Vietnam’s landscapes are beautiful, sprawling, and diverse, featuring everything from high mountains to white-sand beaches. The country’s vast size and small width mean that one of the easiest ways to travel is by train. There is only one main railway line crossing the whole country, and that is the Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City line.
While it is not a modern bullet train with undisputed comfort and sophisticated design, it offers something priceless: the views. You’ll be taken on a journey through the astonishing panoramas of Vietnam. Prepare to see rice paddies, vibrant streets, fishing villages, and dense green jungles flashing by your window.
The train is not the only way to get from Hanoi to Saigon as you could also consider a bus to soak up the views, or for the ultimate freedom, a motorbike.
It’s worth noting that the buses in Vietnam can be scary because of the way they drive fast passing cars on rural roads. And motorbiking is an epic trip, requiring at minimum a week of your time, an athletic skillset, and knowledge of driving a motorbike, plus it’s just a lot of effort. If you only have time to see two of Vietnam’s largest cities and their nearby attractions, you can also fly.
Reunification Express | North-South Train
Originally built by the French during the colonial period, there are now four trains, all of which are called the Reunification Express, that run daily between the capital and Vietnam’s largest city. The four trains chugging along the track from Hanoi to HCMC are the SE1, SE3, SE5, SE7, meanwhile, the four trains from HCMC to Hanoi are SE2, SE4, SE6, SE8.
The railway line spans 1,072 miles (1,726km) and takes around 35 hours to travel from one end to the other. The official website writes that the journey takes anywhere between 31.5 to 34.5 hours, but be prepared for possible delays and add at least 30 minutes to the total.
Train Station Schedule
The trains which run South to North along this railway, stopping at the following 12 locations.
- Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
- Muong Man (Mui Ne)
- Thap Cham
- Nha Trang
- Dieu Tri
- Quang Ngai
- Da Nang
- Dong Ha
- Dong Hoi
- Thanh Hoa
- Nam Dinh
The schedule for the organized departures and arrivals can be found here for the South-North trip, and here for the North-South trip. Keep in mind that these schedules can be considered rough templates. Traveling through Vietnam will teach you to expect the unexpected.
- Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Train Station | Tel: 84 8343 6528
Address: 1 Nguyen Thong, 9 Ward, 3 District, HCMC
- Hanoi Train Station – Gate A | Tel: +84 4 3 9423 697
Address: 120 Le Duan Str, Cua Nam Ward, Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi
Where to Book Your Tickets
Due to the popularity of the trains with tourists, the Vietnam Railway system has an easy-to-navigate website where you can book your tickets. Check out the current fares and online tickets on the two links above. You can also purchase them directly at the train station, ask your hotel or a travel agency.
There are four separate fair types on two of the four trains traveling between two cities.
- Hard Seat – A simple wooden bench that many local travelers opt to sit on. It’s the cheapest option but provides minimal comfort.
- Soft Seat – Slightly more comfortable and reminiscent of bus seats. These are a great option if you want to enjoy the view and are only planning to travel a short distance.
- Hard Berth – A sleeper ticket in a 6-berth compartment.
- Soft Berth – A sleeper bed in a 4-berth compartment. If you plan to travel along the railway line for a significant chunk of time, it’s recommended that you opt for the soft berth options as it provides maximum comfort with air conditioning and only four passengers per cabin.
There is also an option to book a VIP cabin which only has two beds, however, these tickets must be booked well in advance.
Food on the Train
You can purchase set meals after you board, which will be delivered at mealtime. There’s also a snack cart that comes along to feed you between meals. You’re also welcome to bring your own food and beverage, which you probably should. They have boiling water stations to use with soup, tea, or coffee.
Scenery Along the Way
The main reason why you would opt for the train rather than the local flights is the incredible scenery you will witness along the way. If you are traveling from Ho Chi Minh, you will depart this vibrant city with its French-colonial architecture into rural landscapes of rice paddies. You will see farmers accompanying their water buffalo, ancestral shrines, small villages, and rolling hills.
The further north you go by train, you will take in incredible sights like the glittering sands of Nha Trang beach. This area is a popular destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. Soon the landscape will transform into a mountainous background and limestone karsts and will keep shifting to feature taller trees, denser rainforests, and the world-renowned caves of North Vietnam.
Things to Consider
To make the most of your journey from Hanoi to Saigon, or vice-versa, you’ll want to expect the worst and hope for the best. It might be a solid idea to break up the journey because 35 hours is a vast amount of time to be in over your head if it’s not what you were expecting.
- If departing HCMC, book the first leg of the train from Saigon to Nha Trang. And if it’s your thing after that, consider a flight to Hanoi from Cam Ranh International Airport, which serves Nha Trang.
- If departing Hanoi, book the first leg of the train from Hanoi to Vinh. Then you can bail out at its Vinh International Airport and fly to Saigon.
- To save money and ensure you are not getting scammed, make sure to purchase your own tickets on the official Vietnam Railways System website
- There are no tickets that offer multiple stops. Therefore, if you wish to split up your journey, you will need to purchase a separate ticket for each leg of the journey.
- There are specifications to your luggage on the train with adults limited to 20kg and children to 10kg. You may bring your luggage on board and stow it beneath your bunk if you are in a sleeper cabin, or on the overhead racks in the seated areas.
- Stay flexible as the trains will possibly have delays.
- Some reports of the train ride warn travelers that some areas of the train can be quite dirty. It is recommended to bring wet wipes for the bathroom, and a light sleeping bag for added comfort in your berth.
- It can be noisy too with all the stops and people hanging around, so bring earplugs and an eyeshade if you want to try and get proper rest, required even in your personal cabin.
Note: Children under 3 years old are free. And those 3 to 9 years old and shorter than 1.3 m cost 75% the price of an adult ticket.
All aboard the Reunification Express! Safe travels from north to south or south to north. Enjoy the journey along Vietnam’s historic railroad!