Vietnam Sleeper Train Guide: All You Need To Know to Ride a Vietnam Sleeper Train
Taking a sleeper train in Vietnam is a popular method of transportation for locals and tourists. This guide will tell you all you need to know to decide if a Vietnam Sleeper Train is for you.
The Vietnam train system was first established in the 1880s by the French colonist. It was then further developed by the current day Vietnamese government.
Due to its extensive routes, convenient timing and cheap prices, Vietnam sleeper trains are extremely popular among locals and tourists and often the choice of transportation since they are safe and fast.
I personally took sleeper trains in Vietnam and have an interesting experience to share.
In this guide I will tell you all you need to know about Vietnam sleeper trains and help you decide if you should take a sleeper train in Vietnam during your travels.
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Where Can You Go With a Vietnam Sleeper Train?
The Vietnam rail system is over 1600 miles (2600 km) long, covering the country from North to South. The route is extensive and is perfect for long distance travel within the country.
The Vietnam Rail System covers all major cities in Vietnam, and it even connects to the Chinese rail system in southern China.
The main cross country route is operated by the state owned Vietnam Railways with the Reunification train going through the main route. There are several private luxury train companies that cater to tourists.
You can see the Vietnam rail system map below and some of the major cities that are covered by the Vietnam train system include:
- Lao Cai (near Sapa)
- Ha Long
- Ninh Binh
- Dong Hoi
- Dong Hua
- Da Nang
- Mui Ne
- Nha Trang
- Ho Chi Minh City
If the train doesn’t go exactly where you need it to go, you can easily take a bus or taxi from the train station to the smaller towns (for example, there is no train station in Hoi An, so you would take the train to Da Nang then take a bus or taxi to Hoi An).
You can pretty much get everywhere that you would want to visit in Vietnam with the rail system and sleeper trains. This extensive railroad network makes it extremely appealing to take trains around Vietnam.
How do You Buy Vietnam Sleeper Train tickets?
It is easy to book Vietnam Sleeper Train tickets and there are several ways of doing it!
Booking Vietnam Sleeper Train tickets online
I really like the fact this website shows you all the options and time and it comes with review scores. This was very useful when we were trying to decide which train to take from Hanoi to Sapa. It also allowed me to see all the different train options and prices.
Booking Vietnam Sleeper Train Directly with Train Company
If you know exactly which train you want to take (since there are third party luxury trains), you can contact these train companies directly via their website. Generally you will end up speaking with a representative on Whatsapp and they will send you a link to pay.
This is a great option for someone who know exactly what train they need to take and you get a more personalized experience and customer service. We booked directly with Lotus Train for our trip from Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa).
Buy Tickets from Train Station
You can certain buy train tickets in Vietnam from a train station (if you happen to be in that city). However you should get Google Translate ready just in case the ticket staff doesn’t speak English or speak well enough to explain to you all the different options.
Asking Your Hotel to Book
You can ask your hotel reception desk to help you book a sleeper train in Vietnam.
However depending on the hotel, you may or may not be provided with all the options (in terms of which train company, berth class, etc).
You could also run into the risk of popular train routes being sold out if you book last minutes. We did not ask our hotels to help us with train booking, but it is something you can certain try.
What is the Best Sleeper Train in Vietnam?
It can be confusing to figure out Vietnam sleeper trains when you first start looking at it.
In reality, for the most part, there really is just one train running on a particular route (the official stated-owned Vietnam Reunification Train). What happens is that the different private train companies would own a few luxury cabins that are attached to the Vietnam Railways Train.
From the outside it is all one long train, but the inside can be quite different.
Different train companies decorate their cabins differently and provide different amenities.
The “regular” Vietnam sleeper trains that the general public take tends to be the state owned Reunification Express Train. The cabins are generally older and with fewer “luxury” options in terms of accommodation.
If you want the authentic local experience or if you are on a budget, it is perfectly fine to take the Vietnam Reunification Express sleeper train.
However if you are willing to spend a little more for a better and more comfortable experience, or if you simply just want more privacy, then there are a few luxury sleeper trains in Vietnam that are catered specifically to foreign tourists.
Note that not all of these luxury trains cabins are available on every single route, you will most likely to find these on longer and more popular touristy routes like from Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa).
Some of the most popular luxury tourist train companies include Chapa Express, Lotus Train, Laman Express, Livitrans Express, Fansipan Express, Orient Express, Sapaly Express and King Express.
When reading the reviews from the websites mentioned above, the majority of the train companies have a score of 3 (out of 5) on Tripadvisor and 3.5 (out of 5) on 12Go and reviews are generally mixed. Some reviews will say the train was fine whereas others say the train was loud and there were cockroaches.
