From Savannakhet to Hanoi
There are no direct flights between Savannakhet and Hanoi. If you wish to travel by plane, you need to connect via Vientiane or Pakse. Note that Savannakhet airport is served by the only airline – Lao Airlines – which offers rather expensive air tickets (from USD100 one-way). While you can save time flying to Hanoi, you will end up paying considerably more (up to 5 times more, actually) than if travelling by bus. Travelling overland is much cheaper but very time consuming, though you can make your journey less tiring staying for a night half the way in either Hue or Danang.
From Savannakhet to Hanoi by direct bus
The long border between Vietnam and Laos is daily crossed by numerous buses connecting cities and towns in the both countries, Savannakhet and Hanoi linked by direct buses, too. The distance buses between Savannakhet and Hanoi have to cover is 700 km but as a considerable part of the way winds over the mountainous area plus you need time to go through the border crossing, expect to spend about 20 hours for the whole trip.
To get from Laos to Vietnam, direct international buses normally use Nam Phao border crossing located approximately half way between Savannakhet and Hanoi.
HTX Van Tai company operates four weekly buses between Savannakhet and Hanoi. Currently there are buses on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday with VIP sleeper buses on Monday and Thursday and VIP soft seats buses on Tuesday and Saturday. Buses depart from Savannakhet at 10am and bring you to your destination early the next morning, stealing you thus a whole day, which is rather inconvenient. Tickets cost USD42.
If you have never travelled by sleeper bus before, there are a couple of things you may want to know while deciding whether to opt for a seat or a berth.
– Berths in sleeper buses may be organized in a variety of ways, the two most popular being one berth–aisle-two-berths pattern and a berth-aisle-berth-aisle-berth pattern. In both cases in each row there are two tiers of berths, a lower and an upper one. The buses on Savannakhet–Hanoi route normally have one+two berths outlay, so if you are travelling alone, check whether you are buying a single berth or a berth in a twin set.
– Tall people often find sleeper buses rather uncomfortable as the ‘pillow’ section of a berth is raised at such an angle which makes you slide down from it, and you have to huddle in the remaining part of the berth.
– Sleeper buses are very popular in Vietnam. If you are planning to travel by bus a lot in Vietnam, you have to get used to them.
These are probably the main issues with sleeper buses; if you are not discouraged with them, then go ahead and buy your ticket.
In Savannakhet, buses leave from Savannakhet bus station located on Route 9W east of the Mekong River. Walking to the bus station from the old town area takes about 15 minutes all way alone 9W – the bus station will be on your left. A tuk-tuk ride will cost you about USD5.
Tip Just some 300 m further ahead from the bus station is one of the most stylish and modern dining venues in Savannakhet, Macchiato de Coffee (on the right side of the road). It is a great spot to take a fancy cup of coffee before your long, long trip to Vietnam.
In Hanoi, buses bring you to Hanoi Nuoc Ngam station, 8 km south of Hoan Kiem Lake. The best way to get to the lake by public transport is to take bus N08.
From Savannakhet to Hanoi via Hue or Danang
There are several reasons to travel to Hanoi from Savannakhet via Hue or Danang. Though the road distance you will have to cover is longer – about 900 km – and travel time is, too, you have more options to choose from. Opposite to Savannakhet–Hanoi route, both Hue and Danang have daily buses from Savannakhet, taking between 11 and 14 hours and leaving in the morning (7.30am and 9am respectively). These buses use the most popular Lao Bao border crossing east of Savannakhet. Buses bring you to Hue and Danang in the evening the same day. Note that you will not be able to hop onto a bus to Hanoi the same evening as the last buses of the day both with Hanh Cafe and The Sinh Tourist leave before 6pm from Hue and before 3pm – from Danang.
It means that from both Hue and Danang, you can either catch the next night train to Hanoi – there is a choice of night trains #SE6 and #SE8 being the most convenient options – or stay in the city for a night to make a break in your journey to go on the next day either by train (14 hours; VND1.1mio/USD50 for a second class AC sleeper) or by bus (14 hours; VND350,000/USD15-VND420,000/USD18).
