We used so many different types of transportation in Vietnam, it was hard for me to write this blog post. Actually, this is my second try, I didn’t like my first attempt so restarted the whole thing!
We always try to travel on a budget, even when we are in a cheap country. If you just look at the cost of one ride it will be still cheap according to western standards even if you opt for the luxury options. But if you travel for 3 weeks these add up and you are no longer a budget traveller.
So whenever it’s possible we went with the budget option but keep in mind that we have two little kids.
In the bigger cities like Saigon and Hanoi getting around is very easy. I recommend to install the app called Grab, similar to Uber, and use that. Slightly cheaper than meter taxis and you always know the price in advance, no surprises, and you don’t need to explain where you want to go. We always had the kids in our buckle carriers so we felt they are safe. You won’t be able to find a taxi with a car seat, even when you try to book a private car in advance it will be a challenge. We were told that locals don’t use car seats at all ☺️ If you don’t get a Grab, try to find an official meter taxi, or agree on the price before getting in. Don’t forget it’s Vietnam full of surprises ☺️
So it’s easy to get around in bigger cities, it starts to get complicated when you want to explore the centre of Vietnam. One of the most popular tourist destinations is Hoi An, you still have to Grab but we had to wait quite a while to get a car, but when we tried to negotiate with a taxi, the price was much higher so decided to wait for our Grab. Still, there are plenty of taxis all around so finding a car won’t be an issue.
To visit nearby locations we hired a private car, I found a great company online and reserved everything in advance. They are called HuraCars and have all their prices listed on their homepage. They managed to get us two car seats, someone from the company speaks great English so email communication is easy, but don’t be surprised if their drivers don’t speak fluent English.
For me, it was a surprise how hard it is to get from Hoi An to My Son Sanctuary when it’s under an hour by car.
We also used them for a short trip from the airport to a temple and then to our hotel. The price was great, and they know your flight number so if there’s a delay they will wait for you. It costs almost the same as the bus for 4 people. Crazy right? Private transfers are the best option for hidden places and mid-range travelling if you want flexibility, like stopping at multiple locations.
We just spent one day in Hue and our short stay complicated our travels.
All the organised tours take a lot of time and we don’t like to visit a city with a big your group, also we would have reached our night bus at the end of the day.
Finding a taxi at every location and bargaining a fair price would have been impossible. And when I tried to book a private tour online the prices were crazy! I got offers around 150-300 euros!
So when we arrived in Hue we were looking for travel agencies. And we were lucky! We found a great one, they are called Stop and go agency.
They have an option where you choose how many sites you want to visit a day and the prices are fixed. So for us for 4 sites it was 38 euros. A great car, English speaking driver and we could spend as much time at each location as we wanted. The cheapest group tour starts at 12 euros per person so it’s a great price if you are a family.
At the end of our trip, we had one free day and wanted to visit something new. Went into a few agencies to see what they offer but they didn’t have anything for us. In the end, we found a great option on the “With the locals” application. They ordered us a private taxi who drove us to a small village close to Hanoi, it was around 1,5 hours drive. And they took us to tea plantations, museum, they hired us a private boat to visit an abandoned temple at the middle of a lake. The price was 100 dollars for all of us including everything. A bit more expensive than the budget tours but it was a great day. We could have taken the public bus, try to find a taxi there but organising everything on our own would have been impossible.
So keep in mind that sometimes a private tour can be the same price as a budget option and much more comfortable with kids.
If you take a bus in Vietnam keep in mind that it won’t be a luxury experience. If you are going to a destination which is served by a tourist company you might be lucky and get a great service. But if you have to take a local bus, be prepared and keep in mind that you don’t have other options and getting there what’s matters!
The bus will be probably dirty, might have bugs, might take longer but it’s Vietnam, it’s normal.
The good side, as a family we got the seats at the back which are 3 seats next to each other, it’s like an uncomfortable small bed, but with kids, it was great! And it’s cheap. Our kids slept through both trips which were great!
We wanted to go from Hue to Phong Nha and from there to Tam Coc and the night bus was our only option.
If you are going to Sapa some companies offer luxury seater buses or VIP vans, those are a great option if you are taller and don’t find the sleeper bus comfortable. Check out the Sapa Express company.
This was a great experience!
We booked a night train from Hanoi to Sapa, a mid-range carrier, Ratraco train, and it was great. We booked 3 beds in a 4 beds cabin. We had a snack and water in our cabin, the bed was comfortable and clean. Pixie was so happy to sleep on the train she still brings it up from time to time. And she wants to go back!
The schedule is not the best, it leaves around 10 pm so kids will be very tired when checking in at the station and it arrives at 4 am and you have to take a bus to get to Sapa but it’s the most comfortable way of getting there. I’d definitely recommend this when going to Sapa.
We never biked with the kids before, and when you imagine it you’d think we had a child seat on the bike 😊 oh no, don’t expect these things in Vietnam. It was just a very old bike and the kids were in the carrier but it worked.
We took a bike tour at the Mekong to explore the villages and get to a temple. It was a great experience to ride by the small canals.
We rented bikes at Tam Coc as well to explore the nearby temples. We thought that we would just visit a few ones relatively close but we ended up biking around 18kms. And I also breastfeed while riding a bike! It was quite something!
The best way to experience Sapa is by going a few days hike.
During 3 days we walked somewhere between 30 and 40 kilometres while carrying the kids and our backpacks. Luckily we are used to hiking with them but it was the first time when we both had to take a bigger backpack to carry a change of clothes for all of us. It was raining, it was cold but definitely worth it! The views were great and we stayed with the locals. A great experience!
We realised that taking a bus from the South to the centre would take too long so we just booked a flight. It was an ordinary flight with a budget airline. But to my surprise, they didn’t want me to use the special belt for my baby they were ok with Manny staying in the baby carrier during take-off and landing. For me it was a huge surprise, not caring about the safety regulations on a plane. But you get used to things like this in Vietnam.
Other special ways of getting around
We took a few cable cars to get up to Ba Na Hills and Fansipan and the kids loved them. It’s a fun activity to do with little ones!
We took various boat rides, Pixie enjoyed them all, once we even took a small boat where they used their feet to raw! It’s a great way to explore nature and scenery.
After spending 3 weeks in Vietnam we left two things off from the list, motorbikes and rickshaws. We didn’t find bikes to be safe enough with two kids and there are too many scams with rickshaws and didn’t want to be ripped off.
If you are going to visit Vietnam you’ll have to use taxis, buses, planes etc.. to get around. All of them are doable with small kids. Everyone loves children even if they have a meltdown they will be very polite and try to help. Don’t be afraid of travelling with kids, it’s not easy but it’s fun!