Watch the video...

A Saigon-Hanoi express ride from Hue to Danang.

 

Click for interactive train route map

Click for train route map for Vietnam & SE Asia

I recommend hotelscombined.com for a hotel price comparison:

Click for suggested hotels in Hanoi, Hue, Sapa, Saigon

Train travel within Vietnam...

  Hanoi-Hue-Danang-Nha Trang-Saigon  The North-South Reunification Line

   ▶ Hanoi to Saigon Southbound timetable

   ▶ Saigon to Hanoi Northbound timetable

   ▶ Fares

   ▶ How to buy tickets

   ▶ What are the trains like?

   ▶ Video guide:  Hanoi to Saigon by train

   ▶ Bus/taxi connection to Hoi An

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

  Hanoi to Haiphong - for Halong Bay & Cat Ba island

  Saigon to Phan Thiet & Mui Ne - take the train to the beach

  Useful country information - currency, dialling code etc.

  Recommended hotels in Hanoi, Hue, Saigon, Sapa.

  Flights to Vietnam - Travel insurance

  Tailor-made tours of Vietnam with train travel.

International travel to/from Vietnam...

  Hanoi - Beijing by train

  Hanoi - Nanning  New daily train introduced in 2009

  Hanoi - Kunming by train + sleeper bus

  Hanoi - Hong Kong 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 get around Vietnam...

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 Hu or Danang actually saves time compared to flying, because the train leaves Hanoi city centre in the evening and arrives in Hu 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, Hu, 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 Reunification Express?

Trains between Hanoi & Saigon are sometimes referred to as the Reunification Express by guide books and tourist agencies, although there are now several 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.

The view from the train...

Coastal scenery between Hu 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 Hu 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 Đo Hải Vn 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 HCMC 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

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 32,900 Dong.  $1 = 20,500 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.

Page last updated:

18 September 2014


Hanoi - Hue - Danang - Saigon

The North - South Reunification Line...

Over the last decade the Hanoi-Saigon train service steadily improved and there are now a whole range of daily air-conditioned trains linking Hanoi, Hue, Danang, Nha Trang & Saigon (HCMC), an ideal way to travel between these cities.  Here are the principal trains, there are additional trains at peak times such as the Tet holiday period in late January or February.  The timetables shown here are compiled from the online timetables shown on Vietnamese Railways' own websites www.vr.com.vn & www.gahanoi.com.vn, written in Vietnamese.

Quick links:  Fares    How to buy tickets    What are the trains like?     Map of train routes in Southeast Asia    Recommended hotels

Southbound timetable...

 Hanoi ► Hu ► Danang ► Saigon (Ho Chi Minh)

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

Hu arrive

08:48 day 2

09:42 day 2

10:27 day 2

19:47 day 1

22:42 day 1

03:39

-

688

Hu 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

04:17 day 2

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.

SE5, SE6:  Air-conditioned hard sleepers, air-conditioned soft seats, air-conditioned hard seats, and ordinary hard seats.  No soft sleepers!

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-conditioned hard sleepers (6-berth) & ordinary hard seats.  No soft sleepers or soft 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 private tourist sleeping-cars, Hanoi-Hu-Danang:  Trains SE1 & SE2 have one or two tourist sleeping-cars attached between Hanoi, Hue & Danang run by private company Livitrans, see the photos & information below.  These have 4-berth sleepers of a higher standard than the regular ones, but higher fares.  See www.livitrans.com for fares & online booking.  Note that at busy times, for example Tet & high summer, these Livitrans cars sometimes run attached to trains SE5/SE6 rather than SE1/SE2, so check when booking.

Golden Trains private tourist sleeping-cars, Saigon-Nha Trang:  Trains SNT1 & SNT2 have Golden Trains tourist sleeping-cars attached between Saigon and Nha Trang, 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 through an agency such as www.vietnamimpressive.com.

Northbound timetable...

 Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) ► Danang ► Hu ► 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

20:00 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

04:35 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

-

 Hu arrive

15:23 day 2

16:39 day 2

21:26 day 1

01:28 day 2

05:31 day 2

12:06

-

 Hu 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

-

How to get to Hoi An...

Hoi An is a historic must-see town featuring on most visitor's itineraries.  It's 30 km south of Danang, but has no railway station.  Simply take a train to Danang, then a regular buses, minibus or taxi from Danang to Hoi An taking between 45 minutes and an hour.  The bus costs about US$3, a taxi costs around US$9-15 depending on your negotiation skills.  See map.

Phan Thiet & Mui Ne:  See the section below

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 actually 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.  Incidentally, the old system of charging foreigners higher fares than Vietnamese citizens was abolished in 2002.

Children aged 0 to 4 travel free, children 5 to 9 travel at half fare.  Children10 and over must pay full fare.

Fares are shown here in 1000s of Vietnamese Dong.  1 = approx 32,900 Dong.  $1 = 20,500 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

78

115

103

92

120

118

Thanh Hoa

120

175

157

140

185

180

Vinh

217

320

287

256

337

326

Dong Hoi

374

550

494

442

580

562

Hue

492

790

710

635

834

808

Danang

566

874

786

703

923

895

Quang Ngai

636

935

840

752

988

957

Dieu Tri

750

1105

994

888

1167

1130

Nha Trang

933

1510

1358

1214

1594

1545

Saigon

1140

1680

1510

1300

1725

1672

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

320

522

470

404

536

520

Danang

727

1103

992

854

1132

1097

Hue

760

1175

1057

910

1207

1170

Hanoi

1140

1680

1510

1300

1725

1672

Fares from

Hu 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

492

790

710

635

834

808

Saigon

760

1175

1057

910

1207

1170

Danang

70

108

103

88

114

113

Nha Trang

404

593

568

482

626

619

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

566

874

786

703

923

895

Saigon

727

1103

992

854

1132

1097

Hue

70

108

103

88

114

113

Nha Trang

337

495

474

402

523

517

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

933

1510

1358

1214

1594

1545

Saigon

320

522

470

404

536

520

Danang

337

495

474

402

523

517

Hue

404

593

568

482

626

619

How to buy tickets...

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 spontaneously, as all trains require a reservation.  All tickets come printed with a specific date, specific train number, car number and your 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?  Can I buy tickets a day or two ahead?  Do trains get full?

Booking opens at least 60 days before departure, often more than 90 days before departure.  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'd recommend paying the small amount extra to pre-book tickets through a reliable agency such as www.vietnamimpressive.com before you get to Vietnam, as shown below.

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

Privacy-loving westerners who are unfamiliar with sleeper train travel often ask this - although they'll happily sleep in a seat 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 be aware that 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, just book 2 beds in a 4-berth soft class sleeper, you'll be safe and comfortable sharing a 4-berth soft sleeper, and might actually meet some Vietnamese people this way, rather than sitting in isolation.

Online booking...

Vietnamese Railways don't do online booking, so you'll need to use an agency as shown in the section below if you want to secure tickets in advance.  Remember that the official Vietnamese Railways website is www.vr.com.vn, beware that the following websites are not Vietnamese Railways but agencies pretending to be: vietnamrailways.net, vietnam-railway.com, vietnamrailway.com.

How to buy tickets in advance via a travel agency...

If you want to pre-book some or all of your trains before you get to Vietnam, simply order tickets through a local Vietnamese train booking agency.  These agencies 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 Hu 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.

    Traveller Jon Feltham reports on www.vietnamimpressive.com:  "We arrived Hanoi and checked into our hotel in the old quarter.  I telephoned Vietnam Impressive and within the hour our train tickets to Danang and from Danang to Saigon had arrived at our hotel, pretty good since I had ordered and paid for said tickets way back in March and it was now November.  The tickets were exactly what I had ordered, bottom bunks soft sleeper on both stages of the trip."  Further feedback (or recommendations for other agencies) is always appreciated!

  • Vietnamstay.com (www.vietnamstay.com) also gets very good reports from travellers, although they can only book trains departing from Hanoi or Saigon, and not starting at  intermediate stations.  Their website now only seems to mention Hanoi-Sapa trains, but ask them for a quote for other routes.

  • Saigonhotel (www.saigonhotel.com, formerly Viet-nam.net) has not had such good reports, but offers a comprehensive service.

