Watch the video...

A Saigon-Hanoi express ride from Hue to Danang.

 

 

Click for SE Asia interactive route map

Click for train route map for Vietnam & SE Asia

Click for Vietnam train route map

Suggested hotels in Hanoi, Hue, Sapa, Saigon

Train travel within Vietnam...

  Hanoi - Hue - Danang - Nha Trang - Saigon: The Reunification Line

   ▶ Southbound timetable, Hanoi to Saigon

   ▶ Northbound timetable, Saigon to Hanoi

   ▶ Fares

   ▶ How to buy tickets...

   ▶ What are the trains like?

   ▶ Luggage, bikes & motorbikes on trains

   ▶ Video guide:  Hanoi to Saigon by train

  Hanoi to Lao Cai & Sapa - times, fares, tickets

  Hanoi to Haiphong - for Cat Ba Island

  Hanoi to Halong Bay

  Hoi An - how to reach this UNESCO-listed town

  Phan Thiet & Mui Ne - the train to the beach

  Useful country information - currency, visas etc.

  Suggested hotels in Hanoi, Hue, Saigon, Sapa.

International travel to/from Vietnam...

  Hanoi - Nanning, Guilin, Beijing by train

  Hanoi - Hong Kong by train

  Hanoi - Kunming by train

  Hanoi - Vientiane by bus, for train to Bangkok

  Saigon - Phnom Penh - Bangkok by bus + train

  Europe to Vietnam overland by Trans-Siberian Railway

Why trains are the best way to go...

Vietnam's air-conditioned trains are safe, comfortable & inexpensive, the ideal way for independent travellers to get around and see Vietnam at ground level.  The train journeys are a genuine Vietnamese experience in themselves, an integral part of your visit to Vietnam.  You might even meet some Vietnamese people.  Inexperienced travellers sometimes think they'll save time by using internal flights - in fact, an overnight train ride from Hanoi to Hué or Danang actually saves time compared to flying, because the train leaves Hanoi city centre in the evening and arrives in Hué city centre next morning, but it's more than this, the train journey is a genuine Vietnamese experience, flying is a wasted opportunity.  Flying takes 4 or 5 hours out of your sightseeing day in getting to a remote airport, checking in, taking the flight itself, collecting your bags and getting back into the city centre.  And the sleeper train saves a hotel bill, too.  And what's the rush anyway?  Air-conditioned trains with sleepers and on-board catering link Hanoi, Hué, Danang, Nha Trang, and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).  Hoi An has no station, but it's just 30km by bus or taxi from Danang.  There are also trains from Hanoi to Haiphong (for Halong Bay) and Hanoi to Lao Cai (for Sapa).

The view from the train...

Coastal scenery between Hué and Danang seen from train SE1   Scenery from train SE1 between Hue and Danang

Along the coast and up into the hills...  The most magical part of the Hanoi to Saigon train journey is the world-class scenic section between Hué and Danang.  The train runs along the South China Sea, snaking from cliff to jungle-covered cliff past beaches and islands, then heads through the lush green mountains via the Hai Van Pass to reach Danang.  In Vietnamese it's Đèo Hải Vân meaning 'Ocean Cloud Pass', and I can't think of a better name.  These photos were taken in poor weather at the end of the rainy season - in the bright Vietnamese sun, the vivid blue skies, green waters and yellow beaches will take your breath away...  See the video, Hanoi-Saigon by train.

Water buffalo and rice fields seen from the train   Train SE3 between Danang and Nha Trang

Rice fields, palm trees, water buffalo, Vietnamese towns and villages...  You get a real insight into Vietnam when you travel by train, both urban and rural, which you don't get from 35,000 feet.  And if you're good at people watching you'll get insights on board the train, too, as the real Vietnam is as much inside the train as outside...

Is it Ho Chi Minh or Saigon?

Since the end of the Vietnamese war, the official the name for the conurbation as a whole has been Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).  However, the city centre is still officially called Saigon, which is the city's traditional and historic name.  In fact, the city appears as Sai Gon in all Vietnamese railway timetables, it will say Sai Gon on your train ticket and as you can see from the photo, it actually says 'Sai Gon' in big letters on the station itself.  The ruling elite may toe the line and call it Ho Chi Minh, but everyone else calls it Saigon.  So do what the locals do, call it Saigon!

Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) railway station

Sponsored links

 


Useful country information

Train operator in Vietnam:

DSVN (Duong Sat Viet Nam), www.vr.com.vn

Online booking in English with overseas credit cards accepted:  www.baolau.com or 12Go.Asia.

Map of train routes in SE Asia

 

Time zone & dialling code:

GMT+7 all year.     Dial code +84.        Cheap flights UK to Vietnam

Currency:

£1 = approx 27,000 Dong.  $1 = 21,500 Dong.  Currency converter

Tourist information:

www.vietnamtourism.com   Guidebooks   Health & vaccination advice

Flights:

 

Scan multiple airlines for the cheapest flights to Vietnam

Hotels, tours & activities:

Recommended hotels in Hanoi, Hue, Saigon, Sapa     Find backpacker hostels

Scan multiple hotel providers to find the cheapest hotel rates

Visas:

Required by UK citizens.  Vietnamese embassy visa section, 12-14 Victoria Road, London W8 5RD, tel. 020 7937 3222, fax 020 7937 6108, www.vietnamembassy.org.uk.  To apply for a Visa-on-arrival at any major Vietnamese airport you can use visa agency www.vietnam-visa.comYou cannot use a visa-on-arrival if you arrive in Vietnam overland.

UPDATE:  From 1 July 2015 until at least 30 June 2017, UK & several other nationalities can visit Vietnam visa-free for stays of up to 15 days, not returning within the next 30 days.

Page last updated:

2 March 2017


Hanoi - Hue - Danang - Saigon

The Reunification Line...

Trains between Hanoi & Saigon are sometimes referred to as the Reunification Express by guide books and tourist agencies, although there are now a whole range of trains on this route and no single train officially carries this name.  The line was completed by the French in 1936, and trains linked Hanoi to Saigon until 1954, when Vietnam was divided into north and south and the railway was cut.  The trains resumed on 31 December 1976, unifying the country once more.  You too can easily travel the length of Vietnam using the reunification railway, a travel experience in its own right.  Over the last decade the Hanoi-Saigon train service has steadily improved with more trains & newer rolling stock.  Here are the principal services, there are additional trains at peak times such as the Tet holiday period in late January or February.

Click here for a Vietnamese Railways route map.

Click here for interactive map of train, bus, ferry routes in Southeast Asia

Southbound timetable...

 Hanoi ► Hué ► Danang ► Nha Trang ► Saigon (HCMC)

Km

Train number:

SE1

SE19

SE3

SE7

SE5

TN1

SNT1

0

Hanoi depart:

19:30 day 1

20:10 day 1

22:00 day 1

06:00 day 1

09:00 day 1

13:10

-

116

Ninh Binh 

21:49 day 1

22:25 day 1

00:13 day 2

08:22 day 1

11:21 day 1

15:48

-

175

Thanh Hoa 

22:58 day 1

23:39 day 1

01:16 day 2

09:33 day 1

12:37 day 1

17:11

-

319

Vinh

01:41 day 2

02:25 day 2

03:32 day 2

12:08 day 1

15:11 day 1

19:50

-

522

Dong Hoi

05:50 day 2

06:39 day 2

07:40 day 2

16:36 day 1

19:40 day 1

00:39

-

688

Hué arrive

08:48 day 2

09:42 day 2

10:27 day 2

19:47 day 1

22:42 day 1

03:39

-

688

Hué depart

08:56 day 2

09:50 day 2

10:35 day 2

19:55 day 1

22:50 day 1

03:47

-

791

Danang (for Hoi An) arrive

11:26 day 2

12:20 day 2

13:00 day 2

22:25 day 1

01:28 day 2

06:49

-

791

Danang (for Hoi An) depart

11:41 day 2

-

13:15 day 2

22:47 day 1

01:43 day 2

07:09

-

928

Quang Ngai

14:34 day 2

-

15:35 day 2

01:21 day 2

04:23 day 2

10:10

-

1,095

Dieu Tri (for Qui Nhon)

17:41 day 2

-

18:36 day 2

04:23 day 2

07:56 day 2

13:38

-

1,315

Nha Trang

21:22 day 2

-

22:12 day 2

08:35 day 2

11:44 day 2

17:55

19:00 day 1

1,551

Binh Thuan for Phan Thiet

00:18 day 3

-

02:14 day 3

12:39 day 2

16:19 day 2

22:53

|

1,726

Saigon arrive:

04:39 day 3

-

05:20 day 3

16:05 day 2

20:03 day 2

02:30

03:28 day 2

Northbound timetable...

 Saigon (HCMC) ► Nha Trang ► Danang ► Hué ► Hanoi

Train number:

SE2

SE4

SE20

SE8

SE6

TN2

SNT2

 Saigon depart:

19:30 day 1

22:00 day 1

-

06:00 day 1

09:00 day 1

13:10

20:30 day 1

 Binh Thuan (for Phan Thiet)

22:55 day 1

01:15 day 2

-

09:30 day 1

12:36 day 1

17:04

|

 Nha Trang

03:21 day 2

05:00 day 2

-

13:26 day 1

16:29 day 1

21:29

05:30 day 2

 Dieu Tri (for Qui Nhon)

07:13 day 2

08:46 day 2

-

17:29 day 1

21:17 day 1

01:50

-

 Quang Ngai

10:07 day 2

11:27 day 2

-

20:18 day 1

00:11 day 2

05:21

-

 Danang (for Hoi An) arrive

12:31 day 2

13:58 day 2

-

22:44 day 1

02:47 day 2

08:15

-

 Danang (for Hoi An) depart

12:46 day 2

14:13 day 2

18:40 day 1

22:59 day 1

03:02 day 2

08:35

-

 Hué arrive

15:23 day 2

16:39 day 2

21:26 day 1

01:28 day 2

05:31 day 2

12:06

-

 Hué depart

15:31 day 2

16:47 day 2

21:33 day 1

01:36 day 2

05:39 day 2

12:14

-

 Dong Hoi

18:45 day 2

19:52 day 2

00:49 day 1

04:50 day 2

09:16 day 2

15:35

-

 Vinh

22:51 day 2

23:53 day 2

05:53 day 2

09:26 day 2

13:27 day 2

20:33

-

 Thanh Hoa

01:19 day 3

02:17 day 3

08:23 day 2

11:54 day 2

16:11 day 2

23:36

-

 Ninh Binh

02:30 day 3

03:21 day 3

09:56 day 2

13:14 day 2

17:27 day 2

01:06

-

 Hanoi arrive:

04:50 day 3

05:30 day 3

12:33 day 2

15:33 day 2

19:58 day 2

03:30

-

Notes by train number...

