Hanoi Transportation: Getting In and Getting Around

City traffic at rush hour, Hanoi

Grant Faint/Getty Images

Travelers to Hanoi, Vietnam can get in, around and out using a variety of transportation modes, each better suited to a particular schedule or budget.

Taxis offer the greatest speed and convenience but also cost the most (they also offer the greatest likelihood of ripping you off). Bikes can be rented at your Hanoi hostel for as low as a dollar a day but can be very dangerous for travelers unused to Hanoi's chaotic, anarchic traffic.

So think carefully about where you want to go (like these must-see sights in Hanoi) and how you want to get there; what might cost you the least may take up the most time, and a bigger transportation budget may actually save in terms of more sights seen and less hassle along the road.

Transportation From Noi Bai Airport to Hanoi

Air travelers flying into Hanoi will need to go through Noi Bai International Airport (IATA: HAN, ICAO: VVNB), about 40 minutes' drive from the Hanoi city center. Located in Soc Son District about 28 miles north of Hanoi's city center, Noi Bai lies about 40 minutes' taxi ride from the Old Quarter.

Travelers exiting from Noi Bai Airport can take the bus, minibus, taxi, or hotel airport transfer to Hanoi city proper. Buses and minibusses cost the least but take up the most waiting or travel time. Taxis are your most expensive option but can get you to town the fastest, assuming you can navigate your way around the touts and scammers in the arrivals area.

Transportation Around Hanoi

So you've made it to your hotel in the Old Quarter in one piece. Good for you! Now, how do you get around to see Hanoi's must-see sights? Luckily, the great majority of Hanoi's main tourist areas - including its best eating places, shops, hotels, and historic sights - lie within a one-mile radius surrounding Hoan Kiem Lake.

And if you're lucky enough to visit during autumn in Hanoi (from August to November; read more about the weather in Vietnam), you'll be treated to some really good walking weather.

Hanoi's taxis have meters, but not all drivers like to use them. Working meters cost about VND10,000 to VND15,000 for the first two kilometers, then about VND8,000 per succeeding kilometer.

The trouble with taking a taxi is not all of them are well-versed in English, and some will try to impose a flat rate for your trip instead of relying on the meter. Even when they use the meter, some of them will have defective meters that run too fast!

If hailing a taxi in Hanoi, look for one of these reputable taxis, instead of just any taxi that passes your way. You can also call them to get a taxi sent to your location. The taxis in this list are slightly less likely to try to rip you off.

  • Hanoi Taxi
  • Mai Linh Taxi
  • Taxi CP

The language gap is a big problem when getting around in Hanoi, as Vietnamese is a tonal language that adds dots and squiggles to Latin characters that change their pronunciation entirely! So don't try to tell the driver where you want to go; show him a paper or card that has the address in writing. (Those calling cards at your hotel front desk? Grab a handful and use them for your trips.)

Taxi drivers in Hanoi are also loath to give back change. If this is a big deal for you, bring smaller bills to pay the exact change.

Cyclo are Hanoi's bicycle rickshaws. Passengers ride in the front cab, while the driver sits behind the passenger. Cyclo cabs are made for two passengers and are ideal for exploring short distances within Hanoi's city center. Ride them only if you're in no hurry, and if you don't mind the fright of seeing Hanoi's traffic whiz right in front of you.

A ride in a cyclo should cost you about VND 100,000 (about $5) for an hour's ride. They may ask for more at the outset, but you're encouraged to haggle the price down. Agree on the price up front before boarding.

Don't be surprised if the cyclo driver will try to charge you more as soon as you get down. Pay the price you agreed at the outset, and be firm about it - however, do tip him for his services, as he's pedaled your entire body weight for the past hour. Have the correct change ready, as cyclo drivers (like their taxi counterparts) hate to give back change.

Xe om are Hanoi's motorcycle taxis. The name translates to "hug vehicle", and that's what it amounts to: you ride pillion on the motorcycle and hug the driver from behind, hanging on for dear life as the both of you whiz through the city's traffic.

You'll find xe om mainly around street corners; you can tell them by their green pith helmets. The price should be negotiable and will depend on the distance you wish to travel. For every kilometer, about VND 10,000-15,000 (about fifty to seventy cents) is a fair amount.

As with the C yclo, negotiate the rate before boarding, and try to pay exact change as much as possible. Make sure your xe om has a spare helmet; don't get on if they lack this essential piece of equipment!

Planning to travel over 2 miles to your destination? Get a taxi instead, it's more practical, and safer too.

Renting a scooter may be an option if you want a little more flexibility to your travel around Hanoi. Many guesthouses or hotels can get their guests a motorbike to rent for about $5 per day. Take note that you'll need to get a local driving license before you can rent a motorbike or a car in Vietnam: visit the Hanoi Department of Public Works and Transportation to get one.

Also, do note that newbies shouldn't attempt Hanoi's chaotic traffic; the rules of the road do not exist along the city's streets, and a shaky new driver will only end up injured or worse.

Riding a bicycle through Hanoi is not for the weak-kneed; traffic rules fly out the window as soon as you hit the road, and accidents are a definite possibility. Bicyclists must also contend with hot, humid weather between April to August. If none of these faze you, then pedal on; many hotels in Hanoi offer bike rental services, often going for as low as $1 a day.

Getting Out of Hanoi

Hanoi's transport system caters to tourists seeking land-based options out to the rest of Vietnam. The capital is the main stepping stone to Ha Long Bay and the mountain town of Sapa; the following transport options provide overland links to these Vietnam destinations and more.

Train: The train station can be found downtown at 120 Ð Le Duan; you can purchase tickets for trains that can take you all the way south to Saigon, or north to Sapa and past the border to China.

Left of the main entrance stands Counter 2, where tickets for southbound stations are sold. ​To the right of the entrance stands a ticket office for tickets to Sapa (via Lao Cai), and Counter 13 for tickets to China. Buy tickets at least a day before the trip to make sure you get the kind of berth you want.

Bus: A series of bus stations are located around Hanoi, each one dispatching buses that travel only in a particular direction. Call or visit these bus stations for updated fairs and schedules; as with the train, buy your tickets at least the day before you travel to ensure a seat.

  • Gia Lam Bus Station
    9 Ngo Gia Kham, Long Bien,Hanoi
    Location: Google Maps
    Destinations: serves northeast, including Ha Long Bay, Lang Son, Haiphong, and Lao Cai/Sapa
  • Luong Yen Bus Station
    1 Nguyen Khoai, Hanoi
    Location: Google Maps
    Destinations: Hai Phong, Saigon, Hue, Da Nang, Nha Trang, among others
  • Kim Ma Bus Station
    1 Kim Ma, Dong Da, Hanoi
    Location: Google Maps
    Destinations: serves northwestern Vietnam, including Dien Bien Phu and Hoa Binh
  • My Dinh Bus Station
    20 Pham Hung, My Dinh, Tu Liem, Hanoi
    Location: Google Maps
    Destinations: Dien Bien, Hoa Binh, Bai Chay (near Ha Long Bay), Bac Kan (near Ba Be National Park), and Nho Quan (near Cuc Phuong National Park), among others
  • Southern Bus Terminal - Phia Nam
    Km 5, Duong Giai Phong
    Location: Google Maps
    Destinations: Hue/Da Nang (first-class sleeper bus), Saigon, Da Lat, among others

Minibus/Tourist Bus: tourist agencies in Hanoi can book you a ride on a tourist-style minibus heading to Ha Long Bay and other points in northern Vietnam. The "open tour" buses can also be booked through travel agencies like Sinh Tourist; these buses travel the length of Vietnam.