Seeing Vietnam by train is one of the most magical and economical ways to experience the country’s beauty. Travelling from Hue to Da Nang is no exception. From mountain passes to coastal villages and rural rice paddies, you’re spoilt for scenery. Travelling by train often costs much less than taking a private car or flight.
If you’re looking to travel long distances on a budget and in relative comfort, taking a sleeper train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City on Vietnam’s historic North-South Line can be a great option. Prefer a shorter trip? You’re in luck because you truly can’t find a more scenic train trip than the one from Hue to Da Nang. Winding through the stunning Hai Van Pass, the roughly three-hour trip offers passengers breathtaking views of curving shorelines, rural villages and farms, and lush mountains. Once you arrive in Da Nang, you’re also just a quick hop from the popular tourist hub of Hoi An.
We shared the key things you should know about travelling by train in Vietnam. In this guide, Hidden chose to cover the train trip from Hue to Da Nang in more depth as it offers such spectacular scenery—in such a short period. From what you can expect on board to the best travel times (and seats) for soaking in the beauty of Hai Van Pass, we’re here to help make sure your train trip is as easy and enjoyable as possible.
History of Vietnam Railways and the North-South Line
Vietnam’s most important train route, the North-South Railway Line, runs 1,726 km (1,072 miles) between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It has a long and storied history in the country beginning in 1936, when it was completed under French rule.
In 1954, the railway line was cut when the country divided into North and South Vietnam. For the next two decades, wartime bombings inflicted massive damage on tracks, cars and stations along the route in both the North and South.
When the war ended in 1975, the Hanoi-based government began the colossal task of restoring the North-South line. By New Year’s Day of 1978, the Vietnamese government had fixed 1,334 bridges, 27 tunnels, and 158 stations—all in under two years. Heralded as a symbol of a nation unified once again, the North-South Line was dubbed Vietnam’s “Reunification Line.”
Some guidebooks still refer to the North-South line by this name, even though multiple trains (with names starting with “SE”) now run the route. While Vietnam has upgraded certain SE cars and tracks recently, the nation’s plans for a high-speed rail, which would cut the journey between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City from 30 hours to six, has yet to move full steam ahead.
What to expect when travelling by train in Vietnam
Boarding the train and getting situated
Boarding the train from Hue to Da Nang is an experience in itself. Unmarked platforms, jostling crowds, attendants in sharp blue uniforms and, in some cases, dogs and even chickens mulling about can make for quite a scene!
Hidden Hint: Try to get to the station at least 30 minutes ahead of your scheduled departure. Giving yourself time to get oriented, on board and situated when your train arrives.
Boarding announcements are often made entirely in Vietnamese (or over outdated audio systems). Platforms aren’t clearly marked either and can be chaotic, so your best bet is to watch the board or follow other passengers queuing up at the station door. Forget the orderly lines you may have experienced in Japan or Europe—in Vietnam, the goal is to get on board as fast as you can! If you are unsure just ask an attendant for help, with your train ticket handy as a visual reference.
Train cars all have a number. Double check the number on your ticket to see which car you should head toward when boarding. Once you’re on board, you’ll find the number of your assigned seat on the back of the chair. If you’re in a sleeper car, you can find your berth number above the entryway.
There are four main types of seating options on Vietnam’s trains. For short journeys, soft seat and hard seat, which are fairly self-explanatory, are the most common options. They are split between trains with air-conditioning and those without. (All express or SE trains are air-conditioned, double check when booking whether yours is as well).
In the soft-sleeper cars, you’ll have an individual berth in a four-berth compartment, which includes its own sheet, duvet, pillow and reading light. The compartment can be locked and you can store your luggage beneath the bottom bunks and in the space above the door. There are power sockets for charging your devices in each compartment, too.
If you’re travelling hard-sleeper, expect the same as with soft sleeper, except with six berths per compartment instead of four (and with a bit less padding for your night’s sleep, of course).
In the second class soft seat train cars, the luggage rack above the seats can fit most bags and suitcases. Be careful, though, as there is no guardrail. (Sometimes this means watching your head!)
Hidden Hint: If you’d like a table in the soft seat car, book your seat well in advance. There are only a few available seating options in each of these cars.
There are coat hangers next to each row of seats. They’re used for much more: holding water bottles or extra luggage, bunches of bananas etc… You’ll also find ports for charging your electronics above your seat. Unfortunately, there’s no Wi-Fi—at least not reliably. There are squat and seated toilets at either end of the sleeper cars as well as sinks and soap for washing up. Remember to bring your own toilet paper along.
Looking for a slightly more luxurious experience?
Two private tourist cars, Livitrans and Violette, run from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City with stops in Hue. They feature accommodations slightly nicer than the soft-sleeper berths on SE trains and more exclusive service.
During your ride
In Vietnam, the fastest, most modern trains are those labelled “SE,” and it’s likely that these are the ones you’ll book between most destinations.
