Authored by Natasha Amar
As many a traveler will tell you, taking an overnight train in Asia is quite an adventure, one that I have always found to be enjoyable and something to look forward to.
Overnight trains are my favorite means of covering long distances because they’re usually friendlier to my budget and more comfortable than taking long road trips being cramped in a small car or bus.
The other advantage is that you get to stretch your legs out and get a good night’s sleep in exchange for just a little bit more than you would pay for a hostel or budget hotel.
That said, it helps if you’re open to surprises and don’t easily get irritated by minor unexpected events. It’s all a part of the ‘travel in Asia’ experience and best taken with a pinch of salt.
Earlier this year, while travelling in Vietnam, I took an overnight AC soft sleeper train from the capital Hanoi to Lao Cai to get to the mountain town of Sapa.
If you’re planning to take an overnight train in Vietnam or are simply curious about long distance train travel in Asia, you’ll find this list of ‘things to know before you go’ useful.
7 Things To Know Before Travelling by Overnight Train in Vietnam
Featured image: Freddie Ablazed (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Book in Advance
It’s advisable to book your train tickets in advance via a travel agent especially if you’re planning to travel during peak tourist times or public holidays or have fixed travel dates.
This can easily be done by emailing well known operators and paying online through secure systems. Typically, you receive a voucher by email which needs to be exchanged for an actual ticket at the operator’s counter at the train station before you board the train.
Once you’re in the country, you’ll notice that the locals in general have a small frame. Vietnamese sizes in local stores are much smaller than standard sizes. Their trains are small too.
What I mean is that the corridors inside the train are quite narrow and you’re likely to get stuck if you’ve strapped on a backpack that is too large or broad or if it’s stuffed with a lot of pretty things that you could not help buying from the local markets (like mine was).
Whether it’s a backpack or suitcase you carry, ensure that it’s not too large and can easily be stored along with the bags of fellow passengers under the lower berth of the cabin.
Lower or Upper Berth?
The peculiar thing about the overnight train that I took in Vietnam was that unlike what I’d seen in the AC Soft Sleeper trains in Thailand, there wasn’t really a ladder to get up to the Upper Berth.
Instead, there was a tiny peg between the upper and lower berths to place one foot, and a stainless steel frame on the edge of the Upper berth that you could hold onto for support and use to hoist yourself up. Not a good idea if you’re a little heavy or suffer from knee or leg injuries of any kind.
On my way back from Lao Cai to Hanoi, due to the carelessness of my travel agent, I was allotted an Upper Berth that I had to take in spite of an injured knee. It was an unpleasant experience every time I had to step down or get up again.
The elderly lady on the opposite Upper Berth also expressed her discomfort with this which makes me believe that the Lower Berths are far more comfortable for the elderly.
Photo credit: Explore With Erin
Based on my experience travelling by the Sapaly Express AC Soft Sleeper, I think it’s a great way to cover long distances in the country while getting a good night’s sleep.
The mattress, though thin is very comfortable. The bedding is clean and every berth comes with its own reading light and electrical charging point.
The toilets are clean but remember to carry your own toilet paper. It’s also a good idea to travel with your own disinfectant hand wash as often the taps may not work, and there won’t be soap available.
Photo credit: Explore With Erin
During both my journeys from Hanoi and returning from Lao Cai, I arrived one and a half to two hours later than the mentioned time of arrival, which makes me believe that this is a frequent occurrence. Don’t expect to arrive at the time mentioned in your travel agent’s email, arrival times of trains in many Asian countries are almost always delayed.
If you plan onward travel, like I did to Halong Bay on the same morning that I arrived in Hanoi from Lao Cai, be sure to allow enough time for delays.
Food and beverages can be bought on board – instant noodles seem like the most popular meal onboard.
Though it’s definitely a better idea to bring your own food to snack on for long journeys.
Photo credit: Elsie Hui (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Beware of Scams
When you arrive at the train station, look around carefully to find the counter of the travel company whose name is mentioned on your voucher so that you can exchange it for an actual ticket. Do not hand over your voucher to a random stranger who offers to help you or someone who is not from the company.
There have been cases of touts offering to help tourists who naively hand over the voucher to the tout, only to have money extorted from them in return for the voucher.
Ensure that you have the contact number of the travel agent who booked your ticket so that you can get in touch in case you don’t find their counter at the station.
Enjoy the Journey!
