One of the world’s best train journeys takes place on the Reunification Express – a two-day journey from Hanoi to Saigon that travels through Hue, Danang and Nha Trang. The French colonialists built the line but it now celebrates the reunification of the two nations severed by the Vietnam War. On a 34-hour overnight journey you’ll get to see the ‘real’ Vietnam, a world away from the country’s modern new cities.
The line runs 1,000 miles down the coastline of this narrow country, offering travellers the chance to see busy fishing villages, rice paddies, seaside resorts, jungles and the unique chance to ride though narrow streets in Hanoi where you can almost touch the sides of people’s houses. It’s a unique train ride you’ll be talking about for years to come. On board, you’ll find a range of sleeping options from hard seats to modern air-conditioned sleeping cars.
Prices from: US $63 (for a soft sleeper)
Departing from: Hanoi Station
Journey length: 1 night
The Reunification Express journey
The Reunification Express runs four times a day from both Hanoi and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). There are two trains in the morning and two at night. The train travels through Hue (the old capital of Vietnam) and Danang, the historic French colonial port known for its sandy beaches, but you can’t buy an open ticket to hop on and off. If you do want to stop off at these destinations, you will need to buy separate tickets for each leg of your journey. If you’re only going to be travelling in Vietnam once in your life, it pays to book your ticket in advance.
Reunification Express train
The Reunification Express is not one single train. The term applies to any train that runs on the North/South railway line between Hanoi and Saigon. After Saigon fell in 1975, the Hanoi government rebuilt the line so it was operational by 1976. It soon became a symbol of a reunified Vietnam. Today you can spot the trains easily by their bright red, white and blue livery.
Reunification Express cabins
On the main carriages you will find four different sleeping options:
- The Hard Seat – the name of this is a give-away. It’s a row of wooden benches. Don’t even think about it….
- The Soft Seat – the chairs are padded and some of them face each other. Again, this is a hardcore option.
- The Hard Berth – these cabins have six beds but no padding. Unless you are traveling with five friends, you will be sharing with strangers.
- The Soft Berth – The beds in these have cushions and you will be sharing with three people instead of five.
Some of the trains offer tourists (or rich Vietnamese) the chance to travel in air-conditioned Livitrans & Violette four bed VIP sleeping-cars. Like the regular sleeping carriages, toilets and washrooms are outside the cabins.
Food and drink
On board every train you’ll find a restaurant car and kitchen. The menu is available in Vietnamese and English thought the food is Vietnamese. When the train pulls into the station hawkers get on board and this is your chance to try a delicious Vietnamese coffee or freshly squeezed fruit juice.
There is no dress code on this train so feel free to wear what you like. Travelling layers and a handy hoodie are always worth packing, as are wet wipes.
You will find travellers from arouf the world on this train as well as plenty of friendly locals who will be happy to chat and tell you about their families and lives.
The price of your ticket includes your sleeper ticket but nothing else.
Pros and cons
This is a journey like no other – a slow and satisfying way to see the ‘real’ Vietnam. If you’re after a luxurious train experience, you’ve chosen the wrong train. One con to consider – if your time is limited in Vietnam this is a very slow way to get around.