I once travelled with the missus, from Saigon all the way, in one hit, to Hanoi and I have to say it was the single most unpleasant journey I've ever done!
Ok so it was probably a very foolish thing to purposely decide to entomb ourselves on a train for 32 hours ( Yes, you read that right ) but I'd heard it was a great train journey. It wasn't.
Our 4 bed carriage was filthy with rather suspicious looking brown stains on the walls.
There was a mouse that was doing relays up and down the corridor outside our 'room'.
Our VIP carriage was about 11 carriages from the food and drink one and at least of two of the carriages that you had to pass through to get to the aformentioned food one, absolutely stank of rotting rubbish.
We were told that we would get food as part of our ticket. That didn't happen... Even though the Vietnamese people in our carriage did!
The only western toilet in our carriage was used as a squatter just 20 odd minutes into this marathon slog ( ie. Some mucky pup with soiled shoes decided to stand on the rim of the toilet and go about their business from this elevated height causing, well, a mess basically )... This wasn't then cleaned properly for the rest of the entire journey.
We also noticed that the sheets and blankets that are supplied for the beds are just re-used by each new arrival on the train ( We had three different sets of 'couples' join us and then leave at various points on the journey in the 4 berth we were in ). Not too pleasant for the last in that line I'll bet!
Worst of all, and this is a biggy, the staff in the food and drink carriage were sitting around idly for most of the journey drinking beer. I have no real problem with that... However I do when, with six hours of our torture still to endure, I decided it was Beer O Clock for us too - Only to be told that they had run out!? And yes, they informed me of this whilst surrounded by empties of their own making!!
Just thought I should warn you!
Having said that, as long as you just get on, get your head down and then get off, you'll probably be ok!
#3 bronzedwarrior has been a member since 23/11/2007. Posts: 41
I agree with the previous reply, and we did the Hue to Hanoi bit. We tried to book in advance and only managed to get a 6 berth, and the sheets were well used by previous people and we had no chance of getting anymore, no matter how many times we went up and down the train to ask, filthy squat toilets, even thought there are western style toilets, they are usually locked, and if you ask for them to be opened you are told they are not working, but the staff seem to be able to use them keeping clean facilities for themselves, and as it is a night train you don't actually see anything. I personally would never go on an overnight train again.
We were lucky to have the mice runnung over our luggage and under the bed along with the other insects.
If you do go by train, take a plastic water meter type key, cant remember if it is the 3 or 4 side type, but that should open the western toilet for you, and don't forget toilet roll.
We are flying next year between regions, more expensive, but well worth it.
#4 roynolan has been a member since 29/1/2009. Posts: 48
I just realised I went exclamation mark crazy at the end of my post above, sorry about that...
I had a feeling we weren't the only ones who would have had such an experience.
I would never do an overnight train journey in Vietnam again.
Although in all honesty, we have no burning desire to return to Vietnam in any way, shape or form anyway. The problems we encountered on the train were systematic of the country on the whole if you ask me... But that's a different story altogether.
As per Roynolan, flying is probably the better option although I've not done that internally in Vietnam.
In fact anything would be preferable to our experience of THAT train...
#5 bronzedwarrior has been a member since 23/11/2007. Posts: 41
In comparison trains in China - at similar prices - are spotlessly clean! and well managed too! which means it can be done in this part of the world! these days it is almost as cheap to fly or travel by train - so fly! but once you are "used" to living in VN the present conditions are what most VN people are used to & accept - which is why the trains are the condition they are because most people can not imagine that they are clean & tidy! culture?
#6 Pablot has been a member since 4/5/2009. Posts: 102
I've done this trip by day and by night and find the scenery is terrific by day and the overnight very convenient as you arrive, after a good night's sleep, early the next day in the centre of Hanoi .
The above experiences are so far from my experiences on Vietnamese trains, it's hard to believe they are the same country. I have travelled many times on trains on the Saigon/Hanoi route, 7 or 8 times between Hanoi and Hue, and have found the trip pleasant and comfortable. Each carriage has a squat toilet at one end and a European style at the other, and, like in trains everywhere I've travelled, including China, they smell worse later in the journey, but I've never found the European one locked. Anyway you can just go to the next carriage. I do find the 6 berth cabins a little crowded, especially given the amount of luggage many people carry. The beds in 4 berth cabins are wide enough to sleep on and I've been fed many times. If you only have a short journey or start late (Vietnamese tend to eat very early) you won't get a meal. Lots of westerners complain about the food but I've generally found it fine, though noodles for breakfast, which you get in the seat section, is not what I want for breakfast. You can also buy beer, tea and coffee and snacks from trolleys that come through from time to time (though they are Vietnamese snacks so may not appeal) and you can buy biscuits and other snacks and drinks from the station stalls. There's also boiling water at the end of every carriage where you can make your own hot drinks.
I think to go from one end of the country to the other in one trip would be too much, but I generally like the trip and enjoy the scenery. It is getting harder to book a ticket though, as more Vietnamese can afford to travel, so if trains aren't your thing, go by plane. They're pretty safe in Vietnam.
For more train information go to seat61.com
#7 violets has been a member since 6/7/2009. Posts: 151
The Livitrans (first class) private car is now attached to one of the northbound trains from Danang to Hanoi via Hue. I took it in the other direction to Danang in March. This is the same one used to Lao Cai and it's quite comfy. You can book here: www.adventureindochina.com
(normally about $10. more than the soft sleeper)
#8 daawgon has been a member since 17/4/2007. Posts: 1,091
"Anyway you can just go to the next carriage. I do find the 6 berth cabins a little crowded, especially given the amount of luggage many people carry. The beds in 4 berth cabins are wide enough to sleep on and I've been fed many times."
I'm missing something here. Overnight? I want a TWO BERTH cabin - for what I hope are obvious reasons. I would prefer not to spend the night sleeping next to perfect strangers and the whole point of a "romantic, scenic, train ride" is so I can have romance and scenery on the trip - which I can't have if two to four strangers are in my cabin with me!
#9 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
Hi, I am planning a similar trip and have found man in seat 61 quite good for information, when I traveled by train in India I loved the experience and whilst the train was very good and clean I suppose in some countries you just have to get on with it and treat it purely as a mode of transport in getting from A-B without having to use a precious days travelling. after-all why not spend the money on a luxury hotel when you get there instead!? Anyway you will see some pictures on this site so you can judge for yourself, I think in the long run you just have to remember the country that you are in and not to expect too much. What I usually do when I travel like this is to sew a cotton sheet into a sleeping bag and take a spare pillow case at least then you know who's been sleeping in it and you can put your passport money etc in there with you for safe keeping. Oh and I would only do one sleeper at a time otherwise you really are missing out on seeing the country after-all it is a Holiday!!
#10 taffyted72 has been a member since 18/7/2011. Posts: 4
I took the sleeper from Nairobi to Mombassa, and it was fantastic. Two birth cabin, great dining car - good meal, bottle of wine - beautiful woman to share the ride with - fantastic scenery watching the sun come up over the Kenyan countryside. A train ride I'll never forget. I guess something like that in Vietnam is out of the question...
#11 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957
I travelled the route your are talking about on the Livitrains (booked through Seat 61) and it was absolutely spotless, quiet, on time and great for an overnight sleep.
I couldnt recommend it more highly for getting to Hanoi from hue on a budget. We had three people in our four berth cabin though so we had a bit more room and no strangers..
#12 Fattymac has been a member since 10/7/2009. Posts: 28