Day 29-30: Vietnam Railways from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City Part 1

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 28

Frequent trains run along the North-South railway line between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). Sometimes incorrectly known as the Reunification Express by foreigners, no one will understand this when booking your tickets, and none of the five daily trains, nor any Vietnamese trains at all, bear such a name, or even any name at all.

I booked my ticket online around 2 months before my journey at Baolau, as the official Vietnam Railways website does not accept foreign credit cards for booking. Baolau has a similar booking system as the official website, including giving you the option to select your seat or berth. You can also book your tickets through 12Go Asia, but you will not be able to select your exact seat or berth.

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 04

If you haven’t got your ticket online, you can book it in person from the ticket offices at any station. In Hanoi Railway Station, there is an English-speaking staff in the tourist counter. Don’t worry, it’s not a scam or a misunderstanding when they ask you to go inside the counter itself to book your ticket, as the computer is positioned differently there and there is only one staff to man the tourism office and ticket sales in English.

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 05

If you have booked your ticket online through the official Vietnam Railways website, Baolau or 12Go Asia, you can collect your hardcopy ticket from these self-service machines if you would like a souvenir. Vietnam Railways accept the original ticket emailed to you in .pdf format flashed on your phone or tablet, or printed out from home.

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 29

The boarding area is in front of the main entrance.

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 30

Look out for your train information over here. My train is the SE3, departing from Track 1.

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 31

I got this overview shot of the tracks of Hanoi Railway Station because I messed up when checking the board, and went to Track 7 for the SP3 instead. Luckily, there were attendants to check tickets in front of every coach’s door before boarding, similar to China, so I was sent back to SE3 at Track 1 by the SP3 attendant. It could potentially be a disastrous mistake for me, ending up running up north to Lao Cai, if no one found out before the train departed.

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 38

Back at Track 1 where my correct SE3 is stabled.

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 33London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 34

The overview of the Soft Sleeper compartment.

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 35

My lower berth.

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 36

The lower berth comes with a 2-pin power socket.

London to Singapore Day 29 Hanoi 37

The upper berth. I did not spot a power socket around the upper berth.

I had originally wanted to try out the Hard Sleeper which was similar to the Soft Sleeper with 6 berths per compartment instead, but since it was a long journey, and the difference was minimal, I opted to go for the best class there was.

I shared the compartment on the first night with a local Vietnamese on the opposing bottom bunk, who spoke to me in almost-perfect English and he mentioned that he worked in Singapore before. He was on his way to Vinh city, a journey of just 319 kilometers and 5 hours. He said that the Soft Seats and Hard Sleepers were sold out and no way was he going to ride in Hard Seat. Late bookers, beware.

Above me were two Westerners, whom I shall not name their nationality, complaining about the train ride 5 minutes before departure. They were complaining to each other that they should have flown, since the price difference was not much to Da Nang (I doubt so), but yet they want to experience the railway. I didn’t join the conversation. Anyway, they probably thought that I was Vietnamese and didn’t understand them, till the Vinh guy and I conversed in English.

My advice to you readers is, if you know you can’t do it, don’t ride the train for long distances as your first experience. Why experience a journey you know you can’t handle just because others say it’s worth it. You won’t sacrifice eating your favourite food in the world even if everyone else dislikes it right?

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 01

Waking up the next morning travelling through paddy fields.

I walked to the restaurant car since the trolley service had probably ended already. I heard the restaurant car staff’s voices fade away as I slowly got up to brush my teeth.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 02London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 03

Some phở bò (pronounced as fur bur, please) or beef noodle soup for breakfast.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 06

I wanted the fried beef noodles but the lady said it was not available.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 04London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 05

The interior of the restaurant car. Notice that the kitchen takes up the whole width of the coach – there is no walkthrough in the restaurant car, and hence is located at the end of the train.

Here are some photos of how the other classes on board the SE3 look like:

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 07

The cheapest option, Hard Seat, is air-conditioned on this train. It was crowded with live entertainment through someone else’s radio. The passengers could potentially not bother about the assigned seating, but I’m not sure.

Now I understand why Vinh guy doesn’t want to ride in here last night.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 08

Soft Seat reclines quite a bit, comfortable if you’re sleeping but possibly annoying in the day when you wish to sit up should the person in front of you wants his seat down.

I have seen the Hard Sleeper coaches, both refurbished and otherwise, and it looks exactly like the Soft Sleeper, except that there are six berths and the mattress thickness was slightly thinner, similar to KTM’s ADNS mattresses.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 09

Stopping at a local station. I like the idea of completely tiling up the station, including the track area, creating more platform space for everyone and making crossing the lines safer with the huge presence of both train and station staff and easier for passengers with luggage.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 10London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 11

More fields.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 12London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 13

Lots of beautiful rivers.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 14

Rounding a bend while lunch trolley service is in progress.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 15

I did not know this at first, since the compartment menu does not state the menu items, but when I saw how the locals ordered after I got my food, they ordered it in mixed vegetables rice-style.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 16

And because I didn’t know, but the other passengers did, they had a nice plate of dishes but I had just a basic chicken and vegetable meal, and a cup of soup. The lady only asked me “Chicken okay?”.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 17

Stopping at a rural station on a nice S-bend, probably just for operational or safety reasons, before we enter the scenic line before Da Nang.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 18

The line north of Da Nang offers one of the world’s best views as seen from on board a train, undisputed by all travelers who have done this journey before.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 19

A mix of forests and beaches in a bay, with the city skyline at the far end.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 20

Lots of tight curves are negotiated along this line. The trains runs slower, but it allows for great photos to be taken out of the window. I didn’t manage to get the window open though, the photos would have been nicer if I could.

And believe it or not, my two Western neighbours were in the compartment the whole time, one reading and one sleeping. Seriously, just fly next time.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 21London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 22London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 23London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 24

Absolutely stunning views of Lăng Cô from the train. My camera does not do any justice to the view.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 25

Finally able to see the front of my train.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 26

The bay of Vinh Nam Chon.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 27London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 28

Crossing the Cu De River on a low bridge.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 29

The train makes a stop at Da Nang, where many passengers get off and new ones get on for the onward journey to Ho Chi Minh City.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 30

Da Nang is a station on a terminal line, similar to Butterworth in Malaysia. There is a wye junction before the terminal. The locomotive runs around and re-attaches to the now-front end of the train, and the train changes direction from Da Nang to Ho Chi Minh City.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 31

More fields.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 32

There is also a dinner trolley service, with dishes that look better than lunch, but I ate the instant noodles and snacks that I bought in Hanoi, since I wanted to lighten my bag. Hot and room temperature drinking water is available in all coaches.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 33

Sunset on board the SE3.

London to Singapore Day 30 Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh 34

Another rural station at evening time.

IMPORTANT: The information listed in this post is current. However, the information in the next post is outdated. I will still blog about the outdated experience as it was an actual part of my journey.

My journey took place at the time when services to Ho Chi Minh City were distrupted due to a barge hitting the Ghenh Bridge in Bien Hoa, causing part of it to collapse, and I was required to transfer to a transshipment bus and train to reach Ho Chi Minh City. Services between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, and all services operating to and from Ho Chi Minh City, are now operating normally.

Read Part 2 of the journey (outdated) here.

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Day 29-30: Vietnam Railways from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City Part 1

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.