About

Here you will find articles on an ambitious plan to travel from Singapore to Morocco overland, i.e. without flying.

I will use buses and trains to travel through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Europe.

Read about The Plan So Far.

Travelling Vietnam overland on trains and buses: Saigon to Hanoi

Written by Joshua Fuglsang on .

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AsiaTravelVietnam
Vietnamese train attendant watching the passengers getting organised
Vietnamese train attendant watching the passengers getting organised - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Introduction

I had a dream some­time ago to trav­el around the world over­land. I would trav­el on­ly by Train, Boat, Bus, Car, Bike, or by foot. Un­for­tu­nate­ly due to weath­er it was un­re­al­is­tic to trav­el from Aus­tralia to Sin­ga­pore by yacht at the time I was start­ing to trav­el. Luck­i­ly I am still able to trav­el through Asia to Eu­rope by land trans­port and that is what I aim to do over the next six months.

To get start­ed I came to Viet­nam, to trav­el the length of the coun­try be­fore jump­ing over to Chi­na. This ar­ti­cle briefly de­scribes some of the things I ex­pe­ri­enced trav­el­ling Viet­nam by train and bus.

Organising Tickets

The train station at Nha Trang
The train sta­tion at Nha Trang - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

To catch any train in the world, you need to buy your tick­ets. In Viet­nam you typ­i­cal­ly pre-book be­fore you go to the train sta­tion. I think most of­ten peo­ple book through trav­el agents on the street, how­ev­er it is eas­i­er to book on­line di­rect­ly, this way you can choose your seats and theres no chance that you’ll be scammed. By book­ing on­line you can be guar­an­teed to get the seat that you want, where of­ten trav­el agents on the street will charge you for a high­er class tick­et and book a low­er class tick­et, while pock­et­ing the dif­fer­ence, and still charge com­mis­sion. It is one of the com­mon scams in Viet­nam. So if you wish to book in per­son, make sure to check the de­tails thor­ough­ly. You should al­so check the book­ing site be­fore vis­it­ing the agent as well, to make sure that they aren’t charg­ing too much com­mis­sion. If you do book on­line I rec­om­mend that you print out your tick­et, though I have seen lo­cals show­ing a tick­et on their phones to the sta­tion at­ten­dants, but I be­lieve that it is bet­ter to print it out as a pre­cau­tion. As a fi­nal op­tion, you may book and pay for your tick­et at the sta­tion di­rect­ly. This is a good op­tion as you will be charged the prop­er price, and they will print out a tick­et for you. With all of these op­tions I sug­gest that you book a cou­ple of days in ad­vance or more if there is a pub­lic hol­i­day go­ing on, such as Tet. For Tet, I booked my tick­ets two weeks in ad­vance, and many trains were al­ready com­plete­ly filled, I ac­tu­al­ly had to book one day ear­li­er than what I want­ed to.

Leg 1: Day Train from Saigon to Nha Trang

Dragon fruit orchards
Drag­on fruit or­chards - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

The first leg of my jour­ney was a day train from Saigon to Nha Trang and would take 7.5 hours, leav­ing at 9am. The jour­ney was ter­rif­ic, it start­ed off by rat­tling through the bustling streets of Ho Chi Minh city, where you could peer in to the lo­cal neigh­bour­hoods and the liv­ing sub­urbs of the sprawl­ing city to get a small taste of what it is like to live as a Saigonese. On rail­way cross­ings you would see hun­dreds of scoot­ers queue­ing at the rail­way boom gate, im­pa­tient­ly wait­ing to con­tin­ue their day. Of­ten the train would get a stand­ing ova­tion by a group of boys and girls, greet­ing the train with a dance of jumps, arm-wav­ing, and in­audi­ble laugh­ter. Once out of the city the train crossed through vast stretch­es of farm­ing land for what felt like hours. We went through kilo­me­ters of Drag­on Fruit tree or­chards, some ripe but most­ly they were al­ready picked. In time the drag­on fruit trees were re­placed with flat land rice pad­dies, be­ing worked equal­ly hard by both Viet­namese farm­ers wear­ing their tra­di­tion­al leaf hats and grace­ful long-necked and per­fect­ly white herons. Be­fore long the sun was fall­ing and the rice pad­dies start­ed to glow or­ange.

Sunset over rice paddies
Sun­set over rice pad­dies - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

The first leg of the trip didn’t reach the coast, so you can sit on ei­ther side of the train to get equal­ly evoca­tive pas­tu­ral views. In fact pos­si­bly the west­ern fac­ing side would be bet­ter, as you get longer views of farm­land. How­ev­er, for fu­ture legs I will be book­ing on the right­hand side of the cab­in for those de­li­cious ocean views.

Once the train ar­rived in the sta­tion a la­dy walked around an­nounc­ing our stop in Viet­namese. I knew where were we were be­cause I was check­ing my maps ap­pli­ca­tion. How­ev­er, no one else moved on the train. None were bound for Nha Trang it seemed. So I quick­ly grabbed my bag and left. Af­ter I de­part­ed the train hung around for a lit­tle while be­fore leav­ing again, at least 10 min­utes I would say. How­ev­er, don’t bank on that hap­pen­ing for you as some stops were def­i­nite­ly a lot short­er. The sta­tion it­self was quite close to the beach, so I walked down to es­planade to find some ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Leg 2: Night Train from Nha Trang to Hoi An

Goats running through crops
Goats run­ning through crops - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

The sec­ond leg of my jour­ney was a night train from Nha Trang to Hoi An. I want­ed to try to trav­el by night at least once, and my ac­com­mo­da­tion was run­ning out, so I de­cid­ed to skip pay­ing for an­oth­er night of rent and to stay on a sleep­er train in­stead. Sav­ing some mon­ey on ac­com­mo­da­tion is one sol­id pro of trav­el­ling by night, but there are sev­er­al cons which I will men­tion.

