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Getting a train in Vietnam

Updated: 18/5/2015 | 10:10:01 PM
Travelling by train in Vietnam is one of the best ways to discover the country. Vietnam's rail network reaches most destinations of interest to a first-time visitor in Vietnam and it is safe, comfortable, and permits you to see the countryside at a relaxed pace.

What more can you ask for? Read on to discover exactly how Vietnam's train framework works - where the trains go, what they cost and to what extent they take - alongside a swack of other valuable information.

Vietnam's train framework serves a substantial swathe of the nation-- justthe Central Highlands as well as the Mekong Delta remain out. The first length of 71km of track was laid in 1881 and ran from Saigon to My Tho -- a service which is no longer running. The route, about as it stands today, was completed in 1936 and stretches for 2,600km in its entirety.

Where do the trains go?

Officially the Vietnamese train system contains seven rail lines, but of such only three are quite utilized by foreign travellers in Vietnam.

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City

This is the main north-south running line and is as simple as far the most in-demand for both foreign tourists and Vietnamese travellers. A mind-boggling assortment of trains operated with this line -- everything from express services to local trains even goats believe are moderate.While you'll find over 100 stations at stake, the popular and fastest trains 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, Muong Man (for Mui Ne) and Saigon. While trains running this route are often referred to as the "Reunification Express", the title doesn't fit in with any particular train nor service.

Train in Vietnam

Hanoi to Lao Cai

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 - one of northern Vietnam's most popular spots. Most of the Sapa trains run at night, and, somewhat strangely, different cars are owned and run by different companies, meaning while you're all on the same train, the quality of service and comfort can vary considerably.

Hanoi to Dong Dang and continue to Nanning and Beijing (China)

Express trains with modern air-conditioned 4-berth soft class sleepers run from Hanoi to Nanning and Beijing (China). At Dong Dang (the Vietnamese border) you pass through customs & passport control and board a connecting train for the final run to Nanning or Beijing.

Dong Dang is the border town, in Lang Son province, on the Chinese frontier and this train, running northeast of Hanoi, is the most popular way to reach it.

The lesser routes are:

Hanoi to Hai Phong: a large port city southwest of Ha Long Bay.

Hanoi to Quan Trieu: in Thai Nguyen province, due north of Hanoi.

Kep to Ha Long: Kep is northwest of Hanoi on the line to Dong Dang. This spur does run to Ha Long, but the train stops well short of anywhere particularly useful - making this just about the slowest possible way on earth to get from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay short of walking.

Kep to Luu Xa:We couldn't even discover the town of Luu Xa on any map, so this one's a bit of a mystery to us.

What classes are available?

The principle classes on Vietnamese trains are hard seat, delicate seat, hard sleeper and delicate sleeper, however these are separated into various sub-classes.

Hard seat

You get everything you pay for certainly applies when it comes to hard seats on the Vietnamese train. It is a hard seat -- actually a wooden bench seat to be exact. The least expensive class on the train,hard seat is likewise the first to top fill up and is constantly stuffed.

Soft seat

Next cheapest over rack, soft seat are far more comfortable and they are more than adequate for day-travel. The seats may be difficult to sleep in though. Soft seat comes in three flavours -- reclining air-con, air-con and non air-con.

Hard sleeper

Notwithstanding how it sounds, you will not be sleeping over a plank of wood but using a rather thin mattress. We'd say they're more than adequate for the budget traveller, though you won't be planning to fit a hard sleeper into your bedroom back home. Hard sleeper comes ina six-billet arrangement with both a fan-cooled and air-con choice.The least expensive bunk it the top one, then the center one, with the most reduced bunk being the most expensive. The compartments don't have an entryway, so you have tobecome extra careful along with your belongings

Soft sleeper

This is the most comfortable class and is included with soft beds in a very four-bed configuration, with or without air-con. Unlike hard sleepers, these compartment have a door so are much more secure. All soft sleeper bunks are valued the same.

Aside of the above you'll find also some classes peculiar on the Sapa and 5-star Express trains. See the relevant sections below to find out more.

What are Vietnamese trains like?

Train types are distinguished by their prefix - probably the most likely which you'll find are the 5-star, SE, SP, TN and LC services - though there are many others. The prefix is as well as a number - odd numbers run within a direction, perhaps the other. So as an example the SE1 runs from Hanoi to Saigon while the SE2 runs from Saigon to Hanoi.

Cabins are furnished with four or six bunks, with upper bunks reached by a small ladder. Upper bunks are most more secure when you're asleep, but you'll be closer to the air-con unit, so dress accordingly. Shared storage areas are provided underneath the bottom bunks - these should not be considered overly secure.

Carriages feature two bathrooms - one having a squat toilet,another with just a basin and mirror. Getting a seat or berth in the heart of the carriage (where possible through the bathrooms) is beneficial. Pack your personal toilet paper.

The 5-star and SE trains are uniformally air-con, as the SP, TN and LC services undoubtedly are a mix.The windows is not opened in an air-con carriage, so if you feel keen with an open window (say for photos) then an air-con car isn't for you. That said, the windows in non-air-con cars will have their metal shutters drawn - kids throwing rocks at trains remains problems and so some elect to shutter the windows for protection - occasionally the conductor may insist the shutter is closed.