However the two companies that actually stood out to me were Chapa Express and Lotus Train. They both had consistently better review scores and I personally took Lotus Train which was pretty good.
If you do need to take the Reunification Express Train, you should try to take SE1 – SE8 as they have air-conditioned sleeper cabins and soft seats.
Vietnam Sleeper Train Cabin Types
There are different classes of seats, beds and cabin types on Vietnam trains. Each class come with different prices and obviously the higher the class and more expensive, the more comfortable your journey would be.
Hard Seats on Vietnam Trains
Hard Seats are the cheapest and lowest class of seats on Vietnam trains. As the name implies, the seats are hard and you are expected to share the wooden or plastic seat with other people.
If you have a very low budget and are only taking the train for a short period of time, perhaps you can try the hard seats on a Vietnam train. But expect crowd and people sitting very close to you and there may not be AC.
Soft Seats on Vietnam Trains
An upgrade from hard seats are the soft seats on a Vietnam train.
This class of seats are more expensive than the hard seats and they are good for day time journey.
You will find electric outlets in the soft seat carriage and there should be AC or fans depending on the particular train.
If you are not taking an overnight train and the journey is less than 5 hours, soft seats would be a good option for you. It is similar to any other soft seats on trains that you would take in Europe or Asia.
Hard Sleeper on Vietnam Trains
Hard sleepers are air conditioned 6 bed (6 berth) cabins on Vietnam sleeper train.
In each of the private cabins, you will have 2 rows of 3 bunk “beds” with a hard “mattress”.
If you are tall, you might not want to book the hard sleeper as you can imagine they need to fit 3 levels of “beds” per row, that does not leave a lot of room for a tall person to sit up.
Soft Sleeper On Vietnam Trains
Soft Sleeper class is the highest class of tickets on Vietnam Trains.
In general these are 4 berth (beds) cabins with 2 beds per bunk. The mattresses are softer and are comfortable enough where you won’t feel too much discomfort.
If you want to be really fancy, you can even book the 2 berth VIP cabins (we did on our Lotus train) where you can have more space and privacy. With the 2 berth VIP Cabins you also have more space to put your luggage since instead of a bed above you, now you can have a luggage rack instead.
If you are planning to travel long distances and overnight, I would definitely recommend soft sleeper trains in Vietnam. For day time travel I think soft seats are good but you can of course still book a soft sleeper train so you can lie down and chill.
Upper Bunk vs. Lower Bunk on Vietnam Sleeper Trains
If you are in a 4 berth or 6 berth cabin on a Vietnam sleeper train, another choice you’d have to make is what bunk you want to take.
In general the lower bunk is slightly cheaper (like USD 3 difference) than the upper bunk.
The pro of having a lower bunk is the ease of getting on and off bed, and you don’t have to climb down in the middle of the night on a shaky train.
However if you have a lower bunk, there is less privacy and people will most likely sit on your bunk when it’s not sleeping time yet.
How Much Do Vietnam Sleeper Trains Cost?
How much a Vietnam sleeper train cost ultimately is dependent on 1) Distance 2) Class 3) train type.
For the purpose of illustration, I will use an example of one way train ride between Hanoi and Da Nang for one person.
This train is a 16 hour train ride between Hanoi and Da Nang.
- Soft Seat (Vietnam Railways train): USD 27 per adult
- 6 berth in cabin (Vietnam Railways train): USD 46 per adult
- 4 berth in cabin (Vietnam Railways train): USD 55 per adult
- 4 berth VIP on luxury train: USD 70-75 per adult
Another example is the train between Hanoi and Lao Cai (Sapa). Keep in mind the train ride between Hanoi and Lao Cai is about 7.5 hours.
- Soft Seat (Vietnam Railways train): N/A
- 6 berth in cabin (Vietnam Railways train): N/A
- 4 berth in cabin (Vietnam Railways train): USD 15-20 per adult
- 2 berth in cabin (Vietnam Railways Train): USD 26 per adult
- 4 berth VIP on luxury train: USD 30-35 per adult
The above two sample routes should give you a pretty good idea of the cost of a long distance Vietnam sleeper train per adult. It is not hard to see why sleeper trains are so popular in Vietnam among locals and tourists. You get to save on one night hotel and save time!
Vietnam Sleeper Train Facilities, Drinks and Food on Board
In general you can expect decent facilities onboard a Vietnam Sleeper Train, especially a luxury train car.
