Ho Chi Minh is the largest city in Vietnam and was the old capital of South Vietnam during the American war. Back then it was called Saigon and the center of the city is still referred to as Saigon. Hoi An, on the other hand, is a small city located along a river just south of the DMZ and Da Nang, Vietnam’s third-largest city. Few people visit Vietnam without visiting Hoi An and getting from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An can be done in a variety of ways. Some ways are better than others.
Please check and double-check all information for yourself, this post is intended as a guide based on personal experience and opinion.
Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An
There are three main options to take getting from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An. Bus, plane or train. They all have their good and bad points and with the journey distance of over 800+km you want to pick the right one for your needs. The plane and train both actually go to Da Nang which is 30 km north of Hoi An. Buses will go to direct to Hoi An saving you the trouble of catching a taxi or another long bus journey once you arrive.
Flying from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An
The quickest way to get between the two cities. With both airports being very close to the centers of their respective towns you won’t be losing time getting out to airports. The journey from Da Nang to Hoi An is about 30 minutes in a taxi from the airport. The cost is approximately 400,000 to 500,000 Vnd depending on where in Hoi An you want to go.
Da Nang is an international airport so it benefits from great connections across numerous airlines. The two big ones being Vietnam airlines which is one of my favourites and Air Asia which I’ve used on numerous occasions from Australia as far across as India. Unfortunately, because of this, it is actually hard to just get down to Saigon and most flights actually head further afield to Thailand, Cambodia or Malaysia. Vietnam Airlines is the only real choice for direct flights.
If you are booking a long way in advance you can get some really cheap deals that may even be cheaper than the train. Vietnam Airlines has special deals for under $30 USD if not last minute.
Catching the Train From Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An
My favourite method of traveling and it doesn’t disappoint in Vietnam. The train station in Saigon is close to district 1 where most people will stay. A short taxi ride that will only cost a few dollars gets you to the train station.
The journey is approximately 17 hours and there are numerous trains that run either during the day or overnight. Vietnam Railways is run by the Vietnamese government and they do a good job of running the trains. The company I use to buy our tickets online is 12goasia and you are able to pay for and print out tickets before you leave home.
There are 4 classes on the trains, hard seat, soft seat, hard berth and soft berth. The hard seats are wooden benches and not recommended for a journey of this length. The soft seats are good but not private in any way. The hard berths have 6 bunks, 3 each side. The soft berth has 4 bunks in one room and is perfect for a family of 4 like ours. All have a/c except the hard seat carriages.
The price for a soft berth is between $65 USD and $70 depending on which train you catch. All prices are quoted in USD but if you buy directly in Vietnam they will charge you in Dong, the Vietnamese currency. Online the price and charge will be USD. The difference between hard and soft berth is only a few dollars and even between soft seat and soft berth no more than $10. For the price I’d recommend the soft berth so you have some privacy and plugs and a/c while you travel.
There is a private company that offers luxury carriages that are attached to the normal trains. These need to be booked separately and are only on certain trains. At the time of writing they only go from DaNang heading north to Hanoi or from Ho Chi Minh as far north as Nha Trang The cost for this service isn’t cheap but from all accounts is worth it if you have some spare money floating around. Time-wise it is connected to the Vietnamese rail trains so will get you there at the same time as a normal train. Trains and service change constantly, please check current information for yourself.
Catching the Bus From Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An
Anyone that has caught buses in Vietnam will have their fair share of stories to tell. While not aggressive in their manor they rely on the horn and the road rules are more of a guide than a fixed law.
The buses though are amazing if you get the right one. Full flat bed luxury with two decks isn’t uncommon. Unfortunately there are also some pretty ordinary buses so it pays to shop around and actually see what bus you are buying your ticket for. A lot of the travel agents sell tickets from north to south or vice versa but people have complained of the buses getting worse the further you go due to swapping of tickets and companies etc. We did it this way 20 years ago but I’d recommend only booking as far as each stop. You won’t save much more with a whole ticket and it gives you options when buying each ticket.
Pham Ngu Lao, which is in district 1 Saigon is where most of the tourist buses will leave from. and arrive to. This is also where most of the tourist houses and accommodation is located. Countless agencies will be able to sell you tickets and it will normally be cheaper going to these than buying from your hotel.
Departures run throughout the day including through the night and the vast majority of buses will head to Hanoi as the final destination. Make sure that your bus is going to Hoi An and not Da Nang. Even if they say it will stop there it’s not uncommon for people to be dropped off at the intersection with the A1 and have to make their own way into town. Make sure the sign on both the ticket and bus state Hoi An.
Most buses will drop you within walking distance of the old town but won’t go across to Cam An which is the location of An Bang beach. It’s a short taxi ride to cover the 5 km to the beach.
Tickets normally cost about $40 USD for the tourist bus from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An. A local bus would be cheaper but I’d not recommend doing over 800 km on one.
My Best Way for Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An
I’ve always loved train travel and here in Vietnam it doesn’t disappoint. The soft berth cabin was great for our family of four including a triathlon bike which I could fit under the bottom bed. The A/C kept the heat down and I love waking up to a new destination rolling by the window. With food available to buy onboard or the option to bring drinks and food with you you’ll never go hungry. For me, this is the only way to travel long distances in Vietnam.
Younger travellers may prefer to save the $20 and get the bus but remember that Vietnamese are rarely 6 foot plus and broad in the shoulder. The flat beds on the bus aren’t known for their spaciousness for a western body. That combined with the constant weaving and horn blowing and its easy to see why you won’t arrive refreshed. We have a friend who takes valium to get her through these journeys ( not recommended by us).
If you’re time poor then take the plane but with all the hassle of checking in and fluid limits bags etc I won’t rush to fly when the distance isn’t big and other options are available. Cost-wise it rarely works out cheaper than the train which being overnight isn’t going to eat into too much time. If you want to know how to get further north to Hue from either Danang or Hoi An, have a read of my post on doing that here.
Whichever one you pick enjoy your trip from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An