All these trains run every day except trains SE7 & SE8 which only run at busy periods.

If an 04:30 or 05:20 arrival in Saigon or Hanoi seems uncomfortably early, remember that in SE Asia  it's usual to rise earlier than most westerners do, and you'll find plenty of taxis available at this time.  It's not like arriving in a western city that early, so don't worry!

Hanoi to Saigon is 1,726km or 1,070 miles.  Map of Saigon showing station Map of Hanoi showing station.

SE1, SE2, SE3, SE4:  The best trains, with air-conditioned soft sleepers (4-berth), air-conditioned hard sleepers (6-berth), air-conditioned soft seats.

Trains SE3 & SE4 were equipped with smartly-refurbished cars in January 2015, allegedly with free WiFi, trains SE1 & SE2 got similar refurbished cars & WiFi in 2016.  Trains SE1 & SE2 also convey privately-run Livitrans & Violette Trains tourist sleepers between Hanoi, Hue and Danang, see the Livitrans & Violette section below.

SE5, SE6:  Air-conditioned soft sleepers (4-berth), air-conditioned hard sleepers, air-conditioned soft seats, air-conditioned hard seats, ordinary hard seats

Trains SE5 & SE6 were re-equipped with smartly-refurbished cars & WiFi in January 2016.

SE7, SE8: Only runs at busy times, ask an agency if it's running a month or two ahead.  Air-con soft sleepers, air-con hard sleepers, air-con soft seats.

SE19, SE20: Air-conditioned soft sleepers, air-conditioned hard sleepers, air-conditioned soft seats, air-conditioned hard seats, ordinary hard seats.

SE21, SE22, SE23, SE24:  On certain dates you'll find additional seasonal trains.  I have not shown them here.

TN1, TN2:  Air-con soft sleepers (4-berth, one car, older type), air-con hard sleepers (6-berth), air-con soft seats & ordinary hard seats.

SNT1, SNT2:  Air-con soft sleepers (both older & newer types), air-con hard sleepers (both older & newer types), air-con soft seats.  Ask for a 'chat luong cao' (newer higher quality) sleeper.  Also has privately-run Golden Trains sleepers attached.

SPT1/2, PT3/4:  Air-con soft seats, also has various sleepers.

Livitrans & Violette private tourist sleeping-cars, Hanoi-Hué-Danang:  Trains SE1 & SE2 have a couple of tourist sleeping-cars attached between Hanoi, Hue & Danang, run by private companies Livitrans and Violette Trains,.  These have 4-berth air-con soft sleepers of the same sort as the best refurbished regular Vietnamese Railways ones, but with upgraded on-board service and (of course) significantly higher fares, see the photos, information & advice below.  Note that at busy times, for example Tet & high summer, these Livitrans & Violette cars may run in trains SE5/SE6 rather than SE1/SE2, so check when booking.  Livitrans & Violette tickets are bookable at www.baolau.com & 12Go.Asia - look for the Livitrans or Violette logos rather than VR logo in the search results.

Livitrans and Golden Trains operate private tourist sleeping-cars between Saigon & Nha Trang on trains SNT1 & SNT2, see the photo below These have 4-berth soft sleepers of a higher quality than the regular sleepers.  Fare $38 for a bed in a 4-berth sleeper, bookable at www.baolau.com or 12Go.Asia - look for the Golden Trains or Livitrans logo rather than VR logo in the search results.

How to get to Hoi AnSee the Hoi An section...

How to get to Phan Thiet & Mui Ne:  See the Phan Thiet section

How much does it cost?

Train fares in Vietnam are cheap, and sleeper trains save on hotel bills as well as the cost of taxis to & from airports way outside the cities they serve.  The fares shown below are typical fares for the SE1 or SE2, fares in fact vary slightly by season, and fares for the slightly faster SE3 & SE4 are a fraction higher, for the SE5/6/7/8 slightly lower.  Fares for the SNT trains are about the same, fares for the slower TN trains are significantly cheaper.  The old system of charging foreigners higher fares than Vietnamese citizens was abolished in 2002. 

For Livitrans & Violette Trains tourist sleeper fares, see the Livitrans & Violette section.

Children aged 0 to 4 travel free, children 5 to 9 travel at 25% off.  Children 10 and over must pay full fare.

Fares are shown below are in 1000s of Vietnamese Dong.  £1 = approx 27,000 Dong.  $1 = 21,500 Dong.

 Fares from

 Hanoi to:

Soft seat

Hard sleeper

Soft sleeper

air-con

air-con

lower berth

air-con

middle berth

air-con

top berth

air-con

lower berth

air-con

upper berth

 Ninh Binh

77

111

108

88

126

118

 Thanh Hoa

124

188

176

149

194

184

 Vinh

214

317

297

246

339

314

 Dong Hoi

361

554

519

429

554

529

 Hue

462

755

707

587

849

797

 Danang

552

809

757

629

909

854

 Quang Ngai

624

871

816

677

979

919

 Dieu Tri

744

1039

973

807

1167

1096

 Nha Trang

806

1181

1106

919

1327

1246

 Saigon

907

1265

1185

984

1423

1335

 Fares from

 Saigon to:

Soft seat

Hard sleeper

Soft sleeper

air-con

air-con

lower berth

air-con

middle berth

air-con

top berth

air-con

lower berth

air-con

upper berth

 Nha Trang

297

469

439

364

536

494

 Danang

617

889

832

689

999

937

 Hue

666

957

896

744

1075

1009

 Hanoi

907

1265

1185

984

1423

1335

 Fares from

 Hué to:

Soft seat

Hard sleeper

Soft sleeper

air-con

air-con

lower berth

air-con

middle berth

air-con

top berth

air-con

lower berth

air-con

upper berth

 Hanoi

462

755

707

587

849

797

 Saigon

666

957

896

744

1075

1009

 Danang

67

94

89

73

106

99

 Nha Trang

414

577

541

449

649

609

 Fares from

 Danang to:

Soft seat

Hard sleeper

Soft sleeper

air-con

air-con

lower berth

air-con

middle berth

air-con

top berth

air-con

lower berth

air-con

upper berth

 Hanoi

552

809

757

629

909

854

 Saigon

617

889

832

689

999

937

 Hue

67

94

89

73

106

99

 Nha Trang

355

511

479

397

574

539

 Fares from

 Nha Trang  to:

Soft seat

Hard sleeper

Soft sleeper

air-con

air-con

lower berth

air-con

middle berth

air-con

top berth

air-con

lower berth

air-con

upper berth

 Hanoi

806

1181

1106

919

1327

1246

 Saigon

297

469

439

364

536

494

 Danang

355

511

479

397

574

539

 Hue

414

577

541

449

649

609

Tickets & reservations...

Do I need a reservation?  Can I stop off?  Can I buy an open ticket and hop on & off?

  • Yes, yes, no...  You cannot buy an open ticket and hop on and off trains at random, as all trains require a reservation.  All tickets come printed with a specific date, train number, car number and reserved seat or berth number.  So you need a separate ticket for each individual train journey you make.  If you want to travel from Saigon to Hanoi (or vice versa) stopping off on the way, no problem, you simply need to book a series of separate tickets, one for each leg of the journey, either bought in advance or bought at the station as you go along.

Do I need to book in advance?  Do trains get fully booked?

  • Booking opens 60 days before departure, sometimes more than 90 days before departure, for the end-to-end journey, for example Hanoi to Saigon on trains SE1 or SE3.  Shorter segments of the journey - for example Hanoi to Hue to Nha Trang to Saigon on the SE1 or SE3 - open later, with the really short hops only opening a week or two ahead.

  • At peak holiday periods such as Tet (Vietnamese new year, in late January or February) you should definitely pre-book as soon as booking opens, but at other times it's not usually difficult to buy tickets at the station a few days in advance if you're not too fussy about the exact date, train or class.  If you are booking for the same day or the following day, you might find the best quality SE trains full, but other slower trains may have berths available, or perhaps you'll find the soft sleepers full, but hard sleepers still available, so be prepared to be flexible.  However, you're unlikely to get stuck as there's usually something available to your destination even at fairly short notice. 

  • If it's mission-critical to be on a specific train on a certain date in a certain class, I recommend paying the small amount extra to pre-book tickets online through 12Go.Asia or www.baolau.com, as shown below.

Can I buy all 4 berths in a soft sleeper to have a compartment to ourselves?

  • Privacy-loving westerners often ask this - even though they'll happily sleep with 300 strangers on a long haul flight.  Yes, you can pay for 4 tickets for sole occupancy of a 4-berth soft sleeper if you really want to, but you may need to politely but firmly repulse any attempt by other passengers to join you, or by staff to allocate passengers to your spare beds.  My advice is don't bother, you'll be safe and comfortable sharing a 4-berth soft sleeper and might meet some Vietnamese people this way, rather than sitting in isolation.

 

Buy tickets from Baolau...

 

How to buy tickets online...

Option 1, buy online from www.baolau.com - recommended...

  • Train & bus booking agency www.baolau.com offers easy online booking in plain English with international credit cards accepted.  The availability shown by Baolau is 'live' and seats are instantly confirmed.  In most cases you simply print your own tickets.  Feedback has been very positive, further feedback is always welcome.

  • NEW IN 2017:  Baolau's system now allows you to choose your exact seats or berths from a seating plan graphic, as long as you're booking more than 72 hours ahead.  This works for all regular Vietnam Railways seats & sleepers although not for the privately-run sleepers.

