Vietnam has an extensive network of buses that reach the far-flung corners of the country. Modern buses, operated by myriad companies, run on all the main highways. Out in the sticks expect seriously uncomfortable local services.
Many travellers (perhaps the majority) never visit a Vietnamese bus station at all, preferring to stick to the convenient, tourist-friendly open-tour bus network.
Whichever class of bus you’re on, bus travel in Vietnam is never speedy – reckon on just 50km/h on major routes (including Hwy 1) due to the sheer number of motorbikes, trucks and pedestrians competing for space.
Cities can have several bus stations, and responsibilities can be divided according to the location of the destination (whether it is north or south of the city) and the type of service (local or long distance, express or non-express).
Bus stations can look chaotic but many now have ticket offices with official prices and departure times clearly displayed.
Modern air-con buses operate between the main cities. This is the deluxe class and you can be certain of an allocated seat and enough space.
Some offer comfortable reclining seats, others have padded flat beds for really long trips. These sleeper buses can be a good alternative to trains, and costs are comparable.
Deluxe buses are non-smoking. On the flipside, most of them are equipped with TVs (expect crazy kung fu videos) and some with dreaded karaoke machines. Ear plugs and eye patches are recommended.
Deluxe buses stop at most major cities en route, and for meal breaks.
Short-distance buses depart when full (jam-packed with people and luggage). Don’t count on many leaving after about 4pm.
These buses and minibuses drop off and pick up as many passengers as possible along the route, so the frequent stops make for a slow journey.
Conductors tend to routinely overcharge foreigners on these local services so they’re not popular with travellers.
Be aware that luggage is easily pilfered at toilet stops unless someone is looking after it.