Even though Vietnam wasn’t my first trip far away from home, it was my first time actually backpacking and hence taking care of our own transportation to get places. For Cuba everything was done with buses and arranged by the agency we booked with, and in America we travelled everywhere by car.
Since we would be covering a few long distances through the country, the best option to do so seemed taking the train. And that’s how I ended up on a night train for the very first time.
From Hue to Ninh Binh, it’s about 600 kilometers. In Vietnam trafic, it takes quite a while to cover that distance, so unless you fly, you’re going to have to take out some time to get there.
Every day there are three trains departing from Hue that arrive in Ninh Binh about twelve hours later. One of those leave at 9:33pm and arrive at 9:53am the next morning. Perfect. It would mean saving on a hostel – not that those cost a lot there – and not losing a lot of day-time travelling from point A to B.
Since we definitely wanted to be on that train, we booked our beds in advance online. We chose the most expensive option – soft beds (which are still quite hard) – and paid around 55 euros, which is a lot for Vietnam. It’s a lot cheaper when you buy them once you’ve arrived in the country, but we didn’t want to risk not having a bed. Many websites said that there are always plenty of places available but others said that booking online was the best option if you wanted to have a bed. We decided not to take the risk and pay the extra money. For European standards, it was still a bargain.
We had to be in the train station an hour in advance which didn’t really seem necessary but we did nonetheless. The train arrived about twenty minutes before departure and boarding went really smoothly. We had some trouble putting away our three rather large backpacks, and had to clean up a little as the cabin was a bit dirty from the previous occupants (the train had departed in Ho Chi Minh City earlier that day without an between cleaning), but got settled eventually.
There were three of us and for the first part of the journey we had the cabin of four to ourselves. We had brought along some snacks and drinks and enjoyed about an hour of the journey playing cards and UNO. Great fun!
What I was afraid of most was that I wouldn’t be able to sleep because of the noise and the movement of the train. But that was not true at all. I don’t think I ever slept that good. It actually feels like the train is lulling you to sleep. The only downside is the AC that is blowing really hard in your face when you’re in one of the upper bunk beds. That’s the only thing that makes it hard to sleep. When I was in the lower bed, I slept like a baby, the other times we took a night train (from Hanoi to Sapa and back) I was in the upper bed and I almost wanted to throw the damned AC out of the window. Of course without the compartment would soon become a sauna so I refreined from doing so.
But for the trip from Hue to Ninh Binh all went smoothly. I woke up around 8am in the morning and then enjoyed the rest of the trip by looking out of the window either from our compartment or from the big corridor windows. It’s just amazing to see the scenery slip by.
For the night train trip from Hanoi to Sapa, the hours are a bit more tricky. There are two trains and they both leave between 9 and 10pm and arrive in Lao Cai between 5 and 5:30 am. Nothing sucks more than having to waking up in the middle of the night and gather your stuff to get off the train. But it’s definitely the best and quickest way to travel to Sapa.
Hue to Ninh Binh we travelled with Vietnam Railways, but for Sapa the cheap tickets had already sold out, so we had to buy the “tourist tickets”. Of course those compartiments were a bit nicer and we got some snacks and water included, but the price was more than the Vietnam Railways one. For both ways, we paid 67,94 euros each.
While the train is a more expensive option than taking a night bus or regular bus, it’s definitely much more comfortable. I certainly won’t say no to travelling by night train in the future. If you can avoid a harsh AC blowing in your face, it’s a really great way of travelling and catching up on some sleep. I’m a fan!