Traveling from Ha Giang to Hanoi, Vietnam by Bus

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Find out what it’s like to travel by bus from Ha Giang to Hanoi, Vietnam, through a firsthand account of a chaotic and hilarious journey.

While exploring Vietnam, experiencing life on one of the country’s countless buses is inevitable. 

Buses are Vietnam’s most common public transport, and the system is usually the most efficient way to travel. They ferry people up and down the sprawling nation, transporting people from city to city in bunk-bed-style beds that throw passengers with each curve in the road.

Whether the journey is smooth or rocky, a trip on a Vietnamese bus is bound to be memorable. 

On my most recent trip to Vietnam, I endured an epic and bizarre coach journey between Ha Giang and Hanoi, perhaps one of the weirdest I’ve taken yet. Coming from someone who has ridden a 24-hour bus to Laos, that’s saying something. 

Why Ha Giang?

valley in Ha Giang

Ha Giang is a province located in the far north of Vietnam, just on the border of China. 

Famed for its welcoming people, sweeping vistas and landscapes, unique food, and vibrant culture, Ha Giang is home to 43 ethnic groups recognized by the Vietnamese government. A few of the largest groups include the Dao, Tày, and Mông people. 

The region is a tourist hotspot for people wanting to get off the beaten path and venture into the mountains, which is how the Ha Giang Loop became a top destination for backpackers.

The loop starts and ends in Ha Giang City and demands a minimum of 320 kilometers of driving through remote mountain towns, wildly unpredictable roads, and terrifyingly deep valleys.

After being seduced by the incredible tales of people taking on the loop while traveling southern and central Vietnam, I had to see it myself.

Booking and comparing buses 

bus window with a view of rice fields

When traveling from Hanoi to Ha Giang, I booked a VIP bus because we were traveling overnight, arriving at our hostel at 4 a.m. and leaving to start the loop at 9 a.m., so I wanted to ride in luxury and get some sleep.

I booked two seats on a 24-seater VIP bus from Hanoi to Ha Giang for $21 each. The facilities for VIP coaches in Vietnam are significantly better than the average, more affordable options. 

VIP buses have:

  • Air conditioning
  • Reclinable seats 
  • A privacy curtain
  • A TV tuned to local channels 
  • Two USB charger points
  • Two water bottles 
  • A cozy blanket and pillow 
  • Rest stops
  • Unfortunately, there is no WC on board 

When returning to Hanoi from Ha Giang, no VIP buses were available because we booked at the last minute. Instead, I booked a standard sleeper bus to Hanoi for $9 each.

Standard sleeper buses have:

  • Air conditioning
  • Reclining seats
  • Three rows of bunk-bed-style seats
  • Rest stops 
  • A WC on board 
  • A pillow and a blanket on long-haul journeys

Trying to find our bus

Ha Giang to Hanoi bus

After booking our tickets to travel from Ha Giang to Hanoi, my travel companion and I made a mistake that set the tone for the rest of our Odyssean journey back to urban life: I disobeyed the email confirmation sent by Bookaway. 

Our confirmation specified a meeting point for passengers to get on the coach. When I showed the tickets to workers at the hostel, I discovered that the offices were right across the street. So, we asked them to pick us up directly.

After crossing the road, we got a vague confirmation from the receptionists that the driver would meet us at the hostel instead. 

The bus was supposed to leave at 4 p.m., but we were still watching the clock tick away at 4:15 p.m. While public transport in Vietnam is rarely punctual, we could foresee ourselves and our heavy luggage left on the side of the road. So, we popped over the road again, this time with a translator, only to discover our original message had gotten lost. 

There was no one coming to get us. 

A flurry of activity behind the desk ensued. And within a few minutes, a random taxi pulled up outside the hostel. 

Dashing back across the road, we found a very patient driver who calmly and carefully tucked our luggage into the car before setting off. His calm didn’t last long. 

Chasing down our bus  

windy road from Ha Giang to Hanoi

With our translator back at the hostel, we used Google Translate to confirm that the standard sleeper bus would wait for us. The driver said we would catch up with the coach in ten minutes. 

On the frantic journey, which had us weaving between motorbikes and buses at breakneck speeds, he kept calling the driver and speaking in rapid-fire Vietnamese. 

When we stopped at the address in our confirmation email. The bus was nowhere to be seen. The driver pulled out his phone again, and the exchanges got angrier with each passing moment. 

Eventually, we caught up with the bus. Our driver honked his horn until it pulled over to the side of the road. The driver told us to stay in the car. 

Then, he jumped out and started shouting and gesturing at the bus driver and attendants.  

We hopped out of the car and wearily wandered over to the mayhem. The taxi driver threw plastic bags, knick-knacks, and even a shoe at the bus driver and his staff. 

Regardless of any awkwardness, I’ll never forget watching the taxi driver, who must’ve worked for the bus company, pull off his shoe and throw it at the driver for leaving us behind. I appreciate the excellent customer service! He really had our backs!

However, if I had just followed Bookway’s directions, none of this would have happened. 

I hold no ill will against the bus driver. He didn’t do anything wrong; he just followed the bus schedule. And it was even on time!

What was the bus like?

inside sleeper bus in Vietnam

As our driver retreated, one of the attendants on the standard sleeper bus shuffled us onboard with a clipboard in hand. 

Few coaches in Vietnam or Thailand allow shoes onboard, so I pulled off my shoes and placed them in the plastic bag offered. 

Every seat onboard the bus was full, including ours. Additionally, people who paid half price for a tiny section of floor in the aisle took up every inch of extra space. 

