Vietnam railway is developing, but still, it is a level of developing country and not to expect any qualities. However, it is still functioning, it is cheap and easy and safe way to travel the country. If you can give up a bit on your comfort, it can be a way to travel cheap.
We took the night train from Hanoi to Hue which was bearable, as a couple you never know who you might need to share your berth, well, as long as no one coming in with a screaming baby, I think I could survive it. We prepared with having some drinks & snacks but the train offers also food & drinks on board, I was happy with the soup and coffee they sold on the train.
I also manage to sleep few hours.
One positive point is that you can have power supply on the train where you can charge your mobile phone, camera etc.
We used the train to travel from here to Lao Cai..to get ourselves to Sa Pa. Our experience was limited though to “showing up” at the appointed time previous to our departure and picking up our pre-arranged tickets and getting onto the train.
We arrived straight from the airport upon our arrival from Da Nang. With some time to kill before our departure we FOUND and USED luggage LOCKERS that were found on the extreme left hand side of the facility. To get to them you must pass by the ticket purchasing area and keep on going to the end of the building. It’s not a large facility at all so you should have no issues finding these lockers..
Before I left Canada I had some difficulty determining that there were actually lockers here at all…so in fact now I know and share with you that this service is available for a nominal fee. There is an attendant and a guard present at a desk beside the lockers so security wouldn’t be an issue I would think. You get a locker assigned to you and the attendant gives you a receipt and the ticket for the assigned locker. When you return to collect your things you present her with the receipt and you are allowed to open the locker.
The train station is located in the downtown core about a fifteen minute drive from the Old Quarter, depending when you are transiting. I would think during busy traffic you can expect a longer transit than what I experienced.
There is plenty of seating and because we were traveling with Livitrans we were waiting in a separate area from the general public and we boarded through a separate doorway out onto the rail yards. We walked across a few sets of train tracks in the dark to arrive at our train. No modern “Western” conveniences of covered and manicured walkways here Im afraid and at times the concrete was rough and broken…you NEED to PAY ATTENTION walking to your train.
There were people looking to help with backpacks and luggage for a small fee so if you’re limited or challenged physically you will be able to find some help carrying your luggage to your coach.
We tried to find schedules via the internet but the website for Vietnam Railways was of no use at all…the English version links were not working, and just checking again now they still don’t work. The hotel we booked on with in Sa Pa offers a booking service with Livitrans as do a lot of the hotels in Sa Pa…so this became the easy solution to arranging our train transport between Sa Pa and Ha Noi.
We wanted to do at least one train trip, so the Reunification Express from Hue to Hanoi appeared to be the best choice.
We chose the soft-bed, air conditioned berth, both were top bunks, as all of the lower bunks were sold. The lower bunks were 462,000 dong, the top bunks were 453,000 dong (approx. US$30) These were the top-of-the-range tickets, so we were maybe a little dissapointed when we got in & checked out our compartment. It was a very old train.
But the main thing was, they were clean, there were sheets, doonas & pillows and both the young Vietnamese businessman and the Swedish back-packer that occupied the lower berths were both delightful company.
We wandered up & down the entire length of the train to check out what the cheaper options looked like. The next grade down was the soft-seat (sit-up only) airconditioned seat for 280,000 dong. From there, it went down-hill, with hard berths on 3 levels. These ranged in price from 350,000 to 450,000 dong. I would not like to do an over-nighter on these, but I think that you would meet lots of interesting Vietnamese travellers this way. We were amazed, even in our carriages, that people had brought their own little portable cookers, and were happily preparing dinner with the obvious consent of the train guard, who seemed much more interested in opening the door to our compartment all night at regular intervals to check us out.
The price of these tickets is the foreigner price only, which is spelled out on the ticket. I have no idea what it costs the locals.
We had to store our bags under the lower berths, as there was not enough space up top. This didn't bother us security-wise, as our compartment-mates seemed trustworthy. The alternative, if you were not happy with this, would be to sleep with your bag along-side you on the bed.
Bring your own snacks-the food for sale on the train looked most un-appetising!
The trip was supposed to take 13.5 hours. It took an extra 2 hrs, not sure why.
Book at least two days before you intend to travel to make sure you get the berth of your choice. You can both thru any of the many travel agencies (I guess with an additional fee), or wander down to the train station yourself. A nice walk along the river.
Oh - and we had a really good night's sleep!!!
ET-Pumpkin can help you with train booking to and from Sapa, taxi to/from Hanoi airport etc. Mr Khuyen was very helpful. He even hooked me up with an agent in Saigon for my transpo needs.
Train to Sapa (Lao Cai): $30 one way in a 4-bed wood-paneled cabin. Very comfortable.
