The North-South Railway runs along the spine of Vietnam, most people however know it by its nickname, the Reunification Express.
The view from the Reunification Express is one of the main reasons for taking the train rather than hopping onto one of the many flight connections available in Vietnam.
Depending on the length of your journey, you will travel through rice paddy fields, jungle, tiny Vietnamese villages, incredible bridges with even better views.
However the chance to travel alongside locals, eating and drinking from the onboard options is also an experience that should not be missed.
The section between Hue and Da Nang is probably the most famous and spectacular. Running through dense jungle, alongside sheer cliff faces, wonderful beaches and looking out over the South China Sea and magical looking islands. The Hoi Van Pass is often called the “Ocean Cloud Pass” for good reason.
Building work on the 1,726 km (1,072 miles) of track for the railway was started in 1899 and not completed until 1936. Now you can jump onto an express train at one end of the line and settle down for at least 30 hours as it weaves, mostly, along the coastline offering incredible views of the Vietnamese countryside.
The line was severely damaged during the wars of the 20th century but following the fall of Saigon and the end of the war against the USA in 1975, the Hanoi government began a major repair effort to bring the line back into use after decades of damage.
The repairs included more than a 1,000 bridges, 158 stations and most, if not all, of the 27 tunnels and was completed, incredibly, by the end of 1976. It became a symbol of the new Vietnam, hence reunification.
Remember to be carefully when choosing your tickets. If you are tempted by the incredibly cheap fares for a “hard seat” you will find that the title sums it up perfectly. You will find yourself with rows of wooden benches that will very quickly become uncomfortable. The carriage is not always air-conditioned which can make conditions even more difficult. Windows do generally open to allow fresh air in which has the added benefit of making some of those picture moments easier to capture. Ok for a short journey but there are better options for longer trips.
The “Soft Seat” is a much better option for shorter trips, especially those in the daytime when you will be admiring the scenery rather than trying to catch some sleep. The seats are very similar to comfortable long distance bus seats and carriages are air-conditioned.
For longer, especially overnight, trips you will find that a berth is a better option. you have options for Hard or Soft Sleepers, usually worth the extra for the soft version and even, on some trains, VIP Cabins.
Photo credit plusgood on flickr
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