How to travel by train in Vietnam – The Reunification Line

Do you like trains and are planning a trip to Vietnam? This article is for you! You will find everything you need to know about the Reunification Line, Vietnam’s main train line!

Traveling by train is almost always pleasant, and it is certainly an experience in Vietnam!

About the Vietnam Reunification Line

The Reunification Line is one of the most popular and famous train routes among train enthusiasts – it connects Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), the largest city in Vietnam and former capital of South Vietnam, crossing almost the entire country.

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The reunification line is also part of the famous longest journey in the world, which goes from Portugal to Vietnam, crossing Europe, Russia, China, etc. It was our dream trip, planned before the world went crazy, first with the pandemic and then with the wars.

The reunification line, which has a total length of 1726 km, is a single-track, meter-gauge line connecting the north and south of Vietnam. The trains are often called the Reunification Express, alluding to the reunification of Vietnam after the war. However, the trains do not have this official name.

The line was built during the French colonial period in Vietnam, between 1899 and 1939, and took just 40 years to complete. From Hanoi, it is also possible to continue north towards China. To the south, there are no other trains from Ho Chi Minh.

The route of the Reunification line crosses a large part of Vietnam, passing through immense provinces, important cities, and tourist attractions. It is, therefore, an excellent way to travel and visit some of Vietnam’s best destinations and monuments.

This is considered one of the world’s most beautiful and historic train journeys. It crosses areas of renowned beauty, such as the Hái Van Pass, the Lang Co peninsula, and Van Phong Bay near Nha Trang. Along the entire route, we can see beautiful areas of rice fields, dense forests, mountains, and beaches.

Boarding a train at a busy station on a cloudy day to travel in Vietnam.
Riding the reunification train in Vietnam is an experience we recommend

Main stops on the Reunification line

As it connects the two main cities across the country, the Reunification Express passes through many of Vietnam’s biggest tourist attractions.

From north to south, the best-known and most popular are:

  • Hanoi: The chaotic and frenetic capital of Vietnam. It’s not our favorite destination, but it’s an experience.
  • Ninh Binh: One of the most beautiful destinations in Vietnam, with limestone mountains and unforgettable caves.
  • Hue: Former imperial capital of Vietnam, popular for its imperial tombs and ancient palace.
  • Da Nang: the largest city in central Vietnam and access point to Hoi An, as Hoi An does not have a train station.
  • Nha Trang: a beach resort town in Vietnam. Excellent opportunity to see a different Vietnam.
  • Mui Né: Mui Né itself has no station, but Phan Thiet station is less than 30km away. Mui Né is an adventure beach destination with dunes, wind, and waves for adventurous and energetic travelers.
  • Ho Chi Minh: The largest city in Vietnam and the “capital” of the south. It is also the access point to the Mekong Delta and known for the Cu Chi Tunnels.
Boarding a train at a busy station on a cloudy day to travel in Vietnam.
Ninh Binh – One of the most beautiful destinations in Vietnam, with limestone mountains and unforgettable caves

Is the Hanoi – Saigon Train running?

Yes. As of this writing, in 2024, the train is running, and there are several daily departures. Check carefully which time is most favorable to your itinerary. You can do it at night when it’s long trips, like the ones we did.

In addition to the different daily departures, it is worth noting that the train has several types of tickets and different operators. There are public carriages (from Vietnam Railways) and private carriages (from different companies, Laman Express, Lotus Express, etc.) on the same train.

Our Experience on the Reunification Express

Even though we love trains and train travel, we haven’t done all the reunification. We “only” made two long sections:

  • Between Nihn Bihn (relatively close to Hanoi) and Hue – Almost 10 hours of travel.
  • Between Da Nang (the largest city in central Vietnam) and Nha Trang, one of the most important beach destinations in the country – about 12 hours.

In both cases, we traveled at night, taking the opportunity to sleep on the train and see the landscapes at dawn. Interestingly, our experience was quite different on both trips, one much more pleasant than the other.

People waiting to find out the train timetable, looking at an electronic screen with the train timetable written in Vietnam
Inside the Da Nang train station in Vietnam

Nihn Bihn – Hue by train on the reunification express

The night train left Ninh Binh at 10 pm and arrived in Hue at almost 10 am the next day, so it took about 12 hours. According to the ticket, it was train SE19.