The attendant started waving people out of the way, led me to my occupied seat in a top bunk, and told the person to vacate it. Apparently, seat reservations are sacrosanct in Vietnam. Despite being the last people on the bus and catching it 20 minutes from the city, we got our original seats. 

My companion and I were the only two foreign travelers on the bus, so there was no way I could question the process. I felt guilty watching the previous occupant of my seat grumpily find a spot on the floor, but you should never turn down a comfortable seat on a long journey. Now, the bus attendant really had our backs!

So, I tucked my backpack into the footwell and pulled myself up via the awkwardly placed ladder. Nestling into place, I adjusted the pillow and blanket provided to make a little den to get cozy in. 

I lucked out with a window seat and pulled the blinds back to let some light in and take in the scenery before sunset.

Starting the epic journey 

bus in Vietnam

The start of our five-hour drive to Hanoi went smoothly. 

I reclined my seat as far back as it would go and plugged in my earphones, pulling up a chilled playlist to lull me into a half-sleep state to make the time pass. 

Around me, people chatted amongst themselves, snored loudly from their makeshift beds, listened to music, and watched TikToks at top volume. The noise was endless, but the noise blended into a peaceful yet chaotic cacophony, like an out-of-tune lullaby. 

In my cozy little cocoon, I watched green forests and winding roads whiz past in a blur as the coach picked up speed. Each twist and turn threw me around the upper bunk seat, and I tightened my seatbelt to keep myself from flying through the air. 

I could not sleep for the first part of the journey. The air conditioning was on so high that I shivered beneath my blanket. 

Conquering the end 

The chaotic lullaby and gentle rocking of the bus must have put me to sleep, and I woke up with a start. 

We had arrived at a rest stop. The sun had gone down by this time, and we were about three hours away from Hanoi. 

Sleepily untangling myself from the blanket, I jumped down from the bunk and followed the rest of the herd off the bus. The attendant told me with hand gestures that the stop would last twenty minutes. 

The line to get off the bus took a while because each passenger had to grab some bus stop slippers from the shared basket before deboarding. When the queue receded, I had to choose between mismatched, broken, or too-small slippers. I grabbed two random slippers and headed inside. 

The rest stop was a large, open-sided building with a shop, a cafe area, and a series of restrooms in the back. It was inundated with people because three other coaches had stopped, too. 

I battled my way inside and joined the almighty queue for the toilets. There was, of course, no toilet paper, but I have learned to bring my own on any journey in Southeast Asia. I pulled my trusty stash out of my pocket and shared it with the people on either side of me in the queue. 

None of the cubicles had locking doors or toilet seats, so I was thankful for the many squats 

I’d performed in preparation.

Returning to the main area, I picked up some bus snacks for the last part of the journey and stretched my legs before passengers started boarding the coach again. 

Thanks to our rest break, the last leg of the journey passed peacefully. Most of the other passengers fell asleep, but I passed the time reviewing and adding to my travel journal by the light of my phone. 

As we neared Hanoi, the coach stopped a couple of times to let various passengers off until we reached the final stop. We deboarded on a random side street with no bus station. 

My legs were numb from sitting down for over five hours, so I stretched them on the side of the road while waiting for my luggage.

Once the attendant handed me the last of my luggage, I breathed a sigh of relief. The journey was over, and I was minutes away from sleeping in a proper bed with privacy for the first time in five days. 

What to pack for the bus between Ha Giang and Hanoi

pink flowers in Ha Giang

Travelers in Southeast Asia should arrive prepared for all scenarios. Journey times are rarely accurate, meaning a short three-hour journey can quickly turn into a six-hour one with a few timely disasters. 

Don’t forget to bring:

  • Toilet paper! Few buses or rest stops will provide any. 
  • Warm clothes. Southeast Asia is hot, but the air conditioning on coaches is unforgiving. 
  • Portable power bank. A dead phone is a tragedy on a long journey, so always bring an extra charger. 
  • Shoes that go on and off quickly. Since shoes aren’t allowed on the bus, leave the laces at home and wear slip-ons to save yourself time and frustration. 
  • An eye mask and ear plugs. Buses in Vietnam are always loud. Bring anything you need to get some sleep. 
  • Water! Few buses provide water, so bring your own. The air conditioning makes the air very dry. Fend off dehydration with your own supply. 

It’s all worth it in the end!

small town in Ha Giang Vietnam

Traveling by bus in Vietnam is an intense experience, but I treasure the memories from every journey I’ve taken. 

Although each has been uncomfortable, stressful, and exhausting, they were also exhilarating, funny, and chaotic. 

Public transport is one of the best ways to experience this vibrant country. I’ll happily take a bus instead of a plane to get anywhere in Vietnam. 


How reliable are coaches in Vietnam?

Pretty reliable. Departure times are usually spot on, but journey times can often drag on due to traffic, unplanned stops, or any other chaotic reason. Traveling by coach is still one of the most efficient ways to get around the country. 

Are buses the most affordable way to travel in Vietnam?

Yes. Flying between cities will cost more, and train services are often more expensive. Taking a coach is usually the most affordable method of travel between destinations. 

Do buses stop for regular breaks?

No, the driver dictates when rest stops occur. They typically stop every two to four hours but can drag on to six hours for longer journeys.

Posted March 11, 2024
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Hannah Shewan Stevens
Hannah Shewan Stevens is a disabled and LGBTQ+ freelance writer, editor, and sex educator. She started out as a digital content producer before transitioning into managing press and communications for charities. These days, she focuses on feature writing for international publications, specializing in sex, relationships, and health. Since leaving the UK to travel full-time as a digital nomad, she has started to explore the world of travel writing. Primarily, she is passionate about shining a spotlight on issues and topics that are rarely given an opportunity to make headlines.
Image of the author Hannah