Airports & Airlines
The state-owned carrier Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines.com.vn) has flights to 28 international destinations, mainly in East Asia, but also to the UK, Germany, France and Australia.
The airline has a modern fleet of Airbuses and Boeings, and has a very good recent safety record.
There are six international airports in Vietnam. Others, including Hue, are officially classified as 'international' but have no overseas connections (apart from the odd charter).
Cam Ranh International Airport (http://camranhairport.vn) Located 36km south of Nha Trang, with expanding range of flights including Hong Kong and Seoul.
Danang Airport (www.danangairport.vn/en) International flights to China, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Cambodia and Singapore.
Noi Bai Airport (www.hanoiairportonline.com) Serves the capital Hanoi.
Phu Quoc International Airport (www.phuquocairport.com) International flights including Singapore, Bangkok and some charters to Europe.
Tan Son Nhat International Airport (www.tsnairport.hochiminhcity.gov.vn/vn) For Ho Chi Minh City.
Cat Bi International Airport Near Haiphong, 60km west of Halong City, with flights to China and South Korea.
It’s hard to get reservations for flights to/from Vietnam during holidays, especially Tet, which falls between late January and mid-February.
Departure tax is included in the price of a ticket.
Vietnam shares land borders with Cambodia, China and Laos and there are plenty of border crossings open to foreigners with each.
There are no specific restrictions on bringing bicycles into Vietnam. However, you can expect plenty of attention on remote border crossings from officials, and be prepared to be asked for an unofficial 'import tax' of a few dollars.
Standard times that foreigners are allowed to cross are usually 7am to 5pm daily.
There are legal money-changing facilities on the Vietnamese side of most border crossings, which can deal with US dollars and some other currencies. Avoid black marketeers, as they have a well-deserved reputation for short-changing and outright theft.
Travellers at border crossings are occasionally asked for an ‘immigration fee’ of a dollar or two. It pays to carry low-denomination dollars, to avoid being told 'no change'.
Cambodia and Vietnam share a long frontier with seven border crossings. One-month Cambodian visas are issued on arrival at all border crossings for US$30, but overcharging is common at all borders except Bavet.
Cambodian border crossings are officially open daily between 8am and 8pm.
Cambodian Border Crossings
Ho Chi Minh City
Ha Tien, Chao Doc
Takeo, Phnom Penh
There are three main borders where foreigners are permitted to cross between Vietnam and China: Dong Dang–Pingxiang (the Friendship Pass), Lao Cai and Mong Cai.
In most cases it's necessary to arrange a Chinese visa in advance but some nationalities (including Australians) can get their visas on the Vietnamese side of the Lao Cai–Hekou border.
Time in China is one hour ahead.
Chinese Border Crossings
There are seven overland crossings between Vietnam and Laos. Thirty-day Lao visas are available at all borders.
The golden rule is to try to use direct city-to-city bus connections between the countries, as potential hassle will be greatly reduced. If you travel step by step using local buses, expect transport scams (eg serious overcharging) on the Vietnamese side. Devious drivers have even stopped in the middle of nowhere to renegotiate the price.
Transport links on both sides of the border can be hit-and-miss, so don’t use the more remote borders unless you have plenty of time, and patience, to spare.
Main Lao Border Crossings
Kon Tum, Pleiku
Dong Ha, Hue
Dien Bien Phu
Bus connections link Vietnam with Cambodia, Laos and China. The most popular way to/from Cambodia is the international buses connecting HCMC with destinations including Phnom Penh (from 230,000d), Siem Reap and Sihanoukville (both from 400,000d). When it comes to Laos the route from Savannakhet in southern Laos to Hue (300,000d) in central Vietnam is popular. Two daily buses also link Hanoi with Nanning in China (480,000d).
Passengers always have to get off buses at borders to clear immigration and customs.
Car & Motorcycle
It is theoretically possible to travel in and out of Vietnam by car or motorcycle. However, bureaucracy makes this a real headache and the situation can vary from border post to border post. Riders have been successful taking Vietnamese motorbikes into Cambodia or Laos but we've had reports that some border officials inside Laos have demanded import permits. It's very difficult in the other direction (and the permits are costly).
Until very recently it was virtually impossible to take any vehicle into China, but some organised groups have managed this by signing up with a Chinese tour agency, which arranges the paperwork, permits and fees. Three-day visits into Guangxi Province were trialled for a few months in late 2016, too.
Consult the forums on www.gt-rider.com for the latest cross-border biking information.
Drivers of cars and riders of motorbikes will need the vehicle’s registration papers, liability insurance and an International Driving Permit. Most important is a carnet de passage en douane, which acts as a temporary waiver of import duty.
Several international trains link China and Vietnam. A daily train connects Hanoi with Nanning (and on to Beijing!). However, passengers have to leave the train (with all bags) just before the Vietnamese border and again at the Chinese border for scanning and inspection in the dead of night.
You can also travel between Hanoi and Kunming via Lao Cai; however, there are no through trains and you have to get off at Lao Cao station, make your way to the border at Hekou (2.5km away). Several daily trains run from Hekou to Kunming including a sleeper.
There are no railway lines linking Vietnam with Cambodia or Laos.
Try www.chinahighlights.com/china-trains for booking Chinese trains; there's a small booking fee.
China Guidebooks Confiscated
Travellers entering China from Vietnam have periodically reported that Lonely Planet China guidebooks have been confiscated by border officials. The guidebook’s maps show Taiwan as a separate country and this is a sensitive issue. If you're carrying a copy of Lonely Planet’s China guide, consider putting a cover on the book, removing any potentially offensive maps and burying it deep in your bag.
There’s a river border crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam on the banks of the Mekong. Regular fast boats ply the route between Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Chau Doc in Vietnam via the Vinh Xuong–Kaam Samnor border. Several luxury riverboats with cabins run all the way to the temples of Angkor at Siem Reap in Cambodia.
Cruise ships excepted, it is not possible to travel to Vietnam by sea.