Your sleeper train cabin should come with beds, bedding, blankets, pillow, lights/ light switches, AC, window (cannot be opened), electric socket and wifi.
There are one to two bathrooms in each train cart (shared bathroom with 4-6 cabins). There is no shower in the bathrooms but there are soap and toilet paper. But I did read that some more local routes do not have toilet paper potentially so it is always better to bring your own just in case.
The bathrooms also tend to get dirty after a few hours as more people start using it, so try to use the bathroom as early as possible.
The luxury train cabins always provide you with snack and free bottles of water. The snack we got included fruits, potato chips and cookies. We also were given canned coffee and water which was a nice touch.
Food and hot drinks are also sold by staff once you board the train. But if you want banh mi or some really good food, it is best to bring your own.
What Luggage Size Can Fit on a Vietnam Sleeper Train?
I will start this by saying the private cabins are not very large, especially if you are in a 4 or 6 berth cabin.
You can put your luggage under the lower bunk or on the luggage rack above the beds.
However, there is only limited amount of space, so if you are having a check-in size luggage, you should probably reconsider if it would fit under the lower bunk, especially if you are in a 6 person room.
Your best bet is to pack light, with a duffle bag, hiking backpack or a small carry-on size luggage.
If you have a check in size luggage you probably won’t even be able to open it on the floor of the cabin to take out things.
Is Vietnam Sleeper Train Clean?
You will get mixed answers when you read reviews about cleanliness of Vietnam Sleeper Train.
In general train cabins are cleaned at destination stops (like in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City). All the bedding and covers will be newly changed. But if you get on the train in the middle of a route like from a smaller city, then the bedding and covers won’t be fresh.
The train I took was relatively clean, although I did find some stains on the bed sheet/ duvet although I couldn’t tell if they are just old stains that cannot be washed off.
Some reviews of Vietnam Sleeper Trains mention they saw cockroaches but we did not see any of that!
Is Vietnam Sleeper Train Safe?
Vietnam Sleeper Trains are pretty safe, even for solo female travelers.
If you are in a shared sleeper cabin with strangers, the only potential risk is petty theft. To avoid getting things stollen, it is best to have a lock on your luggage and sleep with your valuables (next to the pillow or in the blanket).
Train travel in Vietnam in general is pretty safe, you don’t have to worry about accidents as much as with a bus.
Your biggest concern would actually be if you can fall asleep or not (see next section!)
Can You Actually Sleep on a Vietnam Sleeper Train? How Comfortable are Vietnam Sleeper Trains?
The short answer is you can sleep on a Vietnam Sleeper Train if you are a heavy sleeper. If you are a light sleeper, probably not.
The train is very loud with crazy swinging movement, so if you are bothered by noise and movement, you will have a hard time falling and staying asleep.
This is not including potentially having terrible cabin-mate who either refuses to turn off the light or start talking/ making lots of noises as I read on other blogs.
In terms of comfort, the soft sleeper berth is actually pretty comfortable. It is not super soft but it’s not hard either, so you most likely won’t wake up with a lower back ache.
But if you are very tall, then you might have issue stretching your legs fully. I am 5’6 (165cm) and I was just able to stretch my legs (and touch the end of the bed which is a wall). If you are 180cm or 6 feet tall, you would definitely have some issues.
In short if you can sleep through fire alarms and earth quakes, then I think you will be fine sleeping on a Vietnam Sleeper train. Or you can always take some alcohol or sleeping pills before getting onboard.
What Should I Bring on a Vietnam Sleeper Train?
Vietnam Sleeper Trains can be a decent experience if you bring the right things with you.
Small Luggage: As mentioned above, bring a small carry-on size luggage or backpack instead of large suitcase.
Ear Plugs: I am a pretty heavy sleeper but I definitely benefited from having ear plugs since the train was so loud.
Converter/ Phone Charger: Each berth has its own electric socket, so I could easily charge my phone but needed a converter and phone plug.
Long sleeve/ PJ pants: The AC on these Vietnam Sleeper Trains can be quite strong, so if you want to make sure you are warm, consider bringing long sleeve PJ shirt and pants.
Toilet Paper: Always bring toilet paper with you on Vietnam trains since toilet paper do get used up half way through the trip.
