There is not actually a train or service called the “Reunification Express”. The nickname is often used for any train running along the full length of North-South Railway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
Main photo – views from the Reunification Express, credit Santi LLobet / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)
Building work on the 1,726 km (1,072 miles) of track was started in 1899 and was not completed until 1936.
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 by the end of 1976. It became a symbol of the new Vietnam, hence the reunification reference.
Why Travel on 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 and incredible bridges with even better views.
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.
Reunification Express – The Experience
The cheapest ticket is known as “Hard Seat“. 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.
“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. They generally have tv’s playing Vietnamese programmes and some even have power sockets for charging phones. Some seats may be in a -face-to-face layout which may not suit everyone. carriages are all air-conditioned.
For an overnight trip you need a cabin, and the first option is the “Hard Sleeper / Berth“. These cabins have six beds (lower, middle and top on each side) so unless you are traveling as a group be prepared for sharing with a number of other people. As the name suggests the berths do not have padding so sleeping may be a challenge and bear in mind this will be your seat during the daytime as well. Again all are air-conditioned.
The price difference is negligible so unless you are on a very tight budget you will want to book a “Soft Sleeper / Berth“, although they can get booked up quickly at times. These cabins don’t just have the benefit of having padded berths but also only have 4 berths (lower and top on each side). All are air-conditioned.
Some trains have one more option. The “VIP Cabin“. Don’t expect luxury but what you do get is a cabin with just two beds which make them perfect for couples. Again these are in limited supply and popular so book well in advance. All are air-conditioned.
Sleeper cars all have a corridor running down one side with the cabins on the other side. Each berth has pillow sheet and duvet supplied as well as a reading light, some also have power points for recharging appliances. There is luggage space in the compartment but it is limited. Doors are all lockable. Toilets are found at the end of the corridors. There are also water dispensers for boiling (to add to noodles and hot drinks you have with you) and cold water.
All trains have a trolley service that will regularly come down the train which sells snacks, soft drinks, coffee and even beer. You can also buy a meal on the train which will be delivered to you around 30 minutes after ordering (sleeper carriages).
Many people will buy their train tickets through an agent or hotel. Yes it can save you some time but it will cost you much more. You can buy your own tickets through Vietnam Railways without added cost.
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