Should you do a Vietnamese sleeper train journey with kids? Read about our experiences on 2 train journeys, one overnight and one day time trip. Only you will know your children and their capabilities, but if you are interested in a sleeper train trip with or without children, here are our experiences and tips.
There are a number of options for travelling within Vietnam, the key tourists routes are well serviced by internal flights, but why not try a train journey and see some of the beautiful countryside along the way. The sleeper train from Hanoi to Hue and onto Danang, for easy access to Hoi An is a popular route with frequent trains available. We travelled from Hanoi to Hue overnight, then 2 days later the Hue to Danang journey during the day to enjoy the fantastic views of the Hai Van pass.
Book tickets in advance
You can purchase tickets at the train station and within Vietnam your hotel or a travel agent will be happy to help you, but we found it easy to book online. If you need a particular route or time, book early. We often found the more popular, modern train, on the dates we wanted, had sold out and we had to go for the slightly less convenient times or less modern trains.
We used 12 Go Asia to book our sleeper train tickets online, and had no problems. We also used them to make bookings in Thailand but the trains we wanted weren’t available, they communicated with us by email to resolve and promptly refunded the bookings that couldn’t be completed.
Another great website for more information on train journeys is seat 61. Here you can read about the train routes, timetables and which class of train they use on each route. So you can find out which times run the most modern comfortable trains if this is important to you. These will likely also be the most expensive tickets!
Which ticket class?
I won’t run through all the info here, head to seat 61 for the most up to date info. We chose first class sleeper tickets on train SE19 from Hanoi to Hue. SE19 is an older train so the tickets were cheaper and first class isn’t as fancy. If we could have had tickets on a better train we’d have been happy with 2nd class sleeper.
The benefit of 1st class with a family is there are 4 berths, so perfect for our family of 4. you can book out all the beds even if you don’t need them ensuring you have privacy and space to spread out.
You take your luggage onto the train with you. So keep in mind that you need to be able to carry it yourself to the platform which may involve stairs, lift it up the steep steps on to the train and get it down a narrow corridor. Once in your cabin, luggage is stored under your berth, if you have your own cabin you don’t need to stress about your luggage being an inconvenience for other people if you have lots.
Upper and Lower Berths
In each cabin there are two upper and two lower berths. On our train there weren’t steps to climb up, just a foot hold sticking out. You need to be quite fit and mobile to climb up, at 6 years, S could only just get up by herself but she has very strong arms.
The mattresses were comfortable enough with clean sheets and pillow provided. The temperature can be quite inconsistent. I’ve heard of people complaining that it can be freezing. We found it a bit stuffy and opened our door occasionally to get fresh air from the corridor. The solution is to pack some light layers in case you need them.
At the Station
First of all check you are at the correct train station, some towns have more than one. Know your train number, that is the key piece of info when looking at the arrival and departure boards, like a flight number. A busy station and popular route could have trains leaving every 20-30mins for your destination so train number is crucial. L found this very stressful and he got quite anxious about us missing the train.
At most stations you’ll wait in waiting area until about 20mins before the train departs, then they’ll open the gate and usher you to the platform to wait. Now you need to know your carriage number because the platforms and trains are looong. You need to be standing in approximately the right area for your carriage, otherwise if they train doesn’t stop for long you’ll be running to get to the right spot! These areas are signposted.
Snacks and Drinks
You can purchase things on board, we also purchased some snacks at the station and extra water at one of the stops. Sellers will come to the train and you can purchase through the window or door so you don’t have to get off! I would recommend bringing foods that your kids are familiar with to make the journey easier, and probably accept that it won’t be the healthiest diet but it is better than being hungry.
The toilets are nothing fancy, but they were ok on our 2 journeys. On our train there was one at each end of the carriage and a separate sink area. Bring your own toilet paper or tissue packets and hand sanitizer (lots of it!). A bit like airplanes they are quite cramped so if you need to go in with your child it is a challenge. Also be aware that doors on the trains can be heavy so watch little fingers.
Sleep and Motion Sickness
Will you sleep well on a sleeper train? Probably not. Our train departed at 8.10pm with much giddiness and excitement from L & S. Shortly after that I realised it was going to be a much bumpier journey than I had anticipated.
The kids fell asleep around 10pm and slept ok until about 5am, then we were all awake so it was a long time until our 9.30am arrival.
At times I felt quick nauseous from the swaying, I get seasick but not usually other forms of travel sickness. If you do get travel sick I would suggest bringing something for it, or actually skipping this journey altogether because it is a long way and the swaying and bumping doesn’t stop! For about 12 hours after the trip we all had dizzy moments and that feeling that we were still on the train moving. This combined with about 3 hours of sleep for me meant the next day was a bit of a right off!
Despite all of this we loved our experience on the sleeper train. As a family we were really proud that we managed the challenges of finding our way through the station, getting us and all our stuff into the correct carriage and off again at the correct stop.
Waking up to the views of the Vietnamese countryside the next morning was very special and worth the rough night.
Hai Van Pass
The shorter day time journey was easy, one movie on the tablet for the kids and we were there. I spent most of my time with the camera out the window trying and failing to take pictures that did justice to the amazing views of the coast on the famous 21 km Hai Van Pass through the mountain. It was a drizzly grey day which was very atmospheric as we climbed the pass into the hills and through the clouds but not good for pictures of this famous journey. Hai Van Pass means Ocean Cloud Pass, referring to the mists that rise from the sea, so that seems very apt.
If you trip allows, you could try a shorter journey before you commit to an overnight train. Otherwise think of it like a long haul flight, it could be easy or hideous, but it will be over in 12 or so hours! You’ll be in need of a shower and a bed afterwards, but then you’ll be at your destination and in the case of Hoi An it was well worth it.