Although not as romantic a vision as plodding through the countryside on a train, bus travel in Vietnam has become a cheap, quick and efficient way to get around the country. There are ever more private services catering specifically for the needs of tourists which link the major sightseeing areas.
These Saigon buses will often attempt to earn extra money by taking passengers to a specific guesthouse which pays commission. Nonetheless, they remain a cost effective way of getting around Vietnam with less changing and waiting around.
National buses in Saigon
Although most new tourist arrivals in Saigon arrive at the airport, many people arrive from or leave to other destinations in the country by inter-city bus which is faster than the country’s train network.
There are several terminals for such Saigon buses, which are all a bit distant from the centre, but are connected by shuttle bus to Ben Thanh, which is just a few steps from the budget hotels around De Tham.
Mien Tay is 10kms west of the centre in An Lac district and serves all destinations to the south, i.e. the Mekong Delta. Mien Dong is five kilometres northeast of the city centre and serves all points north of Saigon. An Suong is the place to go for buses to Cu Chi or Tay Ninh (for the Cao Dai Temple), and is also located west of the centre.
Private buses from Saigon
Though these national bus services are reasonably efficient and the fleet is constantly being upgraded, the reality is that few foreign visitors use them, as private Ho Chi Minh City bus services offer similar prices and greater convenience. Plus they go directly from one tourist spot to another, saving unnecessary connections and waiting time.
These ‘open-tour’ buses are operated by tour operators such as Sinh Tours (161 Pham Ngu Lao str, Dist 1, tel: +84 839 206 541-2, fax: +84 838 360 858) and Kim Tours (Tel: +84 491 24 340) and offer fixed seats and departure times, and the great majority arrive at and depart from De Tham in the heart of the budget district.
An added bonus of the open-tour Saigon buses is that they make brief stops at major roadside attractions, such as the Po Klong Garai Cham tower near Phan Rang. Some open-tour buses are sleepers, making long-haul rides more bearable. There are also international services connecting Saigon with Phnom Penh in Cambodia that pull up in the budget district as well.
Fares on Saigon buses
Examples of open-tour bus fares are as follows; Saigon – Nha Trang US$12, Hue – Hoi An – Nha Trang – Da Lat – Saigon US$34, Hanoi – Hue US$14, Saigon – Phnom Penh US$14. You can specify on which dates you plan to use which stages of the journey, or you can leave it open, though this way you may find it full on the day you’d like to leave.
Warnings for Saigon buses
There are a couple of things to beware of when buying open-tour tickets for buses in Ho Chi Minh City, Firstly, some passengers are occasionally sold fake tickets, so it’s best to buy directly from the company that operates the bus.
Secondly, they usually drop you off outside a hotel or guest house that they operate in each location, leaving you a long walk if you want to stay somewhere else. Overall, however, most travellers find this service reasonably efficient and convenient.