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Few travellers deal with city buses due to communication issues and the cheapness of taxis, cyclos and xe om. That said, the bus systems in Hanoi and HCMC are not impossible to negotiate – get your hands on a bus map.
Taxis with meters, found in most major cities, are very cheap by international standards and a safe way to travel around at night. Average tariffs are about 12,000d to 15,000d per kilometre. However, dodgy taxis with go-fast meters do roam the streets of Hanoi and HCMC, they often hang around bus terminals. Only travel with reputable or recommended companies.
The xe om (zay-ohm) is a motorbike taxi. Xe means motorbike, om means hug (or hold), so you get the picture. Getting around by xe om is easy, as long as you don’t have a lot of luggage.
Fares are comparable with those for a cyclo, but negotiate the price beforehand. There are plenty of xe om drivers hanging around street corners, markets, hotels and bus stations. They will find you before you find them…
The cyclo is a bicycle rickshaw. This cheap, environmentally friendly mode of transport is steadily dying out, but is still found in Vietnam’s main cities.
Groups of cyclo drivers always hang out near major hotels and markets, and many speak at least broken English. To make sure the driver understands where you want to go, it’s useful to bring a city map. Bargaining is imperative. Settle on a fare before going anywhere or you’re likely to get stiffed.
Approximate fares are between 10,000d and 20,0000d for a short ride, between 20,000d and 40,000d for a longer or night ride, or around 40,000d per hour.
Travellers have reported being mugged by cyclo drivers in HCMC so, as a general rule, hire cyclos only during the day in that city. When leaving a bar late at night, take a metered taxi.
For most visitors one of the most frustrating aspects of travelling in Vietnam is the perception that they are being ripped off. Here are some guidelines to help you navigate the maze.
Airfares Dependent on when you book and what dates you want to travel. No price difference between Vietnamese and foreigners.
Boat fares Ferries and hydrofoils have fixed prices, but expect to pay more for the privilege of being a foreigner on smaller local boats around the Mekong Delta and to places like the Cham Islands.
Bus fares More complicated. If you buy a ticket from the point of departure (ie the bus station), then the price is fixed and very reasonable. However, should you board a bus along the way, there’s a good chance the driver or conductor will overcharge. In remote areas drivers may ask for four, or even 10, times what the locals pay. Local bus prices should be fixed and displayed by the door, but foreigners are sometimes overcharged on routes such as Danang–Hoi An.
Rail fares Fixed, although naturally there are different prices for different classes.
Taxis Mostly metered and very cheap, but very occasionally some taxis have dodgy meters that run fast.
Xe Oms & Cyclos Fares are definitely not fixed and you need to bargain. Hard.