Sleeper cabin in the night train
Sleep­er cab­in in the night train - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

My train was due to de­part at 11pm, and would ar­rive in Da Nang at 9am, mak­ing it a re­al­ly nice time and du­ra­tion for sleep­ing. I would ar­rive fair­ly late and al­ready tired, so hope­ful­ly could fall to sleep quick­ly. Then the train would ar­rive at the rea­son­able hour of 9am, as op­posed to oth­er op­tions which ar­rived at the un­god­ly hour of 4am. I want­ed to avoid ar­riv­ing ear­ly in the morn­ing as it would mean that I would get less sleep due to get­ting on the train in the af­ter­noon still wide awake, and then I would wor­ry all night that I might sleep through my stop. Over­all my sleep qual­i­ty was pret­ty good. The train rocks around quite a bit, so I wasn’t sure if I would get mo­tion sick­ness or not. Luck­i­ly not, the move­ment of the train is quite repet­i­tive and is in a slow rhythm, so it isn’t un­pleas­ant. It’s not dis­sim­i­lar to sleep­ing on the yacht, just a lit­tle bit less smooth. The gen­tle “dah-dum dah-dum dah-dum” of the train rolling of the tracks is quite med­i­ta­tive, and by fo­cus­ing ex­clu­sive­ly on the sound I could fall to sleep. Over­all, sleep­er trains are a lot more con­ducive to sleep than planes, but you get wo­ken up sev­er­al times in the night be­cause of peo­ple get­ting up and ar­riv­ing at a new sta­tion ev­ery two hours or so.

Top bunk in my cabin - sleeping with all my gear
Top bunk in my cab­in - sleep­ing with all my gear - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

I booked the top berth in the cab­in for a few rea­sons. Main­ly be­cause I didn’t want peo­ple climb­ing over me all night to go to the bath­room, but al­so for the se­cu­ri­ty of my pos­ses­sions as I could sleep with my bags and not wor­ry about hands reach­ing down from above. How­ev­er the top bunk has less than half a me­ter of head room! Which ob­vi­ous­ly means you can’t sit up, but al­so makes sim­ple things such as scratch­ing an itch on your an­kle trou­ble­some. The top bunk is al­so right next to the air con­di­tion­ing vent, so it gets cold.

One prob­lem which I didn’t an­tic­i­pate was cig­a­rette smoke. No one in my room smoked, but a lot of peo­ple would smoke at the end of the car­riage hall. So, since my cab­in was clos­est to the end of the car­riage the smoke would drift in to the room at night. And then since I was in the top bunk it would rise to the ceil­ing, right where I was sleep­ing. So, I would sug­gest book­ing a room clos­er to the cen­ter of the car­riage.

I got out of bed at around 7am and stood in the car­riage hall gaz­ing out of the win­dow. It was nice to watch the world wake up, to see the vil­lagers start to toil in the fields, and to feel the cool morn­ing air through the open car­riage win­dow.

Local bus to Hoi An
Lo­cal bus to Hoi An - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

The night be­fore at the Nha Trang sta­tion I met a Ger­man girl from Mu­nich who was al­so trav­el­ling to Hoi An. I met her again leav­ing the train and we went to find a bus to­geth­er. I had read on a fo­rum that there was a lo­cal bus near­by to the sta­tion which left ev­ery 20 min­utes and cost be­tween 20,000 dong and 40,000 dong. The priced var­ied be­cause some bus op­er­a­tors would charge tourists dou­ble in what is com­mon­ly re­ferred to by trav­ellers as a “tourist tax”. The post which I found was a bit old, with the last com­ment 4 years ago, so we weren’t sure if it was still up to date, but want­ed to give it a try. We walked to the lo­ca­tion de­scribed in the fo­rums, and were dis­ap­point­ed to find that the stop was in­deed no longer in op­er­a­tion. How­ev­er, at the mo­ment that we ar­rived a lo­cal man came out of his shop and said that the stop has moved to street ad­dress 153 of the same same street. We were at street num­ber 305, so we start­ed walk­ing and around 5 min­utes lat­er we were at the cor­rect spot hail­ing a yel­low bus. On the bus we paid 50,000 dong for the bus fare, which in­clud­ed a tourist tax of 30,000 dong as the lo­cals were on­ly pay­ing 20,000 dong. You can ar­gue for the prop­er fair if you wish, but it was a one hour bus trip, I was quite ex­haust­ed, and the dif­fer­ence in AUD was quite small, just $1.50 AUD, so I wasn’t too fussed. Re­gard­less, it was night and day dif­fer­ence to the 350,000 dong fair that the taxi’s at the sta­tion were charg­ing. Choose your bat­tles, so to speak.

Fin & Future Legs

Vietnamese Railway Line
Viet­namese Rail­way Line - Copy­right © Joshua Fuglsang

Thanks for read­ing! This is a liv­ing doc­u­ment and will be up­dat­ed as I con­tin­ue my over­land jour­ney. Sub­scribe to find out what hap­pens next!

I will al­so have and ar­ti­cle on the beau­ti­ful Hoi An soon as well.

Tags

AsiaTravelVietnam

About

Here you will find articles on an ambitious plan to travel from Singapore to Morocco overland, i.e. without flying.

I will use buses and trains to travel through South East Asia, China, Mongolia, Russia, and Europe.

Read about The Plan So Far.