The carriage was in good condition, with air conditioning, a comfortable bed and we were provided with snacks and a bottle of water.

The train is very slow and quite noisy. The noise is particularly problematic for those who have difficulty sleeping in these situations.

Despite this, the trip was quite pleasant. We managed to sleep quite well, which was great for enjoying the next day.

Later, we realized we stayed in a Laman Express compartment (you can confirm this by the decoration). These tickets are supposedly more expensive, but we paid for the usual ticket. In Vietnam, it is sometimes very difficult to understand if what we get is what we pay for. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse…

inside the sleeping carriage on a train in Vietnam with a bed with sheets and duvet and a small light on the wall and flower decoration on the wall
4-berth carriage on Laman Express in Vietnam Reunification Express Train

Da Nang to Nha Trang by Train

We also took the night train between Da Nang and Nha Trang, but this time with the number SE. The train was supposed to leave at 11:15 PM but only departed around midnight. Delays in trains and buses in Vietnam are common, and we must always count on them. We arrived around 10 AM and had about 10 hours to travel.

Although apparently similar, the carriage and the experience here were quite different. The carriage was not from Laman Express but from Vietnam Railways, which might explain why it was much older and made much more noise. The air conditioning was on full blast, facing us, making it extremely cold.

Furthermore, we were unlucky with our traveling companions, who made the compartment dirty and made a lot of noise on their cell phones. In short, it wasn’t easy to rest.

The bathrooms here were also much worse and much dirtier.

4 bunk beds with 4 pillows and a small table with a vase of flowers under a window with sunlight inside a carriage in Vietnam railways
Vietnam Railways 4-bed cabin on the Vietnam Reunification Line

What types of tickets are there?

The Reunification Express has different types of carriages and tickets at your disposal. Depending on your personality, wallet, and trip, you can choose between:

  • Soft seat—A Carriage with seating. We’ve never used one, but from what we’ve seen, it will be comfortable for short trips. Long, overnight trips can be very difficult in this type of place. Naturally, it is also the cheapest.
  • 6-seater cabin – Cabins with six seats, three on each side (top, middle, bottom). They are a little cheaper than the 4-seater ones.
  • 4-seater cabins – Cabins with four sleeping places, two on each side. They are the most common.
  • 2-seater cabins – Two beds, one on each side. They are the most comfortable and most expensive. There are usually very few per train, so book in advance.

Private company carriages are normally four- or two-seaters. They are very similar to those from Vietnam Railways but with a slightly better appearance and different colors. In our experience, they are in much better condition, cleaner, and more functional.

corridor with windows and windows with sunlight in the background there are two fire extinguishers inside a train in Vietnam
Laman Express train on the Vietnam Reunification line

Is it necessary to book in advance?

Tickets can be booked up to 60 days in advance. From what we researched, tickets are usually not sold out, but we advise you to book as soon as you are sure of the itinerary you will take.

On the trip between Da Nang and Nha Trang, we booked just two days in advance, and there were already few free spots in the cabins for four people. In fact, there weren’t even any seats on the lower beds, and we weren’t even traveling in high season.

Is it worth using the private operators?

This is a very personal decision. Although several websites claim it is very similar, our experience was quite different, as you can see in this article.

In fact, the price difference is quite high for the difference in services. We found that the costs are almost double that of traveling in theoretically similar conditions. But in our experience, it would be worth it because the compartment was clean, the traveling companions were nicer (this is also luck), the bathrooms were much better, etc.

So, it’s worth it if you don’t mind paying more for a slightly better service. Otherwise, it might be better to take the risk that could either be very good or a little unpleasant and take a chance on Vietnam Railways’ basic service.

Train station in Hue in Vietnam painted yellow, there are cars, motorbikes and people waiting
Nha Trang train station in Vietnam

How much does it cost to travel by train in Vietnam?

The ticket price will depend on your route and the seat type you buy. We advise you to check the prices for the days and routes you want on the 12go, bookaway, or even the official Vietnam train websites.

In any case, it is important to note that the price of a train ticket is normally higher than that of a bus ticket, as long-distance buses in Vietnam are really very cheap. Furthermore, some buses (or vans) pick you up at the hotel, which is very useful.

