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 Hué or Danang actually saves time compared to flying, because the train leaves Hanoi city centre in the evening and arrives in Hué 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, Hué, 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 2600km Vietnamese railway system, operated by Vietnam Railways (Duong Sat Viet Nam; 04-747 0308; www.vr.com.vn), runs along the coast between HCMC and Hanoi, and links the capital with Hai Phong and northern towns. While sometimes even slower than buses, trains offer a more relaxing way to get around and more room than the jam-packed buses. The trains are also considered safer than the country’s kamikaze bus fleet.
Vietnam’s railway authority has been rapidly upgrading trains and facilities – with air-con sleeping berths and dining cars available now on express trains – and lowering the price for foreigners. Foreigners and Vietnamese are now charged the same price, a big change from a few years ago when foreigners were charged 400% more.
The quickest train journey between Hanoi and HCMC takes 30 hours. The slowest express train on this route takes 41 hours. There are also local trains that only cover short routes, but these can crawl along at 15km/h, as there is only one track with many passing points and local trains have the lowest priority. Vietnam is planning a massive overhaul of its rail network in the next decade, including the introduction of high-speed trains. Hoorah!
Petty crime is a problem on Vietnamese trains. While there doesn’t seem to be organised pack-napping gangs, such as those in India, thieves have become proficient at grabbing packs through the windows as trains pull out of stations. Always keep your bag nearby and lock or tie it to something, especially at night.
Another hazard is children throwing rocks at the train. Passengers have been severely injured this way and many conductors insist that you keep down the metal window shield. Unfortunately, however, these shields also obstruct the view.
Bicycles and motorbikes must travel in the freight car. Just make sure that the train you are on has a freight car (most have) or your bike will arrive later than you do.
Eating is easy, as there are vendors at every station who board the train and practically stuff food, drinks and cigarettes into your pockets. The food supplied by the railway company, included in the ticket price on some long journeys, isn’t Michelin-starred. It’s a good idea to stock up on your favourite munchies before taking a long trip.
Odd-numbered trains travel south and even-numbered ones travel north. The fastest train service is provided by the Reunification Express, which runs between HCMC and Hanoi, making only a few short stops en route. If you want to stop at some obscure point between the major towns, use one of the slower local trains or catch a bus.
Aside from the main HCMC–Hanoi run, three rail-spur lines link Hanoi with the other parts of northern Vietnam. One runs east to the port city of Hai Phong. A second heads northeast to Lang Son, crosses the border and continues to Nanning, China. A third goes northwest to Lao Cai and on to Kunming, China.
Several Reunification Express trains depart from HCMC’s Saigon station between 9am and 10.30pm every day. In the other direction, there are departures from Hanoi between 5am and 6.40pm daily.
If your looking for travel by train in Vietnam, Best website to view more information of train in Vietnam is : http://www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm
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