusive villas set among manicured gardens. It is the perfect place to find peace, relaxation, and comfort.

Princess D’An Nam Resort & Spa, Ke Ga Bay: Designed by award-winning architect Tan Hock Beng, the resort style mixes modernist sensibility and post colonial ambience.

Hotels Under $150

Hotels in Vietnam under $150 are very easy to find. When I was there, I used Agoda to book most of my hotel stays and often had beautiful rooms for less than $30 USD a night. Also, it is perfectly doable to find a room upon arrival without much prior planning in most places. Plan according to where you’re headed, and when.

Vietnam is the ideal destination for the budget traveler, with better accommodation prices than many other places in Southeast Asia.

Tips for saving money on a hotel in Vietnam:

  • Contact the local tourist board before you arrive to check for the best local budget hotels – some may not be listed online.
  • Trust that there will be available rooms. Unless you’re traveling in a popular area during tourist season, there WILL be something available. If you’re willing to wing it, you may save on booking fees and find special deals.
  • Stay away from Western hotels. Look for locally run businesses, and you’ll find local prices to match.
  • Choose accommodation further away from festivals or big events.
  • Adjust your expectations. What do you really need from a hotel? You’ll save money by doing without fine dining and a pool.

Find Hotel Deals

Travelfish: One of the single most useful websites for finding accommodation in Vietnam, Travelfish is an independent travel guide that focuses specifically on Southeast Asia. Use it to find hotels, restaurants, tours, and top destinations. Great for finding off-the-beaten-path adventures.

Agoda: Plug in your destination and dates here for a comprehensive list of available hotels and the sorts of rooms they have available. The ratings and recommendations feature of this site is specific to various types of travelers, so you’ll find ratings based on business travel, family travel, romantic travel and more. This is super helpful in choosing a hotel that will be a good fit. Agoda is also good for last minute planning, as well as reservations in advance. I’ve been known to sit in the lobby of a hotel, after being quoted one price at the desk, and find a better deal at the same hotel through Agoda, book it online, and check in with a smile.

Expedia: Reliable service when looking for the comfort you’re used to, but won’t always give you the best deal. Check your prices against another booking agent, if getting the lowest price is important to you.

Travelocity: A personal favorite no matter where I’m traveling. Travelocity brings up over 521 hotels in Hanoi alone. You’ll definitely find something here.

Hotels.com: Hotels has you covered, no matter where you’re going. Similar to Agoda, Hotels is one of the best ways to find budget hotels all over Southeast Asia, in even the more remote locations.

Hotels in Vietnam: A local resource that claims to have better service and better prices. Their fine print offers help with the details and information specific to visas and travel arrangements.

vietnam accommodation

Boutique Hotels

A boutique hotel is any small hotel with under 100 rooms. By that definition, you’re going to be able to find a “boutique” hotel in nearly any town in Vietnam. Personally, I believe that a boutique hotel needs to have a certain measure of style and uniqueness before it’s earned its title.

iescape: The best site out there for finding the perfect boutique hotel, in my opinion. The 23 hotels it recommends for Vietnam are gorgeous.

Mr & Mrs Smith: A boutique hotel finder built for honeymooning couples, but perfectly usable for the average traveler. Stunning boutique hotels in Cambodia. Pricing on this site is often very high.

Tablet Hotels: With a tagline of “Travel Better” this site provides a list of seventeen boutique and luxury hotels in Vietnam that have something special about them.

Great Small Hotels: A collection of hand selected small luxury hotels around the world, 34 listed in Vietnam. Each of these is a very special place, some of them float!

Vacation Rentals

If you plan to stay in Vietnam for a more than a few weeks, a vacation rental may be the way to go.

Not only are vacation rentals far more comfortable and private, they may save you money in the long run. Vacation rentals are my first choice nearly everywhere I travel. Living in a fully furnished home and being able to cook all my own meals is far more sustainable for a stay of a week or more.

Vacation rentals offer a very uniquely immersive travel experience, and are fairly easy to find.

Booking through any of the online agencies is, absolutely, possible; however, booking on the ground is often the better way to go. A bit of bravery and some flexibility are required. Just turn up, book a couple of nights in a hotel where you want to spend more time, and pound the pavement.

How do you do it?
Find a local real-estate agency and ask for a referral to a rental agent, or, hire a driver and ride around writing down the phone numbers from signs on the gates of rentals. They are out there, by the hundreds, trust me.

Wimdu: Search by city. One of the most popular vacation rental websites out there.

Vacation Rentals: Affiliated with Homeaway and VRBO, provides a comprehensive list of all the rentals in the area you’re searching in. In Hanoi there are numerous places available for less than $50 a night; for a whole house.

Airbnb: Possibly the most well-known vacation rental and B&B locator on the web. With thousands of properties in 150+ countries around the world, it’s a go-to for house-hunting.

VRBO & Homeaway: HomeAway is the mastermind of vacation rentals, and owns both VRBO and VacationRentals.com. All homes must pass inspection, so you know you’re getting value.