Finally, remember to enjoy the journey! Depending on how long it is and which route you take, the ride will take you through traditional villages, farms or mountain scenery.
The country offers some fantastic views to wake up to which easily make up for the minor delays.
Image: Freddie Ablazed (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
➤ For how to take the overnight express train from Hanoi to Sapa, read Natasha’s post here.
➤ We want to emphasize the importance of bringing your own food on board, especially if you’re traveling with food allergies and need gluten free options, or vegan. Likewise if you’re traveling with a young family and need things like baby formula, reviews of which on LittleOneMag. Shop at a mini mart before getting on the train, and get enough food to last 15 hours.
➤ There are many companies who offer Vietnam Visas, though if you qualify for an e-Visa, you can easily make the application yourself, by going directly through the official Government website: evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn
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In some ways this sounds similar to Thai trains, but I was really curious to hear the differences. I’d actually love to eat ramen noodles on my train ride! Question – are there different classes and if so, which did you ride? Thanks!
I traveled by the AC Soft Sleeper class which was great. From what I heard, this is the most comfortable option vs.the others.
On the Lao Cai (Sa Pa) trains there is also a variety of nicely decored provate 2berth cabins. Don’t expect that much scenery though, the train leaves at night. The train also has a bar on it.
are there cock roaches on the train??
Hi Alex, I haven’t heard any feedback from anyone that there have been cockroaches so I think you’ll be fine. I’ll let you know if I hear otherwise though :)
March 2020 – night trains are a great way to cover ground.. The lower berth was comfortable and we slept fine. Advise bringing your own sleep sheet / blanket since employees simply neatly fold the provided used sheet for the next traveler. Sometimes cars are hot, sometimes cold. The western toilet looked OK when we started, but in a few hours the toilet seat and floor were covered in splatters. when cleaning the toilet seat with a wet wipe, the wet wipe turned charcoal. Definitely bring your own toilet paper and hand wash.
March 2020 Update: on our second over night train journey we enjoyed a newer train that was much cleaner than our first. And the bathroom remained fairly clean to the end. Overall, a much better experience.
Thanks for the info Nanra, great tips about the state of the toilets getting worse over the course of the night – definitely a must to have your own toilet paper – I don’t even think twice about that usually as I’ve become so accustomed to taking it with me everywhere, even when traveling through Western countries, so it’s a good point to highlight!!
… Glad to hear that the second overnight experience was a much better time than the first – it does seem to be hit or miss in the country with trains unfortunately!
Hi Emiko.was planning a nice trip round S.E.Asia As always have wanted to go from HAN/SGN. by train After reading blogs by Erin not so sure now. Cant get this simple info rq from any google search. Please can you Help? Do the couchettes convert to seats in daytime? Am only used to sleeping cars in Australia. Thank you Peter.
Such an interesting article! I lived in Ras Al Khaimah for nine years and used Dubai as my launching off point during that time period! Thanks for sharing!I hope to make it to Vietnam one day soon.
Thanks Amy – so glad you enjoyed the post! I hope you manage to make it to Vietnam soon!
Thanks Amy! I like that about Dubai too, it’s well connected to the rest of the world and this lets me travel as often as I like without having to worry too much about the cost of airfare :)
Great tips, Natasha. A train ride in Vietnam sounds similar to one in China and Thailand. I always prefer to take the train rather than busses. It’s simply more enjoyable, and I’ve learned that paying a few more dollars on a deluxe ticket can make a huge difference in comfort!
We havent really traveled through much of Asia yet, so havent really taken the train – though sounds like the experience is a must! I think we would definitely be paying the few extra dollars for comfort though :D
Thanks Miriam! So glad you enjoyed the post :)
From my limited experience riding trains in China, the biggest difference from this list is punctuality. Every train I’ve ridden in China has left on time, or even a minute or two early. It actually makes it kind of stressful when you arrive at a huge train station where nothing is written in English and you know the train is leaving in 20 minutes. But trains are still my favorite way to travel.
Thanks Miriam! I agree the trains in Asia are way more comfortable than the buses and I always get a good night’s sleep on the overnight ones. So, it makes complete sense to pay extra for the AC/Deluxe class :)
Excellent info Natasha. Oh how I want to be on that train again. Travelled north from HCMC to Hanoi, but split the journey in Danang (for Hoi An). Lower berths on both legs – so didn’t have to negotiate the wee metal “step” ;-)
Although upstairs neighbour nearly stepped on my head a few times (but whisky had been taken – makes the journey so much more relaxing/sociable I find).
