Interrailing: Vietnam style

When we think of train travel, we think of interrailing our way around Europe; of riding the Trans-Siberian Express across Russia and through parts of Asia; of the vibrancy and experience of travelling on Indian Railways. But now there’s a new player on the global rail scene: Vietnam...
Vietnam train.
Vietnam long distance train. Photo: Shutterstock

Train travel isn’t usually associated with Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam. In reality, however, train journeys – especially the longer ones – are a great way to see a country, and to get a flavour of the local culture. They also offer a much more authentic and affordable experience than uncomfortable long-haul coaches and expensive flights

Long and thin, with plenty of dramatic scenery, Vietnam is the perfect country for rail travel. The country has also significantly improved and extended its rail network in recent years, which got us thinking, so we’ve decided to put together a route that takes in the best of this stunning country:

1. Halong Bay

Mention Vietnam and people think of Halong Bay. Sure, it’s busy and it can be crowded during peak season, but it has to be seen for its sheer beauty, so our route starts here. There are no two ways about it. I mean, where else on earth can you stand and look out at thousands of limestone islands, topped with rainforest? Many different sightseeing tours of the area are available; find the best on Insight Guides’ Vietnam and Cambodia by Rail trip.

2. Hanoi

Our second stop is Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. There are plenty of things to do in Hanoi; highlights include the Temple of Literature, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Ba Dinh Square. As you would expect from a capital city, Hanoi is a major transport hub: from Hanoi, the train to Hue, the next stop on our trip, takes around 14 hours. Book with Insight Guides and we’ll arrange all your travel for you.

Everday life and typical houses on the railway track in Hanoi.Everday life and typical houses on the railway track in Hanoi. Photo: Shutterstock

3. Hue

Hue is a charming city that sits on the coast of Central Vietnam and was once the country’s capital. One of main attractions here is the Thien Mu Pagoda, a stunning seven-storey pagoda that was built in 1601. There is also the Imperial Citadel, a walled fortress and palace that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Book Insight Guides’ Vietnam and Cambodia by Rail trip, and enjoy a guided tour of both these historic landmarks. The three-hour train journey from Hue to Hoi An, our next stop, passes the stunning Hai Van Pass, and is one of the most scenic train journeys in the Vietnam.

4. Hoi An

Hoi An is another charming coastal city that has its fair share of history. In ancient times, the city was one of the main trading ports in Southeast Asia, and other countries, especially China, have left their mark on it. The stunning old town has a distinctly Chinese feel to it, with low tiled-roof houses and narrow streets and alleyways, and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. There are many beaches here, so take your time exploring before catching the train to Nha Trang. This leg of the journey takes ten hours, and can be experienced during the day or overnight as part of Insight Guides’ Vietnam and Cambodia by Rail trip.

Room on a sleeper train to Hanoi, Vietnam.

Sleeping train to Hanoi. Photo: Shutterstock

5. Nha Trang

This is the last leg of the route on the Vietnamese coast and we recommend taking advantage of this. Nha Trang and its surrounding coastline is littered with beautiful beaches, ranging from lively resorts to deserted and idyllic. Beaches aren’t all Nha Trang has to offer though: with Insight Guides’ Vietnam and Cambodia by Rail trip, you can take a tour of the Hindu Po Nagar temples, which are some of the best-preserved examples of Cham architecture in the world, dating back to the 2nd century AD. Also included in the tour is a scenic trip off the pier at Cau Da, and to a collection of beautiful surrounding islands, some uninhabited and some home to tiny fishing villages. Pack your bags, say goodbye to the sea and board the eight-hour train to Ho Chi Minh City, which passes through lush landscapes and dragon fruit plantations on its way.

6. Ho Chi Minh City

Our last stop, Ho Chi Minh City, known to many as Saigon, is the largest city in Vietnam and the former capital of the former South Vietnam, officially known as the Republic of Vietnam. The city played a pivotal part in the Vietnam War (known in Vietnam as the American War), falling to the North Vietnamese forces on April 30th 1975, effectively marking the end of the war. As such, a lot of the main attractions in and around the city concern the war and the role it played in it. Book Insight Guides’ Vietnam and Cambodia by Rail trip and you will be picked up and taken to the amazing Cu Chi Tunnels complex, a network of over 200km of underground tunnels during the war. There is also a fascinating museum, telling the story of both sides.

Ready to take your trip to Vietnam?

Browse suggested itineraries online, review Insight Guides' Vietnam and Cambodia by Rail trip in more detail or submit a trip request

Looking for more information? 

7 great ways to get active in Vietnam 

Top tips for visiting Vietnam

Top 4 culinary experiences in Vietnam 

Where to find the best shopping in Vietnam