Why go to Hanoi
Hanoi is the bustling capitol city of Vietnam full of lakes, temples and pagodas. The ancient city is also the cultural capitol of Vietnam and is managing to retain much of it’s charm despite rapidly modernizing. Visitors can wander through the streets of the Old Quarter and around Hoan Kiem Lake or take in the grand Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Presidential Palace which dates back to colonial times. Hanoi often seems to be the polar opposite of Saigon in the south but both cities share the same energetic pace.
From Hue to Hanoi
Train, plane and bus are all options for traveling from Hue to Hanoi. The trip by land takes roughly 14 hours and some say it is best done overnight while others believe that the day trip from Hue to Hanoi is a great way to see the country side. Getting from Hue to Hanoi by air is a mere one hour flight but actual travel time will be much longer as both airports are an hour or more from the city centers and domestic flights are notoriously late.
From Hue to Hanoi by train
The train from Hue to Hanoi is our second most popular route in Vietnam and one of only three that is serviced by the luxury private railway companies in addition to Vietnam National Railways. The quickest trains are those which depart in the late afternoon and arrive early the next morning, completing the journey from Hue to Hanoi in around 13 hours. These are the SE2 and SE4 which depart at 3.30 and 4.50pm respectively and arrive in Hanoi at 4.50am and 5.30am. Livitrans Express and Violette Express Train offer 4 berth VIP Sleeper Cabins for a more luxurious and relaxing way to spend the night traveling from Hue to Hanoi. Both private train companies will provide riders with free snacks, drinks and soft, clean bed to sleep in. They will also have high quality wine, beer and meals available for purchase throughout the night while going from Hue to Hanoi. Violette and Livitrans Express prices for traveling from Hue to Hanoi are between USD75 and USD85, depending on departure times.
Additionally there are two trains operated solely by Vietnam Railways during the day which tend to make more stops and take longer than the night trains going from Hue to Hanoi. They depart at 5.40am and 12.15pm, arriving in Hanoi at 10pm and 3.30am. Prices for all departure times on Vietnam Railways from Hue to Hanoi range from USD20 for a hard seat (not recommended) to USD45 for a soft bed sleeping berth.
From Hue to Hanoi by bus
Making the 13+ hour trek from Hue to Hanoi by overnight bus is an option for the budget traveler. Many small local bus companies service the route between Hue and Hanoi and most have questionable reputations for cleanliness and driver professionalism so we would recommend that you travel with a company experienced in catering to foreign travelers. The Sinh Tourist operates a sleeper bus from Hue to Hanoi which departs at 5.15pm and arrives at 6.30am. Tickets cost USD13.50 and we have only gotten positive reports of service.
Getting around in Hanoi
Many attractions will be within walking distance for those staying in the Old Quarter but some may opt for the iconic cyclo bicycle taxi, be wary of the cost and ask your hotel about reasonable prices. The same can be said of the motorcycle taxis. To avoid confusion and conflict agree on a price beforehand and write the number (including all zeroes) on a piece of paper.
Unlike Saigon, Hanoi is not known for having a reliable or trustworthy taxi service but there are a small number of green Mai Linh taxis which can be counted on to give you an honest metered fare and proper route. All taxis should have a working meter but be generally aware how to get to your destination to avoid being taken on an unrequested tour of Hanoi at your expense.
The ride sharing apps Uber and Grab Taxi are both operating in Hanoi and if you are accustomed to using them or one of their partners at home, you can continue using in Vietnam without having to change anything. However, you may want to grab a cheap local SIM card(~USD5) as many drivers like to call before picking you up. Don’t worry if neither of you speak each other’s language well, the call is common courtesy in Vietnam and the driver will still pick you up.
Where to stay in Hanoi
Hanoi’s Old Quarter and the area surrounding the nearby Hoan Kiem lake are popular for travelers and tourists of all types. The area gives one easy access to many popular attractions and has one of the more lively nightlife scenes in a city that tends to get quiet rather early. The adjacent French Quarter offers more upscale accommodations without the frenzied activity of the old quarter and is better suited for those looking to get a good night’s sleep.
Things to do in Hanoi
As the country’s cultural capitol, Hanoi has too many notable temples to list them all but a popular one is the Temple of the Jade Mountain which sits in the Middle of Hoan Kiem lake and is connected to the shore by the bright red The Huc bridge. Taking a stroll around the lake is also popular with both tourists and locals alike and can take on a festive atmosphere due to the various vendors and entertainers scattered about.
Travelers can checkout the Temple of Literature, where the great scholars of the past studied and whose names are still engraved on monuments in the courtyard. During certain times of the year visitors can also witness the beauty of calligraphers practicing their craft and take home a unique souvenir. A short walk away is the Fine Arts Museum of Vietnam, which boasts an impressive collection spanning the country’s entire history from the ancient civilizations to contemporary artists.
Those interested in recent history may want to tour the Hoa Lo Prison Museum, better known as the Hanoi Hilton where POW’s were held during the American War (as the conflict is referred to locally). For a more upbeat experience, one can checkout the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the colonial architecture of the Presidential Palace. Nearby is Ho Tay (West Lake) which hosts several watersport activities depending on the season and has many intriguing temples of it’s own.
Onward travel from Hanoi
Those coming from Hue to Hanoi may want to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Halong Bay for a cruise among the famous limestone islands that dot the waters. Cruises for Halong Bay depart from the port city of Haiphong which is a few hours by bus or train to the east of Hanoi.
Adventurous travelers can journey to Sapa, the favorite destination for trekking, homestays and the culture of Vietnam’s ethnic minorities. Established as a French hill station in the 1920’s, Sapa boasts incredible views of steep valleys lined with terraced rice paddies and on a clear day one can see the country’s highest peak - Fansipan. There are numerous trekking tours based out of Sapa with many including homestays at the local ethnic groups. You can also visit the colorful Bac Ha market and browse the beautiful embroidered goods of the tribes from the surrounding hills that converge here on the weekends. There is no airport near Sapa but there are two popular overnight trains departing from Hanoi nightly. It is a unique train route serviced not only by Vietnam National Railways but also by more than a half dozen private train operators of varying degrees of comfort.