Lol so it sounds like regardless of the berth you get both could potentially prove dangerous…depending on how much whisky the neighbour on the upper berth has had when they attempt to climb into bed :D!
Thanks for sharing your experience Iain! Glad you enjoyed the post :)
Thanks Iain! I wouldn’t blame your upstairs neighbour! I had to be extremely careful when getting up to the upper berth. Glad you enjoyed your ride and didn’t get stepped on ;)
Earlier this year I took the overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai! I actually really enjoyed it despite all the inconveniences (like needing toilet paper, the discomfort, etc). But like you say it was an awesome alternative to a long bus ride. The views along the way were stunning also, I can only imagine how amazing they are in Vietnam also ;)
We’ve gotten into a habit of now taking toilet paper with us wherever we go, regardless of country lol! I’ve never been on an overnight sleeper train myself, but I can imagine that it would definitely be a better alternative to a long bus ride…had enough of those to last me a life time!
So glad to hear everyone has been having great experiences with train travel. Thanks for sharing Alli!
Thanks Alli! I’ve also taken the Bangkok-Chiang Mai Overnight train and found it just as comfortable as this one. From what I’ve heard from other travelers in Asia, the overnight trains are way more comfortable than the buses. I’ve seen enough pictures of cramped up buses to never want to be on one overnight.
I took few overnight trains in China but I can confirm that all the tips are very true! I just love train travels (probably because I work for the railway too ;)) and everywhere I try to take a train, even if sometimes it can be a challenge (like in Asia :))
Glad to know these tips are equally as applicable across the wider region of Asia :) Very cool that you worked for the railway – what a cool job to have!
Glad you enjoyed the post!
A really nice portrayal of overnight travel in Vietnam. Although aren’t you sitting in a trainhotel in Spain in the photo by Kyle Taylor? ;0)
Probably! That photo was me pulling one from the Creative Commons library to add more photographs to the article – I thought it worked well with Natasha’s whole “reading light” bit of text :D Will have to do my homework better next time around!!
This looks like a fantastic way to travel through a country. As yet, we haven’t travelled through Asia but after reading this I think we will definitely want to experience the sleeper train when we do.
Definitely look to travel via train – I’m hearing nothing but amazing things from everyone who has done so :) Happy travels!
I highly recommend it Tam! Even if it’s a few dollars extra, I say pick trains over buses for overnight journeys for the added comfort.
Great tips on taking an overnight train in Vietnam! Although we are not heading to Asia, we will be embarking on a train journey in Europe in the next few weeks though it is only for about 8 days as we head through Switzerland, Italy and Austria. Really looking forward to that and I am sure we can use some of these tips in Europe also.
Definitely – the great thing about Natasha’s tips are they’re fairly universal when it comes to train travel. Europe has a fantastic rail system, so you should be very comfortable – Swiss trains were some of the best I’ve ever been on!
Thanks Chris! I imagine there will be some truly breathtaking views :)
Good guide on riding the night train in Vietnam! It’s good to be prepared for these situations. Thanks for sharing!
Glad you found it useful! Thanks Mary :)
Thanks Mary! Glad you enjoyed the post :)
FYI, some bookings mean you don’t need a voucher and can use the screen shot on your phone.
The coffee is ok to drink (we were worried about water) and when booking, you can request a bottom birth in advance.
If your train dwarfs early, nothing will be open (early is before 8am)
Sometimes bunks are cleaned and sometimes not.
I love train travel in Vietnam but lower your expectations.
There are not regularly cockroaches on board as if it’s dirty or something but this is the tropics so a bug now and again is natural.
Just bring what you need for comfort, maybe even a bottle of wine and relax.
A train is a train, it’s bumpy and sometimes stops poorly and jaringly. Bring headphones, earplugs or a night mask if you really want sleep and turn on your adventure gene.
I love love love the trains.
I loathe the bus and avoid at all cost!
Ps. No buses in Vietnam have toilets
Thanks for sharing your experiences K, it’s a very good point to lower your expectations for Vietnamese trains – seems to be a bit of a mixed bag at the best of times.
Appreciate all of your advice – happy travels!
And the real question everyone wants to know – what’s the toilet situation? I know its the first thing Spanky will always ask me when booking travel and I better have a good answer…
Lots of good info though!
