If your travel experiences are limited to buses and planes, you’re missing out on one of the best ways to see the world: the train. Not only increasingly attractive to the pocketbook, a scenic train ride can even be a holiday in itself. If you’re planning a trip to Indochina, this guide will provide you with everything you need to know about travel by train Vietnam and help answer all your questions.
If you want an inexpensive yet exciting trip to travel along Vietnam from the North to the South, train could be a perfect choice. Many parts of the railways system in Vietnam go along or even through mountains, forests, valleys, plain and sea, so you would certainly have chance to contemplate the incredibly magnificent and fascinating scenery.
1. Focus on Vietnam railways
The Vietnamese railway system was introduced to Vietnam during the period of French rule and is a true colonial legacy. The construction of the North-South Railway began in 1899 and took more than 30 years to complete. On 2 October 1936, the entire 1726 km Hanoi – Saigon line was officially opened. It was and remains today the only railway line connecting Hanoi and Saigon. Unfortunately, during the war years in the 20th century, fighting against occupying foreign forces with relentless bombing by the Americans almost marked the end of the railway.
The reconstruction of the ruined network quickly became a priority after the reunification of the country in 1975. The heavily damaged and war-torn North-South line was restored and put back into service in 1976. It was renamed the “Reunification Express” as a symbol of Vietnamese unity.
Map of Vietnam’s trains
The Reunification Express line is operated by Vietnam Railways (VNR), a Vietnamese state-owned company. With a length of 2600 km, the Vietnam train serves almost all cities and provinces in Vietnam, including many cultural and tourist destinations from north to south. Find here the map of trains in Vietnam:
2. Why choose travel by train in Vietnam?
Before travelling by train in Vietnam, it is important to note that the Vietnamese railways are not as modern and developed as those in your country. With a speed of 50-60km/h, it can take up to 30+ hours to travel from Hanoi to Saigon.
Some lines are even nicknamed “Vietnam’s high-speed train”, the humorous tone of which is understood to mean “High Vibration Train”. This is a result of the metric tracks, i.e. the narrow gauge tracks with a gauge of 1m kept since the colonial period, which are now becoming outdated. But then, is the Vietnam train really worth trying? What are its assets that make its reputation so picturesque?
In the modern world, speed is often more appreciated, but this is not always the case in travel. Sometimes the best way to get the most out of a travel experience is to…slow down a bit. Sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery through the carriage window. This way, the journey becomes a relaxing time rather than a stressful journey from home to destination.
The splendour of the journey lies in its incredible scenery. Numerous railways run through mountains, forests and valleys that offer incredibly breathtaking and charming views. The train even travels on paths where other means of transport cannot. This gives you an up-close and personal view of hidden parts of Vietnam that are only accessible to you. Moreover, its slow speed allows you to enjoy the spectacular view outside while taking pictures or videos to remember the unforgettable moments you spent during your Vietnam train trip.
Therefore, this is the reason why the train is still a popular and much sought-after option for many travellers, although the inter-provincial bus system and especially the domestic flights have been greatly improved in recent years. On the other hand, affordability is another reason to choose the railway for travel. Compared to the price of flights, train tickets are much cheaper, costing about half or a third of the price of a plane ticket, depending on the route.
And finally, high safety is also an advantage of this means of transport. The railway system in Vietnam has recently been rebuilt and developed significantly to adapt to the new innovations in the railway industry in the world. Thus, safety conditions are much better than before. In addition, the train in Vietnam is not a high-speed means of transport and there is only one train running on a railway, so the accident rate for the train is minuscule.
3. The most beautiful train journeys in Vietnam
3.1 Hanoi Sapa night train
Sapa is a mountain resort in Lao Cai province established by the French in 1922. The line from Hanoi to Lao Cai was built by the French and opened in 1910 as part of the Vietnam-Kunming metric railway. The beautiful scenery and colourful local tribes of the misty town of Sapa make it a popular stop on many visitors’ itineraries. If you want to save one night on accommodation, one of the best ways to get there is to take the Hanoi Sapa night train. There are 2 sleeper trains between Hanoi and Sapa each day.
|Hanoi – Lao Cai
|Arrival in Lao Cai
|Leaving Lao Cai
|Arrival in Hanoi
SP1 and SP2: This train offers private sleeping cars for tourists, served by companies such as Fansipan, Livitrans, Orient Express and The Pumpkin Express.
SP3 and SP4: Much of this train consists of private sleeping cars, including Sapaly, Chapa, Laman and Victoria Express. The latter is one of the most luxurious trains on the Hanoi – Sapa route accommodating up to 40 passengers with luxury cabins, bar and restaurant.
3.2 Hanoi – Hue Train
The imperial city of Hue is an attractive destination in Vietnam to discover its historical and cultural heritages, pristine beaches, beautiful landscapes and unique cuisine. The Hanoi Hue train can take about 14 hours and costs between $36 and $80. Each day, there are 5 trains serving this route including night or day trains of Vietnam Railways and luxury tourist train companies such as Livitrans (SE3 and SE4), Laman (SE19), Lotus (SE19 and SE20) and Violette (SE1 and SE3). The latter companies usually offer the Hanoi Hue night train with premium services.