  • Baolau charge the official Vietnamese Railways price + 40,000 dong  ($1.80) service fee per ticket + 2.7% of the price (perhaps $1.40 per ticket for Hanoi-Hue, for example) for online credit card payment.

  • You will be emailed an e-ticket which you can either print out or keep on your smartphone to show when boarding the train.  It's now really easy, as for regular Vietnamese Railways trains there is no need to collect tickets or have them sent anywhere, just show your e-ticket.

  • Children under 6 free, aged 6 to 9 get 25% off berth prices, 50% off seat prices, 10 and over full price.

  • If your credit card is rejected, don't assume it's Baolau that's the problem.  They accept all cards from all countries, but your own bank may be blocking a Vietnamese transaction so call them.

  • By default, they'll put all your party together in the same compartment, except where that's not possible if for example there are only a handful of berths left on the train.

  • Private sleepers on key routes:  As well as the regular Vietnamese Railways cars, Baolau also sells tickets for Violette & Livitrans on the Hanoi-Hue-Danang route, for Livitrans & Golden Trains on the Saigon-Nha Trang route, and for Fansipan, Orient Express, Sapaly, King Express, Chapa Express & Victoria Express on the Hanoi-Lao Cai route.

www.baolau.com now lets you choose your exact seats or berths from a graphic like this so you can see what's available and make sure you'll all be in in the same compartment together.  This works for most Vietnamese Railways seats & sleepers booked >72 hours in advance, although not for privately-run sleepers such as Livitrans or Violette.  <72 hours and their staff will allocate berths but you can still choose upper or lower and they'll still make sure you're all together if that's possible.

 
Powered by 12Go Asia system

Option 2, buy online from 12Go.Asia - also recommended...

  • 12Go.Asia provides an excellent service for booking train tickets in Thailand & Malaysia and now they sell train tickets for Vietnam too.  They show 'live' availability of seats & berths, booking confirmation is instant and international credit cards are accepted.

  • 12go sells tickets for both regular Vietnamese Railways trains and many privately-run cars such as Livitrans, Violette, Fansipan, Orient Express and Golden Trains.

  • Bookings can only be made when Vietnamese Railways open reservations.  For longer distances this is usually 60 days ahead but may be only a week or two for shorter hops.  So if the train you want is labelled unavailable either come back later or try another train if it's within 60 days of travel.  Livitrans & Golden Trains reservations may open further ahead.  Use the 12Go.Asia booking form here 

  • 12Go.Asia charge the official Vietnamese Railways price plus around 60,000 dong ($2.70) service fee per ticket plus around 4% of the price (perhaps $3 per ticket for Hanoi-Hue, for example) for online credit card payment.

  • You will be emailed an e-ticket which you can either print out or keep on your smartphone to show when boarding the train.  It's now really easy, as for regular Vietnamese Railways trains there is no need to collect tickets or have them sent anywhere, just show your e-ticket!

  • Children under 6 go free with no ticket required, unless you want to give them their own berth.  Children under 10 get 25% off berth prices or 50% off seat prices.  Children 10 & over pay full price.

  • If your credit card is rejected, don't assume it's 12go that's the problem.  They accept all cards from all countries, but your own bank may be blocking a Vietnamese transaction, so call them.

  • By default, they'll put all your party together in the same compartment, except where that's not possible if for example there are only a handful of berths left on the train.

Option 3, order online from these reliable travel agencies.

If you want to pre-book some or all of your trains before you get to Vietnam, you can also  order tickets through one of these reliable Vietnamese train booking agencies.  They naturally charge a fee or mark-up for their service, but it's worth it to be sure of a ticket for your first choice of date, train and class.

  • VietnamImpressive: www.vietnamimpressive.com would be my first choice.  They're a reliable Hanoi-based agency which specialises in train bookings and has the Vietnamese Railways ticketing system installed in their offices.  They get regular glowing reports from seat61 correspondents.  Indeed, I have used them myself and seen their offices in Hanoi, and met their MD.  They answer emails promptly and are very helpful.  For a typical Hanoi to Hué soft sleeper ticket they charge $51 (£33), which equates to a handling fee of about $14 (£9) over the ticket office price of 748,000 dong, which includes delivery to any hotel in Vietnam.  If you pay securely online by credit card via Onepay there's an additional 3% credit card charge.

  • International Rail Australia:  If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Asia or Africa, you can order Vietnamese train tickets using the contact & booking form at www.internationalrail.com.au.  This is a reliable Melbourne-based train specialist who can arrange tickets for you through their contacts in Vietnam.  They charge around Aus$66 (US$69) for a soft sleeper from Hanoi to Hue, Aus$48 (US$50) from Saigon to Nha Trang.  Book at least 7-10 days before travel to allow them to turn around your booking.

Option 4, buy online from Vietnamese Railways, but your credit card won't work.

  • Vietnamese Railways launched online booking at www.dsvn.vn in November 2014 (DSVN = Duong Sat Viet Nam = Vietnamese Railways).  It's now available in English, click the UK flag top right.  However, although in theory it takes MasterCard or Visa it so far only accepts Vietnamese-issued credit cards.  Further feedback appreciated.

  • How to use www.dsvn.vn:  If you want to have a go or just check train times & prices, go to www.dsvn.vn, click the UK flag for English and use the journey planner in the usual way.  In the search results, select a train, select a carriage with the class you want, and select an exact seat or berth and click to buy.  Soft sleepers are shown as a side view with 4 beds (two upper, two lower) in each compartment, hard sleepers are also shown as a side view with 6 berths per compartment, upper middle & lower.  Seats are shown as a top-down view with two-abreast seats either side of a centre aisle - it's obvious if you think about it.  You may need to fake a Vietnamese mobile phone number with a +84 country code if it rejects your real one.  But the problem remains that it almost certainly won't accept your non-Vietnamese credit card.

  • If you don't succeed in using the DSVN online system, try the new Baolau booking system explained below which shows 'live' seat & berth availability and accepts all international credit cards.

  • Remember that the official Vietnamese Railways website is www.vr.com.vn and their official online sales site is www.dsvn.vn.  vietnamrailways.net, vietnam-railway.com, vietnamrailway.com are not Vietnamese Railways themselves but travel agencies pretending to be.

How to buy tickets at the station...

It's easy to buy train tickets at the station when you get to Vietnam.  Trains are busy, but except at peak holiday times such as Tet, if you book a day or two ahead you'll usually find tickets available, even if your first choice of class or train is sold out.  Reservations were computerised in 2002, and you can buy tickets for most train journeys within Vietnam at Saigon and Hanoi booking offices.  So for example, you can buy both a Saigon-Hue ticket and a Hue-Hanoi ticket in Saigon.  However, at other stations such as Hue, Danang or Nha Trang, you may only be able to book journeys starting at the station you're at.  At ticket offices, you pay in Vietnamese Dong, US dollars are not generally accepted, nor are non-Vietnamese credit cards.

Tip:  If you have internet access such as hotel WiFi, see for yourself what trains & classes are available on the Vietnamese Railways website www.dsvn.vn.  Then book online, selecting the option to collect tickets & pay at the station within 24 hours.  You can then choose an exact seat or berth from a carriage plan, and it avoids long conversations at the ticket counter about what trains & classes remain available and hurried decisions about which to choose.

...buying tickets at the station in Hanoi

At Hanoi main station on Le Duan Street, enter by the main doors and turn left into the booking office.  Press a button on the box at the entrance (visible in the right-hand photo below on the right) to get a numbered queuing ticket.  Take a seat, and watch the illuminated board above the ticket counters (at top right in the photo) to see which counter to go to when your number comes up.

Incidentally, the ugly concrete central section of an otherwise attractive French colonial station is the result of American bombs which flattened this part of the station on 21 December 1972...

Hanoi railway station   Hanoi station ticket office

...buying tickets at the station in Saigon

At Saigon station, the smaller downstairs ticket office (shown below, centre picture) is for travel today and now also seems to handle advance bookings too.  There is a larger ticket office is upstairs, but recent reports suggest this is now only handling booking changes.  A numbered queuing system may be in operation, so look out for it.  Press the button and take a ticket from the small box at the entrance to the ticket office, take a seat and watch the screens which will show you which counter to go to when your number comes up.  Feedback on ticket purchase in Saigon is always appreciated!

Tip:  If you don't mind a 50,000 dong ($2.50) fee per ticket, buying at the city centre ticket agency at 275C Pham Ngu Lao saves you going to the station.  It's open 08:00-17:00 every day.  It can be tricky to spot, see the photo below on the far right.

Saigon railway station   Saigon station ticket office   The train booking office in central Saigon

Useful Vietnamese words...

Ngòi or Ghé = seat. 

Năm or Giuòng = sleeper berth.

Mèm = soft class

Cúng = hard class.

Dièu Hòa (ÐH) = air-conditioned.

Toa = coach, carriage.

 

Ga = Station, as in the French 'Gare'.

Giò tau = train times. Giá Vé = ticket prices.

T1, T2, T3 = Tang 1, Tang 2, Tang 3 = lower, middle or upper berths.

K6 = 6-berth hard sleeper compartment. 

K4 = 4-berth soft sleeper compartment.  K=khoang = compartment.

Toan vé = Full price (adult fare with no discounts)

Luggage & bikes...

You take your bags - of whatever size - onto the train with you and store them near your seat or berth, so you have access to them throughout the journey.  Bikes and even motorbikes can be carried on Vietnamese trains, for a fee.  You take your bike or motorbike to the luggage office, pay the fee and hand it in.  If it's a motorbike, the fuel tank must be drained and empty.  They'll put a label on your bike and give you a receipt.  You go and travel on the train yourself as normal.  At the other end you collect your bike from the station luggage office.

What are Vietnamese trains like?

Air-conditioned soft sleepers...