  • Vietnam-Railway.com (www.vietnam-railway.com) pretends to be an official DSVN website, but is just another agency.  I have had various reports from travellers believing them to be the 'real' DSVN website, but so far just one from a traveller who actually used them and found them reasonably efficient.

  • International Rail UK, call 0844 248 248 3.  If you live in the UK, Ireland or elsewhere in Europe, you can arrange your Vietnamese train tickets by phone with UK-based train travel specialist International Rail, call 0844 248 248 3, lines open 09:00-17:00 Monday-Friday.  From outside the UK +44 844 248 248 3.  You may prefer to book by phone with a UK agency, although remember that their fee will naturally be higher than that of a local Vietnamese agency such as Vietnamimpressive.com.

  • 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.

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 credit cards.

City centre ticket office in Saigon:  In Saigon, you don't need to go all the way to the station to buy tickets, you can buy them at the city centre railway ticket agency at 275C Pham Ngu Lao.  It's easy to miss as it doesn't have any clear railway-related signing - the sign above the door refers to an airline, the massive blue sign further above the door refers to Duong Sat Saigon, meaning Saigon Railway, but in Vietnamese.  So study the photo below carefully and search for 275 'C' on Pham Ngu Lao.  It's an empty-looking office with a desk and a couple of staff.

...buying tickets in Hanoi

Hanoi railway station   Hanoi station ticket office

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 (on the right of the right-hand photo) 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...

...buying tickets in Saigon

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

Saigon station ticket office...  The smaller downstairs ticket office (shown above) is for travel today, the main ticket office for advance bookings is upstairs.  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 would be appreciated!

 

Saigon city centre train ticket office is at 275C Pham Ngu Lao.  It's easy to miss, so look carefully for 275 'C'.

Have your trip professionally arranged... 

  • Custom-made tours:  If you want a train travel expert to arrange your whole trip for you, with trains, stopovers, hotels, transfers and (if necessary) flights all sorted, train travel specialist www.railbookers.com can arrange tours by train around Vietnam to your own specification.  Just tell them what you want (or ask them for their advice & suggestions) and they can make all the necessary arrangements.

    In the US or Canada, call toll-free 1-800-408-3280 or www.us.railbookers.com.

      In Australia call toll-free 1300 971 526, www.railbookers.com.au

      In New Zealand call toll-free 0800 002 034 or see website.

      In the UK call 020 3327 0761, www.railbookers.com.

  • Escorted tours:  If you'd prefer to travel with a convivial group of travellers escorted by a professional tour guide, contact Great Rail Journeys at www.greatrail.com, in the UK call 01904 527 120.  They have escorted tours leaving on various dates Feb-April and October-November which take you from Hanoi to Hue, Hoi An & Saigon by train then into Cambodia by coach & boat.

How to read a a Vietnamese train ticket. 

It can help to know a few Vietnamese words when looking at tickets, websites, fares notices or timetable posters.

Vietnam train ticket

Useful Vietnamese words...

Ngi or Gh = seat. 

Năm or Giung = sleeper berth.

Mm = soft class

Cng = hard class.

Diu Ha (H) = air-conditioned.

Toa = coach, carriage.

 

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

Gi tau = train times. Gi V = 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 v = Full price (adult fare with no discounts)

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, Hu & Danang, also see this section about the privately-run Livitrans sleeping-car, which is a cut above the regular Vietnamese Railways sleepers.

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 is painted blue, unlike other trains.  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 train SE3 from Hanoi to Saigon...

 

2-pin power socket for your mobile or camera, 1 per compartment...

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

One or two privately-run Livitrans sleeping-cars are attached to SE1/SE2 between Hanoi, Hue and Danang, aimed at foreign tourists.  They have 4-berth compartments of a better standard than the regular Vietnamese Railways sleepers, but cost more.  If budget is an issue for you, stick with the regular Vietnamese railways sleepers, but if you're happy paying a bit more for a much nicer environment, go for these Livitrans cars.  The fare includes water and pot noodles, and there are electrical sockets for charging cameras and mobiles. In the past, the Vietnamese Railways have periodically changed the train to which these Livitrans cars are attached, so check when you book.  Note that at busy times, for example Tet & high summer, these Livitrans cars may run attached to trains SE5/SE6 instead of SE1/SE2, so check when booking.

Most of the tourists in these Livitrans cars leave the train at Hu, 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 Hu and Danang.

Fares:  The fare is US$75 one-way per person from Hanoi to Hue or US$85 Hanoi to Danang, travelling in 4-berth air-conditioned soft sleepers.  See www.livitrans.com for fares & online booking.

4-berth sleeper in the private 'Livitrans' sleeping-car from Hanoi to Hue & Danang   One of two private 'Livitrans' sleeping-cars from Hanoi to Hue & Danang

A rather nice 4-berth Livitrans soft sleeper...

 

One of the two Livitrans cars on train SE1...


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.

Right: A 4-berth air-con sleeper on the Golden Trains car.  Photo courtesy of Laura Thomson.

  Golden Trains 4-berth sleeper between Saigon (HCMC) and Nha Trang

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...


Sponsored links...


Hanoi - Lao Cai (for 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 Vietnam to Kunming railway.  The Lao Cai to Kunming section is currently out of commission following landslides in 2002, but for onward travel from Lao Cai to Kunming by bus, see the Hanoi to Kunming section.  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).

Train timetable...

 Hanoi ► Lao Cai (for Sapa)

 

 Lao Cai ► Hanoi

  Every day:

LC3

SP7

SP1

SP3

LC1

 Every day:

LC4

LC2

SP8

SP2

SP4

 Hanoi

depart 

06:10

20:25

21:10

21:50

22:00

 Lao Cai

depart

09:50

18:00

18:50

19:35

20:20

 Lao Cai

arrive

15:56

04:50

05:30

06:25

07:33

 Hanoi

arrive

20:15

03:30

03:52

04:10

04:45

SP1 & SP2:  Recommended train with few or no stops.  Air-conditioned soft sleepers only.  Most of this train consists of privately-run sleeping-cars for tourists, including Fanxipan, King, Ratraco, Orient Express, Royal, TSC, Tulico and several others, see the tourist sleeper section below.

SP3 & SP4:  Recommended train with very few stops.  Air-con soft sleepers and air-con hard sleepers only.  Much of this train consists of privately-run sleeping-cars including the Sapaly Express Train, TSC, and the Victoria Express Train, see the tourist sleeper section below.

SP7, SP8:  Recommended train.  Air-con soft sleepers, air-con hard sleepers, air-con soft seats.  Conveys privately-run Livitrans sleeping-cars, see the tourist sleeper section below.

LC3, LC4:  Daytime train.  One carriage of air-conditioned soft seats, many carriages of wooden-seated non-air-con hard seats.  Tea, coffee & snacks are available on board.

LC1, LC2:  Slower overnight train.  Air-con hard sleepers, air-con soft seats, air-con hard seats, non-air-con hard seats.  No soft sleepers.  May not now run every day.

How much does it cost?

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

One-way fare in 000 dong.

Hard seat

Soft seat

Hard sleeper

Soft sleeper

ordinary

air-con

air-con

air-con

lower

air-con

middle

air-con

top

air-con

lower berth

air-con

upper berth

Hanoi to Lao Cai by SP overnight train

-

-

250

500

470

415

600

600

Hanoi to Lao Cai by LC1/LC2 overnight train

145

225

240

445

420

370

-

-

Hanoi to Lao Cai by LC3/LC4 daytime train

140

-

220

-

-

-

-

-

1 = approx 32,900 Dong.  $1 = 20,500 Dong.  Children aged 0 to 4 travel free, children 5 to 9 travel at half fare.  Children 10 and over must pay full fare.

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 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."

How to buy tickets by email via a travel agency...

If you want to get your train reservation sorted in advance before you get to Vietnam, contact a recommended local travel agency such as www.vietnamimpressive.com, www.vietnamstay.com or www.saigonhotel.com.  These agencies can book both the regular Vietnamese carriages and the special high-quality tourist sleepers.  Tickets can be waiting for you at your hotel when you get to Vietnam, or for an extra charge couriered overseas.  Payment is by Visa, MasterCard or other major credit card.  www.vietnamimpressive.com is relatively new but has already received a steady stream of good reports.  Vietnamstay.com also gets good reports from travellers, although they can only book trains departing from Hanoi or Saigon, not starting at  intermediate stations.  Saigonhotel (formerly Viet-nam.net) has not had such good reports, but offers a comprehensive service.  Further feedback or agency recommendations is always appreciated!