If you’ve travelled in Japan or Europe by high-speed rail, these trains will feel bumpy and slow in comparison. However, Vietnam’s trains still offer many conveniences along your route to help make your journey pleasant. If you’re hungry, a snack cart makes the rounds every hour or so, with plenty of chips, cookies, and drinks (including beer) for sale. At meal times, staff come to each cart and serve hot, filling dishes of meat, rice and stewed vegetables for 35,000 VND (1.50 USD) per plate. The train staff also pass a bottle of water to each passenger upon departure. There is also a free water dispenser at the end of the sleeper car corridor. You can get cold or boiling water here, helpful for making instant coffee or powdered soup.
If you’re in the soft seats, you’ll be happy to know that they recline and permit you to stretch out a bit. Sometimes, passengers want extra legroom, so don’t be surprised to find someone’s foot up on the back of your seat! There are also shades you can pull down to get a break from the afternoon sun. But make sure you don’t miss the view!
Pros and Cons of Train Travel in Vietnam
You can access stunning scenery that you may otherwise miss – especially when travelling from Hue to Da Nang. On-board facilities are completely acceptable and reasonably comfortable.
It’s a great way to travel with locals and witness life outside backpacker and tourist corridors. Also a relatively cheap and convenient way to travel to destinations that may lack an airport, such as Hue.
Particularly cheap if you’re travelling with children under four since they’ll ride for free in Vietnam. Children ages 5 to 9 travel at a 25% discount.
Don’t expect the same level of modern comfort or a sleek ride, as in Western Europe and Japan, in Vietnam. Trains lack reliable Wi-Fi and digital signage to tell you when you should expect to arrive, as well as your next stop and current location.
The trip is also a bit bumpy and loud, which can be a problem for light sleepers on overnight trains. Often, you can fly a budget airline for the same amount (or even less) than it would cost to take a train between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
Planning your journey
Distances and prices between main stops in Vietnam
The longest train trip on the North-South Line is between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. This trip takes 32 to 35 hours, depending on which train you choose. We advise taking an SE train as they are the fastest and most comfortable.
There are seven daily express trains and two slower trains departing Hanoi for Ho Chi Minh City, and vice versa. Trains labelled SE are the express options, and the earliest of these depart Hanoi at 6 am. If you choose this option, expect to arrive in Ho Chi Minh City the following day around 4 pm. If you leave from Ho Chi Minh City at 6 am, you’ll arrive in Hanoi by 3:30 pm the next day.
Prices vary slightly depending on train, berth, booking agency and even time of year. But generally, expect to pay around 1,185,000 VND (51 USD) for a berth in a soft-sleeper train between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and 1,423,000 VND (61 USD) for a hard-sleeper berth.
Travelling from Hanoi to Hue, which is halfway to Saigon, takes about 14 and 1/2 hours. The trip costs 462,000VND (20 USD) for a soft seat, 707,000 VND (31 USD) for a hard sleeper berth, and 849,000 VND (37 USD) for a soft sleeper berth.
From Da Nang, which is an easy jumping-off point to reach Hoi An, you can get to Ho Chi Minh City by train in 19 and 1/2 hours. The trip costs roughly 552,000 VND (24 USD) for a soft seat, 757,000 VND (33 USD) for a hard sleeper berth, and 909,000 VND (39 USD) for a soft sleeper berth.
Costs and timetables for each journey are roughly the same in the reverse direction.
How to book train tickets
Most routes on Vietnam Railways open 30 to 60 days before departure. But if you’re travelling during Tet in Vietnam you may find tickets on sale several weeks earlier than usual. We strongly advise that you do purchase them well in advance, especially if your journey takes you through the Tet period. We’ve dedicated an article on Tet in Vietnam to help manage visitor’s expectations during this busy time.
Buying tickets online
You can purchase train tickets (including same-day tickets) online from 12Go.Asia or Baolau.com, which offer the option of choosing your travel class and train seat from a real-time graphic. Both sites also charge the official Vietnam Railways price for tickets plus a small service fee for booking.
Hidden Hint: Buy your ticket at least one day in advance to make sure you get the particular seat or sleeper that you want.
If you book on 12Go.Asia or Baolau, you’ll receive your tickets via e-mail. Either show the ticket QR code on your smartphone to the attendant or print it out and bring it with you. It may take a few hours to get your ticket via email.
Buying tickets at the station
It’s also simple to get tickets at Vietnam’s railway stations. Each has a ticket counter where you can book a train on the same day or in advance. At the counter, station staff can help you choose a departure time, train class, and seat that fit your travel needs and budget.
Hidden Hint: Make sure to bring enough Vietnamese dong with you (or stock up from the ATM outside) to purchase your ticket as Vietnamese train stations don’t accept credit cards.
If you want to offload the hassle of booking, you’ll find most travel agents and hotels will buy you a train ticket for a small commission.