Most western visitors choose to travel in a soft sleeper.  Soft sleeper compartments have 4 berths, each supplied with pillow, sheet and duvet and an individual reading light.  By day you simply sit on the lower berths.  Expect even the newer cars to be a bit tatty and grubby by western standards as they are intensively used, but overall soft sleeper is a pleasant and enjoyable way to travel, especially on the best trains, SE1/2/3/4.  You keep all your bags with you, there is luggage space beneath the bottom bunks and in the large recess above the compartment door.  Lower berths are recommended if you're tall, as the upper berth has a support chain taking up an inch or two at each end.  The most modern cars used on the trains SE1 to SE8 have a 2-pin power socket for recharging your mobile or camera, and you'll find a western-style toilet usually kept supplied with soap and toilet paper at one or both ends of the corridor.  Several windows on the corridor side open, useful for photography, but the compartment windows don't open.  There's a free water dispenser at the end of the corridor for both boiling and cold water, handy if you have bought some powdered soup, instant coffee or hot chocolate with you, or have bought some dried noodles from one of the stalls at the station.  A trolley service comes down the train serving snacks, coffee, soft drinks and beer, and at meal times a member of the train staff will sell you a meal ticket for around 35,000 dong (£1 or $1.60).  A set meal with mineral water will then be delivered to your compartment around half an hour later from the kitchen car.  At night, you'll find a lock and usually an additional security lock on the door.  Between Hanoi, Hué & Danang, also see this section about the privately-run Livitrans sleeping-car, which is a cut above the regular Vietnamese Railways sleepers.

Update: Trains SE3 & SE4 received smartly-refurbished carriages in January 2015, allegedly with free WiFi.  Trains SE5, SE6, SE7 & SE8 got similar refurbished cars in January 2016.  Trains SE1 & SE2 were also re-equipped with these '5-star' carriages in mid-2016...

Soft sleeper on train SE1   Meal served on train SE3   Soft sleeper car on train SE3 at Dieu Tri

4-berth soft sleeper on train SE1, as laid out when boarding...

 

A hot meal served in your sleeper from the kitchen car for around £1 or $2...

 

Train SE3 from Hanoi to Saigon.  SE3/4 was painted blue, unlike other trains, before refurbishment.  Duong Sat Viet Nam = Vietnam Railways.

Train SE1 at Danang   Relaxing in a soft sleeper on train SE3   Power socket in soft sleeper on train SE3

Train SE1 from Hanoi to Saigon at Danang.  Note the number on the coach side, Toa 11 means car number 11...

 

Relaxing in a soft sleeper on Hanoi-Saigon train SE3...

 

A 2-pin power socket for mobile or camera.

Air-conditioned hard sleepers...

If the soft sleepers are full, or if you're in a group of 5 or 6 people, there's no reason why you shouldn't travel hard sleeper, especially if it's an overnight journey such as Hanoi to Hue with relatively little daytime element so you'll spend most of the time in your berth.  Hard sleeper compartments have 6 berths, lower, middle and top on each side, but apart from the extra two berths, the facilities are exactly the same as for soft sleepers in terms of power sockets, water dispenser, toilets, luggage space and meals.

6-berth hard sleeper on train SE1   Train SE1 at Hanoi   Refreshment trolley!

6-berth hard sleeper...

 

Boarding train SE1 from Hanoi to Hue, Danang & Saigon.

 

Refreshment trolley!

Air-conditioned soft seats...

These can be recommended for daytime journeys such as Hue to Danang or Hanoi to Vinh, but for overnight trips always book a soft or hard sleeper so you can sleep properly.  In the most modern cars used on the SE-numbered trains, you'll find power sockets in the wall for charging mobiles or cameras.

Air-conditioned soft seats on train SE3   Air-con soft seats car on train SE1 at Hanoi

Soft seats on train SE3...

 

A soft seats car on train SE1 at Hanoi.

Air-conditioned hard seats...

These have wooden seats in modern air-conditioned cars.  A bit hard on the rear for a long journey, but perfectly acceptable for a few hours.

Air-con hard seats car on train SE5 at Hanoi   Air-conditioned hard seats

Air-conditioned hard seats car on train SE5 at Hanoi...

 

Air-conditioned hard seats...

Ordinary hard seats...

Wooden seats in much older cars without air-con.  However, these cars have windows that open, which can be an advantage for photography. The photos below show an ordinary hard seats car on train LC3 from Hanoi to Lao Cai, similar cars operate on trains LC4, TN1 & TN2.

Ordinary hard seats on train LC3 from Hanoi to Lao Cai   Ordinary hard seats caron train LC3 from Hanoi to Lao Cai

Livitrans & Violette private sleeping-cars, Hanoi to Hue & Danang...

Two privately-run sleeping-cars are attached to SE1/SE2 between Hanoi, Hue and Danang, aimed at foreign tourists.  One is run by Livitrans, the other by Violette.  These cars have 4-berth air-con soft sleeper compartments similar to the regular Vietnamese Railways (DSVN) soft sleepers but with upgraded on-board service provided by the private companies.  You can book 4 places to have sole or dual occupancy on a whole 4-berth compartment if you like.  Both companies are good with very little to choose between them, as their prices and sleeper compartments are virtually identical.  Feedback & current photos would be appreciated.

Most of the tourists in these Livitrans cars leave or join the train at Hué, leaving you with little competition for the handful of opening windows in the corridor to photograph the superb scenery along the coast and over the Hai Van Pass between Hué and Danang.

Note that at busy times, for example Tet & high summer, these Livitrans & Violette cars may run attached to trains SE5/SE6 instead of SE1/SE2, so check when booking.

Fares:  Livitrans & Violette charge similar or even identical fares:  Around US$75 one-way per person from Hanoi to Hue or US$85 Hanoi to Danang, travelling in 4-berth air-conditioned soft sleepers.

How to buy tickets:  You can easily book Livitrans or Violette tickets online at either www.baolau.com or 12Go.Asia  - just look for the Livitrans or Violette logos rather than VR logo in the search results.

The Man in Seat 61 says, :Livitrans and Violette now use exactly the same smartly-refurbished '5-star' air-con soft sleepers that Vietnamese Railways (DSVN) themselves use on the SE1/2/3/4 trains, but charge twice the price.  So if you're on a budget you might as well stick with the regular DSVN soft sleepers.  The difference is in the on-board service such as curtains, table lamps, bespoke bedding, complimentary bottled water & snacks and so on, and of course the companies staff the sleepers with their own people.  You'll be travelling with fellow westerners in these tourist sleepers rather than real Vietnamese travellers, which you might see as an advantage or disadvantage depending on your point of view..."

4-berth sleeper in the private Livitrans sleeping-car from Hanoi to Hue & Danang   4-berth sleeper in the private Viollete sleeping-car from Hanoi to Hue & Danang

A rather nice Livitrans 4-berth soft sleeperPhotos courtesy of www.baolau.com.

 

Violette 4-berth soft sleeper.  If you look closely, it's identical to Livitrans, apart from the added features such as bedding.


Golden Trains, Saigon to Nha Trang...

The privately-run Golden Trains sleeping-car is a cut above the regular Vietnamese railways sleepers between Saigon (HCMC) and the beach resorts of Nha Trang.  It runs attached to the regular SNT1/SNT2 overnight train, see the timetable above.  It is similar to the Livitrans & Violette 4-berth sleepers shown above.

How to buy tickets:  You can buy Golden Trains tickets at www.baolau.com or 12Go.Asia - look for the Golden Trains logo rather than the VR logo in the search results.


Watch the video:  Hanoi to Hue, Danang & Saigon in just 9 minutes...

This 9-minute video shows the 1,079 mile journey from Hanoi to Hue, Danang & Saigon on trains SE1 and SE3, showing the scenery, the food, the Livitrans sleeper from Hanoi to Danang and the regular DSVN soft sleeper from Danang to Saigon.  The video was made before the SE1 & SE3 were re-equipped with the smartly-refurbished cars in 2015 & 2016.


Sponsored links...


Hoi An

How to reach UNESCO-listed Hoi An...

Hoi An is a historic must-see town featuring on most visitor's itineraries, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hội_An.

Hoi An is 30 km south of Danang, but has no station of its own.  See location map.  To reach it, first take a train to Danang, see the Reunification Line section above.  Then take a local bus, minibus or taxi from Danang to Hoi An taking 45-60 minutes.  .

A taxi from Danang station to Hoi An costs around 300,000 dong (US$13) depending on your negotiation skills.  There are always taxis waiting.

Bus 01 runs every 20 minutes between 05:00 & 17:30 every day, fare 17,000 dong.  To take the bus, leave Danang station, cross the square and go into Hoang Hoa Tham road. At the next intersection, turn left into Le Duan road.  The bus stop will be on your right (next to house number 299, possibly temporarily moved to outside house 151), indicated by a blue bus sign (See location map).  Bus number 1 is coloured yellow & runs to Hoi An every 20-30 minutes.  Board through the back door and take a seat.  The conductor will come through to collect your fare.  Have a 20,000 dong note handy as he won’t give change - the official price in January 2016 is 17,000 dong.  Smile and ignore any further requests for money as there is no difference in ticket price for locals and tourists.  The bus reaches Hoi An bus station in about 1 hour, you can walk the remaining 2 km to Hoi An town centre.  Further feedback always appreciated.


Hanoi - Lao Cai & Sapa

Take the Slow Train to Sapa...

Sapa is a hill station established by the French in 1922, and its beautiful scenery and colourful local tribal people make it a popular stop on many visitors' itineraries.  The best way to get there is to take the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, then transfer the final 38 km (24 miles) from Lo Cai to Sapa by bus, car or taxi.  There are both daytime and overnight sleeper trains between Hanoi & Lao Cai, and on the sleeper trains you can use a regular Vietnamese Railways soft or hard sleeper or choose from a whole range of privately-run sleeping-cars of a higher standard aimed at tourists.  The line from Hanoi to Lao Cai was built by the French and opened in 1910 as part of the metre-gauge Vietnam to Kunming railway.  The Lao Cai to Kunming section was destroyed landslides in 2002, but onward train travel from Lao Cai to Kunming is once again possible on a new standard-gauge railway opened in 2014, see the Hanoi to Kunming section below.  Hanoi to Lao Cai is 296 km (185 miles).  The timetables shown below are compiled from the online timetables on Vietnamese Railways websites www.vr.com.vn & www.gahanoi.com.vn (in Vietnamese only).  Click here for a Vietnamese Railways route map.

