Travelling through Vietnam by train
For many visitors to Vietnam the most common way to travel around the country is by air and road. But, for those with a stronger sense of adventure exploring Vietnam by train is a great way to meet people, see more of the country and experience another side to this amazing country.
However before booking your ticket, there are few things worth knowing as travel by rail may not be for everyone.
Where can you travel by train in Vietnam?
Vietnam’s original train line was completed by the French in 1936 but had to be rebuilt after the Vietnam War. It was re-opened by the Vietnamese Government in 1976 and named the Re-Unification Express as a symbol of the newly established country. This impressive railway links the capital, Hanoi, in the North to the country’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, in the South. It takes around 35 hours to travel between the two cities but it is much more popular (and advisable) to break this into shorter journeys such as the overnight journey from Hanoi to Dong Hoi as suggested on our Adventures in Vietnam tour, or the daytime three hour journey between Hue and Danang which takes you along the coastline and past farmer tending their paddy fields.
Other good alternatives are the overnight train from Hue to Hanoi, or the overnight journey that connects Hanoi with Lao Cai in Northern Vietnam from where you can visit the Mountain villages of Sapa.
It’s also possible to take the train between Ho Chi Minh City and the beach at Phan Thiet. This is a daytime journey that allows you to see the local landscape as you travel between the two.
Cabins on Vietnamese trains
On a day time train it’s preferable to sit by the window in first or second class which will give you the opportunity to see local life as you glide through the Vietnamese countryside.
If you are travelling overnight, and on a budget, it is possible just to reserve a seat or a hard sleeper cabin which has six beds. However we always suggest booking a soft sleeper which has two sets of bunk beds but is booked for sole use (see photo below) so as to give you more room and privacy. If you book the train on your own you will almost certainly end up sharing a cabin with other people.
The train cabins are reasonably comfortable but it’s worth noting that the beds are quite small and the mattresses hard. However bedding is provided and although the trains usually bump and grind throughout the night it is possible to get some sleep!
The most luxurious train journey in Vietnam is the Victoria Express which runs from Hanoi to Lao Cai. It is made up of 2 carriages attached to the main train but for the exclusive use of guests of the Victoria Hotel in Sapa. The cabins have a traditional and elegant design and come equipped with air conditioning, generous luggage storage and amenity kits. The carriages offer free wi-fi and a snack cabin. On arrival in Lao Cai a complimentary transfer is provided to the hotel along with breakfast once you check-in at the hotel.
Food on board the train?
Apart from the Victoria Express which is mentioned above, there are no dining cars onboard Vietnam’s trains and the only food available is instant noodles and airline style meals. If you are booked on one of the longer train journeys it is definitely worthwhile eating before you board or buying some snacks for the trip.
One of the Bamboo team took the overnight train from Lao Cai to Hanoi and said there were a number of small cafes close to the train station there. As it was quite late and much colder than they had been used to they had a large bowl of Pho which set them up well for the journey ahead.
Top Tips for train travel in Vietnam
1. The majority of overnight trains get in very early therefore we recommend booking an early check-in at your hotel so you can have a shower, breakfast and possibly catch up on some sleep before your onward journey. Many hotels in Hanoi, such as the Essence Palace, offer this.
2. For those who want to travel by rail but don’t want an overnight journey then the train from Hue to Danang would be a great option. The scenery is stunning and the train goes during the day so it is perfect for taking photos. Once in Danang you can continue onto the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hoi An.
3. Even when booking a whole cabin it still advisable to travel light if possible as the corridors on the trains are very narrow.
4.Booking tickets can be complicated but by arranging your holiday through Bamboo Travel this is all taken care of in advance and you will have a guide to assist you at the train station. When you finish your journey it can be a bit confusing (especially if you are arriving very early) as there are lots of taxi drivers offering to take you to your hotel. However you will have a guide and driver ready to meet you so you can ignore the melee and continue on with your holiday.
See our Vietnam page for further information on this fascinating country or get in touch with one of our Vietnam experts.