How to travel through Central Vietnam by bus

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to end up with a spare six weeks on my hands in Vietnam on a single-entry visa, so what better to do than explore the country and travel slow?

Nha Trang at sunset

Nha Trang at sunset

Even with a hefty chunk of time, Vietnam is a big, big place, and the distances between the places you’ll want to visit are all considerable. It’s split between the southern hub of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), from where you can explore the Mekong delta, the Cu Chi tunnels, the mountains of Da Lat, and beaches such as Vung Tau and the gorgeous Nha Trang; the centre, which includes the old imperial capital of Hue and the World Heritage site of Hoi An; and the north, where from the modern day capital of Hanoi you can branch out to the hills of Sapa, valleys of Ninh Binh, and Natural Wonder of Ha Long bay.

Inter city sleeper bus

Inter city sleeper bus

Due to the distances involved, many people choose to fly or take tourist shuttle buses between locations. There’s also the famous Reunification Express trainline which runs the length of the country. I used a combination of each for different legs, but as always, my favourite sections were the ones where I used public buses. It’s the cheapest way to travel, it can sometimes also be faster than other options, and it’s one sure-fire way to escape the tourist hordes and use the little bits of Vietnamese you’ve picked up on your travels (mixed with a whole lot of pointing and gesturing).

I found the regular online forums and information sites to be pretty down on local bus travel in Vietnam, but in reality my journeys were all as well-organised, comfortable, and as straightforward as in any other comparable part of the world, indeed a whole lot more pleasant and safe than some places. Here are the bus journeys I took to travel through central Vietnam.

Quy Nhon* to Hoi An

This is a super simple trip and much easier by bus than by train as the bus station is in the south of the town opposite the Metro / Big C mall, while the nearest train station to Quy Nhon is in Dieu Tri, 10km away. I got a ticket from Son Tung bus company (approximately VND150,000), whose office is opposite the main bus station, and headed out on their 10:45am minivan. As a (semi) public bus, it crawls out of town picking up passengers and cargo along the roadside until all the seats are full, then rockets merrily along. Despite the slow start, we arrived at the public bus station in Hoi An in a timely six hours, at around 5pm.

Hoi An to Danang

Route #1 Hoi An to Danang

Route #1 Hoi An to Danang

This is a very easy journey too as the huge, present day port city of Danang is only about 25km further along the coast road from the unique historic port of Hoi An. From the main bus station in Hoi An, yellow public buses run to Danang every 20 minutes. The route 1 bus has its prices printed next to the door as you board at the front and shouldn’t cost any more than VND17,000, although the conductor may well quote a higher price if you’re obviously a foreign tourist.

Route #1 bus stop

Route #1 bus stop

The bus goes straight in to Danang’s main bus station, so if you’re heading elsewhere directly, you can just roll up and get your onward ticket. It also goes right past the marble mountains, so you can always take them in on your way into town. If you’re staying on the beach strip in Danang, jump off around Phan Tu. There are a number of small hotels as you head north along Le Quang Dao. My guesthouse in Hoi An very kindly wrote me a note with the bus stop I needed, too, so I got pretty much a door-to-door service!

There’s some useful bus information for this area on Danangexpats.com, and a handy route map from Google Maps for the route 1 bus.

Danang to Hue

This was billed as a four hour ride when I looked online with companies such as Phuong Trang, but took a little over two on the day. I did as above; rolled in to Danang’s main bus station on the #1 and rolled out twenty minutes later on the first bus leaving for Hue. I’d been heading for the ticket desks of the big intercity companies such as Phuong Trang when a woman from the public bus spotted me and my backpack and hustled me on to her bus so it could get going.

As a public bus, it crawled along until it was full to bursting, but then made the journey in great time with no fuss. The ticket cost VND50,000, which may be around 20,000 cheaper than the bigger buses, and it came in to a handy bus station on Hung Vuong, a couple of kilometres south of the tourist district, Ben Xe Thua Thien.

The other option which I read was highly recommended for this journey is the train, which people say is spectacular for this stretch along the coast. I’d already opted for the train at an earlier point and I was feeling bussy, so I can’t vouch for it – just putting it out there.

***

In second class

In second class

*a note on getting to Quy Nhon, which I travelled to by train from Nha Trang: the station at Dieu Tri is around 10km from Quy Nhon. There are regular public buses which run along the highway, but only until about 5pm, so if you take the 13:30 train from Nha Trang you need to dash out of the station as soon as you arrive and hope for the best.We got to the highway just in time to watch the receding tail-lights of the last bus!

The green public buses labelled Q8 and Q12 will take you in to the south of Quy Nhon, past the big Metro / Big C shopping complex and the town bus station, and at least as far as the beach road. If you do need to take a taxi, walk to the main highway (500 metres from the station) and flag down a metred taxi. I read online that people were paying around VND300,000 from the train station. I got a taxi (with the aid of an incredibly helpful family who saw me waiting in vain at the bus stop), and by the metre it cost just over VND110,000.

Reunification Express from Nha Trang

Reunification Express Nha Trang to Dieu Tri

The links

Train travel information: https://vietnam-railway.com/

Public bus information Hoi An / Danang: http://danangexpats.com/need-to-know-bus-services-in-danang/

Hoi An / Danang bus route map: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?hl=en_US&mid=1DiKQDiPEtuKakpOcRR5hGED2Ezk

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