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.  A ticket for a bus from Lao Cai to Sapa costs around US$2, a seat in a shared minibus taxi about 25,000 dong ($2) per person, 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.

Taking the train to Lao Cai for Sapa...

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 no fewer than four busy sleeper trains with both Vietnamese and many 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, an older car with wire mesh across the windows to protect against stones.  The rest of the train consists of ordinary hard seats as shown here.  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 privately-run tourist sleeping-car...

You may prefer to take a privately-run sleeping car to Lao Cai for Sapa.  In addition to the normal Vietnamese Railways sleepers & seats, overnight trains SP1-SP8 between Hanoi & Lao Cai convey a bewildering range of privately-run deluxe sleeping-cars for tourists.  If you want extra comfort & cleanliness and don't mind paying a bit more, go for one of these private cars as they're all significantly better than the regular Vietnamese Railways sleepers.

Fanxipan, Sapaly Express, King, Livitrans, Orient Express, Tulico, Ratraco, TSC, Friendly, Royal, Hara...

All these private operators offer berths in shared First Class 4-berth sleepers, and a few also offer a handful of VIP 2-berth sleepers (though if these have sold out you can always pay for all 4 berths in a 4-berth if you like, the price works out pretty much the same).  The sleepers all have air-conditioning, fresh clean bedding, complimentary mineral water and 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 (TSC and Sapaly) are attached to SP3/SP4 and Livitrans cars are attached to SP7/SP8.

Which company should you choose?  How much does it cost?  There's not a huge amount to choose between the many different operators and the price they all charge is pretty similar, about $34-36 one-way in a shared First Class 4-berth sleeper or $70-79 per person for travel in a VIP 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).  Personally, I prefer Fanxipan to Orient Express as there was sufficient headroom under the upper berths to sit on the lower bunk, in the Orient Express carriage I had to lean forward (I'm 6' 2").  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.  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 2-berth VIP compartments are all 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:  For prices, photos and more information on each of the various tourist sleepers, try www.vietnamimpressive.com or www.vietnamstay.com, as both these agencies get good reports, are reliable and respond promptly to emails.  You book your chosen sleeper by email with these agencies, pay with a credit card using a secure online payment service, and you will be emailed an 'e-ticket' which must be exchanged for an actual ticket at the carriage operator's check-in desk at Hanoi 'B' station an hour before departure.  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.

Fanxipan Express carriage   Fanxipan sleeper on train to Lao Cai   Orient Express sleeper on train to Lao Cai

Fanxipan carriage at Hanoi

 

Fanxipan 4-berth sleeper...

 

Orient Express 4-berth...

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 or www.vietnamstay.com 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...


Phan Thiet & Miu Ne

Saigon (HCMC) to/from Phan Thiet & Mui N...      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.  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 N, 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 N (38km). 

 Saigon ► Phan Thiet

 

 Phan Thiet ► Saigon

Train number:

SPT2

PT4

Train number:

SPT1

PT3

 Saigon station

depart 

06:50

17:05

 Phan Thiet

depart

13:55

22:40

 Bin Thuan

arr/dep

10:35

21:03

 Bin Thuan

arr/dep

14:19

23:05

 Phan Thiet

arrive

10:50

21:18

 Saigon station

arrive

18:40

03:26

 

 How much does it cost?

 Saigon to Phan Thiet by train

 Air-con soft seat 135,000 dong (4 or $7)

 Phan Thiet to Mui Ne by taxi

 Around 200,000 dong (6 or $10)

How to buy tickets:  Buy tickets at the station or at Saigon's city centre ticket office, as shown here.

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.

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

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

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

Simply take a train from Hanoi, Hue or Danang to Binh Thuan station as shown in the timetable above.  Then use a local taxi between Bin Thuan station and Phan Thiet (15.7km) or Mui Ne (38km).  A taxi between Bin Thuan and Mui Ne costs around 500,000 dong (15 or $24) and takes around an hour.

 


Hanoi - Haiphong & Halong  (for Halong Bay)

The beautiful Halong Bay is on many visitors' lists of places to visit.  You can get there by air-conditioned train from Hanoi via Haiphong.

Hanoi to Haiphong (for ferry to Cat Ba island)...

 Hanoi ► Haiphong

 

 Haiphong ► Hanoi

Train number:

HP1

LP3

LP5

LP7

Train number:

LP2

LP6

LP8

HP2

 Hanoi Main station

depart 

06:00

-

 15:20*

-

 Haiphong

depart

06:05

08:55

14:35

18:40

 Hanoi Long Bien station

depart

|

09:20

15:30

18:10

 Hanoi Long Bien station

arrive

08:40

11:17

17:25

|

 Haiphong

arrive

08:15

12:00

18:00

20:47

 Hanoi Main station

arrive

-

11:30

-

21:05

* Train LP5 starts from Hanoi main station at weekends only, but runs from Long Bien every day.

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 or $3)

Air-con hard seat 60,000 dong (2 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 to Halong (for Halong Bay)...

Option 1:  Travel from Hanoi to Haiphong as shown above, then use local transport between Haiphong and Halong. 

Option 2:  It's reported that a direct train does indeed run 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 being slated for withdrawal as from December 2013, but as at January 2014 it's still in operation.  Feedback would be appreciated!

 Hanoi ► Halong

 

 Halong ► Hanoi

Train number:

R157

Train number:

R158

 Hanoi Yen Vien station

depart 

04:40

 Halong

depart

13:00*

 Halong

arrive

12:08

 Hanoi Yen Vien station

arrive

20:40

R157/R158 =  This loss-making service was reported in the Vietnamese media as being slated for withdrawal as from December 2013, but as at January 2014 it's still in operation.

* = Approximate time, exact departure time from Halong is not known.

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 ($3).

Feedback would be appreciated!


 


Hanoi - Beijing by train

Twice-weekly sleeper train from Beijing to Hanoi...

There is a safe, comfortable & affordable twice-weekly train service between Beijing & Hanoi.  A Chinese express train with modern air-conditioned 4-berth soft class sleepers and restaurant car runs from Beijing to Dong Dang on the Vietnamese frontier.  At Dong Dang you pass through customs & passport control and board a connecting Vietnamese metre-gauge train for the final run to Hanoi.  Note that at Nanning you may be asked to get off and wait on the platform for an hour or two while the train is shunted.

 Beijing ► Hanoi

   

 

 Hanoi ► Beijing

Train number T5 in China, M2 in Vietnam.

Train number M1 in Vietnam, T6 in China.

 Beijing (West)

depart

15:45 

Sundays & Thursdays

 Hanoi (main station)

depart

18:30 

Tuesdays & Fridays

 Zhengzhou 

depart

23:56

Sundays & Thursdays

 Dong Dang **

arrive

22:40

Tuesdays & Fridays

 Guilin 

depart

14:58

Mondays & Fridays

 Dong Dang **

depart

23:59

Tuesdays & Fridays

 Nanning 

depart

21:16

Mondays & Fridays

 Nanning

arrive

06:30

Wednesdays & Saturdays

 Dong Dang **

arrive

02:21

Tuesdays & Saturdays

 Guilin

arrive

13:21

Wednesdays & Saturdays

 Dong Dang **

depart

03:50

Tuesdays & Saturdays

 Zhengzhou 

arrive

05:23

Thursdays & Sundays

 Hanoi (main station)

arrive

08:10

Tuesdays & Saturdays

 Beijing (West)

arrive

12:08

Thursdays & Sundays

**  Dong Dang is the China/Vietnam frontier, where you change trains. 

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

Which station in Hanoi?  Map of Hanoi showing main stationThe train to Beijing departs from Hanoi's main railway station.  Enter Hanoi station's main entrance, turn sharp right and pass through the narrow passageway to the regular waiting room.  Look for the little door in the corner marked 'Waiting Room for Passengers of International Train' in English.  Wait in here, and staff will lead you to the train when it's ready for boarding, a single sleeper car at the north end of platform 1, a short walk from the waiting room.

Daily alternative Beijing-Hanoi journey, changing trains in Nanning:  If you can't get tickets for this twice-weekly Beijing-Hanoi through train or if you need to travel on one of the other days of the week, simply use the regular daily sleeper trains between Beijing & Nanning (see here for details), then the daily train between Nanning & Hanoi.