Apparently the toilet situation is pretty good – I’ve heard they’re surprisingly clean and well kept!
The toilet situation is pretty decent actually but I’d advise you to carry your own toilet paper, soap and sanitizer. The deluxe or AC sleepers have clean Western style toilets so it isn’t a problem.
Great post! I’ll be traveling over the Easter holidays with my boyfriend. Do you have a travel agent you recommend for booking the train tickets ahead of time?
I booked my tickets through Sapa O’Chau, a trekking and tours company in Sapa because I travelled to Sapa primarily to volunteer with them at their community school.
There are many travel agents in Hanoi who can do this for you easily, it’s best to ask your hostel/hotel for recommendations. Sometimes they will even do it for you at no extra cost :)
That looks so relaxing! I’m headed to Vietnam in a couple of months and plan on taking a couple of trains. Thanks for the low down!
Happy travels! Let us know how your trip goes :)
Great tips! The trains don’t look half bad, and I’d much rather move from place to place while sleeping or blogging. I’m all for multitasking! And that’s crazy that you have to bring your own TP! The more you know!
Glad you enjoyed the post! Lol I’m all for multi tasking too – though it’s definitely nice once in a while to be forced to log off :D
And we now travel with our own TP anywhere we go out of habit – been caught on that one a few too many times!!!
Your article is really interesting to me.
My husband and I are planning a train trip from Hanoi to Da Nang in the next few days.
We do not have much time for our trip so I just ordered the tickets online through the website https://www.vietnamtrains.com
Do you know any good beach hotel in Hoi An?
Sorry can’t help you on this one, I haven’t been to Hoi An myself. But I hope you enjoy your Vietnam travels! :)
Aloha, We have been riding trains in Spain and France and love it especially for the scenery. Looking to do Viet Nam next April/May, traveling during the day from Hanoi to Saigon with stops, 2-day each, in Hue and Nahtrang. Any thoughts would be appreciated, Mahalo
Hey Randy, thanks for stopping by! If you’re looking for things to do in each of the stops you’ve mentioned, the lonely planet and rough guides online are really great – they’ve got a list of both sights, activities and tours, itinerary ideas and options for accommodation.
We only have guest posts on Vietnam like Natasha’s here, so haven’t yet made it there ourselves. But the following links are great places to start sourcing info :)
Hope that helps!
Sorry, forgot to mark the “follow-up comments by email” Aloha
Since my last reply we did the trip Hanoi to Hue, and Hue to Nha Trang. We were to continue on to Saigon but a bridge was out, a barge rammed it, so we flew. The lower berths are paramount and leaving from Hanoi which is the start no problems but when we got on in Hue our berths were taken and they refused to move, easy answer get the conductor. Fortunately after the issue was resolved the folks depwrted leaving us alone in the cabin. We also have done the overnighter to Lao Cai (Sapa) in our own 2-berth cabin. It was great going but coming back a landslide covered the tracks causing us to go so far, get off to ride a bus, then back on the train after the slide, all of this in the middle of the night and arriving in Hanoi 3hrs late. We used Vietnam Impressive, travel agents. to book all our trains. They were great and made sure we had the best possible accommodations. “The man in seat 61” on the internet had recommended them. Aloha
Thanks for circling back and sharing your experience – glad you didn’t actually get hit by that landslide!
Really appreciate your tips here, I’ve heard from a couple of other people that they had similar experiences with other people claiming their seats and then refusing to move – glad to hear the conductor resolved it for you. Sounds like it’s becoming quite common recently based on people’s newest comments, so I might update the post to include that info.
Thanks for the heads up on Vietnam Impressive – awesome to know that they’re great!
Hope you had an amazing time in Vietnam! I’ve just returned from a trip myself, but this time we did a cruise :)
Hi we have just come off the over night train from Hue to Hanoi it was a 13 and 15hour trip. Our room didn’t look anything like the ones you had in the photos and the toilet were dirty with no toilet paper.
Food we were offered boiled eggs and hot cobs of corn and chips and drinks that we paid for. Then they came back later and we had chicken and rice and a weird soup. The nnouncments were only in Vietnamese so was hard to understand what they were saying. All in all it wasn’t a bad trip
Hi Fay, thanks for sharing your experiences with us – glad to hear that overall it wasn’t a bad trip. That many hours on one form of transport can always be a trying experience!
