Private car & driver
Private car, van, mini-bus
Done right, a private car (or van or mini-bus) plus driver is one of the very best ways of traveling through and discovering Vietnam.
You can travel in air-conditioned comfort, easily cover longer distances, stop when you want, and be less constrained by the weather and carry more luggage than with a motorbike or a public bus. If you travel by AWD or 4WD, you can explore spectacular roads off the beaten path.
But you can’t rent a car by yourself. Despite a somewhat recent new Vietnamese traffic law (from 2015) that recognizes international drivers’ licenses, from a practical point of view no car-rental agency will allow you to self-drive — all car rentals come with a driver.
Given the relatively hazardous nature of driving in Vietnam, and how different the actual on-the-ground rules of the road are from Western countries (forget the written rules), this is probably a good thing. Road conditions are ever changing too, and roads that are fine one month can be challenging or under repair with long dirt or mud sections two months later.
Finally, if you get into an accident it’s a lot more difficult if there was a foreigner at the wheel.
We always have a driver when we travel by car ourselves.
In practice, you really need to hire a car plus driver plus guide. It’s very hard to find a driver who both speaks English and has guiding experience or certification — most drivers are just drivers.
If you want to get off the beaten path a bit, or understand the history or context of what you are visiting or seeing, or explore the gems away from the crowds, or take advantage of chance things like being invited to join a wedding as you are passing, then you will need to hire a good guide as well as the car & driver.
Best done via a tour company who really knows North Vietnam and has good guides — do your homework on this, as it will make a big difference to your trip: we think it’s us, Other Path Travel!