By Mary Jo Plouf
There are several ways to get around with public transportation in South East Asia. Vietnam has a large number of taxis, both with and without meters. It is much preferred to use a taxi with a meter and visitors should always agree on a fare before they enter the taxi. Taxis are not particularly expensive, but the fare can vary widely. We had to learn the hard way when we were charged the equivalent of twenty dollars for a ride that should have been three dollars. Fortunately, we had booked the taxi through our hotel and they had the time and the name of the taxi company on their records. We got a refund within an hour. So actually, we learned two lessons which are invaluable throughout the world. Always know the fare ahead of time and whenever possible book through your hotel when you need a taxi. The hotel can also give you a good estimate of what the fare should be in order to reach many popular destinations.
A large number of cyclos operate within the old city and from many hotels to central market places. These are peddled cyclos and they are slowly dying out. I did not see any motorized cyclos or tuk tuks in Vietnam. Within the old city and the market places, you can tour the immediate area for an hour or so for a very reasonable rate. Again, be sure to bargain and agree on both the fare and the amount of time for the tour. It is possible to stop at various places within the market to shop or make purchases. In fact, they take the place of hop-on hop-off tour buses in many cities. A cyclo or tuk tuk will also take you to some restaurants and pick you up again at an agreed time. It is a great way to get around if you need transportation or you can just consider the time spent as entertainment.
Vietnam does not have many cars. The more popular mode of transportation is the motorbike. It is possible to rent a motorbike and a driver, especially if you want to venture outside of the city into the countryside. If you opt for this mode of transportation, you should insist on a helmet.
In some areas, especially in the city of Bangkok, Thailand, there are water taxis that transport business people to their jobs or tourists up and down the river. The Chao Phraya, The River of Kings, helps to alleviate a lot of congestion on the inner city roads. Bangkok also has a large number of tuk tuks in the inner city, most of them motorized. They will take you almost anywhere within the city center, but make sure they take you where you want to go and not to their favorite sales center where they are paid to deliver customers. Bangkok also has a streetcar system and a large number of taxis which operate in the outskirts of the city. Traffic can be very bad in Bangkok and it is difficult to predict exactly how long a trip will take. Our trip from the airport in the Gate1 Travel van went quickly and smoothly, but we were stopped at an intersection by a taxi driver that was lost. Our guide said that many of the taxi drivers were inexperienced and did not know the city or the location of the hotels.
Perhaps the best, cheapest and surest way to get around, if you have a lot of time and a good map is to walk. It is amazing what you can discover and getting lost is half the fun. The locals are more than happy to give you directions even if they do not have a clue as to where you are trying to go. If you run short of time or get tired, you can always “call a cab.”