As a major city with a population recently topping 8 million, Hanoi can be overwhelming. The people. The pollution. The perpetual game of Frogger as you attempt the simple act of crossing a street. Fortunately, for those looking to recharge with some fresh air, ocean waves, and fine seafood, there are several sandbars within a few hours of Hanoi.
We’ve compiled the best of the easiest-to-reach beaches. With a car you can make a day trip (2+ hours each way), though we recommend staying a night or two, especially if taking public transit (3-4 hour trip each way). The nearest beaches lie east in the vicinity of Halong Bay (see #1-3), yet if you’re heading south from Hanoi on your way to Hue or Ho Chi Minh, a stop at Bai bien Hai Tien or Sam Son is in order (#4-5).
So go ahead, leave the scooters and smog behind, and head out to a beautiful Bãi biển or Bãi tắm (that’s beaches to you).
Here are the best beaches near Hanoi, Vietnam, in no particular order:
1. Bai Chay Beach (Bãi Tắm Bãi Cháy)
Most tourists passing through Hanoi may see the city as only a stopover on their way to iconic Halong Bay, a World Heritage site and home to epic limestone karst formations. Taking its name from the local name for Halong City, Bai Chay offers some of the closest shoreline to Halong Bay.
The 100-meter-long beach is a popular tourist destination for swimming, surfing, and jet skiing. Canoes are also available for rent. Plus, 8km from the Bai Chay Tourist Wharf is Tuan Chau Beach, another stellar sandy shoreline spanning more than 3 km, so you can enjoy two fine beaches with one trip.
What really sets Bai Chay apart from other Halong beaches is the presence of the new Sun World Halong Park, possibly Vietnam’s largest amusement park. The Dragon Park section features more than 30 thrill rides, including one of Asia’s longest roller coasters, Dragon’s Run. The Typhoon Water Park meanwhile includes slides, a wave pool, a meandering river ride, and more. Plus, in the off-season prices are rock-bottom. Come for a day at the beach, stay for another day at the amusement park.
Don’t Miss: The lively Halong Bay Night Market is popular with tourists and locals alike, offering an incredible array of items—handicrafts, clothing, jewelry, and souvenirs. If you bargain hard, you should find prices fairly affordable. Open nightly 6-10:30 pm.
Getting There: Buses run frequently from Hanoi My Dinh station to Ha Long Bai Chay station (3h 30m, $6). From there it’s a quick 5-minute taxi to the beach ($3-5).
2. Beaches of Cat Ba Island (Quần đảo Cát Bà)
Cat Ba is the largest of Halong Bay’s 1,600 islands. Here you can view the amazing karst formations found all over Halong Bay while avoiding the crowds that plague some other area beaches. It’s one of Vietnam’s favorite islands for visiting.
Guidebooks generally tout the beauty of the three beaches at Cat Co Cove, a ten-minute walk south from Cat Ba Town. But note that Cat Co 1 and 2 are under heavy development. Once finished, this will mean expanded lodging and restaurant options. For now, stick with one of three options: Cat Co 3, hidden Storland Beach, or Tung Thu, a quiet beach just west of town. Better yet, rent a kayak and explore the secluded Lan Ha Bay islands.
Swimming and snorkeling are popular on Cat Ba, as are kayaking and windsurfing. The island also boasts Cat Ba National Park. With limestone caves and forests, the park is home to the critically endangered Cát Bà langur, a primate found only in Vietnam and one of the rarest primates in the world.
Don’t Miss: After an afternoon of sun, sand, and water sport, head up to Cannon Fort for an incredible view combining the lush jungles of Cat Ba with the karst formations beyond. It’s a steep walk, but the views, particularly at sunrise and sunset, are worth the exercise.
Other Highlights: Hospital Cave, a secret hospital used by the North Vietnamese during the American War, now featuring mannequins to represent former patients; Cat Ba Market (at 1 thang 4 Street) has cheap seafood stalls.
Getting There: Tour operators like Cat Ba Discovery and Good Morning Cat Ba make it easy by packaging together the whole trip, starting with a bus from Hanoi’s Old Quarter to the wharf, followed by ferry or speedboat to the island, and concluding with a transfer to Cat Ba town. One way $13 (3h 30m) or $24 round trip.