Roomorama: An easy to use vacation rental booking site that allows you to narrow your search from thousands of homes to the perfect stay for you.

Camping

To be honest, camping in Vietnam is generally not recommended. Camping is not impossible, it’s just more difficult to do than in other places in the world, and may be more trouble than it’s worth, for a few reasons. According to travelers who have tried it, these include:

  • High population density
  • Wildlife – jungle = insects
  • Landmines. No seriously… Cambodia and Laos
  • Campground fees are often higher than cheap hotel prices
  • Also: gear

TravelPod: Lists  2 campgrounds for Vietnam.

Unless you’re planning on stealth camping, or wild camping and you’re packing all of your gear, Vietnam just doesn’t have the infrastructure in place for campgrounds in the North American sense.

vietnam accommodation

Unusual Accommodations

The most unusual accommodations are the ones you tend to stumble across accidentally along the way. Some things can’t be planned. That said, there are a few unique accommodations that you can check out in advance. Varying in price, some may be the height of luxury, while others are very affordable and simple.

Crazy House, Dalat, Vietnam: Perhaps you have seen pictures of this weirdly twisted hotel in Vietnam. Designed to reflect the natural shapes of the jungle, the Crazy House looks like something out of Dr. Seuss.

Tree Houses: Air bnb has a whole page of tree house listings in Vietnam, from the very basic, and the not-exactly-tree house, to some places that look like they’re straight out of a fairy tale.

Experience Travel: This listing of unique and eco hotels promises that none of them are conventional. Advertising mountain lodges and beach cabanas to simple homestays in quiet corners of Vietnam, this site has some interesting options.

Halong Bay Cruises: Famous in Vietnam for the boat cruises, Halong Bay is on the bucket list of many visitors to north Vietnam. There are a range of options, from three to five star luxury. Do your homework!

Hostels

Rarely, is it necessary to stay at a hostel in Vietnam; simply because you can generally find hotels for low prices, and it’s often worth the extra buck not to hear the guy in the next room snoring loudly.

Find a cheap hotel instead and you’ll generally be better off. That said, if you’re a serious hostel fan and want to give it a go, these sites will help you to find what you’re looking for.

HostelWorld: Relied upon by backpackers around the globe, HostelWorld has a decent selection of SEA hostels to check out.

Southeast Asia Backpacker: If you’re hosteling SEA, treat this site like your golden handbook. With information on all the best (and worst) hostels, as well as everything you need to know to backpack SEA, this site is a must-read.

Agoda: Easily book hostel rooms as well as hotel rooms.

Hostel Bookers: Similar to HostelWorld, works on an international level and showcases a large collection of SEA hostels.

Vietnam Transportation

Transportation in Vietnam can be an adventure. There are airlines that fly the length of the country, hitting the major cities. Buses run everywhere, and a cyclo must really be ridden in to be appreciated. Considering renting a motorcycle and exploring part of the Ho Chi Minh trail, or taking a night bus down the coast.

Local & International Airlines

Most people will arrive to Vietnam through either Hanoi, or Ho Chi Minh City. At the time of this writing, visas are available upon arrival to passport holders from most western countries. This changes with the political winds and it is wise to double check your particular visa needs well in advance of your trip to Vietnam. Double check at the last minute. If you are coming into the country by bus from Laos or Cambodia, check the details regarding land entrance, as they sometimes differ from the “fly in” rules.

Carriers Within Vietnam

On paper, Vietnam has 10 international airports. Only five of those, however, actually service international flights. Of those, the three most popular are:

  • Hanoi
  • Ho Chi Minh City
  • Da Nang

The usual carriers for Southeast Asia will fly internationally into the big cities in Vietnam. Air Asia and this list of alternatives are worth investigating if you plan to make some local hops within the country.

Trains

There is a train system within Vietnam runs the length of the coast with a few branches off inland. The only international crossings by train are north into China, towards Kunming or Beijing.

Hanoi to Beijing: Heading out of Southeast Asia, this route costs under $300 and takes multiple days.

Eastern & Oriental Express: Luxury trains traveling to most main cities and sights in Southeast Asia.

Trans-Siberian Railway: A famous route for overland adventurers, many travelers don’t realize that there is a southern option that passes through Southeast Asia and can be used to get from Singapore through Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Bangkok, Saigon, and Hanoi.

Seat61: Map of train routes in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam.

Vietnam Stay: Book a rail ticket on the single rail line through Vietnam.

Vietnam Railway: Online booking and route information for routes within Vietnam as well as a link to Visa application.

Buses

Most backpackers and vacationers to Vietnam will travel by bus at some point, taking advantage of the low cost and ease of booking. With the bus, it’s possible to play your trip by ear instead of planning your flights weeks in advance. Bus tickets cost between $5-10 for a 5-6 hour journey, with overnight buses generally costing twice that, depending on the distance.

