Spoilt for Choice – Or are you? Bus to and From Saigon
Spoilt for Choice!
If you want to travel by bus to and from Saigon, you are spoilt for choice. The bus network in Vietnam is extensive and covers most of the country. There are major terminals in most provinces that serve both local and interprovincial bus routes. And, many private bus companies operate throughout the country.
Buses range from rock bottom cheap and not so comfortable, through to what I consider as luxury buses. The difference in price in the scheme of things isn’t that much, but I guess it depends on your budget. A sleeper bus on one of the biggest companies from Ho Chi Minh City, all the way to Hanoi (including food) is less than $50 USD. You may be able to get the same journey for a bit less than $35 on cheaper companies. Mind you; it takes around 38 hours so you might just prefer to pay a few extra bucks for a little extra comfort!!!
Personally, I think if you have the time, break up your trip into smaller journey’s, preferably no more than 5 hours. Travel in the day if you can. I know you save on accommodation if you go overnight, but Vietnam is a little notorious for bus accidents. Night travel is even more dangerous. Also note: Depending on your destination, cheap internal flights can sometimes be less than the price of a bus ticket, and you will get there a whole lot quicker.
There are two ways can approach bus travel in Vietnam.
- Buy individual legs of your journey, OR
- Purchase a “hop on, hop off” bus pass from one of the big tour companies. The tour agencies refer to these passes as “Open Tickets.”
Option 1. Individual Tickets
There are hundreds of ticketing agents in District 1 who can arrange your tickets and pick-up from your hotel (for a small commission of course). Many private bus companies going to the usual tourist destinations will have pick-up and drop-off to the Pham Ngu Lao area (backpacker district) or, provide shuttle buses to the major bus hubs. When arriving in HCMC, this can mean you are competing with the rest of the bus for cheap accommodation if you arrive in peak periods. However, use my tips here and you will have no problems finding something to suit your taste and budget if you are patient.
If, however, you want to do everything by yourself, just go to the relevant bus station (see below) and buy your ticket from registered ticket booths inside the terminal. Show this ticket to the conductor on the bus. If you are going this route to save money, make sure you consider transport costs to the station. Local public buses serve all suburban stations, but there are obvious drawbacks. Struggling with your luggage in a crowded public bus might not be such a pleasant or safe experience. If you take a taxi, depending on the length of your journey, any savings will be well and truly wiped out. Also, do some research on the individual bus company you choose. There are some horror stories out there. The companies I have provided links to below, generally have a decent reputation.
Some larger companies, like Hoang Long and Mai Linh also have internet bookings in English. They reportedly have excellent buses and trained drivers. Do not underestimate the benefit of this. We are talking about your life here, and bus accidents in Vietnam are not an uncommon occurrence.
Main Coach Companies with a Reasonable Reputation.
They have an English website and an online ticket booking facility (also in English) SEE HERE
UPDATE: It seems like Mai Lin Express has gone out of business. The website is down, and Google says it’s out of business permanently. I’ll do a bit more searching but don’t count on their buses as your only option as of NOW. (07/06/2016)
The Mai Linh Express site is not in English, but you can right click and select “Translate to English” if you can’t understand what you are reading. Mai Linh has an extensive network SEE HERE They run super sleeper buses to Hanoi.
Their online booking system is in English and can be accessed here (And is also not showing any route information at the moment!)
They have a ticket office at 201 Pham Ngu Lao Street, District 1, HCMC and at both The Eastern and Western Bus Stations (see below)
Hotline 0985 29 29 29 (Not answering in English at the moment!!)
Pick-up is in Pham Ngu Lao.
This site is in Vietnamese
They have an office at 272 De Tham – Pham Ngu Lao Ward – District 1 – HCMC (Just around the corner from Pham Ngu Lao.
Tel: (08) 38309309
Option 2. Open Tours
Open Tours are daily bus services between set destinations and sometimes stop off at places of interest along the way. Both of the companies mentioned below, arrive and depart from the Pham Ngu Lao area. If you aren’t staying here, it’s a short taxi ride from the other end of District 1. Of course, when you arrive at your destination you will be taken to “Affiliated Hotels” and offered tour services with “affiliated companies” BUT there is no obligation to do this. Just pick up your bags and walk around the corner and you’ll usually have ample alternatives. If you have booked ahead, keep the address handy and try and get dropped off there. Otherwise, just use the same principles I have advised in catching a taxi or Xe Om in your new destination. All you need to do before you move to your next destination is book at their office at least 24 hours beforehand. You can stay in any one destination as long as you want.
There is not much to be gained by booking the whole tour at once. There is no reason why you can’t book each leg separately as you go. Then, if you have a bad experience, you choose another option for the rest of your trip.
Companies Operating Open Bus Tours
Below I have given the details of the largest company providing OPEN TICKETS in the Pham Ngu Lao area. Please Note: There are widely varying reviews about Open Tour Bus operators. I strongly advise you do your due diligence. I think much of the bad press for Sinh is because of many fakes (read here) https://www.thesinhtourist.vn/fraudwarning, but I haven’t used them so can’t say 100%. I have omitted to mention a couple of the more notorious ones, but again, I haven’t used them so I was only going by the overwhelming terrible reviews you can find on Sites such as Trip Advisor.
Sinh Tourist (246-248 De Tham St, District 1, T: (08) 836 7338).
Pricing and Inclusions
Competition is pretty steep between bus companies, but inclusions do vary. Make sure make sure you understand exactly what you are getting for your money. It’s a whole lot easier if you agent speaks English but, in the same breath, don’t believe everything they tell you either. Some buses include meals, fee Wi-Fi, TV, water and more. Unfortunately, some also include cranked up karaoke videos, so take a set of earplugs and charge your mp3!