What are the trains like on the Reunification Express?

The trains used on the Reunification Express were renovated a few years ago. However, some carriages are in much better condition than others. It’s a bit of luck, but it also depends on whether it’s a carriage from private operators, as they are usually in better condition.

All carriages are air-conditioned, which is a blessing when the weather is hot. However, remember that you cannot control it. With the air hitting us directly at night, it can be a torment. As incredible as it may seem, we got very cold on the train in Vietnam. Don’t forget to bring warm clothes.

What are the bathrooms like?

Typically, there is a bathroom at one end of the carriage. The toilet can be “normal” or just a hole. The cleanliness of the bathrooms varies greatly.

Tip: since you can change carriages on the go, if you don’t like your bathroom, go to the next one. No one will notice or say anything.

toilet with trash can next to it and a small window with a mosaic, next to the toilet there is a hose, on the Vietnam reunification train
Toilets on the Laman Express train on the Vietnam reunification line

Is there food on board?

Every train has a “dining car” where passengers can eat or drink. People also pass by the carriages and sell snacks and drinks.

In any case, you can always take some things with you and eat during the trip.

Table with 2 seats of 4 seats under a window with small curtains, on the table there are cutlery, salt and toothpicks inside the Vietnam train
Restaurant/bar carriage at Laman Express on Vietnam reunification line train

What should you take on a trip on the Reunification Express?

On this trip, we recommend you take:

  • Tickets
  • Charged cell phone—You can charge your cell phone on some trains, but you can’t on others. Don’t risk it.
  • Warm clothes – it doesn’t matter how hot it is outside the train! Always wear warm clothes for the night. If the air conditioning is on, you won’t be able to turn it off, and it could get very cold! Very much so, we speak from experience, unfortunately!
  • Entertainment – There is no entertainment besides the magnificent landscapes—a book about Vietnam, for example.
  • Money – If you want to buy something on board. It is not possible to use a card.
  • Toilet paper – we advise you to always carry toilet paper as you never know when you will find a bathroom without one.

Is it safe to travel on the reunification line in Vietnam?

Yes! All of Vietnam is very safe. Under no circumstances did we feel at risk, whether on the train, at the station, or anywhere else in Vietnam.

Still, we always suggest that you take out travel insurance. You never know what accidents or incidents may occur on a trip. Although the risk is low, we can always be unlucky!

train lines and train stopped with many people getting off and on and waiting for trains at Nha Trang Station in Vietnam
Nha Trang train station in Vietnam

Train stations in Vietnam

Train lines are quite limited, and there are still few trains daily in Vietnam. Thus, the stations are not particularly busy—even in big cities!

This way, the stations are relatively small and easy to navigate. There is usually a panel with train information and waiting rooms. Tickets are checked when passing between the waiting room and the line.

The normal thing is letting passengers enter the line area a few minutes before the train arrives.

With few trains and even fewer lines, you will hardly have any problems identifying where to go. If you have any doubts, show the ticket to the staff, and they will tell you where to go. It’s all quite simple.

In some stations, machines exchange digital tickets for physical tickets. You just enter the purchase code there and print the ticket. Despite this, a physical ticket is not mandatory, as we can show the ticket on our cell phones.

The only problem with train stations is that they are usually outside the tourist area, which means either walking with suitcases/backpacks or a taxi ride.

Tip: Before booking, always confirm where the hotel is, the station, and the distance between the two.

Two orange machines with an electronic screen used to print train tickets
Machines for printing train tickets at Da Nang station in Vietnam

Conclusion – Is it worth traveling on the Reunification Express?

If you like traveling by train or want a different experience from tourist buses and vans, yes, absolutely! This is a unique trip that presents us with unique landscapes. For some reason, it is considered one of the best train journeys in the world!

You can get better prices with a bus if you want to save money. Regarding comfort, it largely depends on the bus (which is also lucky, but that’s another topic) and the ticket/train you choose.

If you’re looking for speed and spending less time traveling, there are many internal flights in Vietnam, and sometimes at very attractive prices.

It was well worth it for us —we love trains, and this was a trip we won’t forget.

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Travel by train in Vietnam - Reunification Line

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