Sorry to hear the toilet was dirty :( Maybe Natasha here either got super lucky with her trips or you guys weren’t so lucky toilets wise. But carrying toilet paper with you everywhere is something I even do in places like the US now – doesn’t matter where you go, it’s always the worst to get stuck without it, especially when the toilets aren’t that clean.
Hope you’re enjoying your time in Vietnam :) Travel safe!
Sorry to hear your experience wasn’t like mine Fay. Maybe it’s because they were different routes. Maybe the trains from Hanoi to Sapa are just better maintained :)
Fay, by chance do you know the number of the train you took? I’m looking to book that same trip. Thanks!
Hi Fay: We are doing the train from Hanoi to Hue in Oct/2016. My question is, is there a max size/weight for luggage on the train? I am worried that my suitcase won’t fit under the seat. Thanks!
From my experience on the train to Sapa, there isn’t a max size or weight mentioned on the ticket but you’d be okay with a medium sized suitcase or even a large backpack (mine was 85l). The train corridors are quite narrow, so you need to have something that isn’t too broad so you can carry it through.
I will be travelling the night train to Sapa soon as a solo female traveler. Can you only book in a 4 berth? No single berth rooms? Just wondering how safe it is….
Any train companies you recommend?
There are 4 berth cabins and VIP 2-berth ones. I traveled solo and felt completely safe in a 4-berth. These trains are full of both tourists and locals including families, so there is nothing to worry about safety wise.
Oh and my experience with the Sapaly Express was great, I can highly recommend it.
Thank you for your tips, I find them very useful.
We are visiting Vietnam in September and I’ve just started to plan the journey. Could you name the travel agency where you’ve bought the ticket?
I was volunteering in Sapa with an organization called Sapa O Chau- they also have a tour company and they booked the tickets for me :) hope this helps.
Just returned from Vietnam where we rode the train from Hanoi to Hue, then a few days later on to Nha Trang. No tourists and just a couple of back-packers, otherwise all locals. Aloha
Used to travel accross south east asian railroad. Always enjoy this special mix of color, smell and supended time. Enjoy it befor change as they plan massiv investment on railroad infrastructure for the decade.
So glad to hear you have wonderful memories of train travel in this region too Ely :) Yes, absolutely agree on visiting and experiencing Vietnam now before too much authenticity is lost to modern advancements.
I am planning to take the train from Hanoi to Saigon but I can’t really find out how long that trip would take. It travels by night and allows you to stop during the day right? I’m so excited for this adventure!
Hi Alexandra, I haven’t taken this route personally, but I’ve done some research for you and I believe the trip takes about 34-36 hours.
Sounds like the sleeper train from saigon to danang leaves around 7pm and then hooks up with a train in hue. You can book your tickets at either hanoi or saigon with stopovers along the way.
Hope that helps! Have a wonderful adventure :)
Thanks for sharing these tips! Never been to Vietnam and I really wish to visit soon. Ah so many countries so little time!
You’re welcome Carla, glad you enjoyed the post! Hope you have the chance to visit Vietnam soon :)
I have heard the train journey in Vietnam is amazing, and your post convinced me. Natasha! Thanks for all the tips! I like traveling and trains and would love to try this there!
Have a wonderful journey Reshma! So glad Natasha’s advice could inspire a trip :)
Awesome article! Thanks Meg so much. I can’t wait to travel Viet Nam !
Glad we could help Anthony – have a great trip to Vietnam!
You are lucky to experience that train. That train is the best train in Vietnam. If you are on the train from Hanoi to Saigon you will find it very different: more shaking, older, more local style, etc. However, it’s still a great experience anyway. Hope to see you some day at the Hanoi Saigon train
Interesting that this is the smoother journey over the Hanoi to Saigon, thanks for sharing your experiences Long :)
Great tips Natasha. The trains in Vietnam and in Thailand are similar. I don’t know about another countries in SE of Asia.
Hanh recently posted…https://lavieauvietnam.com/voyage-en-train-au-vietnam-horaires-prix-comment-reserver/
Glad you enjoyed the post Hanh, and to hear that the trains in Thailand are similar … Will definitely have to look into overnight trains in Thailand too in that case :)
Thank you so much for your posting. It’s useful information. Cheers
Amazing Natasha Amar! I am very happy that my Vietnam brings you an enjoyable experience in life, reread your article. I feel your experience of Vietnam is wonderful, which I and my family have experienced. passed a long time ago. I hope in a day you can come back to our country Vietnam, there are many beautiful scenery for you to explore, in the end wishing you more health and success in work
Glad that you enjoyed Natasha’s post Win – you have a beautiful country indeed!