On the Hanoi to Saigon run, the SE services are definitely the best. They are fast, they take a look at most on the tourist hotspots as well as the prices aren't unreasonable.The TN services are okay -- they're slower because they stop at the lot more stations compared to the SE trains, but they're also cheaper accessible equipped having a better variety of the more budget-orientated classes.

Sapa trains

There are three night trains andsame day train every day between Hanoi and Lao Cai. From Lao Cai it is a straightforward undertaking to get to Sapa. The vast majority of travellers opt for the night train as the way it saves around the cost of per night of accommodation along with the day train offers only hard and soft seats. The night trains offer many available classes, though, in order to complicate things, there is also a amount of private cars which might be attached to your train. Private cars include Fansipan Train, Hara Train, King Express Train, TSC Train, Tulico Train and few more - but there is however precious little to discover one from another. The exception would be the Victoria service, a good deal above the others, but is available only to guests from the affiliated Victoria Sapa Hotel.

5-star Express

This is a private express train with new cars, which runs between Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, stopping at only Binh Thuan (for Phan Thiet and Mui Ne) and Thap Cham along the way. Trains come with four classes - the imaginatively-named A,B,C and D classes - with D class being more than enough for most travellers. The service runs overnight from Saigon to Nha Trang, but the return service is during daylight hours.

Do the trains run on time?

They leave on time, but often arrive late. Be sure to get to the train station at least half an hour before departure.

How long do the trains take?

The fastest trains trundle along at a maximum speed of approximately 70 km/h, nevertheless the main issue is always that, as much on the line is single track (almost all of the time there are no separate lines per direction) long delays can occurs incase your train needs to wait for a train coming another way.

Rough trip times are (depending on the class of train and volume of stops):

  • Hanoi to Vinh 5-7 hours
  • Vinh to Dong Hoi 3.5-5 hours
  • Dong Hoi to Dong Ha 2-3 hours
  • Dong Ha to Hue 1-2 hours
  • Hue to Da Nang 3-4 hours
  • Da Nang to Nha Trang 10-12 hours
  • Nha Trang to Muong Man 4-7 hours
  • Muong Man to Saigon 3.5-4.5 hours

For detailed timetable information, see the Vietnam Railways schedule.

What about Hoi An and Mui Ne?

Two very popular and one less popular destination aren’t  directly serviced by the railway: Hoi An, Mui Ne and Qui Nhon. The most convenient station to Hoi An is Da Nang, for Mui Ne the closest train station is Binh Thuan and the best station for Qui Nhon is Dieu Tri.

Do you need to make a reservation in advance?

Generally speaking yes, but through many of the year a day or two in advance should suffice. If you're considering just purchasing a ticket for the day, while you are flexible regarding which train and class you're going to get, you will most probably get a ticket, but turning up 30 minutes before departure planning to obtain a four-berth air-con ticket within the SE1 will likely not yield lots of success. If you're planning on travelling by train across the Tet national holiday, book your ticket now... we imply that... get the phone today! Train reservations are crucial across Tet and may be made absolutely as far ahead of time as possible.

If you'll be needing reservations before you arrive in Vietnam, numerous online travel agencies offer that service, though be sure you compare prices between agencies. A better method though should be to bypass the agents and go instantly to Hanoi or Saigon train stations and purchase your reservations there personally. In doing this you'll save money and steer clear of a volume of scams one might encounter dealing having a travel agent; this is especially applicable in Hanoi, where the travel agent scene is a veritable snake pit.

How do you buy a ticket?

The best method to purchase a train ticket in Vietnam is always to go the train station personally and buy the ticket. In Vietnam, train tickets are priced in Vietnamese dong and at the station you are able to only pay in dong. Travel agents and hotels often offer this particular service - normally for a small charge - but we recommend doing the work in person since it reduce the percentage to worry about scams. Never get a ticket off a tout for the train station

What do the tickets cost?

In the past the Vietnam Rail service had a two-tier fare system: one price for locals, a massively inflated price for foreigners. Now this is no longer the case. As long as you buy your ticket in the train station you will be charged the same amount as a local.

Fares vary considerably in cost depending on the type of train and class of seat or berth. For detailed price information, see the prices for each train route when you search on our website.

Can you buy a through ticket in Vietnam?

Well, you'll be able to buy multiple tickets at once, so that you can buy Hanoi - Hue, Hue - Nha Trang, Nha Trang - Saigon all in one go, as long as you're set on your dates. However you can't buy an "open ticket" that allows you to get off and on when you want which is a shame.

What should you be wary of?

Aside from scamming travel agents, the most recognized concern is theft, though that isn't to say commuters are being robbed left, right and centre, rather that you ought to endeavour to look an eye your the stash. Here are some tips:

a) Never, ever leave a cabin if another passenger requires you to leave for privacy while leaving your bags in the cabin. Either tell the other passenger to use the toilet for changing, or take your belongings with you.

b) Try to secure the door handle of your cabin at night - for instance having a coat hanger - to deny theives access while you sleep.

c) Be careful of leaving valuable items at the window as once the train is stationary, someone may reach in and grab stuff off your lap - they will be long gone by the time you get your way out with the carriage.

d) Chain, or tie your bags together.

e) Sleep with the valuables along with you in your bunk. Do not stow expensive goodies within an easy-to-open bag out of the reach.

f) Don't drink to excess and stay in control.

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