The Vietnam Railways/China Railway MR1/T8702 from Hanoi (Gia Lam Railway Station) to Nanning is the only international through train remaining in ASEAN (though it’s just one country which is actually in ASEAN), with the other ASEAN railway borders of Singapore-Malaysia, Malaysia-Thailand, Thailand-Laos and potentially Thailand-Cambodia being operated by cross-border shuttle trains only.
The MR1/T8702 is a daily train formed of coaches of China Railway, hauled by Vietnam Railways (Haraco) locomotives on the Vietnamese sector. As the coaches and locomotives are of standard gauge, the train can only reach up till Gia Lam Railway Station, west of Hanoi city centre across the Red River, as the mixed gauge tracks only run between Gia Lam and Dong Dang, rather than from Hanoi Railway Station itself, possibly due to the wider track gauge and heavier loading gauge being unable to fit on the Long Bien Bridge.
Vietnam Railways possibly use the train number of MR1 between Gia Lam and Pingxiang, and China Railway possibly use the train number of T8702 between Pingxiang and Nanning.
Snacks and drinks are available at the small shops across Gia Lam station. As there is no dining car attached for the whole journey, this is a good place to load up on supplies for the journey.
The waiting room and ticket hall of Gia Lam Railway Station is now air-conditioned, as compared to my visit the last time.
The timetable of the international trains MR1/MR2 between Gia Lam and Nam Ninh (Nanning), and M1/M2 between Gia Lam and Bac Kinh (Beijing).
I purchased my ticket online from Easybook, with the ticket supplier being Violette Train according to the .pdf confirmation. The .pdf printout has to be exchanged for the actual ticket here at Gia Lam Railway Station.
After looking around the station for someone potentially holding tickets looking out for other passengers, I went ahead to the ticket counter to check on it, and the guy in white standing at the counter happens to be the Violette Train staff holding my ticket. The ticket/.pdf exchange took less than a minute.
My ticket for the MR1/T8702 train ride from Gia Lam to Nanning.
The D19Er standard gauge locomotive attached at the back of the MR1/T8702 train.
The dual gauge tracks at Gia Lam. Standard gauge is used for trains coming from China, and meter gauge is used for all other trains within Vietnam.
The inbound HP2 making a brief stop at Gia Lam, onward to Hanoi Railway Station.
The MR1/T8702 train was made up of 5 Soft Sleeper (软卧) coaches, numbered 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7.
The destination sign of the MR1/T8702 to Nanning.
The D14E locomotive, heading the MR1/T8702 train to Dong Dang.
The corridor of the Soft Sleeper coach.
There are 9 Soft Sleeper compartments in each coach, each with 4 berths.
The lower berth of the Soft Sleeper, which doubles up as a seat during the day.
Hangers are provided.
The upper berth of the Soft Sleeper.
There is a recess above the corridor for extra storage space.
A power socket is available in each compartment, but they were either not working or not turned on.
The door lock and step to the upper berth.
Like all Chinese trains, hot water is available at the end of the coach.
Shortly after, the conductor comes around to exchange the train ticket for the berth card, and took down my passport details.
The western style toilet on board the Soft Sleeper.
The train departed right on time from Gia Lam at 9.40pm.
The train arrived at Dong Dang about 4 hours later.
Heading to the railway station proper for Vietnamese immigration clearance.
Dong Dang Railway Station has since been renovated, with a proper one-way channel for customs screening and thereafter immigration clearance, all in the newly air-conditioned hall. However, there was just a grand total of 2 counters for the entire train, so the queue took about half an hour when standing somewhere in the middle of the queue. Not the most fun thing to do at 2am.
After clearing immigration, show your stamped passport to the officer by the door to the platform, and be on your way back to the train.
There does not seem to be a stamp fee any more for all passengers, as compared with the last time I crossed this border.
The train departed Dong Dang at 2.51am.
The journey to Pingxiang took about 40 minutes.
Here at Pingxiang, everyone disembarked again for Chinese immigration at 4.30am. If you were thinking of getting some sleep at night on this night train, think again.
Again, just two immigration counters were open for the whole train. Remember to pick up an arrival card to fill up before approaching the immigration counter.
NOTE: China no longer provides you the full immigration card with the attached Arrival Card and Departure Card, but rather, just issues them one at a time now, so you never have to worry about losing your Departure Card – you fill it up only before clearing departure immigration when you’re exiting China. You will only find the Arrival Card when clearing arrival immigration.
Once immigration was done, and customs cleared, it’s back onto the train again.
The train departed Pingxiang at 6.15am.
About 2 hours later, the train pulled into Chongzuo Railway Station.
Lots of passengers came onboard here onto the Hard Seat (硬座) coaches, as this is the only morning train to Nanning from this station.
There is a wash basin area if you’d like to brush your teeth.
The corridor in the morning.
Making a brief stop at a rural station. Doors were not open at this station.
The scenery on the way to Nanning.
When tracks start flying all over the place, you know you’re approaching Nanning.
Waiting for a China Railway High-speed (CRH) train to overtake to arrive at Nanning first.
Crossing the Yongjiang River to Nanning Railway Station.
Locomotives parked in the depot on approach to Nanning.
Probably China Railway Nanning Group’s breakdown train.
Arriving at Nanning Railway Station.
An additional plank is provided to provide a step-free and gap-free access to the high platforms.
Detaching the locomotive from the train.
The train arrived at Nanning at 10.14am, 7 minutes delayed from schedule.
The DF4D locomotive which headed the train from Dong Dang to Nanning.
The permanent rake of the T8701/T8702, as indicated by the signboard at the end of the rake.
Heading down the platforms to the underpass to exit the station.
There is only one exit at Nanning Railway Station. Follow the signs, or the obvious hordes of people.
As the tickets for the international Gia Lam – Nanning train are all paper tickets, use the red lane to exit the station.
Follow the arrow to the red lane (without barriers), at the side of the automatic gates.
Walking up the ramp out of the station.
Back in Nanning after 2 years for the same purpose – to change trains.
The Vietnam Railways/China Railway MR1/T8702 is the only international through train remaining in ASEAN, and the only train linking Vietnam to China, so if you’re looking for a train journey on this route, this sleeper train, or rather sleepless train, is the only option you have. Nevertheless, the Soft Sleeper coaches were comfortable for drifting in and out of sleep, and it certainly felt easier travelling on the eastbound timetable with some sleeping time in the night and early morning as compared with the westbound timetable which has all immigration activities in the 4-hour window around midnight, and the early arrival into Hanoi (Gia Lam) at 5.30am does not help with any rest whatsoever.
There were many trains to Guangzhou from Nanning, probably one every half an hour when including both Nanning and Nanning East stations, but the next available train was in 6 hours time from Nanning East, only with standing tickets left, and the next train with seats was in 9 hours time, getting into Guangzhou at around midnight. Picking the logical timing option but with standing tickets, it was now an unexpected layover in Nanning for the next 6 hours.