Address: 89 Ma May Street, Hanoi
I just returned from a trip to the French Indo-China. Hanoi can be reached by train from Danang. I and my nephew took the SE night train from Hanoi to Hue last June 5, 2008 and it took us 12 hours to reach our destination. From Hue to Danang, the trip takes about 2.5 hours to 4 hours.
The easiest way to get to Sapa is to take the train from Hanoi. Most people opt to take the night trains because it’s a long trip and sleeping on the train maximizes your time (and funds). To get to Sapa you must book the train from Hanoi to Lo Cai. Lo Cai serves as the hub for all tourists visiting Sapa. Lo Cai is actually 40 km from Sapa so you must take a bus or motor bike from the station into town. Some of the fancier hotels will take care of booking this transportation for you, but if you’re traveling with the budget lot you’ll have to acquire your own ride. That’s easy enough to do as there will be many busses waiting for the throngs of tourists disembarking the train. Generally a bus ride up the mountain to the center of town will run you between $2 and $5 US. Try using your negotiating skills to get the best rate. Most of these “busses” will actually be vans. Get a group together because the vans won’t leave until they’re full. Book your bus return to the station as soon as you arrive in Sapa. These busses fill up. The return ride is generally on a full-sized bus from the center of town.
Trains from Hanoi to Lo Cai depart daily. There is one daytime train and three night train options. With each you have the option of soft or hard seat / sleeper. I highly recommend spending the extra few dollars for the soft sleeper. In the soft sleeper cabins there are 4 bunks to a room and you will be assigned a sleeping berth when you purchase your ticket. The bottom bunk lifts up so you can store your luggage securely. Hard Seat $5US (no a/c), Soft Seat $8US/$6US (no a/c), Hard Sleeper $11US/$9US (no a/c), Soft Sleeper $15US
Hanoi to Lo Cai
LC3 06:10 – 16:35
SP1 21:15 – 5:30
SP3 21:55 – 6:15
LC1 22:05 – 07:25
Lo Cai to Hanoi
LC4 09:15 – 19:55
LC2 18:45 – 04:00
SP2 20:15 – 04:30
SP4 21:00 – 05:05
There are a few other luxury train options, such as the Victoria Express but they are more expensive and often booked in conjunction with reservations at some of the luxury hotels in Sapa.
Our overnight trip on the Reunification Express in May 2007, 12 hours long, was a huge disappointment which caused us to cancel plans for further train travel in Vietnam. Cost was $30/ea for two soft sleeper berth tickets. Train departed and arrived on schedule, the only positive aspect of the trip.
The train was filthy, the mattresses and pillows were stained. The whole car stunk. This was a soft berth sleeper car. There were two toilets on our car, one at each end, and both stunk to high heaven. Not one person in our entire car, about six four berth cabins, had a happy face. The one bed that was empty in our cabin was used by the conductors or some uninvited guests who kept rotating positions throughout the night, coming in and napping for an hour and then being replaced by someone else. Having cabin mates is acceptable and expected. Having the door open hourly and a new face enter and lie down in the bed next to you is not what's expected. There was no mention of soft sleeper berths available by the hour in any reviews we had read.
We never expected 5 star service. We did expect something fairly clean with non smelly/stained pillows and mattresses. We expected something on a standard with Vietnam Airlines or Sinhcafe tour buses or Mekong Express buses (which of the three I rode were always half full of locals). We also expected a toilet which did not make you gag to enter. The Reunification Express is touted to be Vietnam's pride and joy, railwise. Every review we had read on this or any other forums/travel sites and travel guides had nothing bad to say about the trains other than the food. The Lonely Planet Travel Guide, paperback form, states that the trains have been upgraded and dining cars added to many routes. This was not what we experienced.
The low standards of the Reunification Express were a big disappoinment. There were many Europeans, including Germans, Swedes and Italians in our car. Many were backpacker types. None were pleased with this train. We would not recommend this travel to anyone.
You can actually walk from Old Qtr to Railway Station. About 20 mins slow walk and enjoy the city and street view. The railway station caters to southern and northern routes. Left side of the Station serves the southern bound trains. Do remember to be at the Station before departure time as the Train leaves on the dot.
Note that there are a few train stations in Hanoi. Northbound trains to Lao Cai (Sapa) depart from Tran Quy Cap station along Le Duan street. There are also a lot of different choices on whether you want to travel in comfort (and pay a higher price), or rough it out. These range from hard seats to soft seats to hard sleepers (6 berths / cabin) to soft sleepers (4 or 2 / cabin). The better carriages are run and managed by private companies - the best being the Victoria Express (with its own private dining carriage - but is only open to guests who put up at the Victoria Hotel). Would advise early booking to avoid disappointment as we were told the Victoria Express was fully booked as far back as 6 weeks in advance. We ended up booking soft sleepers from Tulico, which were very comfortable. We were also fortunate to have excellent travel companions in our 4 berth cabin, which made the 8-10 hour journey very pleasant.
