The journey from Saigon to Hanoi overland is long, made longer by the oblong-ish shape Vietnam takes. However, it is definitely not boring at all, and can be broken by interesting stops particularly in Nha Trang for some beach time, Hue for some culture and history, and Hoi An for the pleasant vibe and beautiful setting.
You can make the trip via air, train or bus. Keep in mind that transportation options between Saigon and Hanoi fill up quickly around January or February for the Tet, Chinese New Year and other large holidays. Book your tickets in advance.
Long-haul buses are incredibly cheap and are available in both daytime and sleeper-style. The chaotic road conditions however provide less scenery and far less sleep than you would get on other modes of transportation.
Buses also provide a convenience, with many tourist companies offering tour buses that will collect you right at your hotel and tickets are easy to book. The biggest downside to riding buses is the slow pace and Vietnam’s terrible traffic. You’re sure to spend hours waiting in the highways and streets to collect other passengers and get out of the city.
Vietnam’s night buses have small, horizontal bunk beds that you can sleep in. They may save you the expense for a night of accommodation but whether you get sleep is another story. Passenger seats are also in a reclining position which might make some passengers sick. Bunks are also quite small and short for most average-height people to fully stretch out. Theft is a big problem on overnight buses.
Tourist bus tickets can be booked at your hotel or any travel agency office. Going directly to the bus office to book tickets however would save you the commission paid for a booking.
If you’re going for the scenic view, try traveling by rail. Vietnam’s trains might show some aging but they are air-conditioned and fairly comfortable.
Sleeper trains come in hard and soft varieties. Hard-sleeper trains are cheaper and allow six berths in each compartment. Soft sleeper cars are slightly more expensive and allow four people in each compartment. Simple bedding is provided and your luggage will be kept with you for safety purposes. If you’re pushed for budget, you can also avail the option of a soft seat, the cheapest train ticket which provides a reclining chair.
Soft sleeper trains are far from being luxurious but it is the best and most comfortable choice of traveling the journey. It offers good sleep and set meals either by compartment delivery or via the food and drinks cart. Boiling water from tap is also available for tea, coffee or instant noodles. From Saigon to Hanoi, the rail takes a total of 33 hours non-stop.
Sleeper train tickets are can be booked from any travel agency or hotel desk, however the safest and cheapest option will be to book train tickets in advance directly at the train station to prevent scams and save money from commissions. Book at least a week before your desired time of travel; resellers often buy tickets to sell to tourists that wait for the last minute to book.
The quickest option from Saigon to Hanoi is via flight. Plane tickets are available at travel agencies and if booked well in advance, may costs less than US$100. If you’re pressed for budget, Jetstar airlines offer the cheapest tickets. You won’t get to see much if you chose this travel option but it is practical and saves you time by turning a 30- hour travel into a 2-hour hop.