OpenStreetMap (using Maps.me app on your smartphone) and course Google Map are the two main online maps available. How do these two competitors fare in Vietnam ? We’ve spent two months cycling in this country and have used both of them extensively. Here’s our opinion on these two essential apps.
Google has been developing Google Maps for years, and in Western countries it shows huge level of details. In Asia, features like Google Street View are not available, but the maps are up-to-date and really useful for navigating.
Maps.me / OpenStreetMap
Maps.me is an app developped using the open database from OpenStreetMap. While the database is more recent and OpenStreetMap is far from having Google’s financial resources, it’s sometimes surprisingly accurate.
Strengths and weaknesses of Google Maps and OpenStreetMap
Google Maps is often more up-to-date
There are several roads which we couldn’t have found without Google Maps (left). For example, the road to Tam Hai and the matching ferry were not visible on OpenStreetMap. Note that Google Maps also displayed two places of interest.
Worse, in some areas, OpenStreetMap even has a wrong geography ! When approaching Phan Rang – Tháp Chàm, I spotted a large inconsistency on OpenStreetMap. On Google Maps (left), you can see a large lake, which is totally absent on OpenStreetMap.
Google Maps features more places
Many more local businesses will be present on Google Maps than OpenStreetMap. This is especially handy when planning an itinerary, in order to look for budget accommodations.
Maps.me / OpenStreetMap is more readable
Although it’s probably a matter of personal taste, I find Maps.me more readable. The different colors help you gauge the size of the road very easily.
Also, Maps.me is more precise without having to zoom, especially in large cities. In Sai Gon, if you look at the crossing between Huynh Tan Phat and Cau Phy My on Google Maps, it looks like a roundabout; however, using OpenStreetMap reveals that Cau Phy My is actually a larger elevated road going above the other.
One exception is the ferry terminals, which are very visible on Google Maps, but require to zoom in on OpenStreetMaps.
Maps.me is easier to use without an internet access
Using Maps.me, you can select the countries of interest and the maps will be downloaded. You will also get notified of further updates.
For a long time, Google Maps was only available online. Now it’s easy to select an area of interest and download it; by default it will be stored during one month. However, as you move on through the country you’ll have to remember to download new parts of the map, which is not very convenient.
Both suck at computing cycling itineraries
Maps.me always sends us through very long itineraries. Google Maps’s cycling itineraries are better but can only be computed online, even if the map was previously downloaded. In addition to this, Google Map’s elevation profile is very unreliable. Overall it’s a very unsatisfying situation and I strongly suggest that you design your own cycling itineraries !
Side note : paper maps
When I cycled in China several years ago, offline maps were not so common… and I didn’t even own a smartphone back then 🙂 As a result I used paper maps; I was able to easily buy very detailed maps for each province, and they were were extraordinarily convenient. They looked like a small atlas, which fitted nicely inside my handlebar bag. Their only drawback was that it was of course though to take them out when it rained !
In Vietnam, we looked for a good map in several libraries while in Da Nang, but none of them had any real map. As a result, we resorted to using the two online maps mentioned earlier.
Why choose when you can have both ?
As we’ve seen in the previous examples, both competitors have their own strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, from one place to another, one may be more detailed than the other; I used OpenStreetMap more often in the central highlands and central coast of Vietnam, then Google Maps intensively in the Mekong delta.
Don’t hesitate to install both apps and compare them in your cycling area… and also don’t forget to download the maps on Google Maps ahead of time !