Note: you HAVE to retain your train ticket as it will be collected at the exit gates at your destination.
The overnight sleeper train to Sapa does not consist of sleep at all. You would think that it was a college dorm room. The train is quite loud mostly filled with young Europeans blasting their music and drinking. I even politely asked one of the groups to turn down their music and was met with laughs. Being on the overnight sleeper train was one of my worst experiences with fellow tourists. I don't know about you all, but my mother taught me always to be respectful of other's space and feelings. I would recommend that you bring ear plugs and your own pillow and blanket or even a sleeping bag would be nice. Once you are in your bunk the soft bunks just have a very thin mat, no blanket and no pillow. I can't imagine what the hard bunk was. Also the bunks are quite small, so if you are a tall gentleman you will be sleeping in the top bunk with your feet hanging off the edge of the bed. You are also given a piece of bread (french loaf) and bottled water. If you are traveling in spring you won't need an airconditioned bunk. I got my tickets through my hotel, but they got them through a Vietnamese Company called Friendly Travel. At the train station in Lao Cai I saw many tourists who had tickets from this company so I think they are a reputable one. A overnight ticket on a soft sleeper bed is $15 per person. Even though the ride stinks, once you get to Sapa you will find whatever hassle you put up with was definitely worth it.
If you have the time Vietnamese Trains are so much fun. The scenery is fantastic. If you go do use the air conditioned first class sleeper car. We bought all 4 bunks; so we had complete privacy. cost from Saigon to Hue was around $30 a bunk.
We took the night train three times and I highly recommend it. We used the night train to go to and from Hanoi to Lao Cha (Sapa) and then from Hanoi to Hoi Ann.
There are different classes of seats…hard seats, soft seats, hard berth, soft berth and a luxury one. We took the soft berth which was a little cabin with 4 bunks, two on bottom and two on top. For overnight trips you’ll definitely want at the soft berths...don't skimp on your ticket here! To ensure you get the soft berths make your reservation a few days ahead of time
Traveling this way couldn’t be easier. We basically got on the train, visited with our bunk mates for a bit, went to bed and woke up in the new location. An added bonus….we slept like a baby with the gentle swaying of the train.
The "overnight" train from Hue to Hanoi takes is quite a bit more than just overnight...taking 17 to 22 hours. Due to limited time we flew instead.
The train provides a small bottle or water and some sort of snack but if you’re on a longer route you may want to bring something to snack on. There is also a dining car and there are vendors on board selling a drinks and food.
To see all of Vietnam you should take the train. There are regualr trains from all over Vietnam (from HCMC and up) to Hanoi. Prices vary but are always quite cheap. You can stary in HCMC and move up and through Vietnam until you hit Hanoi, and it doesn't have to stop there because in theory (and practice if you dare) Hanoi is linked with LONDON all by train (VIA Beijing, Ulaanbaatar, Moscow, Minsk, Brest, Warsaw, Berlin, Cologne, Brussels, and finally London). Here are some trains and fares from HoChiMinh City (HCMC) to Hanoi (they work vise versa as well) directaly (or you can get off at the inbetween stops): (all prices are for a SLEEPER ticket)
The E2 train - 30 hours - departs at 23:00 - cost is about 800,000 VND (about US$50.00)
The S2 train - 33 hours - departs at 19:00 - costs about 700,000 VND (US$42.00 or so)
The S4, S6, and S8 trains - 41 hours - departs at different times - 450,000 - 600,000 VND.
Visit these tour compeny sites for some more info:
If you are coming overland to Hanoi from China it is easy enough to arrange a mini bus in Lang Son (near the Chinese border). The cost was $6 usd per westerner (Vietnamese pay much less). There is also a train you can catch...check out an LP guidebook for more info.
Once you are in Hanoi you have a number of options. I rented a bike for 10,000 dong a day which is less than $1 usd. You can rent a motor scooter for about $7 usd a day. I wouldn't suggest renting either a bike or a scooter unless you are totally used to Vietnamese traffic rules (there are none..no signals, no lanes...it's all about he best man winning & being very careful). If the traffic is enough to scare you away from going at it on your own there are taxis, cyclos, and moto-drivers who can take you around for a fee. Last but not least....just walk it. Everything is close enough to get to on your own two feet.