Riding the Reunification Express

The Reunification Express runs from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City

The North-South Railway runs along the spine of Vietnam, most people however know it by its nickname, the Reunification Express.

Building work on the 1,726 km (1,072 miles) of track was started in 1899 and was not completed until 1936. 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.

Photo credit Dragfyre / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Reunification Express

There is not actually a train or service called the “Reunification Express”. The nicknames is often used for any train running along the full length of North-South Railway between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

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.

There are four express trains a day making the route. At the time of writing trains departed Hanoi at 6:15am (SE7 – peak times only), 9:00am (SE5), 7;00pm (SE1) and 11:00pm (SE3) and from Ho Chi Minh City at 6:30am (SE8 – peak times only), 9:00am (SE6), 7.00pm (SE2) and 11.00pm (SE4) each day.

All express trains stop at Vinh, Dong Hoi, Hue, Da Nang, Quang Ngai, Dieu Tri and Nha Trang. If you are looking to hop off at other stations on the line you need to ensure that you are getting the correct train as some stations are only served by one of the four trains.

Trains SE9, SE10, SE19, SE20, SE21 and SE22 stop at considerably more stations and will take around 40 hours to make the full journey.

Traveling on the Reunification Express

Your choice of cabin will probably depend on a mixture of your budget and how long you will be on the train for.

Cheaper tickets may be perfect for one of the shorter trips if you want to experience the authentic feel with lots of locals.

If you are taking a longer journey though you need to choose carefully.

Photo credit Santi LLobet / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Traveling Options

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.

What You Will See

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.

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.

Photo credit plusgood on flickr

Photo credit plusgood on flickr
Photo credit plusgood on flickr
Credit Peter Borter on Unsplash
Credit Dragfyre / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)
Photo credit plusgood on flickr
Photo credit plusgood on flickr

North-South Railway, Vietnam

Photo credit Dragfyre / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

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