Hanoi – HueSE1SE3SE5SE7SE19Depart Hanoi10:20 p.m.7:30 p.m.09:006:00 am8:10 p.m.Arrival in Hue10:5208:3010:42 p.m.7:47 p.m.09:30
|Hue – Hanoi
|Departure from Hue
|Arrival in Hanoi
3.3 Saigon Nha Trang train
Known as one of the best seaside resorts in Vietnam, the coastal town of Nha Trang is undoubtedly an essential stopover when visiting the central region. It can be reached from Saigon by an 8-9 hour train ride. There are 6 trains per day on this line, which are operated by Vietnam Railways and Livitrans (SNT1 and SNT2). The ticket price varies between $30 and $40.
Saigon–Nha TrangSE2SE4SE6SE8SE22SNT2Departure from Saigon9:55 p.m.7:45 p.m.09:006:00 am11:50 a.m.8:30 p.m.Arrival in Nha Trang04:4703:144:21 p.m.1:18 p.m.7:46 p.m.05:30
|Leaving Nha Trang
|Arrival in Saigon
3.4 Trains like no other
Rack train in Dalat
It is known that the romantic city of Dalat is home to the most beautiful railway station in Vietnam with the Art Deco style in its architectural structure and its striking resemblance to the railway station in Deauville. But few people know that it once had one of the rarest rack railways in the world. This is a track system with a third central rail with teeth between the running rails. This rail engages with a serrated wheel under the locomotive, providing traction for the very steep gradients between Dalat and Thap Cham (in Ninh Thuan province) while preventing the train from sliding too fast on the way down.
This 84 km long railway was one of the rarest railways in the world, as there were only two of its kind at the time, one in Dalat and the other in Switzerland: the Jungfraujoch railway. The steam locomotives used were manufactured in Switzerland and were among the most modern in the world.
Luxury train “Indochina” Danang – Quy Nhon
Welcoming passengers from July 1, 2020, the new train line The Vietage connecting Danang Station and Dieu Tri (Quy Nhon) Station is remarkable for its interior design, which is reminiscent of the background of old Indochinese films. The cabin is decorated with wooden floors, combined with traditional yellow rattan seats.
The Vietage train leaves Danang station every morning for a 6-hour journey to Quy Nhon and returns to Danang every evening. Designed for maximum passenger comfort and privacy, in addition to 12 seats, Vietage also offers a range of services such as restaurants, bars and relaxing massages.
4. How to choose your seat on a train in Vietnam?
There are four main categories of Vietnam train tickets:
Hard seat: mainly used for day trips, this is the cheapest and least comfortable type of ticket.
Soft seat: mainly used for day trips, these seats are more comfortable and more expensive than hard seats
Hard sleeper: used for the Vietnam night train, it has three levels of beds (six per compartment). Prices vary according to the level of the berth (those closest to the top are the cheapest). These compartments do not have a door.
Soft sleeper: used on the Vietnam night train, it has two levels of beds (four per compartment). All bunk beds are charged at the same rate.
Some private companies such as Victoria Express, Orient Express, Livitrans, Violette, Laman and many others rent compartments from Vietnam Railways and then upgrade them, provide services and resell tickets to tourists. These companies offer private sleeping cars with high quality berths for tourists. They also provide private compartments with 2 soft beds. The Vietnam sleeper train has air-conditioning, clean beds, free mineral water and (in some cases) snacks and clean western-style toilets.
5. How to book your train ticket?
If you want to buy a train ticket online, go to the official Vietnam Railways website: dsvn.vn. In the search results, select a train, select a carriage with the desired class and click to buy. You may have to fill in a Vietnamese mobile phone number with a country code. And it certainly won’t accept your non-Vietnamese credit card.
If this sounds too complex, it is easy to buy Vietnam train tickets directly at the station when you arrive in Vietnam. However, trains are always busy, especially during rush hour, holidays such as Tet, and holidays. It is therefore recommended to book your ticket a few days in advance.
Alternatively, you can travel with a local travel agency in Vietnam that will take care of your reservations and transfers to and from the station.
Tips for travel by train Vietnam
Below is the list of things you should remember when traveling by train in Vietnam.
- Print out your e-tickets
- Don’t forget your ID or passport
- Arrive at the station 60 minutes before departure time
- Bring a maximum of 20 kg
- Take care of your belongings
- Pack food and drinks in advance (optional)
What to pack?
- A suitcase with a digital lock. Also, if possible, choose a waterproof bag if you travel during the rainy season in Vietnam.
- Wear comfortable outfit
- Small towel
- Food and drink. The food served on the train is not very diverse, and the price is quite high, so bring some snacks and water with you.
- Toilet paper
- Necessary documents: Passport / Identification card
Here you have a general overview of Vietnam rail transport, we hope that this practical information will help you in the organisation of your future Vietnam trip, which will prove to be unusual and unforgettable.