The ultimate northern Vietnam transportation guide

There are lots of ways to get around Vietnam: By train, ferry, bus and minivan. Here’s your ultimate guide to Northern Vietnam transportation.

Fansipan Mountain train, Sapa

While the south of Vietnam is home to some of the country’s most beautiful and popular cities such as Ho Chi Minh City, Nha Trang, Da Lat and many more, the north of Vietnam also packs a punch when it comes to awesome places to visit.

Encapsulating places such as Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, Ha Long Bay, Cat Ba Island, amongst others, northern Vietnam is a place you need to spend some time in during your travels.

With a plethora of vastly varied and culturally diverse places to choose from in northern Vietnam, it can be easy to get a little overwhelmed when planning your trip and figuring out all the routes you’ll need to take.

Throughout this guide, you’ll find a brief introduction of just a few of the many transportation methods and routes you can enjoy in northern Vietnam; hopefully it’ll help to ease your mind and make planning your trip much easier and more enjoyable!

How to travel across Northern Vietnam

By train

Trains are one of the most beloved ways to travel around Vietnam, particularly for tourists who want to experience the Vietnamese countryside, cities and coast all in one go.

There are numerous routes that take you across Vietnam via train, with one of the most popular northern routes being Hanoi to Da Nang. This journey starts from US $38 per person and can take up to 16 hours. There are seven different classes available from on this train, ranging from economy, to luxury and even VIP.

While the long journey may be tiresome at times, the luxury of enjoying a wonderful scenic view while the journey is taken care of for you, makes it an awesome way to travel around Vietnam. 

Hanoi to/from Da NangTwice a dayFrom US $38
Ninh Binh to/from Da NangUp to five times a dayFrom US $29
Ninh Binh to/from Dong HoiUp to five times a dayFrom US $16

Unfortunately, train travel in Vietnam isn’t necessarily always the quickest option; for example, the train journey from Ninh Binh to Da Nang is 14 hours, compared to the bus journey that’s actually half an hour faster. 

It’s worth considering the price difference and length in journey when it comes to deciding between train or bus/minivan in Vietnam. Buses are generally cheaper and sometimes quicker, but the train journey will likely offer you much better scenery and often more space and comfort.

By bus/minivan

Traveling Vietnam via bus and/or minivan is by far the most popular (and often cheapest) way to get around the country.

There are dozens of minivan companies and bus services to choose from, all ranging in price and length of journey, but you’ll ultimately find that each one is pretty similar.

The amenities and services offered by each bus will likely vary somewhat depending on how much you’re willing to pay. For example, some services might offer free Wi-Fi, food and drinks on board, while others may simply offer you a bottle of water and send you on your merry way. Longer bus trips in Vietnam can be taken in a sleeper bus, saving you money on accommodation while you travel (and rest) on your way to your next destination.

The journey from Halong Bay to Hanoi is a very famous route, with departures up to 13 times a day for your convenience. While this journey might be relatively short (a mere 3 and a half hours), it’s still a lovely experience and a great chance to see some of the Vietnamese countryside that you might have otherwise missed out on.

The bus from Hanoi to Sapa, for example, has up to 82 departures a day, so you can guarantee that you’ll find a time slot that suits you and your schedule. While a minivan might get you there quicker (3 hours quicker to be exact), the bus will cost you just half the price of a minivan so if you’re looking to travel on a tight budget, bus travel will be better suited to you.

Halong Bay to/from Ninh BinhOnce a dayFrom US $7
Halong Bay to/from SapaUp to four times a dayFrom US $18
Halong Bay to/from Cat Ba IslandUp to twice a dayFrom US $14
Halong Bay to/from HanoiUp to 13 times a dayFrom US $7
Hanoi to/from SapaUp to 27 times a dayFrom US $9

By ferry

Vietnam isn’t quite as well known for its islands as perhaps Thailand and the Philippines for example, but it’s still home to ample islands that are all located relatively close to the mainland.

One of the most popular islands to visit in the north of Vietnam is Cat Ba Island. You can get there by bus and ferry from places such as Hanoi, Hai Phong and Ha Giang.

The journey from Ha Giang to Cat Ba Island is a lengthy 10 hours and you need to purchase a combined bus/ferry ticket. Depending on which company you choose to transport you, you can either opt for a ticket where the bus is transported by ferry and you don’t need to get off, or you’ll be driven by bus up to the ferry and then get off and hop on the ferry.

These kinds of journeys where you need to swap between numerous modes of transport can be pretty exhausting, but once you arrive at your destination, you’ll be greeted by paradisal island views.

Hanoi to/from Cat Ba IslandUp to 3 times a dayFrom US $9
Hai Phong to/from Cat Ba IslandUp to 6 times a dayFrom US $11
Ha Giang to/from Cat Ba IslandTwice a day From US $26

With so many convenient modes of transport, all ranging at different prices to suit every budget, it’s remarkably easy to make your way around the vast and beautiful country of Vietnam.

Posted November 3, 2020
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Chloe Dickenson
Full time traveler and digital nomad. Obsessed with garlic bread, potatoes and chocolate orange. Huge fan of eating, napping and New York City. Will likely never tire of traveling and determined to inspire as many people as possible to see the world!
image of blog writer Chole