Train timetable...

 Hanoi ► Lao Cai (for Sapa)

 

 Lao Cai ► Hanoi

  Every day:

LC3

SP7

SP1

SP3

 Every day:

LC4

SP8

SP2

SP4

 Hanoi

depart 

06:10

20:17

21:40

22:00

 Lao Cai

depart

09:50

13:50

20:15

21:05

 Lao Cai

arrive

16:00

04:35

05:30

06:10

 Hanoi

arrive

20:15

20:50

04:20

05:09

SP1 & SP2:  Recommended train with very few stops.  Conveys Vietnamese Railways air-con soft sleepers, air-con hard sleepers, air-con hard seats.  This train also conveys various privately-run sleeping-cars for tourists, including Fanxipan, King, Ratraco, Orient Express, Livitrans, Royal, TSC, Tulico, Pumpkin and several others, see the tourist sleeper section below.

SP3 & SP4:  Recommended train with only a few stops.  Conveys Vietnamese Railways air-con soft sleepers & air-con soft seats.  Much of this train consists of privately-run sleeping-cars including the Sapaly Express, Chapa Trans, VNExpress, Green Express, and the Victoria Express Train, see the tourist sleeper section below.

SP7, SP8:  Runs at peak periods only.  Conveys normal Vietnamese Railways air-con soft sleepers, air-con hard sleepers, air-con soft seats.

LC3, LC4:  Daytime train.  Many wooden-seated non-air-con hard seats cars plus one air-conditioned soft seats car.  Tea, coffee, snacks available on board.

How much does it cost?

Here are the fares are for the normal Vietnam Railways carriages.  Prices for the privately-run tourist sleeping-cars are shown in the next section

 One-way in 000 dong.

Hard seat

Soft seat

Hard sleeper

Soft sleeper

ordinary

air-con

air-con

air-con

air-con

 Hanoi to Lao Cai by SP overnight train

-

135

180

295

400

 Hanoi to Lao Cai by LC3/LC4 daytime train

116

-

144

-

-

£1 = approx 27,000 Dong.  $1 = 21,500 Dong. 

Children aged 0 to 4 travel free, children 5 to 9 get 25% off.  Children 10 & over pay full fare.

Upper berths in fact cost slightly less than lower berths, but for simplicity only one price per class is shown above.

Which station in Hanoi?  

  • The trains to Lao Cai depart from platforms 5 to 10 of Hanoi's main railway station.  However, in most cases these platforms are not accessed from the main 'A' station building on Le Duan street, but from the 'B' station building on Tran Quay Cap street on the far side of the tracks.  The 'B' station has its own ticket office, waiting room and check-in desks for the various private sleeper carriages to Lao Cai, including the Victoria Express train and Orient Express.  Make sure your taxi driver knows it's the 'B' station on Tran Quay Cap street that you want.  In theory you can enter the main 'A' station and walk across the tracks on the wooden barrow crossing linking all the platforms, but the doors from the main station building onto platform 1 are normally kept locked unless a train to the south is boarding, so you may not be able to do this unless you can persuade a member of staff to let you through.

  • Exception:  It's now reported that the check-in and voucher exchange desks for the Livitrans and Fanxipan carriages are at the 'A' station on Le Duan street, and passengers are let onto the platforms from that side of the tracks.  Map of Hanoi showing stations.

How to buy tickets online...

  • Buy tickets online at either 12Go.Asia or www.baolau.com.  These are two reliable train & bus booking agencies, see the section above.  You usually print your own ticket.

  • 12Go.Asia or www.baolau.com sell tickets for the regular Vietnamese Railways sleepers and also for the privately-run sleeping-cars operated by Fansipan, Orient Express, Sapaly (three of the best companies, see below), King Express, Chapa Express & Victoria Express.

  • www.baolau.com now lets you select your exact seats or berths from a plan showing which seats & berths are available, so you can make sure you're all in the same compartment together.  This feature works for Vietnamese Railways seats & sleepers (but not the privately-run sleepers) as long as you book more than 72 hours ahead.

How to buy tickets at the station...

  • You can buy your ticket at the station when you get to Vietnam, assuming you want tickets for the regular Vietnamese Railways seats or sleepers, not tickets for the high-quality tourist sleepers.  Tickets to Lao Cai can be bought either at Hanoi's main station ticket office (the easiest to reach), or at the 'B' station on the far side of the tracks which has its own ticket office.  Apart from peak holiday periods such as Tet (Vietnamese new year, in late January or early February), it's not difficult to book a soft sleeper a few days in advance, especially if you can be a bit flexible over your exact choice of train or departure date.  At ticket offices, you pay in Vietnamese Dong, US dollars are not generally accepted.  If you're sure of your itinerary and it's important to be on a specific train on a specific date, then you can pre-book by email with a travel agency as shown below.

  • Traveller Rob Damen travelled from Hanoi to Lao Cai and back:  "We just went to Hanoi station 2.5 hours before departure and had no problem buying tickets.  We bought them at the small ticket window in the waiting area, for the price stated on the boards at the station.  Our train arrived about 45 minutes before departure so we had plenty of time to get comfy in our beds. Back from Lao Cai to Hanoi we took the daytime train and we were able to arrange soft seats.  In order to get the correct tickets I used your shortlist of Vietnamese words and made a note that I gave to the lady at the ticket window. She looked a bit surprised but she got the message so we got two soft seats for 168,000 dong each.  The ride took 11 hours which was quite long and we had a lot of young children in the coach so it was rather noisy.  The views from the train are not spectacular but that was ok, as we passed time playing games like yahtzee and some card games.  We arrived right on time at Hanoi Station.

  • Traveller Jens Kupsch travelled on the daytime LC4 train:  "We crossed the border from China around 07:30, and bought tickets to Hanoi on train LC4 at Lao Cai station about an hour ahead of departure.  It didn't seem to be a problem."

Arranging a transfer from Lao Cai to Sapa...

  • Lao Cai to Sapa is about 38 km (24 miles) and the road journey takes about 50 minutes by bus, shared minibus taxi or private car on a scenic winding road up into the hills.  If you have pre-booked a hotel the best idea might be to ask them to arrange your transfer.  But don't worry if you don't have a transfer arranged, on arrival at Lao Cai you'll be besieged by offers of a transfer to Sapa by minibus or taxi.

  • A ticket for the regular bus from Lao Cai to Sapa costs around 28,000 dong ($1.50).  These red-and-yellow buses leave regularly from the top of the car park outside the station, next to the big sign giving times & prices.

  • Alternatively, a seat in a shared minibus taxi costs about 50,000 dong ($2.50) per person, or a private car about US$25 per vehicle. 

  • On the way back, the shared minibus taxis all leave from outside the Sapa church, running to no fixed schedule, just filling up with passengers and leaving when full.  You'll need to leave Sapa around 17:00-17:30 to meet the trains, to allow for any delays on the road down.  Or you can arrange a transfer back to Lao Cai direct from your hotel, ask at reception.

The train to Lao Cai & Sapa in pictures...

Hanoi 'B' station   Soft sleeper, as used on SP trains to Lao Cai for Sapa

Hanoi 'B' station on the far side of the tracks from Hanoi main ('A') station, accessed from Tran Quay Cap street.  In the evening the B station comes alive as several busy sleeper trains carrying both Vietnamese and western tourists head north to Lao Cai...

 

4-berth soft sleeper as used on trains SP1/2, SP3/4.  See the section above for more info.

Scenery on the road transfer from Lao Cai to Sapa   Sapa church

Scenery on the road journey from Lao Cai up to Sapa...

 

Sapa church...

Soft seats car on train LC3 from Hanoi to Lao Cai   Air-conditioned soft seats on train LC3 from Hanoi to Lao Cai

This is the daytime train to Lai Cai, the LC3, about to leave Hanoi in the early morning.  This is the one air-conditioned soft seat car on the train.  A Vietnamese Railways attendant is in charge of each car, and you'll find beer, soft drinks and food sold by vendors.

Hanoi to Sapa by tourist sleeping-car: Fanxipan, Sapaly Express, King, Livitrans, Orient Express, Tulico, Ratraco, TSC, Friendly, Royal, Hara...

  • In addition to the regular Vietnamese Railways (Duong Sat Viet Nam = DSVN) sleepers & seats, overnight trains SP1/2/3/4 between Hanoi & Lao Cai convey a bewildering range of privately-run sleeping-cars aimed at tourists.  Before forking out $34 for a bed in a privately-run sleeper rather than $18 for a bed in a regular Vietnamese Railways air-con soft sleeper, read the advice below...

  • All these private operators offer berths in shared 4-berth soft sleeper compartments.  A few also offer berths in 2-berth sleeper compartments, which basically means a 4-berth compartment with the two upper berths unused, for more or less double the price.  If the allocation of 2-berth compartments has sold out you can simply pay for all 4 berths in a 4-berth, the price is pretty much the same.

  • The privately-run sleepers all have air-conditioning, fresh clean bedding, complimentary mineral water and (in some cases) snacks, and clean western-style toilets.  These private sleepers are all very comfortable, just remember that this is still Vietnam with Vietnamese standards, you'll enjoy the trip more if you don't turn up with unrealistic expectations of 5-star western-style luxury for $35!  Most of these private tourist sleeping-cars run attached to train SP1/SP2, though one or two (notably Sapaly) are attached to SP3/SP4.

  • Is paying more for a privately-run sleeper worth it? 

    Until about 2015, the various private sleeping-cars had remodelled interiors a cut above the regular Vietnamese Railways (DSVN) soft sleepers, and some were nicer than others.  For example, many had smartly wood-panelled interiors instead of the dated formica in DSVN's own sleepers.  And the private cars were all painted in the operator's own colours and branding, which made for a colourful train.

    But in 2015 DSVN replaced its own cars with more modern air-conditioned sleeping-cars and revoked the operating licences for the private operators' remodelled older cars.  The private operators have had to lease the new type of DSVN sleeping-car, with interiors exactly the same as those now used by DSVN themselves, see the photos below.  And the private car exteriors are now painted in the same red white & blue colours as DSVN's own cars.  No more private branding, other than a sticker in the window stating who operates the car.

