Although Hanoi is the capital of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, is the country's biggest city. With Ho Chi Minh City in the south and Hanoi in the north, you can experience the breadth of Vietnam's complex history and culture by visiting both. Despite the nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) that separate these major cities, there are many different ways to make this trip. Vietnam's oblong shape makes the overland journey from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi a long one, but fortunately flights are quite affordable and it's easy to squeeze both cities into a packed itinerary. However, if you do choose to travel by rail or road, you can look forward to exciting stops along the way like the beaches of Nha Trang, the imperial city of Hue, and the historic trading port city of Hoi An.
|Train||31 hours, 35 minutes||from $28||A scenic rail journey|
|Bus||35 hours, 20 minutes||from $30||Extreme budget travel|
|Flight||2 hours, 10 minutes||from $20||Practicality and comfort|
|Car||31 hours||994 miles (1,600 kilometers)||An adventurous road trip|
What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi?
Flying domestically in Vietnam is a lot more affordable than you might assume. Airlines like VietJet Air, Bamboo Airways, Jetstar, and even Vietnam Airlines offer non-stop flights for as low as $20 and $40 one-way. With daily flights offered across multiple airlines, flying offers travelers flexibility. Plus, when you consider the amount of time you'll save—which effectually will help you save money you'd otherwise spend on food and gas during an overland journey—flying is the most cost-effective option.
What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi?
A direct flight to Hanoi takes a little over 2 hours and even if you book a non-direct flight with a layover, flying is still likely the quickest way to go. If you're not getting on a plane, you should anticipate a journey of at least 30 hours. In terms of speed, flying is the most practical choice if you only have a short amount of time in Vietnam—albeit less adventurous than a road trip or taking an overnight sleeper train which will allow you to see more and experience Vietnam at a slower pace.
How Long Does It Take to Drive?
Driving from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is not advisable for travelers with little experience driving in Vietnam who may be unfamiliar with the rules of the road and local driving customs. It's a long journey with over 31 hours of driving, but realistically, it will take you at least two days when you account for overnight stops and side trips. Instead of driving straight through, you can stretch out the journey and make a nice road trip out of it and there are many interesting attractions and towns along the way that make for worthy detours.
Although Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City appear almost exactly on the same line of latitude on a map, you'll need to follow the curve of Vietnam's western border to get there. From Ho Chi Minh City, you'll take the QL14 northeast until you can get on the AH17, which you'll take all the way to Da Nang. From there, you can follow the QL1A north until you can switch to the CT01, which will bring you all the way to Hanoi. Another alternate route, that only requires 26 hours of driving time, is to travel through Cambodia and Laos. However with so many border crossings, this trip would likely take longer and you wouldn't get to see any of Vietnam's beautiful beaches.
How Long Is the Train Ride?
While still a time-consuming option, trains are the most scenic way to see parts of the Vietnam countryside normally overlooked by the majority of tourists. A direct trip via train without making any stops will take at least 31 hours, 30 minutes. However, you'll arrive well rested and can appreciate views of the countryside from the comfort of an air-conditioned car along the way. It's a long time to spend on a train, but you can purchase meal tickets on trains that cover a set meal delivered directly to your compartment or buy drinks and snacks from the carts that come around sporadically. Free boiling water is also available on tap to make your own tea, coffee, or instant noodles.
Sleeper trains come in the "hard" and "soft" varieties. Hard-sleeper cars—the cheaper of the two options—have six berths, meaning that you could be sandwiched between someone sleeping above and below you. Soft-sleeper cars are slightly more expensive but have only four people to each compartment. Luggage is kept with you for security and basic bedding is provided. The cheapest train ticket, a "soft seat," provides you with only a reclining chair in a cramped car. While not super luxurious, soft-sleeper trains are the most comfortable option for getting some sleep on the long journey.
While travel agencies and hotels can book tickets for a commission, the safest option is to book several days in advance directly at the train station. Tickets often get snatched up by resellers who know that tourists wait until the last minute to book. Some unsavory travel agents have been known to sell hard-sleeper train tickets for soft-sleeper prices. You won't be able to confront them once you are boarding your train and find out that you've been scammed.
Is There a Bus That Goes From Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi?
There are plenty of bus lines that run long-haul buses between northern and southern regions of Vietnam. While traveling by bus is incredibly cheap, chaotic road conditions provide less scenery and it's much harder to get a good night's sleep. Buses are also the slowest option for getting around. While they do provide some convenience—many tour companies will collect you right at your hotel and tickets are easy to book—you'll spend hours waiting in Vietnam's terrible traffic to collect other passengers and get out of the city. Always add an hour or two to the estimated arrival time to compensate for rest stops and traffic.
Night buses have small, horizontal bunk beds and can save you the expense of a night in a hotel, but between the swerving and the constant cacophony of horns, you'll get little rest. Because passengers ride in a mostly horizontal position, motion sickness is very likely, so pack some medication or ginger candy just in case you start to feel nauseous. Take the bus only if you need to save money or want the greatest amount of convenience and flexibility. Theft is a problem on overnight buses, so keep your wits about you and don't expect to get much sleep.
When Is the Best Time to Travel to Hanoi?
Winters in Vietnam (December to February) see milder temperatures and less rain, but there is some difference in climate between Vietnam's northern and southern regions. While Ho Chi Minh City and the rest of the south are more tropical, Hanoi in the north can get quite cool in the winter with temperatures sometimes dropping as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) at night. Summers though are very hot in Hanoi and it also happens to be monsoon season. It's also worth noting that transportation options between Saigon and Hanoi fill up quickly around large holidays such as Tet (January or February) and Chinese New Year, so book well in advance!
Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?
Noi Bai International Airport (HAN) is approximately 19 miles (30 kilometers) from the city center and driving from the airport typically takes about 45 minutes. Taxis aren't too expensive, but if you're on a budget you can also take one of the buses that leave from the airport. Bus 86 goes straight to the Old Quarter while Bus 7 goes to the the Kim Ma bus station, and Bus 17 goes to the Long Bien bus station. If you've booked your flight on Jetstar Pacific, Vietnam Airlines, or VietJet Air, you may book yourself a shuttle to the city center when you buy your ticket.
What Is There to Do in Hanoi?
Your first stop in Hanoi should be to the Old Quarter, a neighborhood which is home to many of the best hotels and shopping locales. Then, you can make your way around to the main sights like the Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum, and the Imperial Citadel. You can also head to the Thang Long Water Puppet theatre to see an authentic water puppet show or ride the elevator to the observation deck of the Lotte Center Hanoi, where you'll find 360-degree views of the city. And if you want to get out of the city, you can set out for a day cruise along the Red River, where it's even possible to travel as far as the postcard-perfect Ha Long Bay.