Booking can happen days in advance, the day before, or even the day of. Vietnam’s night buses are fantastic, with bunks inside instead of seats; sleep is almost possible. The bus from Hue, Vietnam to the Lao Bao border crossing (a popular land route for travelers headed to Laos) is very good on the Vietnamese side, but it should be noted that the roads deteriorate precipitously once you cross into Laos and if it’s monsoon season they may become nearly impassable. This route is the toughest day of bus travel we’ve ever experienced and we’ve been on some doozies.

Booking bus tickets is usually done on the ground at the bus station. It can be hectic, with multiple companies vying for your attention and dozens of sales representatives trying to sell you their ticket. When you can, it’s best to check prices online, or with other travelers, to avoid paying more than you should. Recently, a travel website called 12GO.Asia has made it much easier to book tickets online and avoid running into a scam at the station.

Before traveling internationally by bus, be sure to check visa requirements for each country you plan to cross into, as you may need to pre-arrange visas for land crossings.

Best tip for traveling by bus in Vietnam:
Keep your expectations realistic. Traveling by bus can be an adventure, and it’s important that you know how to be flexible with your plans. Buses can arrive late, or take longer on the road than you planned for. Breakdowns are quite common, and speed limits are suggestions. Drivers can be expected to blast loud music videos, or soap operas, through the bus at all hours. If you keep a sense of humour and go with the flow, the buses are an excellent way to get around, but you should expect it to be a culturally broadening experience.

STA Travel, Stray Asia: Bus Southeast Asia (including Vietnam) in a small guided group with other like-minded adventurers.

12GO.Asia: Our go-to website for booking passage via train, plane, or automobile in Southeast Asia (including Vietnam).

Bamba Experience: Hop on hop off independent bus travel servicing most Southeast Asian countries.

vietnam transportation

Alternative Transport

Local transport in Southeast Asia varies widely from country to country, and offers the chance to hobnob with locals, check out scenery up close, and visit towns you wouldn’t normally have access to.

Boats

Vietnam is famous for the Mekong Delta, and of course the South China Sea forms almost the entirety of it’s eastern border. From the boat cruises of Halong Bay, to tiny fishing boats, water and boat life is deeply embedded in Vietnamese culture. Take a day trip from Hanoi and a boat ride on the Perfume River. Or travel the mighty Mekong into Cambodia in the south.

Mekong Delta Cruises: Not exclusive to Vietnam, these cruises are scattered across the six countries that share the Mekong River and delta.

Guide to Southeast Asia by Boat: Frommer’s ultimate guide to Southeast Asian travel by boat.

Southeast Asia Tours: Top tours in Southeast Asian countries, multiple by boat, including Vietnam.

Pandaw Cruises: Considered some of the best Southeast Asian cruises out there, check out their four options in Vietnam.

Rent Your Own Wheels

It is important to note that you will not be able to rent a car without a driver in Vietnam. This is a federal rule. That said, it’s not difficult to hire a car and driver. It’s also easy enough to hire motorcycles with drivers. I highly recommend taking a day or two around Hue to ride some of the old Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Another popular route for the intrepid is to hire a motorcycle and guide in Hanoi and ride the coast down to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). It would be the adventure of a lifetime!

City Travel & Haggling

City transportation in this part of the world is extremely diverse. Mopeds speed around en masse, and it’s possible to hop on the back of a local guide’s moped for a tour of the city. Tuk-tuks are ubiquitous – tiny three-wheeled, open-air vehicles that act as cheap taxis and can miraculously always hold “just one more” person. Pickup trucks with seats built into the backs act as local buses in many areas. Pedicabs, also known as cyclos, are bicycle propelled carriages that crowd the streets of every Vietnamese city.

The cost of local transport generally depends on the haggling abilities of the traveler. In most cases, you will be asked for fully twice what is fair. Offer a little less than your final price, and work your way up from there. Never immediately offer the price you actually intend to pay.

Understand that there is almost always tiered pricing and you’re very unlikely to pay what locals do. Consider this your luxury tax for being there and remember that paying a buck for what locals are paying .75 for is okay, because the same ride in NYC would cost you twenty five dollars, and the story wouldn’t be nearly as good.

The trick to successful city transport without getting taken for more rides than you’re hoping for, is in upfront negotiation of price and a cheerful attitude. Never get into a cab or tuk tuk without knowing that the driver understands where you are going, and having agreed upon the price. Always have correct change to pay with (because if you don’t… they won’t either!) Finally, don’t be afraid to walk away. If you have a bad feeling about a particular driver, thank him with a smile and keep looking, there will be dozens of other drivers vying for your business.

TL;DR

There is a wide variety of accommodation available in Vietnam, from five star luxury to the seriously quirky and unique. Take the time to explore something other than the usual western branded hotels.

If you’re brave enough, sometimes the best deals and the greatest serendipities are found through not booking at all, but winging it on the ground.

If you plan to stay more than a week, consider renting a holiday home and living more like a local.

Air travel within Vietnam is limited to the main cities. Bus travel is the best way to get to the lesser known points on the map. Trains run the coast and north into China.

You will not be able to rent a car and self drive in Vietnam. Do consider hiring a motorcycle and driver and getting off the beaten path in the center of the country.

 

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