While the majority of new arrivals in Hanoi choose to do so by plane, landing at Noi Bai Airport about 35km north of the city, it is also worth considering arriving by train, as in this way you can get a good look at the surrounding countryside of the Red River Valley as you pull in to the city.
There are four possible routes by which you can arrive: from Saigon in the south; from Haiphong to the east; from Lang Son to the north and from Lao Cai to the northwest. These last two are on the Chinese border, so may be of interest if you plan to visit Vietnam after spending some time in China.
Train timetables and fares from Hanoi
Hanoi’s train station Ga Hang Co (120 Le Duan, tel: +84 4 3825 3949) is located about a kilometre west of the city centre on Le Duan and easy to reach by taxi or (for the adventurous) bus.
If you arrive from all points south, you will exit onto this road and be met by a swarm of taxi, motorbike and cyclo riders wanting to take you to your hotel. However, if you are arriving from anywhere else, the train pulls up behind the main station and you will exit on to Tran Quy Cap.
Advance bookings (a couple of days ahead) are a good idea if you want to be sure of reserving a soft sleeper or seat for your journey. For information on fares and timetables, visit Vietnam Railways’ website (www.vietnam-railway.com), which has lots of useful information to help you decide if this is the way you want to travel.
The Reunification Express from Hanoi
By far the most popular train ride in Vietnam is between its two major cities, Hanoi and Saigon, aboard the so-called Reunification Express. Don’t be fooled by the name, however, since these ‘express’ trains take between 30-42 hours to cover this journey of over 1,500kms. Vietnam Railways have upgraded many of their carriages in recent years, but there are still many old ones in operation.
Opt for a soft seat or soft sleeper if you hope for a comfortable ride. The price of the ticket includes some meals, but this is not gourmet cuisine, so you may need to supplement it with snacks from passing vendors, or stock up on favourite treats before setting out.
Pros and cons of train travel in Hanoi
Several trains make the journey between Hanoi and Saigon every day, and the majority are heavily booked, showing the popularity of this form of travel for visitors to the country.
The obvious advantage is that you get to see the lush countryside, including glimpses of the beach and mountains, so you can combine travelling with sightseeing. You also don’t have to worry about the driver’s ability as you sometimes do with bus travel.
If travelling alone, you’ll need to keep an eye on your belongings at all times, as bag thieves and pickpockets are attracted to trains like bees to honey. Keep valuables out of sight and secure your bag to your seat or bed when you sleep. Also watch out for stones thrown at the train by kids.