 How much does it cost?

One-way fare in soft class 4-berth sleeper.

Beijing to Hanoi

The fare is around 2,156 RMB (220 or $320) if bought from the ticket office or local agency in Beijing.

Alternatively, you can arrange a ticket from outside China via www.chinatripadvisor.com who charge $379 (255) or www.chinatrainticket.net who charge $406 (270).  www.realrussia.co.uk can book this train along with your Trans-Siberian tickets, but are more expensive, around 356 one-way.

Hanoi to Beijing:

These international fares are linked to the Swiss Franc (CHF).

Hanoi-Beijing is CHF 299 in soft sleeper, which is around 7,000,000 dong or $333 or 207 if bought at Hanoi ticket office.

Hanoi to Guilin:

These international fares are linked to the Swiss Franc (CHF).

Hanoi-Guilin is CHF 141 in soft sleeper, which is around 3,300,000 dong or $157 or 98, if bought at Hanoi ticket office.

How to buy tickets

What is the Beijing to Hanoi train journey like?

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

The Chinese sleeper train from Beijing to Hanoi...  The twice-weekly Beijing-Hanoi train service actually consists of two trains.  This is the standard-gauge Chinese soft class sleeping-car which runs between Beijing and Dong Dang on the Vietnamese border, where you change onto a connecting Vietnamese metre-gauge train for Hanoi.  It has comfortable, air-conditioned, carpeted 4-bed soft sleepers (above, right), and there's a restaurant car for most of the journey.  A wonderful way to travel between Beijing & Vietnam!  Exterior photo courtesy of Nandakumar Narasimhan, interior photo courtesy of Chris "Mzungu" Holden .

Scenery from the train from Beijing to Hanoi   More scenery seen from the train from Beijing to Hanoi

Scenery in southern China seen from the Beijing to Hanoi train.  Courtesy of Chris "Mzungu" Holden

Beijing to Hanoi by train.  The Vietnamese train from Dong Dang to Hanoi, seen at Dong Dang.   Beijing to Hanoi by train.  4-berth soft sleeper on the Vietnamese train from Dong Dang to Hanoi

The connecting Vietnamese sleeper train from Dong Dang to Hanoi...  This is the Vietnamese metre-gauge train, just one or two sleeping-cars which connect with the Chinese train at Dong Dang on the China/Vietnam border to take passengers the final part of the journey into Hanoi. It has comfortable 4-berth soft sleeper compartments. Photos courtesy of Chris "Mzungu" Holden .

How to buy tickets in Hanoi...

Buying your ticket to Beijing:  At Hanoi station, go to the ticket window for foreigners & international trains.  You will need to show your passport and a valid visa for China.  You can pay in Vietnamese dong or (reportedly) US dollars, credit cards are not accepted, although there's a MasterCard sign.  This train cannot be booked online, although you could try emailing local travel agencies in Vietnam.

Getting a Chinese visa in Hanoi:  You'll need a visa to enter China, and indeed you will need to show your Chinese visa at Hanoi station when buying a train ticket to Beijing. In 2010 it was reported that the Chinese embassy in Hanoi wouldn't issue visas for anyone who wasn't a Vietnamese citizen or resident but in 2012 a later report says they now will.  If they won't, either get your visa in your home country before you leave, or arrange your Chinese visa in Hanoi through a suitable travel agency such as www.hanoibackpackershostel.com.

Traveller Peter Day reports (2011):  Tickets (soft class only) are available from Window 7 at Hanoi main railway station.  There is a system in place where you get a number which indicates your place in the line - locals ignore it, you should too. Tickets are available to purchase in cash only, Vietnamese dong only as far as one could tell.  You go to the window first and the lady tells you how much, then you go get the cash and return to buy the tickets.  The cost of two tickets to Guilin was over 6 million dong, clearly Beijing would be more - getting that amount of dong out of ATMs is problematic because of limits on each transaction and number of daily withdrawals allowed. We had to use 2 cards.  They check you have visas for China.

Traveller Alex Hartland reports:  "I booked my Hanoi-Beijing train ticket yesterday at Hanoi station.  I was sent from window 10 to window 1 to window 6 and finally window 8.  The woman at window 8 spoke pretty good English, but I don't think it's the standard window for Hanoi to Beijing bookings.  The paperwork took a while to process (about 45 minutes) and the final cost was 4,635,000 dong. She told me I could pay in dollars if I wanted to, but again not sure if this is standard procedure.  She checked my passport & Chinese visa, too."

How to buy tickets 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

  • You can pre-book from outside China by contacting www.chinatripadvisor.com who charge US$379 (255) or www.chinatrainticket.net who charge $406 (253).  Reliable Russian/British agency www.realrussia.co.uk can also book this train along with your Trans-Siberian tickets, but are more expensive, charging around 356 one-way.

  • To buy in person in Beijing, there are several options:

Traveller Laurent Fintoni reports:  "I was told to go to Bei Feng Wo Lu (a street near Beijing West station) and look for a shop opposite the Tian You hotel. So I would say for anyone else, the easiest might be to get a cab or directions to Tian You hotel on Bei Feng Wo Lu.  Opposite the hotel is what looks like a travel agent, though when I went it had the shutters pulled down - however it was open, not quite sure why that was. The shop sign is blue, and you can tell you found it as there is a small window on the side of the shop's main doors which says they sell train tickets. However, you want the main shop not the window.  Once in there if you tell them you want to buy Beijing to Hanoi tickets, I had a sentence written in Chinese for me, she pulls out what seems to be the same form that Que Clothier mentions. The woman speaks no English, just point at the answers on the form and she does it all for you. I was charged only 1086 RMB without a 50 RMB charge, but not quite sure why as she answered in Chinese when I asked her if she wanted the charge.  Her form mentions the charge, making the price 1166, the same as Chris Emmerson reported.  She'll also point at a calendar and ask for dates as well as how many tickets.  There are about 3 banks within 100 to 200 metres of the shop on Bei Feng Wo Lu, all do currency exchange and have ATMs however none seem to change Travellers Cheques so be careful.  Once you pay her it's all done, it was really easy, the trickiest part is finding the shop, but with the Tian You Hotel being quite big (and having its name written in English on the front in big letters) it shouldn't be too difficult."

Traveller Chris "Mzungu" Holden reports (2011):  "I got my tickets from the same place as Laurent Fintoni [see above] got his.  It was easy to find, took me about 30mins to get the tickets from a helpful and friendly chap who spoke no English but pointed to the booking forms and a calendar when needed.  It cost me RMB 2,200 (2150+50 commission) from memory."

Traveller Christian Morgan reports (Oct 2009):  "In Beijing I paid 2,156 RMB for the ticket and a commission fee of 150RMB, total 2306 RMB. This was from the Railway hotel office as described by Que Clothier. I imagine this must be the new price but it was the Chinese national holiday and I purchased the day before departure.  As for the train it was less than half full on departure and only 3 of us went over the border into Vietnam. 2nd class carriages were clean and very comfortable and smoking was clearly permitted throughout (in between carriages). The Vietnamese train was a little more noisy (and bouncy!) being diesel engined carriages but nonetheless a pleasant experience. The sunrise over the Vietnamese hills was a real treat!"

If you have any further feedback, please email me!

Travellers' reports...

Traveller Peter Day reports (2011):  Having got your tickets you arrive about 1 hour before train is due to leave.  Go to main entrance of Hanoi Central Station (not round the back) and pass through the regular waiting room - on the right as you enter - to the international waiting room beyond (signed in English). They then lead you to the train which is a single sleeper carriage - a short walk from the waiting room.  Beware the guys who grab your bags and then demand tip-tip.  There seems to be little relation between berth number written on your ticket and where you end up, one couple had no numbers written on their ticket at all. The day we travelled it was very full with a large Vietnamese tourist group. The Vietnamese train is fairly basic but you are only on it about 5 and a half hours.  At the border you get off with your bags, wait while the Vietnamese immigration people stamp your passport then board the Chinese sleeper - much better than the Vietnamese one and more berths so while the berth number still bears no relation to where you end up little chance of having to share.  At the Chinese border post you get off the train only to pass in front of one of those automated temperature checking machines to be sure you haven't got SARS. All Chinese immigration done on the train.  You get kicked of the train at 06.30 am (really 05.30 taking into account the time change) at Nanning to 'have a rest' in the soft class waiting room while the sleeper carriage gets added into the Nanning-Beijing train. Beautiful carp in the pool in the waiting room, and they will give you a 'pass' so you can go out to get Chinese currency from an ATM and to buy food and so on.


