Reunification Express Train Vietnam

Vietnam by Train: Taking the Reunification Express from Saigon to Hanoi: Leg 1 (How to Get from Saigon to Mui Ne)

“Let’s take the Reunification Express from Saigon to Hanoi!”

“How far is that?”

(Long pause. Google maps search.)

“1600 kilometers.”

It sounded like a crazy idea at first. The Reunification Express. An old train, slowly making its way through mountains and rice paddies and along amazing cliffs, revealing hidden beaches. Romantic maybe, but crazy. Even more so when we saw pictures of the third class trains (they really are just wooden benches). But as we planned our three month trip through South East Asia, it soon became clear that the Reunification Express, the long Vietnam train line from Saigon to Hanoi (officially the North-South Railway), would form a big part of the Vietnam leg of our trip, and we would plan our weeks in Vietnam based on train travel.

We researched the route, the different Vietnam trains and the stops along the route. We knew we wouldn’t want to rush this, three to four weeks for the trip sounded like the perfect time, and a train sounded like the perfect way to travel. We’d be traveling on buses in Cambodia the weeks before, and a change sounded like a good idea, especially considering the comments we’d heard from other travelers about Vietnamese bus drivers.

We planned our route ahead of time: Saigon – Binh Thuan (for Mui Ne) – Nha Trang – Da Nang (with a detour to Hoi An by bus) – Hué – Hanoi. We picked out hotels and guest houses on the way and booked them ahead. This is something that most long term travelers don’t do, but if I go on a 2-3 month trip, I prefer to book ahead. Always with free cancellation in case my plans change, but booking ahead means I can enjoy my trip and don’t need to spend my travel time on research.

Going to Saigon? Check out my Saigon food guide for inspiration and street food ideas!

Vietnam Train Tickets: Getting tickets for the Reunification Express

As for Vietnam train tickets, we considered booking those ahead as well, but decided to go to the train station directly as we had a few days in Saigon and pick up our tickets there. Firstly, because we were slightly confused about the options for Mui Ne, and secondly, because we wanted to make absolutely sure we had genuine tickets. If you want to book ahead, check out the Seat61 website which has plenty of information on the journey in general and on booking tickets.

There’s no train station in Mui Ne, so your options, if you want to do this journey, are the trains to Phan Thiết or Binh Thuan. It’s easier to get to Mui Ne from Phan Thiết, the caveat is that the train to Phan Thiết leaves Saigon at 6.50 in the morning. I hate getting up early, so we opted for the 12.20 train to Binh Thuan and arranged a pick up service with our hotel in Mui Ne as there are no buses from Binh Thuan to Mui Ne to my knowledge.

Ga Sai Gon Train Station
The train station in Saigon, slightly hidden in a random street. Walk through the parking lot and into the building, you’ll find the trains behind it.

Ticket counter Saigon train station
The ticket counter inside the train station: We found various ticket counters, but the one that was happy to sell us a ticket to Binh Thuan was the one in the middle of the station on the ground level, you’ll see this right as you enter the station. They also spoke a bit of English here, which was not the case at all train stations. My recommendation: Write your route, date, time, number of tickets etc. on a piece of paper or on a note on your phone. I always came prepared with a note and they seemed to appreciate it. We always ended up with the correct tickets!

 

Vietnam Train: SE 22 Reunification Express Saigon Hanoi
One of the trains leaving Saigon station

Need a Vietnam visa? Check out my 2016 guide to getting a Vietnam visa!

The different classes on the Reunification Express trains

SE22 Reunification Express Train Vietnam Hard Seat Air Con
When the Vietnamese say “Hard Seat”, they mean hard! The cheapest tickets for these trains are literally just seats on wooden benches. Curiously, the locals chose to either travel on Hard Seats with fans – no aircon – or go for full comfort. The middle way of hard seat with air con was very unpopular, the carriage was completely empty.

 

SE22 Reunification Express Train Vietnam Soft Seat Air Con
…And this is what we ended up traveling in, the “Soft Seat Air Con” class, according to our ticket. While the train was clearly past its prime, these were actually pretty comfortable and roomy, not a bad way to travel at all. One downside of these though: the windows don’t open, and they probably get cleaned quite infrequently, so if you’re hoping to do some travel photography on the way, this may not be your top choice. Those windows are the reason there are no scenery pictures in this post!

Looking for Vietnam travel inspiration? Check out these 5 Things to do in Vietnam for Adventurous Travelers.

 

SE22 Reunification Express Train Vietnam Ticket
If your ticket looks like this, you should get to your destination without problems! If you want a souvenir, take a picture of your ticket before getting off the train, as you’ll have to hand it over when you leave the train station.

 

Ga Binh Thuan Train Station
Made it! Binh Thuan Train Station.