3. Do Son Beach (Bãi biển Đồ Sơn)
Of the choices here, Do Son Beach offers the quickest option for your feet to go straight from the streets of Hanoi to the sandy shore. If going by car, you’ll hit the sand in less than 90 minutes after departing the capital. Of course, that proximity makes it popular with domestic tourists so expect to share the beach with large crowds, especially on summer weekends.
Do Son has three main beach areas, sporting the catchy names of Zone 1, Zone 2, and Zone 3. Zone 1 can accommodate tens of thousands of beach-goers at one time, so we recommend heading further south. Pine forests on the north and south ends sandwich the smaller, though smoother, Zone 2 beach in-between the trees.
The local story tells of French colonialists who built the area into a resort to meet the needs of high-ranking officials and the expatriate community. Another story states that during the feudal period this was a place for kings and mandarins to relax. In fact, near Zone 2 you can find the fortified summer villa formerly owned by Bảo Đại, the last emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty.
You should know the water can be a bit brown, due primarily to its location between two river mouths. This makes swimming less common than sunbathing on the beach with a few beers, or chilling over delicious seafood at one of the many restaurants.
Don’t Miss: Stroll beyond Zone 2’s south end and you’ll end up at Hon Dau Resort, home to one of the largest artificial pools in Asia, as well as a bizarre garden park featuring 12 nude Zodiac statues, each sporting human bodies and animal heads.
Other Highlights: Hang (Cave) Pagoda in Zone 1, considered one of the first places to bring Buddhism into Vietnam; Ba De Temple; and both the historic lighthouse and Nam Hai Dai Than Vuong Temple on sacred Dau Island.
Getting There: Buses run frequently from Hanoi Gia Lam Station to Hai Phong (90 minutes, $5). From there, it’s 25 km by taxi ($17-22).
4. Hai Tien Beach (Bãi biển Hải Tiến)
Though the crowds get bigger each year as its reputation grows, Hai Tien is probably the least known beach on this list, albeit one of the longest. That translates to a big beach with a small crowd. The beach itself is pristine, with less trash than you’ll find strewn across some other northern beaches. The land seems wilder here. This may be the best option for couples seeking a more intimate and idyllic experience.
Hai Tien is also a great spot for adventure sports. If you haven’t tried surfing or parachuting, here’s your chance.
Don’t Miss: A sunset stroll along the newly completed wharf bridge (Cầu cảng biển Hải Tiến) for a spectacular view of Hai Tien’s golden sands and green palm trees.
Getting There: Hai Tien Beach is roughly a 20-minute drive from the Thanh Hoa city center. Quickest route to Thanh Hoa are buses departing from Hanoi’s Nuoc Ngam terminal (3h, $6-8). Trains from Hanoi Railway Station are more frequent and have many more seats (4h, $5-7). Take a taxi the rest of the way ($15-20). Note: One of the better websites for researching prices and purchasing train tickets is baolau.com.
5. Sầm Sơn Beach (Bãi biển Sầm Sơn)
A trip here almost brings you out of the North and into Central Vietnam. Let’s call it North-Central.
But with the size of the beach, one of the largest and most developed in northern Vietnam, we’d be remiss to not include Sam Son. The first 10 months of 2019 brought 4.8 million visitors. Clearly rest and relaxation is serious business here.
The French built up Sam Son as a beach resort starting in 1906 (You may notice a theme here).
Today the 3-mile stretch hosts countless resorts, restaurants, seafood stalls, and souvenir stands. The beach is wide here, offering plenty of opportunity for building sand castles and napping in the sun.
If you’re seeking a dedicated day at the beach, without some of the historic cultural attractions (distractions?) noted elsewhere, Sam Son should be your destination.
Don’t Miss: The flat-to-gently-sloping sand, which extends from the Lạch Hới estuary to the foot of the mountains; Trung Le Mountains; Doc Cuoc pagoda atop Co Giai islet.
Getting There: Sam Son is 16 km from the city of Thanh Hoa. Follow instructions above (#4) to Thanh Hoa via bus or train. Hail a taxi for the final 15-20 minutes ($12-17).
South of Sam Son, there are certainly great beaches. But now you’re getting beyond a 1- or 2-day trip from Hanoi. The five beaches noted here all offer sun and sand, resorts and restaurants, as well as some unique cultural experiences. Whether it’s Vietnam’s largest amusement park, one of the many historical landmarks or temples, or just a long stretch of white sand you’re looking for, we’re confident you’ll find a break from the hustle-bustle of Hanoi.