The best stretch of train line in Vietnam: Hue to Da Nang
The train trip from Hue to Da Nang runs a coastal and mountainous stretch through Central Vietnam, taking roughly three hours. This short journey, rewards you with some of the most spectacular, diverse views of Vietnam. A panorama of rugged coast, rural villages, and lush green mountain passes.
Typically, eight trains depart Hue for Da Nang daily, including six express (SE) trains. The earliest of these leaves at 4:55 am, and three others depart before noon. For a soft seat in an air-conditioned car expect to pay around 130,000 VND (6 USD) per ticket. Hidden’s taken this trip, and we’ve included some of our highlights and key tips below.
Hidden Hint: Book the trains (from Hanoi/HCMC) ensuring you cross through the Hai Van Pass during daylight as you don’t want to miss the view!
Getting to Hue Railway Station and boarding the train
Hue’s railway station is conveniently located on Bui Thi Xuan Street. It’s close to most of the city’s main attractions and lodgings, so it’s easy to get there. We recommend arranging for a motorbike, taxi, or private car to take you to the station from your accommodation, either through your concierge or the Grab app.
We also had no problem navigating Hue’s railway station as it’s a relatively small, historic, pink building, constructed in French colonial style. If you’ve already got your ticket, head to the main station building and wait for your train to arrive. We recommend watching the screen (or fellow passengers!) to know when it’s time to board.
You can also pick up a snack or drink from just outside the station platform before boarding – there are many vendors doing business there! We were offered several treats, beverages, and even non la (Vietnam’s iconic conical hats) as we made our way to our train car. We also saw vendors selling goods through the car windows to passengers on board.
Making the most of the journey
We took a mid-morning train from Hue to Da Nang. We highly recommend doing the same to get the best view (and photo) opportunities.
Departing Hue Station en-route to Da Nang, we chose seats on the left side, and soon escaped the hustle of the city. We were treated to views of scenic mountain passes, lush with greenery and picturesque rural villages and rice paddies. It was a rare opportunity to witness life in Vietnam’s countryside—all without the stress of driving!
Hidden Hint: Choose seats on the left side of the train for more consistently stunning views, especially those of the coast.
About an hour into the ride, we found ourselves overlooking the fishing village of Lang Co. With its colourful fishing boats lining the shore. We snapped more than a few photos and then basked in the stunning scenery. This opened up to the breathtakingly rugged coastline as we made our way toward the Hai Van Pass.
The Hai Van Pass
About 10 minutes after leaving Lang Co, we reached the entrance to the Hai Van Pass tunnel. Because there’s a single track at the tunnel entrance, your train may stop like ours did to let another train through. Don’t be alarmed! After 15 minutes, we started up again and passed through the tunnel. We were then quickly back to gazing at the beauty of the coast and countryside.
Hugging the mountainside, our train made its way through the historical Hai Van Pass. Here we had some of the best views of tropical beaches and lush countryside of our entire trip. (It’s also well worth driving the pass by motorbike, where you’ll go over it on a different route.)
Winding our way down from the pass, we could see Da Nang’s skyline emerge along the curving, white coastline. We passed babbling streams and increasing rural villages as we got closer to Da Nang. In the last 30 minutes, increased traffic and denser towns let us know we were approaching our destination.
Hidden Hint: For the best photos, head to the gaps between the cars or to a sleeper car. The staff often roll down the windows, leaving you free to take clear shots, without having to contend with window glare.
Arriving at Da Nang Station and getting to Hoi An
There wasn’t much difference between Da Nang’s Railway Station and Hue’s. Meaning that it didn’t take us much time to disembark and head to our next destination.
Once we exited, we made our way to the main station building. It is clearly marked and located directly beside the first platform. If you need to pick up luggage or your motorbike, you can head to the luggage office to the right of the main station when you exit.
If you’re headed to Hoi An like we were, you’re in luck. There are plenty of options to help make the last leg of your journey as easy as possible. Refer to our Da Nang to Hoi An article for all the details.
Aside from riding a motorbike, taking the train in Vietnam is the best way to experience the country’s beauty. From massive mountains to brilliant blue waters, to rice fields and rural villages, train travel gives you glimpses of Vietnam you may otherwise miss. The trip from Hue to Da Nang is a perfect example of this.
The train is a low-cost and fairly comfortable option for travelling in Vietnam, as well as a way to experience a bit of local life as well.
For your money, there’s no better train trip in Vietnam than the one from Hue to Da Nang. In just under three hours, you’ll be treated to some of the best views the country has to offer. And once you arrive in Da Nang, you’re just a hop, skip and a jump from Hoi An, one of Vietnam’s most cherished, historic destinations.
If you’re looking for a luxurious, fast means of travel, Vietnam’s trains might not be for you; but if you’re craving some adventure, incredible photo opportunities, and a bit of local flavour, taking a train in Vietnam is an unbeatable experience.