When considering making a trip to Vietnam the first decision will be whether to head for Saigon or Hanoi. These two cities are at opposite ends of the country, and although Hanoi in the north is the capital, Saigon down south is Vietnam’s main gateway in. A unique tailor made holiday in Vietnam is worth considering when there is so much to see and do and you’re not sure where to start.
Vietnam by train
There’s a regular train service running between China and Hanoi, with two lines across the border into China. On the Lang Son line Nanning is the first stop on the Chinese side, and Kunming the first on the Lao Cai line. When the Chinese invaded in 1979 both lines were closed and were reopened in 1991. Independent travellers and organised tour groups are now able to enter and leave Vietnam across this overland route but need to have the proper visas ready for both entry and exit, obtained from both the relevant Chinese and Vietnamese authorities. Don’t wait until you get to the border to pick them up because you’ll simply be politely but firmly turned back.
Vietnam by road
There is a convenient bus service between Cambodia’s Phnom Penh and Saigon but foreign visitors attempting to use it have often run into difficulties getting across the border and have can be refused entry without the right visa documents. If you’re in a car, on the other hand, going across the border is usually simply a matter of being waved through, and it’s for bus passengers that the problems arise, augmented by the fact that it often seems easier to enter the country this way than to leave it. Also, the border is closed at sunset so you have to time things right if you don’t want to end up having to camp out overnight.
In order to get into Vietnam by road from Cambodia you’ll have to get your visa amended in Phnom Penh at the Vietnamese Embassy, because entry by air is the norm. To go the other way, from Vietnam to Cambodia, get a Cambodian visa from the Saigon Consulate.
You can now travel from Bangkok into Laos from NE Thailand and from there into Vietnam via Highway 9. This has the advantage of being the most scenic route, running through Khe Sanh from Savannakhet in Laos to the beautiful Vietnamese coastline just north of Hue. The Soviets helped build this road in 1989 to help reduce the dependence of Laos, which is landlocked, on Thailand. As the road is now open to foreign visitors and allows an easy crossing from Vientiane in Laos to Vietnam, a whole world of overland travel adventures in Indochina is opened up.
Vietnam by sea
There are international ports at Vung Tau, Haiphong, Saigon and Danang, and it’s possible to arrive on a merchant ship. Check your documentation with the Vietnamese embassy before setting out, as yachtsmen who have in the past attempted to dock and land have been unceremoniously fined and sent packing and even gaoled briefly on occasion.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.
(Image by pululante)