Getting there & away
Hanoi has several main long-distance bus stations and each one serves a particular area. They are fairly well organised, with ticket offices, fixed prices and printed schedules. You should consider buying tickets the day before you plan to travel on the longer-distance routes to ensure a seat.
In central Hanoi, Kim Ma bus station (cnr Pho Nguyen Thai Hoc & Pho Giang Vo) has buses to the northwestern part of Vietnam, including Hoa Binh (25, 000d, two hours) and Dien Bien Phu (120, 000d, 16 hours).
Gia Lam bus station (827 1569; Ð Ngoc Lam) is the place for buses to points northeast of Hanoi. These include Halong Bay (40, 000d, 3½ hours), Haiphong (35, 000d, two hours), and Lang Son (50, 000d, three hours) and Lao Cai (53, 000d, nine hours), both near the Chinese border. The bus station is 2km northeast of the centre – cross the Song Hong (Red River) to get there. Cyclos can’t cross the bridge, so take a taxi (around 30, 000d) or motorbike. More convenient is the Loung Yen bus station in the southeast of town, serving the same places, plus Cao Bang (80, 000d, eight hours) and Ha Giang (76, 000d, seven hours).
Many open-ticket tours through Vietnam start or finish in Hanoi.
To hire a car with a driver, contact a hotel, travellers café or travel agency. The main roads in the northeast are generally OK, but in parts of the northwest they can be dire in the wet season and only suitable for a 4WD.
The average cost for a six-day trip in a Russian jeep is about US$300 per person, including the jeep, a driver and petrol. These old jeeps fit only two passengers and are pretty uncomfortable: they’re dusty and hot, or damp and cold, depending on the weather. For a smarter Japanese air-con 4WD, double the rate. The price usually includes the driver’s expenses, and it’s a good idea to clarify this.
If you plan to tour the north by bike, there are several good outfits that can arrange guides and rentals and help with itinerary planning.
The 125cc Russian-made Minsk is the best overall bike for touring the north – you’ll need this kind of power for the mountainous regions, and all mechanics know how to fix them. Quality of rental motorbikes can be extremely variable, so try to find a reputable dealer, especially if you’re planning long trips.
For the most reliable Minsk rental in town, make for Cuong’s Motorbike Adventure (926 1534; 1 Pho Luong Ngoc Quyen). Cuong rents out bikes for US$5 a day, including a full range of spares and a repair manual.
For more on the mighty Minsk, check out the official website of the Minsk Club (www.minskclubvietnam.com). Its motto is ‘In Minsk We Trust’ and the site is full of useful information on the motorbike and the mountains to explore.
The main Hanoi train station (Ga Hang Co; 825 3949; 120 Ð Le Duan; ticket office 7.30am-12.30pm & 1.30-7.30pm) is at the western end of Pho Tran Hung Dao; trains from here go to destinations south. Foreigners can buy tickets for southbound trains at counter 2, where the staff speak English. It’s often best to buy tickets at least one day before departure to ensure a seat or sleeper.
However, the place where you purchase the ticket is not necessarily where the train departs. Just behind the main ‘A Station’ on Ð Le Duan is Tran Quy Cap station (B Station; Pho Tran Qui Cap; 825 2628) and all northbound trains leave from there.
To make things even more complicated, some northbound (Lao Cai and Lang Son included) and eastbound (Haiphong) trains depart from Gia Lam on the eastern side of the Song Hong (Red River), and Long Bien (826 8280) on the western (city) side of the river. Be sure to ask just where you need to go to catch your train. Tickets can be bought at the main station until about two hours before departure; if it’s any closer to the departure time, go to the relevant station and buy tickets there.
Check with Vietnam Rail (Duong Sat Viet Nam; www.vr.com.vn) for current timetables.
Vietnam Airlines (943 9660; www.vietnamair.com.vn; 25 Pho Trang Thi; 7am-6.30pm Mon-Fri, 8-11.30am & 1.30-5pm Sat, Sun & holidays) links Hanoi to destinations throughout Vietnam. Popular routes include Hanoi to Danang, Dien Bien Phu, HCMC, Hué and Nha Trang, all served daily.
Pacific Airlines (974 5555; 193 Ð Ba Trieu) has daily flights to Danang and HCMC.