Trip Report: Vietnam’s Reunification Express

Ho Chi Minh City to Da NangVietnam

Reunification Express Train SE2

Departure: 7pm  Arrival: 1140am the next day


Booking: 8 out of 10

Thanks to the amazing Man at Seat 61 (see yesterday’s blog), we learnt that booking train tickets in Vietnam is not straight forward. Mark Smith (the man) has a whole section on the site dedicated to navigating the Vietnamese railway system. Thanks Mark.

We tried to book through VietnamImpressive and despite two attempts never heard from them. We then went to Vietnam-Railway.com. Note this company is not an official arm of the Vietnamese Railways or linked to them in any way. They are simply an agency who buy tickets on behalf of travellers. They were excellent. We found them to be friendly, efficient and they did the job. When we checked into our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). The two other people sharing our compartment from HCMC to Da Nang also booked with them.

The Reunification Express does not refer to a specific train. It is the “brand name” of  a group of trains that run between Hanoi in the North and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south.

There are confusingly seven options for travel on the trains in Vietnam. Not all trains have every type.

  1. Golden Trains private tourist sleeping-cars attached to trains between Saigon and Nha Trang – book through travel agency
  2. Livitrans sleeping-cars – private carriages attached to trains between Hanoi and DanNang and booked through the company directly
  3. Air Conditioned Soft Sleepers – four bed sleeping compartments (2 up and 2 down). We chose this style.
  4. Air Conditioned Hard Sleepers-six bed sleeping compartments berths, lower, middle and top on each side. I think the hardness refers to the fact you share with more people not mattress thickness!
  5. Air Conditioned Soft Seats – we didn’t fancy sitting all night
  6. Air Conditioned Hard Seats- these have wooden seats but were not available on our train (what a shame)
  7. Ordinary hard seats (the cheapest and most uncomfortable ride possible!)

Photo 2013-12-31 11 36 38 (1)

Check In: 10 out of 10

Our train left from Saigon station, located one kilometre from the city centre. This station was originally a baggage shipping centre built in the 1930s by the French. Despite the city changing its name, the station has retained its original signage. It is the busiest station on the network. There are some small shops, a coffee house, a Loterria Korean fast food burger store, and a couple of convenience stores selling snacks and drinks.

We were told by Vietnam Railway to be at the station 30 minutes before train departure which was not really necessary. Finding our train was very easy. It was sitting right in front of the main doors and well signposted. There were ticket inspectors at the door but we noticed they waved foreigners  through and checked  the tickets of Vietnamese who were travelling.

Boarding: 8 out of 10

A guard was stationed near our train door and he guided us to our compartment. The stairs up to the train level are steep and you need two people to lift luggage up. 

On Board: 5 out of 10

Our four bed compartment was located half way along the corridor of the carriage. We shared with a delightful German mother and daughter.

Each bed had a pillow, clean sheet and quilt waiting for us. The mattress was very stained, the walls grubby and the floor under them dusty.  There was an artificial rose sitting in a vase at each window!  We also shared the carriage with three cockroaches which I swatted to a new existence. There was plenty of luggage room. The door lock was broken and despite the efforts of the train guard remained so. We found it hard to open and close the door at times.  We left it open until we went to sleep chatting with the Germans and Russians that were also riding in our carriage.

The lavatory at the end of the carriage was passable but was stripped of toilet paper (we brought our own).

Sleep on the train was possible. I think I actually got about seven hours but felt rested. There is something soothing about a train’s rocking motion which I find helps with sleep. A few times, the jerking was so violent I woke up with a start thinking we had left the tracks, however.


Photo 2013-12-31 6 22 28

Departure: 9 out of 10

The train rolled jerkily out of the station  right on time with not much fuss which I found disappointing!

 

Meals: 10 out of 10

We brought snacks with us but need not have bothered. Staff with trolleys came down the train regularly for the first couple of hours and did so again in the morning. They called out what they were selling in Vietnamese so we were not sure what was being offered and had to choose based on sight and smell.

At  Dieu Tri station at around 6am the train stopped for a long while. A woman burst into our compartment and before we knew it we had ordered four rounds of excellent Vietnamese coffees and absolutely fresh and delicious bread rolls with cheese for breakfast! Like everything we ate in Vietnam, all of our food on the train was delicious and scarily cheap!

 

Entertainment: 2 out of 10

The train does not have any entertainment facilities or wifi. The four of us after talking for a while,  settled into reading.  There is something delightful abut lying in bed on a train reading and chatting.

The group of Russians  on board, proceeded to drink for several hours and then entertained us with loud Russian drinking songs. This was fun at first but made sleep difficult (even with ear plugs). One of the Russian men stumbled into our compartment around 1am totally inebriated looking for his bed! He wrenched open our damaged door and then attempted to wrestle it closed which caused me some amusement in my half asleep state.

 

Arrival: 10 out of 10

After our early coffee and cheese baguette, we drifted off to sleep again only to wake as the train slowed down for da Nang station. Oops! That was a  shock awakening as we threw all our stuff into our bags again.  We arrived right on time at Da Nang, a feat that impressed me. I have travelled overnight on US and Australian trains that have arrived hours late. Here in Vietnam, we managed a 935 Kilometre (550 mile ) journey and arrived to the second! There were staff to help alighting the train and lifting baggage off. Taxis were waiting at the station entrance and within 10 minutes we were checking in at our Da Nang hotel.

 Photo 2013-12-31 11 40 22

The Verdict

My Trip Rating: Overall 77% (3.8 out of 5).
Positives: Boarding, Meals, On time Arrival, hassle free experience
Negatives: The dirty compartment which some would find unbearable but we found amusing, Russian Entertainment
Would I ride this train again? Yes

 

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Comments

  1. hey there, I was thinking to book my train tickets from vietnam-railway.com as well. how did you collect the tickets before departure? did the company send you an email to print out and have you show it at the counter to redeem your tickets? thanks!

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