Hanoi - Nanning by train

Daily direct sleeper train from Hanoi to Nanning...

A comfortable daily overnight train links Hanoi & Nanning, which started running in January 2009.  This is a standard-gauge Chinese sleeper train that runs all the way from Nanning to Hanoi.  The timetable is as follows, but always double-check times locally as they keep changing the exact times.  The distance between Hanoi and Nanning is 396km.

 Nanning ► Hanoi

   

 

 Hanoi ► Nanning

Air-con soft sleepers, train T8701 / MR2

Daily

Air-con soft sleepers, train MR1 / T8702

Daily

 Nanning 

depart

18:20  day 1

 Hanoi Gia Lam station

depart

21:40  day 1

 Pingxiang (Chinese border point)

arrive

21:11  day 1

 Dong Dang (Vietnamese border)

arrive

02:00  day 2

 Pingxiang

depart

22:41  day 1

 Dong Dang

depart

03:00  day 2

 Dong Dang (Vietnamese border)

arrive

23:22  day 1

 Pingxiang (Chinese border)

arrive

04:41  day 2

 Dong Dang

depart

00:22  day 2

 Pingxiang

depart

06:41  day 2

 Hanoi Gia Lam station

arrive

04:45  day 2

 Nanning

arrive

10:12  day 2

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?

One-way fares

Nanning - Hanoi   

Soft sleeper costs RMB 248 (25 or $38)

Hanoi - Nanning   

These international fares are linked to the Swiss Franc (CHF).

Soft sleeper costs around CHF 31.53 = 750,000 dong or 22 or $36

A metered taxi from Hanoi old quarter to the Gia Lam station costs around VND 100,000 (3.50 or $5).

How to buy tickets...

Tickets are sold in Nanning at the station reservations office (counter 16, but according to one recent report now counter 1) and at Hanoi Main Station at the international booking counter, reportedly open 07:00-17:30 daily.  Tickets are also sold in Hanoi by Vietnam Hanoi Railways Tourist Company (Travel Agency - 152 Le Duan Street, Hanoi, email haratour@fpt.vn or call (84-4) 3518-6782.  In Hanoi, you'll need to show your passport and Chinese visa when buying tickets.  It can help to know that the Vietnamese for 'Nanning' is 'Nam Ninh'.

On board the Hanoi to Nanning train...

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

The Hanoi to Nanning train:  This is the Nanning to Hanoi train at Hanoi Gia Lam station.  Above 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.

Hanoi's Gia Lam station...

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

Hanoi's 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' 8", as used in Europe, China and 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 right...

Getting a Chinese visa in Hanoi...

You'll need a visa to enter China, and indeed you will need to show your Chinese visa at Hanoi station when buying your train ticket to Beijing. It was reported in 2010 that the Chinese embassy in Hanoi wouldn't issue visas for anyone who wasn't a Vietnamese citizen or resident, although a report in 2012 says they now will.  If they won't, either get your visa in your home country before you leave, or arrange your Chinese visa in Hanoi through a suitable travel agency such as www.hanoibackpackershostel.com.

Travellers reports...

Traveller Steve Mercer reports from a northbound trip in 2013:  "This train was by far the best of them all.  There was carpet in the corridor & compartments. Plus there were free plastic shoes, although 5 sizes too small. Very handy.  The taxi dropped us off at the station but I have to admit its not immediately apparent where you go to check in or wait.  We went into the first waiting room, but a guard frantically shouted 'Nanning' at us and pointed at the correct waiting room.  Boarding the train was very organised.  We showed our passports before getting on and we also gave the Guard our tickets which he swapped for a credit card size card.  We would give this back at the end of the journey.  He then showed us to our berths. It was a good trip with no interruptions apart from the borders.  Just before the Vietnam border we were woken and told we must take all our bags with us.  This border point was a bit disorganised.  When you put your bag on the scanner belt it was set up so you had to turn around and fight your way through the crowd behind you to get to the other side of the scanner. Then you hand your passport in. Its not a quick process as I was waiting for it to be handed back when he looked up and gestured us to go and sit down.  Im always a bit reluctant to let my passport out of my sight, but it was all good.  They did them in batches and then called your name out to come and get them. However as we were the only Western foreigners there, he came and handed them to us.  It was then back on the train and off to the Chinese border.  This time someone came round and handed out the immigration cards for us to fill in than came round again to collect them and our passports.  We got off with all our bags and went into the immigration hall.  A bit more organised this one. I cant remember but Im not sure if they were scanned.  An immigration officer did some random checking of the bags though.  It was back on the train and wait for our passports to be returned before heading off to Nanning.  There were no more interruptions."

Traveller Melissa Jacka reports from a southbound trip in 2013:  "Tickets for the Nanning-Hanoi train were only available from Nanning train station, we got them about 20 hours in advance and following the advice on Seat 61 we went straight to counter 16 - the queue took about 20 minutes, and we had to show our passports and Vietnamese visa.  We had no problem getting soft sleeper tickets for a Sunday night train.  Adults were 190 RMB and the kids were 90 RMB.  As mentioned in earlier advice the beds were reallocated by the conductors.  Dinner in the dining car was simple, but fresh, tasty, clean and cheep - rice, chicken dish & beer for one was 30 RMB.  The train now leaves at 18:20 and arrives at around 05:30 the next day (but this includes winding the clock back 1 hour at the border), and includes two stops where you and your luggage get off the train, the first at about 21:30 and the second at about 00:30."

Traveller GeekySeb reports from a Nanning-Hanoi train journey in summer 2010:  "The train starts at 18.45 and the waiting hall is number 1. Thanks for the advice to use counter 16, it saves a lot of time as this is the one with no queue. If you don't know about that, you first join the long queue, then get sent to counter 16, as it happened to another traveller I met.  I booked my ticket on the Saturday noon for the Monday. I think I understood the Saturday train was full. We had to leave the train twice, once at around 22.30 to have our luggage scanned at the Chinese border and get the Chinese exit stamp, the other two hours later at around 23:30 Vietnamese time to get the Vietnam stamp and fill in the arrival card.  The train arrived at Gia Lam station at about 5.30 local time. There were plenty of taxis awaiting and I paid 200,000 VND, far too much I think!  There is some street food available for breakfast in the street opposite the station and one taxi driver awoke a shop-owner so I can change money and buy a SIM card."

Traveller Anton Vidgen reports from a Nanning-Hanoi train journey in January 2009:  "We purchased tickets in Nanning at counter 16 and departed the same day at 18:15. Soft sleeper cost RMB 334 each. There is a comfortable waiting room to the far left of the station if you are facing the main clock. The train only had about 20 passengers in total (exclusively soft sleeper) so ticket availability did not seem to be an issue. We arrived in Pingxiang around 20:00 and customs only took 45 mins. We then arrived in Dong Dang at 23:30 and customs again only took 45 mins. Our Vietnam visas became active on the next day so we were worried officials would cause a fuss, but we had no problems. We re-boarded the same comfortable Chinese train which finally arrived in Hanoi around 5:30am."

Nanning-Hanoi by bus...

If the train is full or you prefer daytime travel, there are several daily buses between Nanning & Hanoi, using modern coaches and travelling by day.  Buses reportedly leave Nanning bus station at 08:30. 09:00 & 09:30, journey time 7-8 hours, fare around RMB 150 (15 or $25).  The scenery is reported as well worth the trip!


 


Hanoi - Hong Kong by train

Although there isn't a direct train, you can easily travel between Hanoi & Hong Kong in less than 48 hours with a change of train at Nanning & Guangzhou.  You'll need a Chinese visa as you cross China on the way.  Here's how:

Hanoi ► Hong Kong

This journey costs around 70 or $110 one-way in total, and it's an experience itself.  Remember that you'll need a visa for China, and 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.

  • Day 1, evening:  Take the daily overnight train from Hanoi to Nanning, see the section above.  It leaves Hanoi in the evening and arrives Nanning next morning.  The soft sleeper fare is VND 568,000 (20 or $30).  Spend the day in Nanning.  Alternatively, there are several modern buses from Hanoi to Nanning every morning.