    So has that sunk in?  If you pay $33 for a bed in a privately-run sleeper, you get exactly the same type of compartment with exactly the same décor as if you had paid $18 to travel in a regular Vietnamese Railways soft sleeper.

    So what's the difference?  The private cars are staffed by the operator's own staff.  There's usually a vase of flowers on the table, and some small complimentary bottles of water.  Bedding is provided by the operator, so may be branded and maybe a bit better than the regular bedding in the DSVN cars.  Of course, you'll end up travelling with other western tourists rather than actual Vietnamese people, which you may consider an advantage or disadvantage depending on your point of view.  And the private cars may be kept slightly cleaner than the regular cars.

    To quote one recent traveller, "I had a good look at both the SP3 & SP1. The tourist cars were easily identified because of the vase of plastic flowers and the complimentary bottles of water. But for all of them, everything else was identical to the VR [=DSVN] soft sleeper cars – cabin, bunks, sheets, pillows, etc."

  • Which private operator should you choose?  As all the car interiors and exteriors are now identical, there's not a huge amount to choose between the various different private operators other than price - which is also pretty similar between operators - and the 'extras' each operator claims to offer, which frankly are also pretty much the same.

  • How much does it cost?  A bed in a privately-run sleeper typically costs $34-$36 one-way in a shared 4-berth sleeper or $70-$79 per person for travel in a 2-berth sleeper.  However, the best operators are usually acknowledged to be Fanxipan and Orient Express (both on train SP1/2) and Sapaly Express (on train SP3/4).  If you use one of these private sleepers, feedback is always appreciated.

  • Can I buy all 4 berths in a compartment to have a room to ourselves?  Yes, if you insist, if the very few compartments allocated for 2-berth occupancy are sold out as they often are.  But meeting fellow tourists and talking over a beer into the night is great fun.  Would I recommend paying double to miss all the fun and sit in glorious isolation?  No!

  • How to buy tickets:  You can book Fanxipan, Orient Express, Sapaly, King Express, Chapa Express & Livitrans online at www.baolau.com or at 12Go.Asia, two reliable train & bus ticketing agencies, see the section above.  Just run an enquiry between Hanoi and Lao Cai, then look for the logos in the search results.

    If you're already in Vietnam, you can book these tourist sleepers via local travel agencies, but not at the station, although there's a ticket window for the Ratraco sleepers to Lao Cai in the ticket hall at the 'B' station.

4-berth sleeper in the private Livitrans sleeping-car from Hanoi to Hue & Danang   4-berth sleeper in the private Viollete sleeping-car from Hanoi to Hue & Danang

A rather nice Livitrans 4-berth soft sleeperPhotos courtesy of www.baolau.com.

 

Violette 4-berth soft sleeper.  Look closely - it's identical to Livitrans, apart from features such as bedding.

The Victoria Express train...

This is a cut above the other tourist trains, in fact it's the most luxurious way to reach Sapa with wood-panelled 'orient express' style carriages including a proper dining car on some departures, but you can only use it if you're staying at the luxurious and expensive (but excellent) Victoria Hotel in Sapa.  The train runs daily except Saturdays, consisting of two deluxe sleeping-cars and (on some departures) a restaurant car attached to train SP3/SP4.  Prices around US$140 round trip per person ($160 including meals in the restaurant car) in 4-berth or $220 per person ($250 with meals) in 2-berth.  One-way fares are only about 25% less than returns, so buy a return ticket if you're coming back to Hanoi.  See www.victoriahotels.asia/en/victoria-express-train for details.  The hotel can arrange a shuttle bus or private car transfer from the station.

The Victoria Express train from Hanoi to Lao Cai   Victoria Express train, VIP 2-berth sleeper   Victoria Express train, 4-berth sleeper

The Victoria Express train to Lao Cai for Sapa...

 

VIP 2-berth sleeper...

 

Standard 4-berth sleeper...

Watch the video:  Hanoi to Lao Cai by Orient Express...

Note that this shows the earlier wood-panelled incarnation of the Orient Express, before the introduction of the new standard sleeping-cars across all private operators as well as Vietnamese Railways themselves.  But it gives you a good idea of the trip...


Phan Thiet & Miu Ne

Saigon (HCMC) to/from Phan Thiet & Mui Né...      Click for Phan Thiet & Mui Ne map

The seaside resort of Phan Thiet is at the end of a 15km branch line from Binh Thuan, a junction station on the main Saigon-Danang-Hue-Hanoi Reunification line, formerly known as Muong Man.  One or two direct trains run from Saigon to Phan Thiet every day, shown in the timetable below.  When you arrive at Phan Thiet station you'll find plenty of buses & taxis waiting to take you to the popular resort of Mui Né, 24km northeast of Phan Thiet, a 25-30 minute drive.  Alternatively, you can take any mainline train from Saigon to Binh Thuan station and then a taxi to Pan Thiet (15.7km) or Mui Né (38km).  Click for Vietnam train route map.

 Saigon ► Phan Thiet

 

 Phan Thiet ► Saigon

Train number:

SPT2

PT4*

Train number:

SPT1

PT3*

 Saigon station

depart 

06:40

17:40

 Phan Thiet

depart

13:10

22:55

 Bin Thuan

arr/dep

10:02

21:16

 Bin Thuan

arr/dep

13:32

23:13

 Phan Thiet

arrive

10:24

21:36

 Saigon station

arrive

17:14

02:53

* Train PT3/4 only runs on selected holiday dates, you can see if it's running on a given date using www.baolau.com.

Train SPT1/SPT2 has the following classes of seat:

- regular air-con soft seats in a regular car, shown as NML when booking on www.baolau.com.

- regular air-con soft seats in a double-decker car, shown as A2TL when booking on www.baolau.com.

- VIP soft seats, air-con, arranged as around tables for four shown as NML4V when booking on www.baolau.com.

- Premium soft seats car with air-con, reclining seats & USB charging points, see this news item, shown as NML56 on www.baolau.com.

Booking tips:  The regular soft seats car is fine  The double-deck car only opens for booking closer to departure date, and has less space per person that the regular car even though it's the same price.  The NML4V VIP soft seats car fills quickly soon after booking opens, it can be difficult to get seats together if there are several of you.  The premium soft seats car was introduced in Sept 2016, also a good choice.

Bus or taxi connection Phan Thiet station to Mui Né:  Bus number 9 (the red bus) runs from the road outside Phan Thiet station to Mui Né every 20 minutes from 05:30 until 20:00, bus fare 6,000 dong ($0.30)  The bus runs the length of Mui Né stopping at various points all across the resort.  Alternatively, there are plenty of taxis, it's a 25-35 minute drive and will cost in the region of 230,000 dong ($12)

 

 How much does it cost?

 Saigon to Phan Thiet by train

 Air-con regular soft seat 130,000 dong (£5 or $8)

 Air-con VIP deluxe seat 149,000 dong

 Phan Thiet to Mui Ne by bus

 Minimal, but exact fare not known.

 Phan Thiet to Mui Ne by taxi

 Around 250,000 dong (£8 or $13)

How to buy tickets:  Buy tickets at the station or at Saigon's city centre ticket office as shown here or book online at www.baolau.com.

Alternative:  If the times of these trains don't suit you, simply take any mainline train between Saigon & Bin Thuan shown in the main Reunification line timetable above for around 120,000 dong (£4 or $6), then catch a taxi between Bin Thuan & Phan Thiet (15.7km) or Mui Ne (38km), cost to Mui Ne around 500,000 dong (£15 or $24), taxi journey around 1 hour.  You can also book Saigon to Bin Thuan trains at www.baolau.com.

Traveller Andrew Stewart took the train from Phan Thiet back to Saigon and comments:  "It was a nice trip. Much better than the bus that I took to get there. So many roadworks on that road. It took 8hrs and 30mins from Saigon on the bus."

Air-con soft seats car on train SPT1 to Phan Thiet   Air-conditioned soft seats on the train from Saigon to Phan Thiet

Soft seats on train SPT2 from Saigon to Phan Thiet.  Photos courtesy of Molly McCahan...

Bus number 9 from Phan Thiet to Mui Ne   Bus stop at Phan Thiet station

Bus number 9 links Phan Thiet & Mui Né every 20 minutes.  Be prepared for the bus to stop some 20m away from the bus stop sign! Photos courtesy of Alistair Weaver...

Hanoi, Hue or Danang to/from Phan Thiet or Mui Né...


Hanoi - Haiphong & Cat Ba

Hanoi to Haiphong, for ferry to Cat Ba island...   Click for route map

 Hanoi ► Haiphong

 

 Haiphong ► Hanoi

Train number:

HP1

LP3

LP5

LP7

Train number:

LP2

LP6

LP8

HP2

 Hanoi Main station

depart 

06:00

-

15:20

18:27

 Haiphong

depart

06:05

09:05

15:00

18:45

 Hanoi Long Bien station

depart

|

09:20

15:30

18:38

 Hanoi Gia Lam station

arrive

08:28

11:18

17:26

20:56

 Hanoi Gia Lam station

depart

06:16

09:40

15:45

18:54

 Hanoi Long Bien station

arrive

08:36

11:29

17:37

|

 Haiphong

arrive

08:22

12:00

18:00

21:05

 Hanoi Main station

arrive

-

11:37

17:45

21:10

These Hanoi-Haiphong trains have air-conditioned soft seats (see the photo of the poster below advertising travel to Haiphong in these comfortable air-con cars), air-conditioned hard seats, and ordinary hard seats in much older cars.  Hanoi to Haiphong is 102 km (63 miles).

 How much does it cost?

 Hanoi to Haiphong

Air-con soft seat 70,000 dong (£2.50 or $3)

Air-con hard seat 60,000 dong (£.502 or $3)  

Hanoi Long Bien station is 3km northeast of Hanoi main station, immediately south of the huge steel Long Bien bridge over the Red River (which was a target for American bombers on several occasions during the Vietnamese war).  The small road outside the station is only accessible to pedestrians, bicycles and motorbikes, not cars, so if your taxi drops you on the main road by the river, don't worry, it's just a 100 yard walk up the side road and round the bend to the station.  Map of Hanoi showing main & Long Bien stations

How to buy tickets:  Buy tickets locally, at the station.  No advance reservation is necessary.

