Vietnam’s two largest cities, Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, are naturally its most visited. However, they lie at opposite ends of the long country, separated by around 1140 kilometers of air travel, 1600 km by road and 1700 km on a train. Either way you trek it, the trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, or vice-versa, covers a lot of distance.
- Do you want to see the country and/or stop at any cities between the two? Then train, bus or motorbike. Expect around 35 hours regardless of method (more depending on stops).
- If not, then fly. There are many flights per day on multiple airlines, all year long and can be found for under $100. In other words, it’s probably the cheapest option, all things considered. And by far the fastest at around 2 hours.
Let’s dive deeper into the best ways to travel between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City:
- Car rentals for self drive are generally not available in Vietnam to foreigners and would require a Vietnamese driver accompany you. It usually runs between $75 to $150, depending on sedan vs 4WD SUV.
Fly from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi
If you’re short on time in Vietnam or just want to get to the other city quickly, this is by far your best option. If you want the least stress and most comfortable method of travel, flying should be your first choice.
The flight time between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh is 2 hours and 10 minutes. Combined with airport transit time and you can be at your destination in less than five from hotel to hotel in two different cities. There is one main international airport in each city, both 30-45 minutes or so to city center.
- HCMC – Tan Son Nhat International Airport
- Hanoi – Noi Bai International Airport
There are four main airlines that operate nonstop between the two cities. Browse and book your flights direct on the airline’s website, or on a comparison website, such as SkyScanner.
Naturally, you’ll miss a chance for a journey in between, all the colorful sights and short layovers in random cities, but you’ll reach Hanoi or HCMC sooner, and be back on your way to a shower and checking out one of the best cities in Asia.
Train from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi
There’s something about train travel that fascinates a lot of people, including myself. If I wanted to see the scenery all the way from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, in a relatively effortless fashion, I’d choose railroad. However, my expectations would be low. The train is probably not gonna be as clean you expect, and it will certainly be louder than you’d hope for (so little chance for good sleep even on the train). 35 hours on a loud, dirty train is not my idea of vacation (perhaps budget travel).
There is little to no chance I’d ever take a bus that distance, when a more comfortable, safer train is available at only a bit more cost. As for motorbike, I’m a leisurely driver. I prefer 4 to 6 hour sessions, and the trip would take substantial time, probably about two weeks by motorbike. It’s exhausting riding all day and there would be little chance I’d get much work done during the trek. So realistically, I’m either going to fly to Hanoi and get there same day, or allow for a month of motorbike exploration south-to-north, and put my work on the back-burner.
The Reunification Express Train, as its known, runs north to south, making appearances at 14 train stations across the country, including Hanoi and Saigon. It runs 1,726 kilometers (1,072 miles), and takes between 32 and 35 hours, depending on the train time. The route travels follows the coast more, so you’ll get more exposure to less mountains.
You won’t be able to buy an open ticket that allows you to get on and off. Instead, you’ll have to buy your ticket from destination to destination. Like Saigon to Hue, then buy another ticket for Hue to Hanoi. Your best bet is testing out the train from Saigon to Nha Trang. If you like it or love it, double down and buy the remaining ticket from Nha Trang to Hanoi. If not, hop on a flight at Nha Trang’s Cam Ranh International Airport and get yourself to Hanoi hassle-free.
There are five different fare types, two only sitting and three that you can lie down. If you aren’t going the whole stretch from south to north, then sitting may be adequate. Otherwise, it’s very nice to be able to lie down. Tickets between the cheaper hard seat option and more expensive soft berth run around $50 to $100 USD, so spend the extra money if you got it, it goes a long way in comfort and sanity.
- Hard Seat – like it sounds, wooden bench seat
- Soft Seat – air-conditioned carriage, comfortable bus-like seat
- Hard Berth – 6 berths (beds)
- Soft Berth – air-conditioned cabin, 4 comfortable berths
- VIP – conditioned, 2 comfortable berths (book far in advance)
Guests are welcome to bring food and drinks on board, or buy a set meal(s), which is delivered to you at mealtime. There is a snack cart that comes by in-between set meals as well. A boiling water station is available for those who bring their own tea, coffee or instant noodles.
Choose between four different departure times for the Reunification Express trains. From Hanoi to HCMC the trains are SE1, SE3, SE5 and SE7. And from HCMC to Hanoi the trains are SE2, SE4, SE6 and SE8. There are 2 departure times in the morning and 2 at night.