  • Day 2, evening:  Travel by overnight train from Nanning to Guangzhou.  There are several possible trains, train 2572 leaving Nanning at 19:15 and arriving Guangzhou (main station) at 07:50 next morning, train 1234 leaving Nanning at 17:25 and arriving Guangzhou (East station) at 05:56, and train K366 (a higher quality K-category train) leaving Nanning at 00:30 and arriving at Guangzhou (main station) at 12:05 next day.  All three trains have soft & hard class sleepers.  The fare is about 286 RMB (29 or $43) in a soft sleeper, or 184 RMB (19 or $29) in a hard sleeper.  In an ideal world, you'd pre-book this train, and you could always try contacting a Chinese travel agency in Nanning, assuming they could somehow arrange for you to collect tickets.  Otherwise, as there's no easy way to pre-book from Vietnam, just turn up and see what ticket you can get to Guangzhou. 

  • A taxi from Guangzhou main station to Guangzhou East station costs about RMB 30 (3) or you can take the well-organised metro with English-language signing from Guangzhou main station on red line 5 to Guangzhou east station on yellow line 1, for just RMB 4.

  • Day 3, travel from Guangzhou (East/Dong station) to Hong Kong (Kowloon station) by train.  There are a range of departures daily, including one at 14:00 arriving 15:48.  Fare about HK$190 (17 or $26).

Hong Kong ► Hanoi

This journey costs around 70 or $110 one-way in total, and it's an experience itself.  Remember that you'll need a visa for China, and 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.

  • Day 1, morning:  Take a train from Hong Kong (Kowloon station) to Guangzhou (East station).  There are a range of departures daily, including one leaving Kowloon at 11:17 and arriving Guangzhou Dong at 12:58.  Fare about HK$190 (17 or $28). 

  • A taxi from Guangzhou East to Guangzhou Main station costs about RMB 30, or you can take the well-organised metro with English-language signing from Guangzhou East on yellow line 1 to Guangzhou main station on red line 5, for just RMB 4.

  • Day 1, evening:  Take an overnight sleeper train from Guangzhou (main station) to Nanning, train number 2571 departing Guangzhou at 16:52 and arriving Nanning the next morning at 06:35.  Soft and hard class sleepers are available.  The fare is about 286 RMB (29 or $43) in a soft sleeper, or 184 RMB (19 or $29) in a hard sleeper.  There are in fact several alternative trains too, such as the K483 departing Guangzhou main station at 21:08 arriving Nanning at 09:34 next morning.  Spend the day in Nanning.

  • Day 2, take the daily overnight train from Nanning to Hanoi, see the section above.  It leaves Nanning in the early evening and arrives Hanoi next morning.  Soft & hard sleepers available, fare RMB 229 (23 or $37).  Alternatively, there are several modern buses from Nanning to Hanoi every morning.

How to buy tickets...

Buying tickets starting in Hanoi:  You need to buy a separate ticket for each train.  You can easily buy a Hanoi to Nanning ticket at the international booking counter at Hanoi main station on Le Duan street, reported as open 07:00-17:30 daily.  You'll almost always find places available, even on the day of departure.  It can help to know that the Vietnamese for 'Nanning' is 'Nam Ninh'.  Alternatively, tickets are also sold in Hanoi by Vietnam Hanoi Railways Tourist Company (Travel Agency - 152 Le Duan Street, Hanoi, email haratour@fpt.vn or call (84-4) 3518-6782. 

You'll need to show your passport and Chinese visa when buying tickets, so arrange your Chinese visa first.  It's easiest to get a visa in your home country before you leave, but you can also get a visa in Hanoi.  It was reported back in 2010 that the Chinese embassy in Hanoi wouldn't issue visas for anyone who wasn't a Vietnamese citizen or resident, but since 2012 they apparently now will.  If they won't, you can still arrange a Chinese visa in Hanoi through a suitable travel agency such as www.hanoibackpackershostel.com

You can buy an onward ticket from Nanning to Guangzhou and Guangzhou to Hong Kong when you get to Nanning station, or you can arrange the Nanning to Guangzhou sleeper ticket in advance online with reliable Chinese train ticket agency www.chinahighlights.com and collect the ticket at the station in Nanning.

Buying tickets starting in Hong Kong:  You need to buy a separate ticket for each train.  One option is to pre-book the Hong Kong-Guangzhou & Guangzhou-Nanning trains by email through an agency such as www.chinatripadvisor.com, www.chinatraintickets.net or www.china-train-ticket.com and have them delivered to your hotel in Hong Kong.  The Nanning to Hanoi train can easily be booked when you get to Nanning, at the station reservations office counter 16 (a more recent report says counter 1), you'll usually find places available even on the day of travel.  Alternatively, you can buy a Hong Kong to Guangzhou ticket and a Guangzhou to Nanning sleeper ticket at the China railway office at Hung Hom railway station.  They may be able to do the Nanning to Hanoi ticket, but if not, buy it when you get to Nanning.  Another option is to buy tickets for the train to Guangzhou, the Guangzhu to Nanning sleeper train and (if they can do it) the Nanning to Hanoi sleeper train at the CTS (China Travel Service) Central branch or CTS Mongkok branch in Hong Kong, as these two branches are equipped with the Chinese Railways ticketing system.  Again, if they cannot do the Nanning to Hanoi train, buy this when you get to Nanning at the station.

Chinese visas...

You'll need a Chinese visa to cross China between Hong Kong and Hanoi, either a transit visa or tourist visa.  The requirements vary depending on your nationality and where you apply for the visa, but you'll often have to prove you have a ticket into and out of China.  This can be a pain when you can only buy train tickets close to departure, or you plan to buy as you go, at the station on the day.  It can also lead to a 'Catch 22' if you plan to buy train tickets in Hanoi and need to show the visa to get the train tickets.  One way round this is to use a local Hong Kong or Vietnamese travel agency to sort all your tickets, using the agency's booking confirmation to get the visa, even though the agency can't get the tickets themselves until close to departure time.  The ultimate fall-back is that old favourite, buy the cheapest refundable airline ticket into & out of China, make a free-cancellation hotel booking for all of the nights you plan to be in China using a hotel site such as booking.com, use these to get your visa (which won't specify entry points or itinerary) then cancel everything.

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...

Traveller Hendryk went from Hong Kong to Hanoi in 2012:  "At the Hung Hom station in Hong Kong there's now a china-railway-office where you can book the tickets to Guangzhou East (190 HKD) and onwards to Nanning for between 268 HKD and 298 HKD, soft sleeper for the next day or later (same day was fully booked).  They charge a service fee of 200 HKD for that.  We took the 11:28 train to Guangzhou East and the 15:43 sleeper train to Nanning, it also departs from Guangzhou East, so no changing station necessary.  We arrived in Nanning at 7:07am.  We almost overslept, but a good sign to get off is when the stewards change your placeholder cards back to your ticket.  In Nanning as said above, it was very crowded in the train station, maybe because of that weekend.  At the counter number 16 (you should ask that before at the train info - no English signing anywhere) we had to wait for more than an hour but we got the soft sleeper tickets to Hanoi (Gia Lam) for 1.10.2012, departing 18:20, for 215 RMB each.

