As part of our recent trip to Vietnam, we decided to save a little money and be adventurous by taking the overnight train to Hanoi from Hoi An! We made the mistake of watching a very cool but also slightly scary Youtube video by CupofTJ on the day before we went, however, fortunately for us, our experience was much more positive!
We booked the tickets through an online agent called Vietnam Impressive and arrived at the train station with our self printed tickets. Although it was a little overcrowded, there were plenty of food places to stock up or have something to eat before we boarded.
The train arrived half an hour late, but it was pretty smooth from there on in. We easily found our two beds in the first class cabin we had booked.
We had been expecting the beds to be dirty and possibly insect ridden, but fortunately, they were just very slightly dirty. The problem is that people get on and off the train throughout the journey and bedding isn’t changed between the passengers. That said, it wasn’t too dirty and as we are kind of used to roughing it a bit in Asia at times, we were fine with it! I quickly nodded off for about an hour until I was woken up to have a look at the magnificent views.
Another thing I found exciting was that the railway signals are still completely by hand. We saw so many guards standing by the line on the way. One of them, in fact, had obviously missed his signal post and we saw him running towards the train! Vietnam is a fascinating and unusually long and thin shaped country, but how fortunate they are to have this magnificent stretch of the South China Sea. I would like to come back here to explore more of these unspoilt beaches.
Later on, further inland we saw lots of paddy fields and mountains towards Cambodia and Laos to the West.
I’m afraid to say that the toilet visits were less scenic. This is not as bad as it got in here later in the evening. She didn’t want me to post this, but I feel you should be forewarned! This isn’t much worse than your average toilet in Asia though, I suppose ….
We didn’t find out whether there was a food carriage or not, but some of the hot food being pushed around looked pretty disgusting, I have to admit. We did happily buy some Tiger beers and some rice cakes though. We also took advantage of the hot water stations to fill up our cup noodles 🙂 We also stopped at one station for about 10-15 minutes where there were food vendors all along the platform. Lots of people got off here to buy food and I wish we had too. It was around 7 or 8 pm and you can’t miss the station, wherever it is, because of all the food shops on the platform!
After this, I would love to say that we relaxed into the evening, but there were children screaming along the corridors, I mean literally yelling as loudly as possible, for hours. Another slight irritation was that the beds opposite us were effectively hot bunks for all the different passengers getting on and off between local stations. Some people had only booked one bed but brought a small family with them to share it. I also felt sorry for one guy opposite me who ended up having a stranger sitting at the end of his bed while he tried to sleep! At this point, I made sure I climbed up to my bunk to fully recline as there were too many people eyeing up my bed space! In general though, the people who we shared our cabin with were very smiley and friendly and it could have been much worse. At around 11pm, we were able to finally put the lights out and tried our best to sleep. I managed this fairly effectively, although it did get quite suffocatingly stuffy and hot at one point. I was glad the weather was cold further north, as it could have been hellish in mid summer. We arrived to a chilly and wet Hanoi, worlds apart from hot and sunny Hoi An. Fortunately it’s a fascinating and fun city though.
Should I book the overnight train from Hoi An to Hanoi?
Yes if: –
- You want to save money
- You want to see local people and have an authentic experience (although equally, like in some of the other carriages, be aware that you might only see Western tourists)
- You have plenty of time to do it (it’s not only a 16 hour train journey, but you also lose the previous day by travelling to Da Nang railway station from Hoi An and will probably be shattered the next day too after arriving at 5AM!)
- You like trains
- You want to see awesome scenery (through dirty glass)
No if: –
- You are going to have trouble with the very high steps onto the train or onto the bunk beds
- Have a lot of luggage. We struggled to fit our suitcases in the cabin but fortunately they were slim enough to fit under the bunk bed.
- You don’t like strangers or get easily annoyed by young children
- Are expecting a good night’s sleep
- You can’t cope with the rough and ready toilet facilities.
- You’re expecting great photo quality as the windows are pretty dirty and don’t open. It probably is possible to get good photos if you can find a cleaner spot though.
- Bring snacks (available at the station)
- Bring cup noodles or coffee / tea bags etc. (there is hot water on the train!)
- Bring noise cancelling headphones / ear plugs
- Bring a spare sheet or a light sleeping bag
- Bring hand sanitizer and spare toilet roll
Would I recommend it?
Yes! Do it! Despite quite a number of negatives, it really is unique and where else in the world can you board a 17 km per hour train along the South China Sea coast? It is a total gamble who ends up in your cabin, but we were pretty lucky and i don’t regret it! I wouldn’t do it too many more times though!
I hope you enjoyed my article! How did you find the Da Nang to Hanoi train journey? What other train journeys should we try?
By the way I am also a music producer, if you are curious to hear my travel inspired sounds, have a listen!