The train station in Saigon is located in District 3. Hanoi station has two gates. The south bound trains to HCMC run out of Gate A, Gate B is for going north to Sapa.
- Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Train Station
Address: 1 Nguyen Thong, 9 Ward, 3 District, Ho Chi Minh City
Tel: 84 8343 6528
- Hanoi Train Station – Gate A
Address: 120 Le Duan Str, Cua Nam Ward, Hoan Kiem Dist, Hanoi
Tel: +84 4 3 9423 697
If you’re split between motorbike and train travel, know that you can take your motorbike with you on the train. You just have to buy a motorbike ticket directly at the station.
Bus from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi
A 30 hour bus ride sounds like a daunting experience, and it is. If you’ve ever been on a cross-country, multi-hour bus ride in Vietnam, you know how fast and scary it is. Watching the games of chicken go down are not on anyone’s itinerary. However, it is doable with a few modifications.
First off, the buses will most certainly be sleeper buses, which allow you to recline a good ways and get some proper rest (possibly). If you’re over 6 feet, you’ll be pressed for space in an arrangement like this. This method also grants the ultimate in terms of journey flexibility for the cheapest price, perfect for nomadic backpackers.
For about $50 you can get an Open Bus Tour from north-to-south or south-to-north, which allows you to get on and off at various towns along the route. Plan to spend several nights off the bus along the way. Stay a day or two, explore around, then get back on the bus heading toward your next destination.
The Wi-Fi that’s probably advertised as available probably won’t be. Don’t count on connecting to the internet during transit. Your best bet for internet is buying local sim card and using your own data. This method will cut in and out during transit, depending on location.
There is a slim bathroom on these buses, although you can imagine it gets grimy with all the bumps in the road. Bus toilets are also limited to number 1’s only. You’ll stop at numerous rest stops along the way to unload yourself and get some grub.
You can buy tickets online for the bus routes, by asking your hotel or going to a tour operator. The place to find tour operates in HCMC is in District 1 near Bui Vien, on Pham Ngu Lao Street. Just let them know what your after. Buses allow more flexibility, so you can go inland and see the mountains, or stay along the coast.
- Saigon Bus Terminal
Address: Đinh Bộ Lĩnh, Phường 26, Bình Thạnh, Hồ Chí Minh City
Motorbike from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi
Renting or buying a motorbike and traveling from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, or vice versa, is a one-of-a-kind experience. It’s affordable, authentic and completely exhausting. The freedom a motorbike provides you over a bus, train or airplane is unmatched. Go where you wish, when you wish.
You can rent motorbikes by the week or month from Tigit, which has offices in both HCMC and Hanoi. You can buy too for less $500…and resell (although this would be best for longer stays of multiple months) . But you get what you pay for though, so careful of sub $200 range, and low quality rentals. Automatic or manual transmission should be both okay, although automatics are much more pleasant ride in the cities. If you anticipate going into the mountains on steep dirt roads, manual is the best choice. You’ll need something with power.
First off, if you’ve never ridden a motorbike, Vietnam is not the place to start. But, you have to start somewhere, so sure, it’s the perfect place to start. But know what you’re doing before you start off on your trip. Get some real time in on the bike driving around uncrowded spots, until you learn the ropes and can feel confident venturing across a massive country.
Always wear a real helmet (not one of those hat “helmets”), sun protection, gloves (hands will burn), long pants and shirt. It’s best to buy some of those face masks too. And good sun glasses, it gets bright out there.
You’ll have complete freedom in your route here. I’d allow at least two weeks to travel between cities, a month would be much more wise and less stressed about having to drive, drive, drive! Driving a motorbike is work, physically demanding and not as effortless as cruise control in your Toyota. Personally, my butt hurts after more than a few hours on my Honda Air Blade.
HCMC to Hanoi – Ocean route through southern Vietnam
- HCMC – Mui Ne – Nha Trang – Qui Nhơn – Quang Ngai – Hoi An – Hue – Phong Nha – Ninh Binh – Hanoi
HCMC to Hanoi: Mountain route through southern Vietnam
- HCMC – Da Lat – Buon Ma Thuot – Pleiku – Kon Tum – Da Nang – Phong Nha – Ninh Binh – Hanoi
No matter how you travel between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, take your time and enjoy the trip. Safe travels aboard one of these train, planes or automobiles.