As in most countries where the majority of the population do not possess a car, locals in Vietnam get around mostly on buses, depending on taxis, motorbike taxis and cyclo for short runs to the bus station and market.
Though there is an extensive network of buses that connect towns throughout Vietnam, they can be difficult for foreigners without Vietnamese language skills to use, so most visitors from abroad who need to travel on a budget do so by ‘open-tour bus’.
These are operated by private tour operators and are geared more towards foreign visitors than locals. You can buy tickets easily, you are guaranteed a seat, and you can break your journey at any destination that the bus passes through.
Though this is the cheapest way of getting around the country, there are few disadvantages, such as the fact that the buses often pull up outside a hotel that is also run by the tour company and a long walk from any other accommodation options, so you may find yourself virtually forced to stay somewhere that might not be to your liking.
Taxis in Saigon and Hanoi are metered, though some drivers prefer to negotiate a price (which will inevitably be higher than the fare shown on the meter), and others simply fix the meter to run three times the legal rate. To avoid such tricksters, have your hotel negotiate a reasonable fare.
Both Hanoi and Saigon are prone to terrible traffic gridlock during the rush hours, when it’s easy to sit going nowhere in a taxi watching the fare steadily climb. To avoid such frustration, in certain circumstances it may be better to take a motorbike taxi, which can weave between the cars and deliver you to your destination on time. These days it is compulsory for pillion passengers on a motorbike to wear a helmet as well as the rider.
For a truly Vietnamese travelling experience, it’s obligatory for all tourists at some stage of their stay to take a ride in a cyclo. Cyclo riders all have muscular legs to push them and their clients round a city, and with the passenger seat in front, you get an uninterrupted view of all the street action.