From Savannakhet to Hanoi via Vientiane
The only reason to travel from Savannakhet to Hanoi via Vientiane is if you wish to fly from Vientiane to Hanoi. You can then take a bus from Savannakhet to Vientiane to cut on your ticket price as flying from Savannakhet to Vientiane is rather expensive (from USD100). There is a direct bus from Vientiane to Hanoi, too, but it takes longer than Savannakhet–Hanoi bus (22 hours; VND715,000/USD32) and thus should not be considered as an option at all.
Why go to Hanoi
The capital of Vietnam, Hanoi comes second as far as the size is concerned, yielding to the southern sister city of Saigon. It may feel quieter, but by no means less charming. Stately colonial mansions live in harmony with a crazy maze of the narrow lanes of the Old Quarter; rich two-dollar pho bowls are sold in front of the coffee shops pouring out world class flavoursome local coffee; and while the atmosphere of austerity embraces the final abode of Ho Chi Minh, almost palpable French flair fills the air.
Getting around in Hanoi
The Old Quarter is by no doubt to be explored on foot, but if you are going to venture further afield, taxis are a great way to go. They are wonderfully affordable, but even with metres turned on, keep an eye on where your driver is going: some drivers tend to take their passengers for a much longer ride than necessary, basically showing them around the city to make them pay more money. GPS in your smartphone can help or agree on a flat fare if you know already the rates. Another common problem is metres running faster than they should. Good news: Uber is currently operating in Hanoi, offering a decent alternative to conventional taxis.
For shorter trips, cyclos are a quintessentially Vietnamese way to get around. They are somewhat safer than renting a motorbike (USD5-USD6 per day), what can turn out to be a real ordeal for those not familiar with Asian-style driving. Do not overlook local buses, which are a cheap and fast way to move around (VND7.000).
Where to stay in Hanoi
The main tourist activity in Hanoi is centred around Hoan Kiem Lake and accommodation options are also clustered there. Backpackers headquarters in Hanoi are located in the Old Quarter, which lies to the north and to the east of Hoan Kiem Lake. Guesthouses and hostels for just under USD20 dot the area. You can find dorms for about USD4. Do not rely on touts’ words and always check the room before checking in. Many guesthouses and hotels include free Wi-Fi and breakfast in their rates and accept cash only.
The Old Quarter is also a good area to search for mid-range digs (up to USD50); while for more up-scale accommodation check the French Quarter, south of the lake.
A fair mix of accommodation in all price ranges is found to the west of Hoan Kiem Lake around St Joseph’s Cathedral.
What to do in Hanoi
Hanoi and its surrounding area have enough sights and attractions to keep you busy for weeks if not months. Here are some ideas to spice even a short visit with remarkable local flavour.
Spend the early afternoon wandering around Hoan Kiem Lake or come in the morning to join people practising tai chi there. The red bridge to the pagoda in the middle of the lake makes for a signature Hanoi pic.
It may sound childish, but even adults will definitely enjoy visiting Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre. You may like it or not, but it is an undeniably special experience; do not miss it anyway (close to Hoan Kiem Lake; tickets are about USD4).
Though not exactly as famous as the Chinese one, the Vietnamese cuisine is outstandingly tasty and diverse. Foodies should by all means join Hanoi food tasting tour (shop for one in tour agencies around the lake) or, if you are strongly against tours, do try street food delicacies!
There are quite a few war and communist era sights in Hanoi, and even if they are not among your top interests, do visit Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Admission is in the morning hours only with no photos allowed inside, but even in the evening the beautifully illuminated building is very impressive.
- Take a day off and go out of the city to the Cuc Phoung National Park. The biggest national park in Vietnam, Cuc Phong boasts great biodiversity and makes for a rewarding day trip. Try caving and trekking, check botanical gardens section, see how the endangered primates are treated at the park’s rescue centre, or try to spot some of the 100 species of mammals, 300 species of birds or 50 species of reptiles and amphibians inhabiting the park.
Onward travel from Hanoi
The two most popular destinations in Vietnam to continue your journey from Hanoi are Sapa, to the north, and Haiphong, to the east.
Though trains do not reach Sapa and stop at Lao Cai, the final 40 km are easily done by bus or taxi. Sapa will enchant those interested in ethnic minorities and nature trails.
Haiphong is a convenient stop on the way to the wonders of Halong Bay, which possesses an undeniable beauty and is rightfully included by UNESCO in their World heritage list.
Out of Vietnam, think Bangkok in Thailand, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia or Singapore.