All Aboard the Reunification Express
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
All Aboard the Reunification Express Ho Chi Minh City Reviews
Tips for Surviving Vietnam's Overnight Trains Mar 11, 2008
"The Reunification Express" is a nickname for the trains that run up and down Vietnam. Overnight trains are a cheap and efficient way to get from Saigon to Hanoi and everywhere in between. I would recommend them for those reasons, but I have to say disliked my experiences on the trains immensely. I don't want to discourage anyone from using the train because it's an experience. But this was one experience that I wished I had a little bit more knowledge of going into it! So here are a few suggestions to help you have a better overnight train experience:
BOOK IN ADVANCE
During holiday seasons or heavy travel times, you should probably book at least a week in advance for soft sleepers. Soft sleepers are the "first class" (an overstatement) of the overnight trains. There are four people to a room and mattress in them. If soft sleepers are sold out, there are probably hard sleepers available. Hard sleepers have six beds per cabin that have no mattresses and I believe the beds are wooden.
A big suitcase will not fit underneath the beds. On some trains, even a large backpack will not fit. It's best to bring small luggage, or else you will have to leave your luggage in the center of your small cabin. Put everything you need during the journey at the top of your pack because there is limited space in the cabin to be rummaging through your stuff. Also it could be helpful to put everything you need in a smaller day pack that you can leave out.
We always shared our rooms with other trip mates and locked the door when everyone went to sleep. If you have to share a room with people you don't know, it's probably best to put your valuables in your money belt and sleep with it on.
Bring a variety of comfortable clothes. The train cabins were usually either very hot or freezing cold. Bring eye shades and ear plugs.
BRING A SLEEP SHEET
For those of you who don't know, a sleep sheet is basically a sheet in the shape of a sleeping bag. It's a way to protect yourself from the creepy crawlies that might be lurking in a questionably clean bed. On the first leg of a train journey, there are already clean sheets on the bed. However, if you get on at some point after that, the sheets will have been used by a previous person. Some conductors were very helpful and brought clean sheets, others never came by. I didn't know what a sleep sheet was beforehand so I used sarongs to cover my bed. When I was in Hue, I found a nice silk sleep sheet for just $7.
AVOID USING THE TOILET
I don't really believe in cutting off fluids to avoid using foreign toilets, but this is the one exception. The bathrooms were terrible. It's hard enough for most Western women to squat, so imagine trying to do it on a moving vehicle that makes sudden stops. Enough said. Drinking alcohol can probably make your train ride better, but just think of all the extra bathroom trips you'll need to make...
BRING YOUR OWN FOOD
Water bottles and food were included in the soft sleeper cabins. The food was unidentifiable so we always passed on it. People usually come around to sell packaged snacks. But it's helpful to buy some bread and peanuts or a to go meal before you leave, especially for the really long rides that leave in the afternoon.
Make sure you have a good book or a deck of cards with you. Train rides were a good time to have interesting conversations with my trip mates. Also, make sure to look outside the windows in the daylight hours. The one redeeming factor of the overnight trains were the great views of the countryside we saw in the afternoon and early morning!
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