When I was first researching our trip to Vietnam, I planned on taking the train from Ho Chi Minh City along the coast to Hanoi. However, in my research, I came across the open bus system. This sounded like a great deal: purchase a ticket and get on and off where ever you want within the next month for the same price. This seemed like a convenient and flexible way to travel – not to mention economical. I knew there were several companies, but after a little more research, we decided to go with The Sinh Tourist, since it was recommended by Lonely Planet, had pretty good online reviews, and their office was close to our hotel in HCMC. Open bus tickets from Sinh Tourist can only be purchased at their offices in HCMC, Hue, and Hanoi.
We headed over to their main office, which was very nice. The staff there was very professional and courteous. We went ahead and booked all the segments of travel that we needed, since we only had about a week and knew we needed to be in Hanoi by the 17th (my flight to China was on the 18th). The easiest way to do this was by taking the HCMC-Hanoi Route via Hoi An and Hue. We decided to leave the next morning for Hoi An (via Nha Trang), stay for three nights there, then head to Hue and stay for one night, then go on to Hanoi for three nights. It would be a lot of time on a bus, but most of the really long stretches were overnight, so we wouldn’t be missing too much sightseeing time.
The first stretch from HCMC to Hoi An via Nha Trang was the longest. From HCMC we traveled all day and arrived in Nha Trang with just enough time to make the connection, switching buses to go on to Hoi An. The first leg was about 11.5 hours, and the second leg took about 13.5 hours (longer than expected). From Hoi An to Hue it was only four hours; and from Hue to Hanoi about 15 hours. The buses were mostly on time, with the exception of the Hue to Hanoi bus that left just over an hour late.
The buses were surprisingly comfortable, with each seat capable of leaning almost all the way back. We each had a little cubby/foot space to keep our things, although it was a bit tight. There were three rows across of about eight seats. It was nice to have our own designated space, with no arguments about sharing the arm rest or who is leaning back too far. Each bus we took, even the 4-hour trip from Hoi An to Hue, was on one of these sleeping buses. At night, it was dark and quiet, except for the sounds of twenty or so people sleeping.
One thing that I hated about this bus (really the only thing) was that there was no WiFi. Even on the buses marked on the side that they had WiFi, there actually wasn’t. This was disappointing since I was planning to use these long stretches of bus time to work on my blog. Although I did do some writing, I mostly read and slept a lot. We made regular stops about every 2 hours during the day and usually once overnight. These stops varied in cleanliness and food options, with some being really nice with a variety of options for food, and some being dingy bathrooms and one slightly sketchy convenience store.
Overall, I would say the experience was positive. It took a long time on the bus, but it was significantly cheaper than flying and we had the time. The bus was comfortable and cool, with plenty of stops for food/bathroom breaks. It was surprisingly easy to sleep. And by spending the night on the bus, we saved on a hotel room. The scenery along the way was beautiful, passing through mountains, rice paddies, along the coast, and through villages along the way. It was a great way to get a glimpse into life in Vietnam, even if it was from the inside of the bus.
Total kilometers traveled by bus: 1,792 kilometers (447km + 530km + 130 km + 685km)
Total time spent on bus: 43 hours
Total cost: 667,000 VND ($30 USD)
Cost per kilometer: 372.2 VND (<$.02)