Traveller Jeremy Buddress travelled from Hanoi to Hong Kong in April 2009:  "We bought our Hanoi-Nanning tickets at Counter 10 of Hanoi main station - a 4 berth soft sleeper for 1,102,000 VND per person.  The process was a little confusing.  We went to the station on a Tuesday to try and confirm costs and times.  While the ticket machine at the entry to the main waiting area spits out slips for you spot in the queue, the '5' button that we pressed for "International Tickets" produced a 5000-series number which never ended up on the display even after 45 minutes of waiting, so we went to a ticket window to ask.  So, after stepping up to on of the other ticket counters we learned that the train did in fact leave every day (contradicting what one travel agent told us, even after making a "confirming" phone call).  We weren't ready to buy yet as we were still waiting for our China visas, which is another story.  But it does bring up a good point - you do need your passport when you buy tickets with the proper China visa ready to go.  So after getting our visas we returned to the station on Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately the noonish hour was apparently lunch so we waited until Counter 10 reopened around 13:30. Counter 10 is the only one labelled 'International Tickets" in English.  The transaction was speedy and we paid in cash.  We caught a cab from the Old Quarter to the Gia Lam Train Station in northeast Hanoi for about 70,000 VND.  Gia Lam is much smaller than the main station but nice enough.  We boarded our train right on time with only six other passengers. The stop at the Vietnam border control was no more than 20 minutes (off of the train, minus luggage) and at the China border was only about 15 minutes (off of the train, with luggage). Arrival and departure times were spot on per your timetable.  On arriving in Nanning we grabbed a room at a hotel across the street from the train station for 80 RMB, as the train didn't leave for Guangzhou until 00:30 that night.  Getting our tickets for this leg was a bit more challenging, as the Nanning ticket area is labelled almost entirely in Chinese.  Fortunately we were able to buy our domestic tickets at the international counter (#16, also labelled in English) for 197 RMB per person in a hard sleeper.  These were 6 berth, open to the corridor bunks that were full to capacity.  There appeared to be an earlier train around 19:00 that night, but it was full minus hard seats.  Our train left about 15 minutes late from Nanning, but again it was smooth sailing after that.  Arrival at the Guangzhou Main Station was a bit hectic as it is quite massive. Meeting our friend "out front" proved to be a challenge. The KFC is a nice landmark, attached to the station, right in front, if you need to meet someone there.

Traveller Erandathie Jayakody travelled from Hong Kong to Hanoi in January 2009:  I didn't buy the tickets in advance, I bought tickets along the way.  China Travel Services in Hong Kong can arrange tickets for you with a few days notice from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and from Guangzhou to Nanning.  There is a China Travel Service and another travel agent at the Hung Hom Station in Hong Kong (at the concourse, not at the MTR station itself).  However, I found it cheaper to buy the tickets from the station.  I caught the train from Hung Hom station in HK to Guangzhou East Station on 2 January 2009.  Hong Kong to Guangzhou was HKD$ 190.  It left promptly at 10.42 and arrived in Guangzhou at about mid-day.  Buying the ticket from Guangzhou was a bit difficult as I got caught up in the Chinese New Year rush, however I managed to buy a sleeper ticket to Nanning to depart same evening.  The ticket to Nanning and Guilin are sold at Counter 7.  The ticket cost RMB 173.  The train departs from the Guangzhou main Station, the taxi ride from Guangzhou East Station to the main station costs about RMB 30.  The train left at 16.52pm and arrived in Nanning at approximately 6am.  I then bought a ticket for the new overnight train from Nanning to Hanoi [see below].

Traveller Cath Battersby traveller Hong Kong to Hanoi in January 2009:  We bought our tickets 3 days ahead at Hung Hom station at China Railways (HK) holdings, under McDonalds. We paid HK$999 for 2 of us HK to Nanning hard sleeper. (HK$190 HK to Guangzhou, RMB 179 Guangzhou to Nanning and HK$100 commission each). Soft sleeper would have been a total of HK$1235 for 2. We had to pay in cash. The staff were very helpful and provided us with a B & W map of Guangzhou metro.  We left HK at 11.17. We werent allowed through security until 10:35.  Buy any drinks/snacks you need in advance, nothing past security except toilets and duty free. Excellent train and trouble free departure/immigration.  Upon arrival at Guangzhou the signs to the metro are in English and easy to follow.  It is fairly simple to work out how to get to the main station with the coloured maps on display. Large signs at Guangzhou main station show you which waiting room you need for your train. Lots of snack food and hot water available.  The overnight train to Nanning was a smooth journey.  The signs in Nanning are now in English too and we bought tickets for train #5517 to Pingxiang (RMB 17, 8am 11:30). Hard seats, friendly co-passengers and some great scenery on this trip! In Pingxiang there were a large number of people vying for our business. We paid RMB 5 for a mototaxi/tuktuk to the border and changed money in the back. Very quick and easy at the Chinese border and more money changing opportunities (although we didnt see anywhere official). Its useful to have Dong as youll need to pay a small fee (VND 2000) for your medical check at Vietnamese immigration. We had a trouble free entry.  Once through immigration we could not find anyone that would take us to Dong Dang. This may have been a scam but we had to settle for paying US$5 each (cheaper if you can pay in Dong) for a taxi to Lanson. We were taken straight to a minibus office and we paid VND 110,000 (their starting price was VND 200,000) for a seat to Hanois main train station. This took about 3 hours and left almost immediately.

Traveller Alan Merry travelled from Hong Kong to Hanoi in 2007:  "I booked from Hong Kong to Nanning at the agency within the shopping mall attached to Hong Kongs Hung Hom station two days before departure and was told that I had the last available soft class sleeper.  The fare from Hong Kong to Guangzhou was HK$190 (about 13/$25) and from Guangzhou to Nanning the sleeper ticket was priced at Y274 (about 18/$34).  The agency also provide me with a map of the Guangzhou underground indicating that a change of train was needed to get from Guangzhou East to Guangzhou [main] Railway Station.  The train left promptly at 11.17 arriving at 12.58   Of course, in China, all of the signs are in Chinese, making it difficult to know where to go to buy tickets or board trains.  At Guangzhou East, you descend one floor from the main concourse to find the ticket office for the underground.  Guangzhous underground is modern clean and efficient.  The clue to finding the right train is its number, which is printed on the ticket. The departure board refers you to a waiting room rather than a platform and you are directed from the waiting room to the train when it is ready for boarding. There is a special waiting room at Guangzhou for soft class passengers.  Departure from Guangzhou was at 16.57 and, as promised, the train was full. As it got dark, shortly after 6pm most passengers took to their bunks, while I occupied a fold-down seat in the corridor to watch the world go by.  Although arrival at Nanning the following morning was some two hours later than the scheduled 05.47, there was plenty of time to buy the next ticket, to Pingxiang, (Y17 = 1.10) and take a short stroll before departure.  This is a rather more scenic part of the journey as the train climbs into the mountains.  After about four hours arrival was at the almost completed new Pingxiang station where there was a selection of taxis ready and vying for business to take me to the border post.  Although quoted "only Y3" by the young man, this had grown to Y20 (about 1.30) before we reached the boarder.  On the Chinese side the French style buildings are still intact, used as shops, surrounded by neat gardens leading to the old gateway and on to the modern building which is the Chinese border post.  Then it is a few yards downhill to the rather less imposing Vietnamese post.  Here things are less chaotic than it appears.  You pick up an immigration card, fill it in and place it in your passport which you then put on top of a pile on the counter.  The immigration officers work their way though these and having stamped them will wave them in the air to be claimed.  Seemed to work.  Then another taxi down to Dong Dang which cost $10 US for the ten minute journey.  The service in the French style station was very helpful and friendly and the ticket to Hanoi cost 36,000 dong, just over 1 ! (again paid in US dollars) The train is not so much a passenger train as a parcels train with passengers.  The seats are wooden slats and all of the local passengers come with varieties of parcels. Departure was at 14.20 (Vietnam time is one hour behind Chinese time) and the 100 mile journey took some 4 hours.


Hanoi-Kunming by train & bus

Hanoi to Kunming train service:  Still cancelled...

There used to be a metre-gauge sleeper train from Hanoi to Kunming in China twice a week.  Unfortunately, floods and landslides damaged the Chinese part of the line in May 2002 and this train is currently suspended and likely to remain so for many years.  Work on a new fast standard-gauge line has now started, and it's possible that fast standard-gauge trains will start running between Kunming and the China/Vietnam border at Hekou in early 2015, with a connection by Vietnamese train to and from Hanoi.  In the meantime, use a sleeper bus to the frontier then a train to Hanoi as shown below.

Hanoi ► Kunming by sleeper train + sleeper bus...

  • Step 1, travel from Hanoi to Lao Cai by overnight sleeper train, see the train times & fares above.  You may want visit the pleasant hill station of Sapa for a day or two before going on into China, Sapa is 40km from Lai Cai by taxi, bus or minibus.

  • Step 2, transfer from Lao Cai station to Hekou.  Lao Cai is just 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Chinese border.  You can walk (25 minutes) or take a taxi (5 minutes) from Lai Cai station to the border post and walk across into Hekou on the Chinese side.  Passing through both sets of customs takes about an hour.  In Hekou, the bus station is no longer next to the border, but 5-6 km away.  You take a taxi for RMB 10.