Sunset Mui Ne Vietnam
Our beautiful destination: Sunset over Mui Ne harbor.

So this was leg 1 of our big tour – more to come. Have you traveled on the Reunification Express? What did you think?

More on Vietnam

I loved Vietnam! Check out the Vietnam archives for my favorite experiences there, including the best street food to have in Saigon or Mui Ne’s amazing soups.

15 thoughts on “Vietnam by Train: Taking the Reunification Express from Saigon to Hanoi: Leg 1 (How to Get from Saigon to Mui Ne)

  1. I’m really interested in your experience as we intend to take this train in March from Saigon to Hué, what do I have to do to get the whole story??

  2. Hi Marie Louise, thanks for your comment! I need to get my act together to write the rest of the story down, hopefully I’ll get to that in the next few weeks. In the meantime, if you have any specific questions about the trip, don’t hesitate to ask here!

    We took the train to Hue as well and the passage from Da Nang to Hue was without a doubt the most beautiful part of the trip. The scenery is amazing.

  3. Hi, do you think it’ll be easy to get a cab to & fro Binh Thuan – Mui Ne? Not looking to stay for the night so am planning to take first & last train. Any suggestions? Thank you! 🙂

  4. Hi Dya,
    There are normally a few cabs waiting outside Binh Thuan station so you should be able to get to Mui Ne with one of them. From Mui Ne back to the train, you’ll find taxis all over Mui Ne normally so that shouldn’t be an issue. Just allow a bit of extra time to make sure you get there on time.
    If you’re planning on taking an early morning train, the 6.50 to Phan Thiet might also be an option, Phan Thiet is closer to Mui Ne and there’s even a public bus to Mui Ne if you’re on a budget. We opted against that train because we didn’t want to travel that early but a lot of people think it’s the better option.

  5. Hi – this train ride sounds amazing! With limited timed, what stops would you recommend as can’t miss?

    Glynnis

  6. Hi Glynnis! It depends a bit on what you’re looking for. The most “famous” stops are Binh Thuan for Mui Ne (or Phan Thiet on the other line), then Nha Trang, Da Nang (with a bus ride to Hoi An to see that as well), Hué and then Hanoi. When we went, we got a bit bored of touristy areas after Mui Ne and skipped Nha Trang to try a less touristy spot – Tuy Hòa. It was exactly what we wanted, completely off the beaten track and a nice selection of authentic street food. However, someone looking for tourist attractions would have probably been bored there.

    I feel like Hué and Hoi An (train station is Da Nang) are musts, for the rest, think about the kind of experience you’re looking for and base the stops on that! Happy to share ideas.

    • Hi Carina!
      It was exciting 😉
      We booked a private transfer with our hotel, which cost 500,000 VND (about 23 USD right now). At the time (early 2014), we were told the price of a taxi would be about 575,000 VND. The ride from the train station to Mui Ne took about 45min. We enjoyed the ride, the driver was part of the family running the little guest house we were staying in, and explained all the sights on the route.

  7. Hi i’m travelling with my kids the next few days to Mui Ne and planning to take a train down.
    Would it be advisable to purchase tickets from the station instead of online?
    There is a great cost difference compared to the ticket price which was quoted from your picture.

    Regards.

    • Hi Wilson, thanks for getting in touch! Do you mean the price at the station is cheaper than online? I’m assuming so… in general, if you can make it to the station beforehand, I would always recommend doing that. One, because it’s usually cheaper, and two, because that way you know for sure the ticket is real and valid.
      I recommend writing down what tickets you want, including train number (schedules are displayed at the station) and type of seat. They’ve always seemed grateful for that when I passed it over. Have a great trip!

  8. Hi there! Really enjoyed reading your blog. I’m planning to take the train from muine (By Binh Thuan) back to hochiminh at 00:39AM as I have a flight to catch in the morning. Do you think it’s safe to take the midnight train? We are two girls traveling for the first time in the area.

    Thanks! Have a nice day 🙂

    • Hi Natasha, thanks for the kind words! Yes, I think the night train is safe, I personally wouldn’t hesitate to take it. However, two tips: 1 – secure your luggage if you’re going to sleep. I usually lock my bag and put it somewhere close, where I can feel it. On the sleeper train, at the foot end of my berth for example. It’s not common but I have heard of people having their bags stolen or something taken out. 2 – make sure to leave plenty of buffer time between the train journey and the flight in case of delays. In my experience most Vietnamese trains are actually on time these days, but there are always exceptions. Safe journey & enjoy the trip!

    • love reading all the comments. Husband and I are planning on taking the Reunification train from Hanoi to Saigon…stopping off along the way. Going in Oct 2016. We are both in our 60’s..any advice. Will we be shocked. Just want an adventure…Marg

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