Ferries to Cat Ba Island:  Hydrofoils take 45 minutes and leave Haiphong ferry terminal at 08:50 & 09:00.  Returning, hydrofoils leave Cat Ba ferry terminal at 06:45 & 15:00.  Alternatively there are ships taking 2 hours, with departures from Haiphong ferry terminal at 06:30 & 12:30.  Returning, the ships leave Cat Ba Island at 05:45 & 12:30.  Simply buy your ferry ticket at the ticket offices at the port, the fare is around 100,000 dong (£4 or $6).  Cat Ba town is a half hour bus ride from where the ships arrive, but the hydrofoils arrive at a pier near Cat Ba town.

Hanoi Long Bien station   Poster advertising trains from Hanoi to Haiphong

Hanoi's Long Bien station, complete with poster advertising the air-conditioned carriages on the Hanoi to Haiphong trains.  Map of Hanoi showing main & Long Bien stations.

The Hanoi to Haiphong express...   Haiphong station

An air-con soft seat car on a Hanoi to Haiphong Express train.  Photo courtesy of Lewis Baston.

 

Haiphong's distinctively French colonial railway station.  Photo courtesy of Lewis Baston.


Hanoi - Halong Bay

The beautiful Halong Bay is on many visitors' lists of Vietnam highlights to visit.  There are two ways to travel there from Hanoi:

Option 1, take a train from Hanoi to Haiphong as shown above, then use local buses between Haiphong and Halong. 

Option 2, a direct train runs between Hanoi and Halong as shown below.  This is a regular Vietnamese Railways train, not a tourist train, although there have been abortive attempts to run a tourist train between Hanoi & Halong in the last few years.  This loss-making regular train was reported in the Vietnamese media as slated for withdrawal in December 2013, but as at September 2016 it's still in operation, a rustic 4-carriage train used by the locals and an experience!  Feedback would be appreciated...

 Hanoi ► Halong

 

 Halong ► Hanoi

Train number:

51502

Train number:

51502

 Hanoi Yen Vien station

depart 

04:55

 Halong

depart

13:40

 Halong

arrive

12:12

 Hanoi Yen Vien station

arrive

21:17

Yen Vien station is in the suburbs of Hanoi, you'll need a taxi given the early start from Hanoi, although buses 10 or 54 run there from Long Bien bus station during the day.  Map showing location of Yen Vien station.

Fare:  70,000 dong (£2.50, $3), hard class seats only.

How to buy tickets:  You can easily check these times & buy tickets online in English at reliable ticketing agency www.baolau.com.

Feedback would be appreciated!

Traveller Matthias Meuller report (December 2016):  "The train runs!  It was one of my best trips ever.  It's a train for women who buy fruits, vegetables, tomatoes, herbs, chicken and so on cheap in the mountains and sell it on at a little market in Halong.  They take the goods by train from Mao Khe to Halong.  No tourists there!  You sit for two hours in the market and they want that you eat, drink, hold their babies.  It's wonderful, yet none of the travel agencies in Hanoi want to believe that this train exists.  I rode back to Hanoi with the train.  It takes 6 hours but it's wonderful, slung in a hammock, talking with the girls from the market, who count their money and play cards.  Buses link central Hanoi with Yen Vien station every 10 minutes."

Traveller Graham Phelan reports (October 2016):  "I took this train in October as I love train travel and didn’t want to take the tourist bus to Halong City - I would do anything to avoid tourists!  I took a taxi in the morning to Yen Vien station from my place in Hanoi, it wasn’t expensive just 166,000 VND (about €7) and cheaper if you’re leaving from Hanoi Old Town.  I was absolutely wrecked getting the morning train so I missed a lot of the landscapes on the way to Halong City but I enjoyed them on the way back!  People have to be aware that this train is not a comfortable train, you have to sit on a wooden seat!  So make sure you bring some entertainment, a small cushion if you can find one, some toilet roll and most importantly food!  This trip showed me the real Vietnam and it was a massive culture shock but I don’t regret it at all.  Also make sure to get your hotel or wherever you’re staying to book a taxi for you at the station as there are absolutely none there. On arrival back into Hanoi buses do run to go to the main city bus station, the cost is 7,000 VND, about €0.25. Or you can just do as I did and find a taxi on the street since they’re so cheap."

Traveller Ferry Quast reports (September 2016):  "Yes, the Hanoi-Halong train is running. It consists of 4 standard-gauge cars.  These cars are some of the oldest I've ever taken.  One had bench seats, the other 3 were empty and aimed at passengers with loads of vegetables and fruit [see the photo below].  For the first 2-3 hours the train was quite busy, but for the rest of the trip we were almost alone on the train.  It was very slow and we think that we never had more than 25 or 30 km/h.  Great experience if you want to get in touch with locals.  In contrast to the train, Ha Long's train station was the newest I've seen in Vietnam.  Reaching downtown Hanoi after arrival in Hanoi Vien Yen station shouldn't be a problem, there are still buses - until 10pm or so as locals told us."

The Hanoi to Halong train   Halong railway station

One of the 3 cargo cars on the Hanoi to Halong train.  Be assured one car does have seats!

 

The very modern Halong station.

Photos courtesy of Ferry Quast.

Seats on the Hanoi-Halong train   Unloading market goods

The seats car...  Courtesy Matthias Mueller.

 

Unloading market goods...  Courtesy Matthias Mueller


 


Hanoi - Nanning & Beijing

A comfortable train service between Hanoi & Nanning, Guilin, Beijing...

There is a safe, comfortable & affordable overnight sleeper train between Beijing & Nanning every day, connecting with an equally safe & comfortable daily sleeper train between Nanning, Guilin & Beijing.  And twice a week, these two trains convey a direct soft sleeping-car between Hanoi and Beijing.  You can also use the Hanoi-Nanning sleeper train in conjunction with direct Nanning-Shanghai or Nanning-Guangzhou (for Hong Kong) trains.  After a brief spell in early 2015 reduced to twice a week, the Hanoi-Nanning train is now back to running every day, and Beijing-Hanoi through cars have been restored, twice a week.

 Beijing, Nanning Hanoi

   

 

 Hanoi ► Nanning, Beijing

Train Z5, runs daily, soft & hard sleepers, restaurant

Through cars:

Train MR1 / T8702, runs daily, soft sleepers only.

Through cars:

 Beijing West

depart

15:45 Day 1

Thur & Sun

 Hanoi Gia Lam station

depart

21:20  Day 1

Tue & Fri

 Guilin 

depart

11:36 Day 2

Fri & Mon

 Dong Dang, Vietnam border

arrive

01:55  day 2

Wed & Sat

 Nanning 

arrive

15:40 Day 2

Fri & Mon

 Dong Dang

depart

02:50  Day 2

Wed & Sat

 Train T8701 / MR2, runs daily.

|      

 Pingxiang, Chinese border

arrive

04:31  Day 2

Wed & Sat

 Nanning 

depart

18:10  Day 2

Fri & Mon

 Pingxiang

depart

06:20  Day 2

Wed & Sat

 Pingxiang, Chinese border

arrive

22:01  Day 2

Fri & Mon

 Nanning

arrive

10:10  Day 2

Wed & Sat

 Pingxiang

depart

22:41  Day 2

Fri & Mon

 Train Z6, runs daily, soft & hard sleepers & restaurant

|      

 Dong Dang, Vietnam border

arrive

23:22  Day 2

Fri & Mon

 Nanning

depart

11:00  Day 2

Wed & Sat

 Dong Dang

depart

01:00  Day 3

Sat & Tues

 Guilin

arrive

14:22  Day 2

Wed & Sat

 Hanoi Gia Lam station

arrive

05:20  Day 3

Sat & Tues

 Beijing West

arrive

09:55  Day 3

Thur & Sun

Beijing to Hanoi is 2,996km or 1,861 miles.  Nanning to Hanoi is 396km.   How to buy tickets.

Gia Lam station is 6km from Hanoi's main station, across the river.  Map of Hanoi showing Gia Lam station.

How much does it cost?

How to buy tickets online...

What's the journey like?

The daily Z-category sleeper train between Beijing & Nanning has air-conditioned 4-berth soft sleepers, air-conditioned hard sleepers and a restaurant car serving freshly-cooked Chinese dishes.  It passes through some excellent scenery in southern China.  Exterior photo courtesy of Nandakumar Narasimhan, interior & scenery photos courtesy of Chris "Mzungu" Holden.

Beijing to Hanoi by train.  This is the Chinese sleeper train between Beijing and Dong Dang.   A soft sleeper on the Chinese train from Beijing to Dong Dang, connecting for Hanoi in Vietnam
Scenery from the train from Beijing to Hanoi   More scenery seen from the train from Beijing to Hanoi

The sleeper train between Nanning & Hanoi... 

This is the Nanning to Hanoi train at Hanoi Gia Lam station.  Below right:  A comfortable 4-berth soft sleeper compartment, with two upper and two lower berths, curtains, fresh clean sheets & pillows, and small table.  Interior photo courtesy of Chris at www.myeggnoodles.com.   More photos of this train here.

The Hanoi to Nanning train   4-berth soft sleeper on the Hanoi to Nanning train

Hanoi Gia Lam station...

Hanoi Gia Lam station   Photo showing the dual gauge tracks at Gia lam station

Hanoi Gia Lam station (see location map) is a tiny suburban station across the river in northern Hanoi, a 20 minute taxi ride from the main station.  Why does the train to Nanning start here?  Its Chinese carriages are standard gauge 4' 8½", as used in Europe, China & North America.  Vietnam's railways are metre gauge, just over 3'.  A third rail has been laid as far as Gia Lam station, making the tracks dual gauge, allowing the Chinese train to run that far but no further.  You can see the three rails in the photo above...

Buying tickets in person in Hanoi...

Buying tickets in person in Beijing...

