Take a bus, fly or combine the two – travelling from Vientiane to Hanoi can take anywhere from a bit more than one hour to almost a full day. A bus trip, though painfully slow, can come three or even more times cheaper than a direct flight. Travelling via Luang Prabang in Laos or via Vinh in Vietnam can save either time or money depending on the combination of means of transport you choose. If you have time, probably the best idea is not to rush from Vientiane to Hanoi directly but allow a couple of days to soak the wonderful atmosphere of Luang Prabang – this city is always very rewarding!
Flights from Vientiane to Hanoi
With daily direct flights between the two Asian capitals travelling from Vientiane to Hanoi is easy and quick – though not very budget-friendly as neither of the two airlines serving the route offers extra cheap air tickets. There are two daily flights from Vientiane to Hanoi – the afternoon one at 2.40pm and the evening one at 8.10pm operated by Lao Airlines and Vietnam Airlines. The flight lasts just one hour 10 minutes, and tickets cost from USD90 and up but generally for USD120 you can buy your ticket even on the same day you wish to fly. Always check the airfare offered by the both airlines as very often they quote different prices for the same flights.
If you do not want to waste your time travelling from Vientiane to Hanoi by bus but direct flights are sold out or offer only pricy business class tickets, you can try to make an intermediate stop at Luang Prabang. Flying via Luang Prabang will definitely cost you more than the cheapest direct flight, but will allow you to reach Hanoi in three or four hours only – depending on the connecting flights you choose. The fastest way to reach your destination is to take the 5pm Lao Airlines flight from Vientiane to Luang Prabang (45 minutes) and then change for the 7.10pm flight from Luang Prabang to Hanoi.
From Vientiane to Hanoi by bus and by plane
You can always combine a bus from Vientiane to Luang Prabang with the flight from Luang Prabang to Hanoi. It especially makes sense if you opt for a night bus to Luang Prabang (7pm or 8pm; USD15). Buses take 10 hours to reach Luang Prabang and let you save on accommodation as well. After you arrive to Luang Prabang, you can catch the first flight of the day to Hanoi at 8.50am (from USD90) or let you soak the atmosphere of this beautiful city with distinctive French flavour for a couple of days before continuing your trip to Vietnam.
See our Hanoi to Luang Prabang page for suggestions on what to see and to do in Luang Prabang.
From Vientiane to Hanoi by direct bus
There is direct bus service from Vientiane to Hanoi operated by HTX Van Tai and The Sinh Tourist. In Vientiane, both companies use Vientiane Southern Bus Station. It is located off route 13 north of the Mekong riverfront and some 9 km north of the in-city Morning Market bus station. To get to the Southern Bus Station, from the in-city bus station take a tuk-tuk (LAK50,000/USD6) or public bus #29 (LAK4000). Buses by both companies leave Vientiane at 5pm to arrive to Hanoi 22 hours later, by 3pm the next day, covering in total 760 km from Vientian to Hanoi.
The route is served by VIP sleeper buses, so get prepared to spend the major part of your journey lying on your berth. Inside the coach berths are organized in one berth–aisle–two twin berths manner and in two tiers. The most convenient berths for such a long journey are the lower single berths as they allow you to sit during the day part of your trip. Tickets cost USD30 and USD40 with HTX and The Sinh Tourist respectively and compared to airfare on the same route are a great deal.
From Vientiane to Hanoi via Vinh
Travelling overland from Vientiane to Hanoi you can split your journey into two parts passing via Vinh in Nghe An province in Vietnam. It takes 10 hours to get from Vientiane to Vinh by bus (USD20), covering in total 460 km only. There are daily buses to Vinh leaving Vientiane at 7pm and arriving to their destination by 5am the next morning, what also permits you to save a couple of bucks on accommodation.
Wish you proceed your journey from Vinh to Hanoi immediately, take morning train #SE8 at 9.30am (USD16 for second class AC seats; 6 hours) or a bus (USD13, 7 hours) to cover the remaining 300 km to the capital of Vietnam. There is actually little sense in jumping onto the next transport immediately. The best solution is to take a break and stay in Vinh at least for a day or spend a night there and then continue your journey.
Why make a stopover in Vinh
The provincial capital of Vinh, the city was bombed down to the ground during the Vietnam war. The Vinh of today cannot boast tons of charm, but still remains an interesting place for a short stop. There are three main reasons for visiting Vinh.
15 km outside Vinh sits Kim Lien, the home village of Ho Chi Minh and the pilgrimage place for the local adherents of the party.
Cua Lo Beach, 20 km from the city, has a decent stretch of sand with very local vibe and abundance of fish restaurants to enjoy.
Finally, 120 km west of Vinh the largest and arguably the best kept of all national parks in Vietnam, Pu Mat National Park is located. While it takes time to get there, it is well worth visiting. Exploring nature trails in Sang Le Forest, walking along the Golden Gate-like bridge at Pha Lai Dam, taking a boat trip along the Giang River or admiring the amazing Khe Kem waterfall compensate the effort. You can just join a tour to the park offered by tourist agencies in Vinh.
Why go to Hanoi
Got used to that measured and hassle free rhythm of the Lao capital? Well, you’d better swing into high gear right away to keep in steps with Hanoi’s tempo. Myriads of motorbikes are hiving in the streets; busy markets are selling all imaginable types of goods; rich two-dollar pho bowls are waiting for you in front of the coffee shops pouring out world class flavoursome local coffee – the vibrant atmosphere of this jewel of a colonial Indochina city embraces the visitors from the very first moment.
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).
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
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.