How To Travel In Vietnam By Train

Vietnam’s Reunification Express runs a large swathe of S-shaped country from the North to the South, except for the Central and Mekong Delta. If you have the flexible itinerary and a tight budget, moving by train will be ideal for you. This piece of writing is expected to help you choose the suitable one.

1. Advantages of travelling by train

  • Reasonable price and safety: Wandering around Vietnam by train is truly economical. The train fare is just slightly more expensive than bus fare and a half of airfare.
  • Time saving option to travel in some cases: For example, taking an overnight train to Lao Cai from Hanoi will help you save your time and effort.
  • Good way to enjoy the landscape: Most of Vietnam trains are the previous generation trains with the slow speed, hence it’s lucky that you will be immersed yourself into the scenic landscape of mountains and ocean along the way.

2. Disadvantages of traveling by train

  • Train in Vietnam is not as clean and modern as the expresses in other countries like Thailand or Malaysia.
  • The hard wooden seat or even soft seat is quite small and narrow for Westerners and uncomfortable for a long trip.
  • It’s sometime very noisy due to children’s crying and conversation among locals.
  • The passengers are expected to take great care of their luggage on their own.
  • The toilet normally doesn’t have toilet paper. There is only one toilet each carriage, so it may be overloaded or run out of water.

3. Tips for a train journey

  • Book the ticket in advance to choose the best seat!
  • Bring along some food for a late night supper if you are afraid of food quality on train. A large towel can be used as the blanket and keep you warm throughout the long trip.
  • If you sleep in hard or soft seat, prepare a neck pillow.
  • Do not bring too much baggage; you cannot have a good sleep while watching over your belongings all the time.
  • Keep some small notes ready to pay for the taxi, going to the station or buy junk food.
  • Do some light exercise every couple of hour for blood circulation and getting rid of tiredness.
  • Do not buy food and souvenirs at transit stations along the road.
  • If there is problem with your seat or food quality, do not hesitate to ask the coach’s conductor.

4. Where do the trains go?

Officially the Vietnamese train system consists of seven rail lines, but only three of them are much used by foreign travelers in Vietnam.

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City – Stop at Hue and Nha Trang

This is the main north-south running line and is by far the most popular for both foreign tourists and Vietnamese travelers. A mind-boggling variety of trains run on this line – everything from express services to local trains are slow. While there are over 100 stations on the line, the popular and fastest train service around 20 stations, into which most major coastal stops are covered. The stations include Hanoi, Vinh, Dong Hoi, Dong Ha, Hue, Da Nang (for Hoi An), Quang Ngai, Dieu Tri (for Qui Nhon), Nha Trang, Thap Cham, Phan Thiet and Saigon.

Hanoi - Hue train trip

Night train Hanoi to Lao Cai – The common way to reach Sapa

This line, striking northwest from Hanoi, terminates at the border town of Lao Cai. From here it is a straightforward run up to the hill station at Sapa – Northern Vietnam's most popular spots.

The night train is the most used as it is economical and time saving option because it will take you about 8-10 hours to reach Lao Cai station from Hanoi, after an overnight on train, you will save a night at a hotel and have a full day for visit to Sapa on the next day. Night train has been significantly modernized to comfort tourists compared to normal train in Vietnam.

The most common trains to Lao Cai are as follows: Victoria Express Train, Orient Express Train, Sapaly Express Train, King Express, Chapa and Fanxipan Express (recommend if you like to visit Bac Ha Market on every Sunday)

Hanoi - Lao Cai train trip

5. What classes are available?

The main classes on Vietnamese trains are hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper and soft sleeper, though these are broken up into a number of sub-classes.

  • Hard seat: You get what you pay for certainly holds true when it comes to hard seats on a Vietnamese train. It is a hard seat – actually a wooden bench seat to be exact. The cheapest class on the train, hard seat is also the first to fill up and is invariably packed.
  • Soft seat: Next cheapest off the rack, soft seat are considerably more comfortable and are more than adequate for day-travel. The seats are quite difficult to sleep in though. Soft seat comes in three flavors – reclining air-con, air-con and no air-conditioner.
  • Hard sleeper: Despite how it sounds, you won't be sleeping on a plank of wood but on a rather thin mattress. We'd say they're more than adequate for the budget traveler, though you won't be planning to fit a hard sleeper into your bedroom back home. Hard sleeper comes in a six-berth configuration with both a fan-cooled and air-con option. The cheapest bunk it the top one, then the middle one, with the lowest bunk being the most expensive. The compartments do not have a door, so you need to be extra careful with your belongings.
  • Soft sleeper => Highly recommended

This is the most comfortable class and comes with surprisingly soft beds in a four-bed configuration, with or without air-con. Unlike hard sleepers, these compartments do have a door so are considerably more secure. All soft sleeper bunks are priced the same.

Aside from the above there are also a few classes peculiar to the Sapa and 5-star Express trains. See the relevant sections below for more information.

6. Costs

Ticket prices vary depending on the train; the faster train you would like to book, the more expensive ticket you have to pay.

Children under two are free; those between two and nine years of age pay 50% of the adult fare. There are no discounts on the Hanoi–Lao Cai route.

7. Reservations

You can buy tickets in advance from the Vietnam Railways bookings site (http://dsvn.vn); however, at this time only Vietnamese credit cards are accepted.

You can reserve seats/berths on long trips 60 to 90 days in advance (less on shorter trips). Most of the time you can book train tickets a day or two ahead without a problem), except during peak holiday times. For sleeping berths book a week or more before the date of departure.

Many travel agencies, hotels and cafes will also offer you train tickets for a small commission.

8. Safety

Petty crime is rare on Vietnamese trains. Thieves occasionally try to grab stuff as trains pull out of stations. Always keep your bag nearby and lock or tie it to something, especially at night.

9. Schedules

Several Reunification Express trains depart from Hanoi and HCMC every day. Train schedules change frequently, so check departure times on the Vietnam Railways website (www.vr.com.vn)

A bare-bones train schedule operates during the Tet festival, when most trains are suspended for nine days, beginning four days before Tet and continuing for four days afterwards.


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