Domestic Flights

Domestic flights in Vietnam are frequent and cheap, and if you are very short on time they can be a good way of seeing the country without sacrificing too much time to travel. That being said, by flying everywhere you will miss the beautiful countryside, be less likely to meet other Vietnamese people and pollute the environment, so unless you have a good reason to we would normally recommend travelling by train.

There are three domestic airlines in Vietnam - , the state-owned carried, , which is part owned by the state and in part by Qantas, and - which at one point was called 'Air Speed Up' but fortunately the name was dropped.

Since Jetstar bought a share in Pacific Airlines and rebranded it, bringing along a budget airline style pricing system, Vietnam Airlines has made big changes and the competition has made Vietnam Airlines much cheaper and their pricing systems more flexible, so it is no longer the case that Jetstar is significantly cheaper.

Vietnam Airlines run on all routes across the country, and tickets can be purchased online on their website if you buy 3 days in advance, on Expedia.com or in travel agents across the country.


Bus Travel, Open Tours & Sinh Cafe

One of the most popular modes of transport for visitors to Vietnam, particularly among budget travellers, are the Open Tour buses that operate between all the major stops on the tourist routes. While these can be handy if all you want is a quick trip up the coast, we would strongly encourage travellers to look further afield for a more interesting, genuine experience of Vietnam.

Open Tours - Sinh Cafe, T M Brothers, Hanh Cafe & Phuong Tran

100s of people wait for a Sinh Cafe Bus
Hundreds of people wait for Sinh Cafe buses

These operators are famous in Vietnam among travellers and have pretty much become the default mode of transport for any backpacker passing through the country. It can't be denied that they offer a cheap service whose hop-on, hop off system is flexible to suit indecisive travellers who decide they really want to stay another day in one town and skip another.

Yet it is this default, generic feel to the tours that make them so mind numbingly, crushingly dull. I would love to be able to recommend one company over the other but the truth is there is so little to tell them apart it would be difficult to say so.


Sapa


    One of the most famous tourist destinations in Vietnam is the mountain town of Sapa, near the base of mount Fanxipan, the highest mountain in Vietnam / South East Asia. Famed for the beautiful terraced rice fields that cling to the sides of the hills, Sapa is a spectacular place to explore and a great option for those who would like to experience a taste of life in the highlands.

    The town itself is perched on the side of the mountain, and many hotels have stunning views out across the valley below. The weather can be unpredictable as clouds roll up the hill, at times shrouding the whole town in fog, but even when cloudy the views can be stunning as you catch glimpses of the landscape as the cloud lifts before it once again vanishes into the fog.

    Sapa can get very cold so come prepared - many hotels offer log fires in your room should you wish to warm up after a long days exploring. There are a number of walks you can do from the town unsupervised, allowing you to explore much of the countryside - but should you wish to venture further we recommend recruiting a good guide who can take you through forest paths to locations you would never otherwise find and help you understand a good deal more about the local flora and fauna, as well as preventing you from getting lost!

    Treks to the top of Mount Fansipan can be arranged in Sapa itself - this is a fairly tough climb that will normally take 4 days and can be subject to the weather. Many shorter excursions can also be arranged and guides are happy to customise a trek to your wishes and ability.

    Sapa is also famous for the unique culture of the H'mong people who live in the hills near the town. Their colourful clothing and handicrafts are a wonderful sight and you may well see produce from Sapa on sale as far away as the Mekong delta. Many of the H'mong will visit Sapa to trade in the market, which is a great place to see their crafts without intruding too much into their village lives.


    Ninh Binh


      Approximately two and a half hours south of Hanoi lies the city of Ninh Binh, a fairly grim industrial looking town that would never deserve a mention if it was not for the fact it is located next to a very special piece of countryside.

      Most travellers use it as a base to explore the spectacular scenery in the region - the jagged limestone cliff and rock formations that rise out of the paddy fields reminiscent of Ha Long Bay or the cliffs of Krabi, Thailand.

      These fantastic hills, or karsts as they should be called, are an impressive, memorable sight as they rise out of the mists of North Vietnam. Although the key attractions in the area are Tam Coc or Hoa Lu we were content to spend a day on bikes simply getting lost amongst the hills, the rural roads winding between a far cry from the hectic main road that cuts through Ninh Binh.

      Tam Coc

      The closest attraction to Ninh Binh is Tam Coc, a network of three beautiful caves carved by the local river as it winds through the karsts. Surrounded by paddy fields and dwarfed by the karsts towering above, a row down this river is a serene, peaceful experience that allows you to take in the natural beauty of the area at a gentle pace.

      There are almost 2,000 low income families in the area who take turns to row boats up the river, spending the rest of their time working in the paddy fields. Obviously this means their chance to row may only come up once every week or two, and since the cost of a river trip is just a couple of dollars most try to top up their row-boat income by selling handicrafts, embroidery and T-shirts on the boats.

      If you would prefer to relax and take in the scenery rather than spend your boat ride haggling consider offering a generous tip or making a token purchase - the boat ride is already fantastic value and people living in the area depend on the additional income from tourists.

      Hoa Lu

      Hoa Lu was the ancient capital of Vietnam, circa 800 BC, and the ruined remains of pagodas and imperial courtyards can be found dotted around the area, although many are focused a short journey north-west of Ninh Binh.

      It is a great place to explore on a bicycle or perhaps a motorbike if you are feeling brave, but tours can also be arranged both from hotels in Ninh Binh and from Hanoi itself - though we would suggest you will get more out of your visit to Ninh Binh if you take it at your own pace.

      There are many other attractions in the area - you could take a ride on a buffalo cart through the karsts to a beautiful pagoda, or perhaps make a trip up to Cuc Phuong National Park. Whatever you do, make sure you don't get turned off by the sight of Ninh Binh on arrival as there is a lot more to the area than the city itself.

      Ninh Binh can be reached by bus, taxi (around $50) or train from Hanoi, but we would suggest a train as the fastest and most comfortable way to get there.


      Vietnam's Finest Hotels 2009

      Vietnam

      At Vietnam Travel we believe great customer service should be rewarded. So, after a comprehensive survey comprising over 16,000 reviews of 350 hotels we are proud to present the very best hotels in all Vietnam.

      The results at the top are breathtakingly close, with just fractions of a percent seperating the top hotels in the country, so we felt it was not fair to simply list the top 10 hotels in Vietnam. To ensure we give full credit to Vietnam's best hotels we also have listed the top hotels in 6 of the country's key tourist destinations : Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Mui Ne + Phan Thiet, Nha Trang, Hoi An and Hue.


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