Other Things to Know About Vietnam Sleeper Train (and Train Station)
- You may not need a physical ticket: depends on the train company, you can just show your booking confirmation or electronic tickets in order to board\
- You should get to the train station 45 minutes before departure time
- There are usually staff that can help you find the right track/ train cabin
- Train stations also show routes and track number so it’s pretty easy to find where you need to go
- You should try to arrange pick up transportation at the arrival station ahead of time to avoid taxi scams
- Bring cash with you if you are planning to buy drinks and snack on the train (aside from the free ones you get with the luxury trains)
- I recommend booking sleeper train tickets ahead of time (at least 1-2 weeks in advance). Some popular routes do get sold out on luxury trains so book early to avoid disappointments
Our Personal Experience Taking a Vietnam Sleeper Train
During our most recent Central and Northern Vietnam trip, we took a Vietnam Sleeper Train from Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa).
Why We Took a Vietnam Sleeper Train
The reason we decided to take a sleeper train is because the train leaves Hanoi at 10pm and arrives in Sapa around 6am, which save us on travel time. It is also more economical as we don’t need to pay for one night hotel.
We also heard horror stories of night sleeper buses in Vietnam, so we decided sleeper trains were probably safer, although we did take a sleeper bus back from Sapa to Hanoi during the day, which was fine!
Booking our Vietnam Sleeper Train Ticket
We booked our Vietnam Sleeper Train ticket directly with the train company (Lotus Train) and got personalized customer service support via WhatsApp.
On the day of travel, their customer support person sent us train tickets via WhatsApp and told us we did not need to print anything out. We were also given direction to arrive at the Hanoi train station 45 minutes before departure and where to go once we arrive at the Hanoi Station.
Arriving at Hanoi Train Station & Boarding the train
We arrived at the Hanoi Train Station 1 hour before departure time (although it wasn’t necessary). Following the direction given by the train company, it was pretty easy to find the departure hall.
The station displayed all the departure trains and track, and there were actually people from another train company helping to answer questions.
There is no elevator at Hanoi Train Station so we had to carry our luggage up and down the stairs to the actual platform.
On the platform there were more train staff that checked our electronic ticket (from Whatsapp) and led us to our train cabin. They did not actually scan our train ticket QR code.
The lady that helped us also helped put our luggage under the bed and afterwards nobody came to check our tickets again.
Our train had overhead space, luggage space under the bed and there were free bottles of water, cans of coffee, orange, Lay’s Chips and cookies on the small table next to our beds.
We were supposed to have wifi but I did not actually find free wifi but 4G cellular data worked well on the train.
The Sleeper Train Experience
Each cabin has a door that can be locked. Since we had a 2 person VIP cabin, it was just me and my friend so we decided to lock the door and change into our “PJs” (tights for trekking in Sapa the next day).
We checked out the cabin and bed to make sure there were no bugs and took out our disposable bed sheet and pillow cover.
We quickly used the bathroom at the end of the train car, waited for the train to depart (which was on time at 10pm) and decided to go to bed.
The train was very shaky and we felt like we were swinging as we tried to sleep. The train was also super loud but I had ear plugs so it actually wasn’t too bad.
Perhaps because we were quite tired from our whole day of traveling, we both fell asleep pretty easily. The train does randomly accelerate and stopped at a few stations along the way. We also passed by residential streets as we departed from the station so maybe we were one of those trains that go on the famous “train street”.
I did wake up several times from the crazy movement, and as my friend put it “it was like sleeping on a galloping horse”. When I did wake up I found my phone and glasses all fell on the floor due to the movement of the train.
Since our train was supposed to arrive at 6am, the train staff came by around 5:30am to see if we wanted to buy any drinks or snack.
Then starting around 5:40am, the train speaker started playing loud cheery music to wake everyone up and get people ready to get off the train.
Overall our train car had 5-6 cabins, most were 4 berths rooms except one or 2 rooms that had 2 people. Our train car only had foreigners, there was no Vietnamese locals in this train car.
Overall the Sleeper Train we took from Hanoi to Lao Cai (Sapa) was fine, it served its purpose, got us there safely and I was able to sleep a few hours.
Should I Book a Sleeper Train in Vietnam?
Vietnam Sleeper Train is not for everyone. You would like the Vietnam Sleeper Train if you can check off some of the boxes below:
- You can sleep through noise, crazy movements and lights
- You are on a tight budget and want to save money on accommodation and transportation
- You are on a tight schedule and want to save time getting to places
- You want to have an unique experience of sleeping on a Vietnam sleeper train
- You don’t mind sharing a small space with strangers or you are traveling with 2-3 other people or kids and can book the entire cabin (if you have 2 people, you can just book up the entire cabin and pay for 4 people)
If you need a lot of comfort, a hot shower or if you are a light sleeper, you probably should not book a sleeper train in Vietnam.
I am glad I experienced a sleeper train in Vietnam and it saved us a lot of time during our trip and I would probably take one again in the future.
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