I sure hope to come back and see more of your beautiful country Win!
I’m heading for my third trip to Vietnam in Feb 2018 and will once again use the train from Hanoi to Danang. First time in 1996 I travelled the whole stretch Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh by train (stops in between). That was an unbelievable experience as there were no glass in the windows, only metal pull downs with tiny slats to peek through (Protection against bullets and rocks). Because it was stifling hot (no aircon) we had leave the metal window up with the result we had black faces at the end of the day! And only Asian toilets! Prefer to forget those! My second trip in 2006 was luxury in comparison! Glass windows and European toilets. Wonder if anything has changed in the last 12 years?
Sounds like you’ve had quite a few memorable train adventures Tove! It would be so interesting to have the first hand comparisons of what it was like in 1996 to the experience now!
You’ve got European style toilets now, though do travel with your own toilet paper as I don’t think they’ve mastered adequate supply of that just yet!!
Have an amazing trip :)
Very useful tips! Actually, there are so many high – quality train options from Hanoi to Lao Cai besides Sapaly such as Victoria, King, Orient Express, etc. If high – quality trains are fully booked, you can choose public train or go to Lao Cai by car (on the highway) as alternative.
Glad you enjoyed the post Tonkin, thanks for sharing your experience – good to know about the high quality train options too :)
We just returned from Vietnam where we did the same overnight to Lao Cai/Sapa. Previous trip we have rode trains from Hanoi to Hue to Nha Trang. We’ve been using Vietnam Impressive, travel agent in Hanoi, to get our tickets and they do a great job making sure you have a lower berth or in the Sapa case we took the entire cabin. Ask for Alice.
We also experienced a delay returning to Hanoi as a landslide covered the tracks after a major rain. Rode the train to the station just before the slide, got on buses to the stop after the slide, all at about 3:am, and 4 hours late to Hanoi missing our flight to Hue.
If you take the whole cabin you can take the mattresses from the uppers to soften the lowers. Also we found the food pretty bad. We brought our own bahn Mi’s and a bottle of wine.
The crews are all pretty nice and helpful. I must say that Sapa was a disappointment as it has gotten VERY touristy, a lot of begging, etc. and there is a behemoth hotel under construction which just make it even worse. We do love Vietnam and will be going back for our third time.
Hi Randy, thanks for sharing your most recent experience, and for the heads up on using Vietnam Impressive. Glad that you were ok through the landslide, even though it sucks that it caused such delays. Sad to hear that Sapa has gotten very touristy – tourism can be either a blessing or a curse, when mass tourism ruins a destination, that’s a real tragedy.
I’m glad you love Vietnam though, have a fabulous time on your third trip!
I have travelled on the trains on both my trips to Vietnam. First time I took the train from Hanoi to Saigon albeit with stops in Hue, Danang, Nha Trang. The second time I took the train Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa) round trip as well as some sections on the north/south trains. One thing you will notice is that the further away from the departure point you get, the more dirty the toilets become. Leaving Hanoi the toilets ( and the whole train for that matter) were acceptably clean with the worst condition being when I rejoined the train from Nha Trang to Saigon! It was disgusting! So if you plan to fly on any stretches, do it on the last stretch of your journey.
On the Sapa trip I splurged on the Victoria train and that was an overall fun experience. Felt a bit like I was an old version of the Orient Express.
I’m going back in a couple of months and plan to take the train from Hanoi to Danang and fly the other sections (due to time restrictions). I will stock up on fruit and goodies from a patisserie in Hanoi, ensure that I have plenty of toilet paper/disinfecting handy wipes, some beer and water and I will be set! Love train travel!
Good tip on the toilet situation – it’s a bit like music festivals or concerts – they’re fine at the start, but by the end you’re much better just holding it until you can get to the bathroom at home!!
Glad you had a fabulous experience on the Victoria Train. We’re about to watch a film about the Orient Express actually.
Have a wonderful trip back in February – sounds like you have a good checklist to be set!
We’re travelling from Hanoi to Lao Cai in January, never travelled on an overnight train and our main query is what to wear for this journey,
It is best to wear something comfortable and sufficiently warm, depending on the weather. I find it comfortable to wear layers- something like a tank top and a hoodie on top and relaxed linen pants, chinos, or sporty track pants, so you can move around and also sleep in.
