The North–South railway line is the main railway line in Vietnam. The line connects Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh and is served many trains operated by Vietnam Railways, some of which cross the entire length of the country, 1,726 km, in two days.
Trains running between Hanoi and Saigon are sometimes called “Reunification Express”, referring to the reunification of Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, followed by the restoration of the North–South railway line and the return to service on 31 December 1976 promoted as a symbol of Vietnamese unity. In the present, Vietnam Railways identifies its train services by codes and numbers.
Now you can easily book your train tickets in Vietnam with Baolau.
Vietnam Railways train service
Vietnam Railways or DSVN (Đường Sắt Việt Nam) is the state-owned railway operator in Vietnam, providing regional and inter-city services across the national rail network. The main line, North–South, links the two biggest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, whereas the secondary lines Hanoi–Lao Cai, Hanoi–Quan Trieu, Hanoi–Dong Dang, Hanoi–Ha Long, Hanoi–Hai Phong interconnect Northern Vietnam, and Saigon–Quy Nhon, Saigon–Phan Thiet interconnect Southern Vietnam.
Trains running the North–South railway line depart from Hanoi Railway Station and arrive to Saigon Railway Station. Passenger services are designated with code SE for express services stopping at provincial capitals and TN for slow services stopping at all stations along the line. For this journey, we will be taking the SE3 train.
Vietnam Railways SE3 is one of the fastest trains on the North-South railway line and a very effective way to travel between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh stopping in the most important intermediary stations, such as Dong Hoi, Hue, Da Nang and Nha Trang. The train is used by travellers of all walks of life, from tourists to locals, as it is a convenient mean to reach the cities and towns in the middle of the line, safer than roads and less hassle than domestic flights.
Departure from Hanoi
Hanoi Railway Station is located at 120 Le Duan Street, Cua Nam Ward, Hoan Kiem District, west of the Hoan Kiem Lake. It is about a 20-minute walk from the Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter.
The station front entrance in Le Duan Street is used to access trains of the North–South railway line, whereas the rear entrance in Tran Quy Cap Street is used to access the trains of the Hanoi–Lao Cai railway line and other train services bound to the Northwest and Northeast regions.
Since Vietnam Railways introduced the use of electronic tickets in 2015, passengers can either present the physical ticket purchased at the station or the electronic ticket purchased via internet. If you book your train tickets online with Baolau, you will receive the official electronic tickets issued by Vietnam Railways. Passengers can print the e-tickets or carry in the mobile phone or tablet since digital copies are accepted. Your ticket will be checked before entering the platform, then you can head to your train departing platform.
As there are multiple trains departing at night with similar codes and numbers, look out carefully for the correct train. Our train, SE3, departs from Track 1 in southbound direction to Saigon. Beware of accidentally boarding the SP3 instead, as it may have the same departure time and it heads to Lao Cai, on a totally different northbound direction.
SE trains are usually equipped with 4 passenger classes: Soft sleeper bed in 4-berth compartments, Hard sleeper bed in 6-Berth compartments, Soft seat and Hard seat.
For long-distance journeys or travelling overnight, the Soft sleeper is recommended as it is the most comfortable class available on board. Beds are installed in an air-conditioned compartment that fits 4 passengers, 2 on lower berths and 2 on upper berths.
A reading light is available for each berth, and a two-pin power socket allows you to charge up your devices.
The soft mattress comes with clean sheets and is accompanied by a pillow and blanket. Once the train has departed, passengers can close the door of the compartment, turn of the light and get to sleep for the night.
If you are game for a seated experience, Soft seats are available on the front cars of the train. However, this passenger class is not recommended for overnight journeys, only for short-distance hops of few hours.
The Hard seat class is usually frequented by local passengers, who don’t mind travelling on wood benches at an inexpensive price.
The journey from Hanoi to Saigon
The SE3 service between Hanoi and Saigon takes approximately 33 hours, a 2-night-1-day epic journey crossing through rice paddies, karst mountains and national parks, offering greats views of the beautiful Vietnam from north to south.
As the train departs in the evening, the first part of the journey goes in the dark. By the time we wake up, our train will be travelling through the North Central coast before making a stop in Dong Hoi. We feel like having breakfast, so we make our way to the restaurant car located at the end of the train.
A Pho Bo costs 30,000 VND. Despite the menu saying it is “instant noodle”, it is actually freshly cooked on-board and is comparable to other street food stalls in Hanoi.
From the restaurant car, you get to enjoy the scenery of the contryside. When you finish your meal, you can head back to your car and stretch your legs in the corridor while continue admiring the views.
The train keeps rolling and soon reaches Hue, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. The overnight train is a popular way to travel from Hanoi to Hue, since travellers get to save one night of accommodation and arrive to the destination in the morning, ready for sightseeing.
We continue our trip. At noon, a catering trolley comes around the train to serve up lunch.
By staff’s suggestion, we have a chicken leg with rice and ‘morning glory’ vegetables on the side. A cup of soup is also provided with the dish.
The highlight of the journey comes when we arrive to Central Vietnam, as the train starts climbing the Hai Van Pass between Hue and Da Nang.
This section of track is arguably one of the world’s best views from a train with both steep mountains and cliffs on one side and a vast view of the South China Sea on the other.
The Hai Van Pass traverses the Truong Son mountain range as it descends to the sea. This range once formed the natural boundary between the kingdoms of Dai Viet and Champa. Nowadays it forms a boundary between the climates of Northern and Southern Vietnam.
On the way down the train passes very near the sea, which is a unique experience when travelling by rail.
After Hai Van Pass, the train makes a long stop at Da Nang for the bulk of passengers alighting and boarding here. If you continue your journey to the South, you’ll see most of your neighbors getting off and new ones getting on in Da Nang, as not passengers travel beyond Central Vietnam.
After Da Nang, the train passes the typical countryside scenery again before rolling through the South Central Coast of Vietnam.
In the evening, the catering trolley makes its rounds again serving dinner to the passengers.
And so it begins the second night of our train journey.
Before midnight, our train will make a stop Nha Trang, another important railway station in South Central Vietnam.
Arrival into Saigon
Right on time, the train pulls in to Saigon Railway Station in the early morning of the next day.
Despite the official name of the Southern metropolis was changed to Ho Chi Minh City after the war, the terminus station is still called Saigon Railway Station on an official basis.
Saigon Railway Station is about 2 km north of District 1. You may walk out the station to catch a public bus, ride hailing from your mobile phone or get a taxi.
How to book your train tickets from Hanoi to Saigon
Tickets on the trains between Hanoi and Saigon run out pretty quickly especially for Soft sleeper. Ticket booking is available 60-90 days in advance, fares open first for the long journeys of the railway line and fares for short journeys begin locked and will open later, so we recommend that you book your tickets early to secure your Soft berth once you have sorted out your travel plans.
Baolau lists the train services available, so you can compare and select the most convenient schedule and price.
Fill in the passenger form and select your compartment and your bed. Proceed to complete the payment before submitting your booking request.
Once your reservation is confirmed, you will receive an email with the electronic tickets attached. The electronic tickets are valid boarding passes, which can be used to board the train at the departure station. Passengers can print the e-ticket in advance or carry a digital copy in the mobile phone or tablet and present it before boarding.