Vietnamese travel agencies offer what’s called an “Open Bus Ticket”. It allows you to travel from Ho Chi Minh City in the south all the way to Hanoi in the north (and probably vice versa), with various stops in between. The more stops, the more it costs. You can choose a sleeper bus or a sitting bus. Sleeper busses are more expensive.
The busses are all supposed to have AC and toilets onboard. Unfortunately, the toilet thing is hit and miss (sometimes you’ll get one and sometimes you won’t) and the AC could be very cold or very weak.
For our time in Vietnam, we had planned on checking out Ho Chi Minh City, Hoi An and Hanoi only. When we were ready to go to Hoi An, we naturally went to a bajillion (or maybe 7) travel agencies to compare prices.
There isn’t a route that will go from Ho Chi Minh City to Hoi An directly (which makes sense because it is a distance of nearly 1,000 km), so all the travel agencies offered us a ticket that will take us from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang, and then from Nha Trang to Hoi An for about 450,000 dong (~$22 CAD). Right when we were ready to go forward with whoever could offer us the cheapest price for this trip, we heard about the open bus ticket.
As it turned out, we were already about to buy an open ticket. We were simply going to use it all at once, even though the ticket allowed us to stop by at Nha Trang, and then continue onward to Hoi An whenever we so choose. So we thought we may as well get a ticket that will take us all the way to Hanoi, as we assumed it would be cheaper and simpler this way.
I grabbed an information sheet from each travel agency I wandered into. We were staying near Pham Ngu Lao (the backpacker street) and they were everywhere! You could walk 100 metres and see 10 of them. The info sheets pretty much all look the same, some with more information than others, although you might have to ask the travel agent for them. The sucky-er ones don’t show you their prices. Here are two out of the many I’ve taken.
The route with the most segments takes you from Ho Chi Minh City (A) -> Mui Ne (B) -> Da Lat (C) -> Nha Trang (D) -> Hoi An (E) -> Hue (F) -> Hanoi (G). You can stop by at all of these locations, and when you’re ready to move on, simply visit the affiliated travel office in your current location one day in advance. The sleeper bus ticket ranged from 950,000 – 980,000 dong ($46 – $48 CAD).
Looking at the flyers again, it appears that the longest distance you can travel with a sitting bus is Ho Chi Minh City -> Mui Ne -> Da Lat -> Nha Trang. The price range for this was 390,000 – 410,000 dong ($18 – $20 CAD). You can probably haggle these prices down if you tried.
Note that you’re not obliged to stop by at all of the destinations. Let’s say you don’t want to visit Da Lat, you can try to schedule your journeys so that once you arrive in Da Lat, you can hop onto the next bus to Nha Trang on the same day (if the schedule allows for it).
Less than $50 CAD to travel 1,950 km from south Vietnam to north Vietnam is not too shabby for the poor backpacker!
We opted for the route with the least stops that will get us to Hoi An and Hanoi, which was Ho Chi Minh City -> Nha Trang -> Hoi An -> Hue -> Hanoi. With less stops, this open bus ticket (sleeper bus) was 760,000 dong each (~$37 CAD) without haggling. For some reason we had forgotten that everything is negotiable in Vietnam. Still, can’t complain too much about $37 CAD… or can we…?? (Yes! Yes we can!)