Your experiences sounds much like ours on a night train in China. One thing you didn’t address in much detail is that travelers will probably be sharing the sleeper car with natives. This turned out to be a highlight of our travel. Even though we spoke no Chinese and they spoke no English, it was amazing how much we were able to communicate with the others two in our car using hand signals and picture/maps on my IPad.
Hi Pat, thanks for sharing your experience. I haven’t caught a night train in China, but good to know it sounds similar to Natasha’s experience in Vietnam.
Fabulous that you had the opportunity to interact with locals! I agree, it’s always fun sharing an evening, even if communication is via pictonary / charades!! Sounds like a really memorable cultural exchange :)
How interesting … I did not yet know that in Asia there was a train with a dormitory. It seems to be a very different experience. When I go there I want to take advantage of this opportunity. Thanks for sharing with Megan :)
Glad you enjoyed the post Marcos, and that we could introduce you to the idea of a train journey. It’s definitely a different way of travel, and I find it much more memorable than your average flight.
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions if you decide to book a trip :)
Although I have never taken overnight trains in any other part of the world except my home country (India), I do think overnight trains are the best and cheapest ways of covering journeys between two far-off cities or towns. It’s actually two-in-one, not only do you get to cover the distance in a cheap manner, you save on the cost of staying in a hotel for the night. Overnight trains in Vietnam sound a lot like in India- especially when you say that they’re usually late. I am a bit surprised though that there isn’t a proper way of climbing on to an upper berth, they don’t have ladders in India either but it’s quite convenient to get up there. In fact, I usually prefer the upper berth because you don’t get disturbed once you’re up there. Interesting post and great tips for an overnight train journey in Vietnam!
Glad you enjoyed the post Medha, and thanks for sharing your insights on the similarities between overnight trains in India. I’m yet to visit India, though it’s on my list!! I’ll keep a mental note that overnight trains are an efficient way to travel here too … lol and not to be alarmed when they’re late :D!
That’s cool…:) must be a very different and interesting experience, spending much of the time on the train, while seeing incredible places… did not know that it was possible to even sleep in this type of transport vehicle in Asia. When I go to that region I’ll want to try that too.
Absolutely Marcio – glad we could introduce you to train travel in the region, hopefully you’ll have the opportunity to experience it too :)
I went on this once in Vietnam. The locomotive looked old, but the cabins were pretty neat. I will not hesitate to go again!
Glad to hear you had a wonderful time Conrad! Vietnam is a beautiful country, I do hope you have the opportunity to visit again :)
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.
Absolutely agree with you Jos … and we’re always about prioritizing the local experience where possible. Interesting point though re the train ride saving time compared to flying – it definitely allows you to maximize that overnight time you would have otherwise wasted not being in transit :)
thank you so much for your posting. It’s useful information.
You’re welcome Kevin, I’m glad the post was helpful. Have an amazing trip!
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Thanks for the tip Luan … Will let you know if we visit in the future :)
I love travel by train.And after read your article i m really very excited my next overnight train journey.
Glad the post could inspire you James! Have a wonderful trip :)
It is great
Thanks Nguyen, I’m glad you enjoyed the post :)
Very useful tips, Meg. Thanks for sharing.
You’re welcome Zakir, glad the post was helpful :)
I did this same route a few years ago though sadly our compartment had mice… not great for trying to sleep, though I’d take them over cockroaches any day!
Yikes, I would probably take mice over cockroaches too lol though if given the choice I would opt for neither! :D
STAY AWAY FROM VIOLETTE EXPRESS!!
We had booked a train with Violette Express for 3 people from Sa Pa to Hanoi, but ended up being 2 people when we arrived. When we got to the cabin (2 bunkbeds) there was only water and snaks for 2 people, so we though we were alone. About 5 minutes before parting a strange men came in claming he had my friend’s seat and that he had a ticket. He did not speak a word of english and was not willing to give up the seat, so in the end (because the train had parted, we were dead tired and we couldn’t really do much more) my friend had to move all his things to another bed. We never got to see his ticket and when I asked him he didn’t/acted like he didn’t understand.
There was no one there to talk to if you had a problem and we were so tired after 2 days of trekking that we decided to let it sleep. We locked the door from the inside and as i was falling asleep I remember that we had booked a room for 3, and althought we were only 2 in the end, I did not inform the company of this change of situation.