  • Step 3, travel from Hekou to Kunming by bus.  You may now find one or two daytime buses the same day (if you do, pleasew e-mail me).  But if not, there are several overnight sleeper buses (buses with sleeping-berths, see the photos below).  Buses leaves Hekou bus station at 19:20 & 19:30, both arriving in Kunming East Bus Station around 07:00.  The bus fare is about 147 RMB for the 440 km trip.

Kunming ► Hanoi by sleeper bus + sleeper train...

  • Step 1, travel from Kunming to Hekou (on the Vietnamese frontier) by bus.

    Option 1 is to take an overnight sleeper bus ( a bus with flat sleeping-berths, see the photos below).  One or more buses leave Kunming's East bus station at around 19:30 each evening, arriving in Hekou early next morning, but there are in fact several evening departures.  The bus fare is about 147 RMB for the 440 km trip.  It's reported that a new road opened in summer 2013 has reduced this bus ride to 5 hours, so arrival may be very early in the morning indeed! 

    Option 2 is to take a daytime bus.  There are now two or three departures from Kunming's East Bus Station between 07:00 & 08:00, arriving Hekou bus station around 14:00 to 16:00.  These will allow you to connect with an overnight train from Lai Cai to Hanoi the same day.

    If you have any more updates on this bus service please e-mail me!

  • Step 2, transfer from Hekou in China to Lai Cai in Vietnam:  At Hekou, take a taxi (RMB 10) from Hekou bus station 5 or 6km to the border, there will be plenty of taxis waiting at the bus station.  Walk across the border to the Vietnamese side (border controls can take up to an hour) then walk another 25 minutes or take a 5-minute taxi ride into Lao Cai, just 2.5km (1.5 miles) from the border post.

    You may want to visit the pleasant hill station at Sapa for a day or two before going on to Hanoi, Sapa is just 40km from Lao Cai by taxi, bus or minibus.

Traveller's reports...

Traveller Alan Duffel travelled from Kunming to Vietnam in 2013:  "I took the sleeper bus yesterday from Kunming to Hekou for the Vietnam border. The travel agent that Delphine mentioned in 2010 is no longer there (the hotel that housed it has been demolished). In fact I couldn't find a single English-speaking agency in central Kunming who could sell me a ticket, so I bought one from the Eastern Bus Station itself (bus number 50 from Renmin East Road, stop near Walmart, 200m east of Golden Spring Hotel).  This is by far your best bet.  I paid 147 (no booking fee) for a 19:00 departure.  There are some English-speaking staff at the ticket office there, albeit limited level, and I found it useful to get my hotel staff to write out the details in Chinese.  No ID required, so if you're waiting for your Vietnamese visa as I was then you can still buy a bus ticket.  My bus was physically the same as others have reported, though it didn't arrive in Hekou until about 07:15 having made a 4-hour stop at about 00:45.  I took a taxi from the bus terminal to the Chinese border post as it's a good 30 minute walk otherwise.  Once over the border in Vietnam I was able to get a minibus directly to Sapa, albeit for a marked up price of 70,000 dong.

Traveller Delphine Odou reports:  "We booked our ticket from a travel agency located in our hotel (Camellia hotel in Kunming).  They charged us 149 RMB per person (the real price is 139 RMB) for the night bus of 19:30.  The bus leaves from the eastern bus station of Kunming, taking about 20 minutes by taxi from the city centre and costing about 23 RMB. It wasn't the first time we were taking a night bus in China so we were not surprised but it can be astonishing if it is your first time. There are about 35 beds in the bus and you must not be too fat or too tall because the berths are really small (mine was no taller than 1.55 m and 50 cm large).  We left at 19:45 and the bus was full.  We were stopped several times by traffic jams in the middle of the night, without knowing what was happening and when we would be able to carry on.  We stopped for about half an hour at 2 AM for the bus driver to have rest and for people to eat, smoke (even if some of them smoke while the bus is driving) and go to the toilets.  At about 4 AM, a policeman entered the bus, woke us up and took our passports.  He came back with our passports about 5 minutes later.  We arrived in Hekou at about 6 AM. We had to wait 2 hours for the border to open (8 AM Chinese time, 7 AM Vietnamese time).  The bus station is about 200 m from the Chinese border. It took us about 10 minutes to cross the Chinese border than cross the bridge than 10 minutes to cross the Vietnamese border (you need to have your visa before).  Once in Vietnam, it was quite hard for us to find a bus going to Sapa at a reasonable price as we were the only tourists crossing the border by foot.  We finally took a bus going to the bus station of Lao Cai and once again we had to bargain to find a bus going to Sapa.  As we were quite exhausted by the night spent in the bus, we finally took a minivan for 40 000 VND each. We arrived in Sapa about 1 hour and 15 minutes later."

Traveller Jana Spannagel reports:  "The sleeper bus from Kunming no longer leaves from Kunming's Nanyao bus station, but from Kunming East bus station, because they want to close the Nanyao bus station down.  There are several buses leaving during the day, I think the first one is at 12:00 and the last one at 19:30.   We took the 19:30 bus and arrived in Hekou around half past five in the morning.  So we had to wait until eight, since the border opens at that time.  It was kind of funny to see the Chinese flying their flag and playing the national anthem at eight o'clock sharp.  I was a little bit afraid of the border, because I read the worst things about it, but we had the nicest clerks ever.  Afterwards we walked to the bus/train station in Lao Cai, but when there is no train arrival, there are no buses leaving to Sapa.  So we had to take a minibus, and there was only one guy offering a ride, so we had no choice.  He wanted 70,000 Dong, normally it's 30,000.  The sleepers in the bus from Kunming to Hekou are OK, just a little bit too small for me and maybe western people in general, but that was OK.   The ride itself was pretty shaky and I hit my head several times.  The bus was quite empty, there were only 5 or 6 Asian people travelling with us, so you could have a lot of blankets, which was good.  Some Chinese officials entered the bus around 1:30 and wanted to see our passports, but they came back quickly.

Traveller Tom Finn reports:  "The Hekou-Kunming sleeper bus was great, they drive like mad and you are a bit squashed but not too bad. The bus was boarded by police in a small town at around 1am. They took our passports and scowled at us for a while. Luckily they came back with the passports and we arrived safely in Kunming at around 7am the next morning."   If you have any more information on this route please e-mail me!

On board the Kunming-Vietnam sleeper bus...

Kunming to Hanoi by train+bus:  The first stage is this sleeper bus Kunming to the frontier...   Inside the Kunming sleeper bus:  Berths are a bit short for taller travellers...

Above:  The sleeper bus from Kunming to Hekou (for Lao Cai in Vietnam).  Photo courtesy of Tom Finn

 

Above:  The sleeper bus berths are comfortable enough but not huge, so tall westerners may have to curl up!  Photo courtesy of Jana Spannagel.


Europe to Vietnam overland

Hanoi, Vietnam:  Mausoleum of Ho Chi MinhEurope 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.

Pictured right:  Don't forget to pay your respects to the body of Vietnam's great leader, Ho Chi Minh, preserved in his mausoleum in Hanoi...


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.


Hotels & accommodation 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: Art Hotel, Hanoi.  Top end:  Sofitel Metropole

A little budget gem, the Art Hotel in Hanoi 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 excellent inexpensive Art Boutique Hotel, Hanoi...

 

The Sofitel Metropole.  Note the vintage Citroen!

Recommendations in Hu:  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.

Personal recommendation:  Victoria Hotel, Sapa...

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 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

Get 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 (up to a limit) and belongings.  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 (no age limit), see www.JustTravelCover.com.

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

  If you're resident in the USA try Travel Guard USA.

Get a spare credit card, designed for foreign 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!

You can avoid ATM charges and expensive exchange rates with a Caxton FX euro currency Visa Card, or their multi-currency 'Global Traveller' Visa Card, see www.caxtonfx.com for info.

Get an international SIM card to save on calls & mobile data...

Mobile phones can cost a fortune to use abroad, so consider getting a global pre-paid SIM card for your mobile phone which can cut call & data costs by up to 90%.  At the time of writing, www.roamsure.com claims a definite 25% saving within the EU and up to 90% saving in the rest of the world.  Incoming calls are free in 73 countries, including the USA, Australia, South Africa and EU.  There's no contract or commitment, and at time I write this Roamsure is offering a global SIM card for free when you buy 20 of call credit.  Seat61 gets some commission to support the site if you buy airtime from Roamsure.

 


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