  Buying your train ticket from Beijing to Hanoi
 

Buying a train ticket to Hanoi in Beijing...  This is the agency in Beijing where Laurent & Chris both bought their train tickets to Hanoi

Buying tickets in person in Nanning...

Travellers reports...

Nanning - Hanoi by bus...


 


Hanoi - Hong Kong by train

Easily done by train...

It's easy to travel between Hanoi & Hong Kong by train with a change of train in Nanning & Guangzhou. You can choose to make the journey in 2 nights & 1 day using the Hanoi-Nanning sleeper train and a Nanning-Guangzhou sleeper train, with a day exploring Nanning in between.  Or you can now make the whole trip in little over 24 hours using the Hanoi-Nanning sleeper train then a modern 300km/h high-speed train to Guangzhou followed by an evening intercity train to Hong Kong.  Whichever option you choose it costs only £70 or $110 or so in total one-way, and it's a genuine overland travel experience.  Remember that you'll need a visa for China, so you'll need to satisfy any return/onward ticket requirements, which is usually more of a logistical headache than the actual travelling.  If you have any more information including fares for travelling via this route, please e-mail me.

Hanoi ► Hong Kong classic option...

Hanoi ► Hong Kong high-speed option...

Hong Kong ► Hanoi classic option...

Hong Kong ► Hanoi high-speed option...

How to buy tickets...

Chinese visas...

What are the trains like?

  4-berth soft sleeper

Above left:  This is the Nanning to Hanoi train.  The Guangzhou to Nanning train is very similar  Above right:  A comfortable 4-berth soft sleeper compartment on the Nanning to Hanoi train, the compartments on the Guangzhou to Nanning train are similar.  It has two upper and two lower berths, curtains, fresh clean sheets & pillows, and small table.  Cheaper hard sleepers are also available.  Interior photo courtesy of  Chris at www.myeggnoodles.com.

Travellers' reports...


Hanoi - Kunming by train

  Hekou to Kunming train in the mountains of Yunnan Province
 

The Hekou to Kunming train passing through the mountains of Yunnan Province.  Photo courtesy of Jan Bockaert.

Kunming to Hanoi train back in action...

There used to be a twice-weekly metre-gauge sleeper train from Kunming in China to Hanoi, but in 2002 floods and landslides damaged the Chinese part of the line and the train was discontinued.  However, a brand new standard-gauge Kunming-Hekou railway line has finally been completed and as of December 2014 trains are once more running between Kunming and the border town of Hekou.  It's now possible once again to travel between Kunming and Hanoi by train, safely, comfortably and affordably, albeit using a Chinese train from Kunming to the Chinese border town of Hekou, then a taxi a few km to the border post, walking across the border and on to Lao Cai station in Vietnam for a Vietnamese sleeper train to Hanoi.  Here's how...

Kunming ► Hanoi

Hanoi ► Kunming

What's the journey like?

For photos of the Hanoi to Lao Cai trains, see the section abovePhotos below courtesy of Jan Bockaert.

Hekou North (Hekoubei) railway station   Boarding the train to Kunming at Hekou North

Hekou North station...

 

Boarding the train to Kunming...

Hard seats on Hekou to Kunming train   Mountains seen from the train to Kunming

Hard class seats...

 

Mountains seen from the Hekou-Kunming train...

Traveller's reports...


Europe to Vietnam overland

  Hanoi, Vietnam:  Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh
 

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum, Hanoi...

Europe to Vietnam by Trans-Siberian Railway...

If you have the time, meaning about two weeks, you can reach Vietnam by train all the way from London. 

There is no one agency who can arrange all the stages of a trip like this, so you will need to plan it and arrange each leg yourself - a small exercise in project management..!  Just follow the advice on each seat61 page to buy tickets for each part of the journey.  Where do you start?  Read through the seat61 pages linked above, then sketch out your itinerary using a simple spreadsheet like this.


Guidebooks

Lonely Planet Vietnam - click to buy onlineLonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring - click to buy onlineRough Guide to Southeast Asia - click to buy onlineLonely Planets or Rough Guides...

Paying for a guidebook may seem an unnecessary expense, but it's a tiny fraction of what you're spending on your whole trip.  You will see so much more, and know so much more about what you're looking at, if you have a decent guidebook.  The best guidebooks for independent travel are the Lonely Planet or Rough Guide.  You won't regret buying one of these guides!

Buy at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com...

Alternatively, you can download just the chapters or areas you need in .PDF format from the Lonely Planet Website, from around £2.99 or US$4.95 a chapter.


Suggested hotels in Vietnam

Hotels in Saigon, Hanoi, Hue or elsewhere in Vietnam...

 

◄◄ Hotel search & price comparison.

www.hotelscombined.com checks all the main hotel booking sites at once to find the widest choice of hotels & the cheapest seller.  It was named as the World's Leading Hotel Comparison Site at the World Travel Awards 2013 and I highly recommend it, both to find hotels in even the smallest places and to check that another retailer isn't selling your hotel for less!

www.booking.com is my favourite booking site.  It's really clear and you can usually book with free cancellation and so confirm your accommodation at no risk months before train booking opens.

You might also want to check Tripadvisor's recommendations:  Tripadvisor Vietnam hotels.

Personal recommendation in Saigon:  Continental Hotel, Saigon...

The famous and historic Continental Hotel is one of my favourite hotels worldwide, not merely a place to stay but a Saigon landmark since 1880.  Indeed, the Continental is the backdrop for much of the action in Graham Greene's novel 'The Quiet American', set in Saigon during the Franco-Vietnamese war.  If it's in your price range or if you can stretch your budget, the Continental is superbly located, right next to the Opera House in the centre of Saigon and a stone's throw from Saigon's distinctive town hall, post office and cathedral.  It's quiet, understated, clean and comfortable with high ceilings, marble floors and wood panelling, and not a corporate clone like so many chain hotels.  The breakfast buffet is good, and it has a pleasant central courtyard and bar if you prefer to eat or enjoy a beer al fresco.  There's free WiFi, too.  A double room costs around $140 (£88) per night.  Tripadvisor reviews.  Nearby, the famous Rex Hotel was where many American officers stayed during the Vietnam war.  If you prefer something more glitzy and glamorous, try the impressive Majestic Hotel, a mere parvenu dating from 1925 with many art nouveau features, located across the road from the Mekong river.

The Continental Hotel, Saigon   Double room in Contiental Hotel, Saigon

The Continental Hotel, a Saigon landmark since 1880, next to the Opera House with simple, spacious rooms...

Recommendations in Hanoi:  Budget:  Hanoi Trendy Hotel.  Top end:  Sofitel Metropole

A little budget gem, the Hanoi Trendy Hotel & Spa (formerly the Hanoi Art Hotel) may not be historic or grand, but it's an excellent low-cost choice from $45 a night for a room with toilet & shower, tea & coffee making facilities, free WiFi, safe, free mineral water, a great breakfast, and great staff at reception who really put themselves out to help you.  It's well located in central Hanoi, a short walk from the War Remnants Museum, a 10-15 minute taxi ride from Hanoi's main station.  Of course, at the luxury end of the scale we have Hanoi's most venerable and upmarket hotel, the luxurious and expensive Sofitel Metropole, which comes complete with outdoor swimming pool and lido bar.

Room at the Art Hotel, Hanoi   The Sofitel Metropole, Hanoi

A room at the inexpensive Hanoi Trendy Hotel.

 

The Sofitel Metropole.  Note the vintage Citroen!

Recommendations in Hué:  Budget Than Thien Hotel, top end La Residence Hotel & Spa.

At the top end, look no further than La Residence Hotel & Spa, located in the former French governor's residence on the banks of the Perfume River.  For the budget-conscious, try the equally central Than Thien Hotel.  Both get great reviews.

Recommendation in Sapa:  Victoria Hotel...

The best hotel in Sapa, which even runs its own train from Hanoi, see the section here.  You'll find a real log fire burning in the lobby and restaurant, and they do an excellent breakfast buffet.  The hotel features an indoor swimming pool and adjacent spa, too.  If your budget can stretch, this is the place to stay!

Victoria Hotel, Sapa   A deluxe room at the Victoria Hotel, Sapa

Flights

Overland travel by train & bus around Vietnam is an essential part of the experience, so once there, don't cheat and fly, stay on the ground!  But if a long-haul flight is unavoidable to reach Vietnam in the first place, check Opodo and also try the Skyscanner search tool to compare flight prices & routes worldwide across 600 airlines...

1)  Check flight prices at Opodo, www.opodo.com...

2)  Use Skyscanner to compare flight prices & routes worldwide across 600 airlines...

skyscanner generic 728x90

3)  Lounge passes...

Make the airport experience a little more bearable with a VIP lounge pass, it's not as expensive as you think!  See www.loungepass.com


Travel insurance

 

 

Columbus direct travel insurance

Take out decent travel insurance, it's essential...

Never travel overseas without travel insurance from a reliable insurer, with at least £1m or preferably £5m medical cover.  It should also cover cancellation and loss of cash and belongings, up to a sensible limit.  An annual multi-trip policy is usually cheaper than several single-trip policies even for just 2 or 3 trips a year, I have an annual policy myself.  Here are some suggested insurers.  Seat61 gets a small commission if you buy through these links.

In the UK, try Columbus Direct or use Confused.com to compare prices & policies from many different insurers.

If you have a pre-existing medical condition or are over 65, see www.JustTravelCover.com - 10% discount with code seat61.

        If you live in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland or the EU, try Columbus Direct's other websites.

  If you live in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for travel with no currency exchange loading & low or no ATM fees...

It costs nothing to take out an extra credit card.  If you keep it in a different part of your luggage so you're not left stranded if your wallet gets stolen, this is a form of extra travel insurance in itself.  In addition, some credit cards are significantly better for overseas travel than others.  Martin Lewis's www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/cheap-travel-money explains which UK credit cards have the lowest currency exchange commission loadings when you buy something overseas, and the lowest cash withdrawal fees when you use an ATM abroad.  Taking this advice can save you quite a lot on each trip compared to using your normal high-street bank credit card!

 


Back to home page