14.0583° N, 108.2772° E
Possibly one of the prettiest and most adventurous countries in the world, Vietnam is a true gem in the crown of Southeast Asia. With striking limestone karsts in the north, beautiful ancient cities in the center and wetlands and alluvial fans in the south, this country has a lot to offer. And by far one of the best ways to see all of that is from the window of a train.
While there are numerous trains that run throughout the country, one of the neatest and most exciting (and stunning) adventures is on the amazing Reunification Express, a train with a long history. If you are curious about exploring Vietnam, and want a beautiful sampling of what it has to offer (hint, a lot) then we highly recommend booking a ticket on this train. Not only is it scenic, but also comfortable (and relatively efficient). Read on for five things to consider when planning an adventure on the Reunification Express.
| What is it? And why is it called the Reunification Express?
The Reunification Express is a train line that connects the capital, Hanoi, to Ho Chi Minh City, the large metropolis in the south. The train runs north to south (or south to north depending on where you start) for a total length of 1,726 kilometers or 1,072 miles. Trains following this route are referred to as the “Reunification Express” because it symbolizes the reunification of the country of Vietnam after the war. Though interestingly, no train itself is actually identified or titled the Reunification Express (you won't see the name on any of the train cars).
The train was actually completed during the time the French controlled the county. In the end, it took forty years to finish the route (it was finally completed in 1936). But, because of the trains importance for moving goods and people, during the time between World War II and the Vietnam War, the entire railway sustained major damage from bombings and sabotage. Today, due to lack of funds, the rail line still has areas that need to be repaired and/or updated.
But it is important to consider how amazing it is that the train is still running on the line today in the first place. Within two years after the end of the Vietnam War, 1,334 bridges, 27 tunnels, 158 stations and 1,370 switches were repaired(!). The line was officially reopened for travel at the end of 1976.
| How long does it take, and what does it cost?
The train takes about 30 hours to get from either Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh or from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, though everyone knows that most (all) trains are usually not on time. When we rode the train, we ended up getting to Hanoi (our endpoint) about 30 minutes late - which is practically on time in our books.
One interesting thing to note, is that even though outside of Vietnam we know the city as Ho Chi Minh, in the county, and on many documents, including your ticket (and the train station itself) it will still say Saigon. Keep this in mind when booking a ticket to or from the city.
Four trains leave each day: two in the morning and two at night. We went from the south (Ho Chi Minh) to the north and decided to take a night train. While we obviously don’t know how the morning train is, we greatly enjoyed taking the night train because it allowed us to see a good portion of the middle of the country during the day (including the beautiful coastline around the city of Danang).
The cost of a train ticket entirely depends on how comfortable you want to be at night. The most expensive type of room is a soft sleeper with air-con on the upper berth, which will cost around 1335000 dong. Now before you freak out at the high price, it is important to remember that $1 USD = 21,500 Dong (1 Euro = 27,000 Dong). For the comfiest sleeping situation for the whole train ride it will cost about $58 USD or about 50 Euros.
For a full price list, check this out.
| Should you ride the whole train in one go?
We did decide to do the whole train ride in one go. And while we loved it, we both agree that if we had had more time to explore (we were on a tight schedule due to school) we definitely would not have done the whole train trip at once, but instead would have split it up into a couple of different sections.
Why? Because, like so many amazing train rides, there are a lot of things to see along the way. Some of the neatest (and can’t-miss) stops are:
| Van Long Nature Reserve
This nature reserve is one of the last strongholds of the highly endangered Delacour’s langur (population roughly 120). It is also a birdwatching paradise thanks to its reedy wetlands and high limestone karsts. One of the best ways to explore the reserve is by boat. We suggest renting a small, two-person rowboat for 90 minutes and heading out on the water to take in the scenery at a leisurely pace.
To reach the reserve, get off at the Ninh Binh Station and grab either a bus or taxi (the reserve is about 19 kilometers away). The Ninh Binh Station is the first stop after Hanoi (or the last stop before Hanoi if going south to north).
If you want to explore Viet