For destinations over 8 hours, you can book both daytime buses with seats and sleeper buses. Nowadays the top of the line sleeper buses have come a long way since the stacked cots that are too short for most Westerners. Of course, you’ll pay extra for the comfort. The original sleeper buses have two levels of bunk beds stacked neatly in three rows. Try to avoid seats any further back than the first half of the bus as it can get quite cramped.
Major Intercity Bus Terminals in Ho Chi Minh City
Open Tours Bus Companies, Hoang Long, Mai Linh and Phuong Trang depart from the Pham Ngu Lao area. Either from De Tham street or just around the corner on Pham Ngu Lao itself. But if you head to the other major stations, here are the details. NOTE: These two stations are in very different locations East and West of the City respectively. Binh Thanh is different to Binh Tan even though they may sound the same to you!
Mien Dong Bus Station (Ben Xe Mien Dong) – Eastern Bus Station
At: 292 Dinh Bo Linh St., Binh Thanh Dist., HCMC
Tel: (08) 38991607
Mien Dong Bus Terminal is the main departure point for travelling to Vung Tau, Phan Thiet-Mui Ne, Dalat, Nha Trang, Dalat and other destinations in the central highlands and the north. There are over 200 transport companies working from this terminal. Ho Chi Minh City Public buses also connect here.
Catch Bus #26 from Ben Thanh station just across from the Ben Thanh Market.
The station is about 5km from central HCMC on Hwy 13, so you are looking at about 80 000 VND in a taxi at least to get there. Express buses depart from the east side and local buses connect with the west side of the compound.
Buses to the major tourist destinations like Da Lat, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Phan Thiet, and Vung Tau: depart hourly. To Vinh Long, they are every 2 hours, so it’s better to go To Mien Tay (The Eastern Bus Station) where they depart far more frequently. Direct buses to Hanoi (Luong Yen Bus Station) and Hoi An, leave twice a day.
Mien Tay Bus Station (Ben Xe Mien Tay) – Western Bus Station
At: 395 Kinh Duong Vuong – An Lac Ward – Binh Tan District, HCMC
Tel: (08) 38991607
Mien Tay Bus Station is the main departure point for travel to the Mekong Delta area, including Tien Giang, Ben Tre, Can Tho City, and Ca Mau. This large station is about 10km west of HCMC in An Lac, a part of Binh Tan District.
Catch Bus #2 from Ben Thanh station just across from the Ben Thanh Market.
Buses to popular destinations in the Mekong depart extremely frequently. Every 20 minutes to Can Tho. Every 30 minutes for Vinh Long and hourly for Cau Mau and Chau Doc.
Tips for Travelling on Long Distance Buses (Especially night buses)
- Secure your bags. Lock anything that contains valuables and attach it to the bus or something else that will make them difficult to snatch quickly (e.g. connect two together to make it more awkward)
- Keep passport and money on your person. In a secure pocket or under your clothes in a money belt.
- Take earplugs just in case they decide to crank up the Karaoke, and you aren’t in the mood for singing. They also help with the snoring, snorting, and other assorted barn noises during your journey.
- Take a jumper. AC can be brutal sometimes.
- Wear comfortable, easily removable footwear and a pair of socks (Brutal Air Con!)
- Keep a packet of SMECTA handy; my all time favourite solution for minor tummy ailments. A huge inconvenience when you’re on a long trip.
- Take a jar of Tiger Balm. Another favourite of mine on long trips. Soothes headaches, travel sickness, blocked nasal passages (due to brutal air con) and is extremely handy if you have to visit a smelly loo. A dab under each nostril will make the experience so much more bearable.
- Learn to be still! Read a book, stare out the window, learn about your next destination, solve the problems of the world, write a list, chat to fellow travelers or just take a rest. Fidgeting will not get you there any quicker. Use the time wisely.
- If you are arriving by bus in Ho Chi Minh City, You will be surrounded by touts urging you to come with them. Bat them off and take a moment to get your bearings. Have a coffee or cold drink in a nearby café and chill out for a while before setting out to look for your accommodation or go to another part of town. Depending on who you traveled with, you will most likely be in the Pham Ngu Lao, where you will want to stay. See my hints here for finding cheap accommodation. If not, check out my tips here for safely taking a taxi or Xe Om (motorcycle taxi).
- The same goes for other destinations. Don’t be rushed into making rash decisions and you will as likely make better choices and save money.
You can also connect to Phnom Penh on many different bus lines, day and night, including those mentioned above. Due diligence as per intercity buses is necessary as there are a lot of shonky operators. Most will help with your Cambodian Visa for a $5 service charge, and you will be required to hand over your passport at the start of the journey or when you get close to the border. This whole process worked just fine when we went in 2012. You can choose to do it yourself, but the bus staff may be quite hostile if you do and make threats they will leave you behind if you are late getting through.
The buses will stop at pre-determined meal stops. You don’t have to eat there but in our experience, there won’t be a whole lot else close by. Take some snacks with you.
Try the following which I have seen get reasonable reviews.
Mai Linh – As well as buses they also run small air-con vans to Cambodia. I couldn’t find the online booking link for Phnom Penh, even though it’s definitely on their route map, so it’s best to go to their office. (See above. They may well have gone out of business recently!)
Mekong Express Limousine Bus – I can’t decide whether these guys are great or terrible….The reviews vary widely. Many of the terrible reviews were old, so maybe things have improved considerably.
Sapaco tourist – Ditto my comment above. Most of the awful reviews I found on Trip Advisor were well over two years old. The new ones had this company slightly better than Mekong Express, but both were considered good.
So there you have it. You have a lot of choices to catch a bus to and from Saigon. There’s loads of options and just as many opinions on which is the best company and the way to go. In your consideration of how to move on, don’t forget to consider taking a flight. It might just save you money and time and some potential hazards.
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