The highlight of the trip (irony) was when I was waken up at 1.30 in the morning (I sleep with ear plugs and never wake up) by another men climbing up into the empty bunked bed. I almost couldn’t believe at first and double checked to see if it was the same man, but no. I asked him to see his ticket several times and he just shushed me. I started talking to my friend of what to do, since these men obviously hadn’t pay for a ticket and had just decided to climb into any empty bed they could find. Again we couldn’t really do much and were just being hushed by the two men.
At one point the ‘second’ man left the room (I think because he saw me and my friend talking a lot) and my friend decided to go back to sleep. I couldn’t sleep and started thinking how did the man open the door if it was locked, and when did he get in the train if there are no stops between SAPA and HANOI. After a few minutes the man came in again and climb in the bed (I think he taught we had fallen asleep again).
Horrible experience and feeling of not being able to do anything, specially having our passports, phones and all our money with us there. Just want to had I am very respectful of other people and cultures, but these men were not carrying anything with them (bags, purses) and it was just scary.
STAY AWAY FROM VIOLETTE EXPRESS!! THERE ARE OTHER COMPANIES WITHIN THE SAME TRAIN.
Thanks for sharing your experience Ariel, it would definitely be a lot more comforting if there was adequate security to enforce seat selection and keep randoms out of empty berths.
This is a beautiful birth in the train it is looking like a hotel, If you get huge comfort on a train than it would make your journey and you can easily enjoy your travel.
The berths are comfortable enough :) Definitely worth paying more for comfort though because it does make the journey a lot easier.
I found this article interesting, Megan! Well done.
Glad we could help Alexius! Have a great time in Vietnam :)
Hello Natasha, this is really a nice experience. Travelling on a train with so much comfort.
Glad you enjoyed the post Agness :)
Hoe lang zijn de bedden in de slaaptreinen.
Mijn man is 1.98 en als hij dubbel gevouwen moet liggen, wordt dat geen feest.
Hi Jannine, I believe the berths are usually around 1.8. My friend recently travelled and she fitted fine at 168 cm, though if your husband is 1.98 he might have to bend his legs when lying down to sleep.
I hope you both have a wonderful time in Vietnam :)
are there shower facilities in the train at all?
Hi Kristine, no, unfortunately there are not shower facilities on the train.
Very cool Thanks for sharing your experience with us
I was very worried if I had a chance to take a night train
But I expect that is possible
Glad the post was helpful Charlotte, let us know if you have any questions or worries in the lead up, we are happy to help if we can :)
ok thanks you:)
Tains are my favourite method of transport for long distances and what better way to get across Vietnam than catching overnight trains. Accommodation and travel at the same time!
During our journey through Vietnam we took two overnight trains. I thought trains would be the better option than the buses as the trains had sleeper berths and unlike buses, you would need to sleep sitting up. I’ve since found out there are also sleeper buses as an option! Both are great options whilst travelling in Vietnam.
Absolutely – it’s definitely a great way to save a night you would have otherwise spent on a hotel.
So glad to hear that you’ve enjoyed your time on Vietnam’s overnight trains , definitely a better option comfort wise than taking the buses :)
Thanks for sharing your experiences, and stopping by to read :)
I think i missed this article before one month because i had a recent trip to Vietnam. I don’t have a idea about my travel.
Well hopefully it’s proved helpful for you when you plan your next trip back to Vietnam :) Happy travels!
I bookmarked this blog for future reference. Thanks for the tips
So glad it was helpful Akash – happy travels :)
i ve experienced overnight trains in Thailand and in Vietnam and it was very different. In Thailand it was a great experience but when I traveled from Hanoi to Hue last July I couldn t sleep at all …too many vibrations and noise !!!!!!
Thanks for sharing your experiences Isabelle – I haven’t taken the trains in Thailand but I’ve actually heard really good things about them. Sorry to hear that you couldn’t sleep on your trip through Vietnam; I usually recommend noise cancelling headphones, but that doesn’t stop the vibrations, which are always annoying if you’re a light sleeper!
Thanks for reading :)
I’m on night Train from dang Hoi to hue and I’m currently battling against cockroaches that are everywhere I look, if it wasn’t for my gf, I would of burn down the whole Train down.
Yikes, thanks for sharing your experience Jiri. Doesn’t sound fun at all – I hope it goes quickly for you and you can enjoy the rest of your time in Hue :)