Answer: Traveling by train is a good option to see the whole of Vietnam. There is a direct rail from North (Hanoi) to South (HCM). We can not compare trains here in Vietnam with trains in Europe, but the trains are good condition, with the newer trains equipped with modern air-conditioned coaches and sleeper seats for the popular overnight routes. Running not faster than bus but much safer, Footprint suggests, whenever there are options with train, taking it for your travel in Vietnam.
The major routes are the North – South train that links Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, serving most popular destinations along the way, and trains North from Hanoi to t(Sapa) and beyond to Beijing and China. he Northwest and Northeast, including Lao Cai
Travel from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City and vise-versa
Vietnam ’s Reunification Express (Thong Nhat) is the main train line running between North and South, connecting Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City and stopping at many destinations along the coast, including Hue, Danang, and Nha Trang. The train trip from Hanoi to HCMC is 1,726 km (1,070 miles), taking more than 30 hours, although few people do it in one long journey without stops along the way.
The two major types of trains are the: SE (SE1-SE6) and TN (TN3-TN10). In general, the SE trains are the better trains with modern air-conditioned coaches and larger windows, as well as a restaurant car.
Travel between Hanoi and Lao Cai (Sapa)
From Hanoi, there are also trains that run northwest or northeast with border crossings into China (please click here for more information on trains to and from China).
A popular route is between Hanoi and Lao Cai, which is the closest train station to the tourist destination of Sapa. The trip from Hanoi to Lao Cai takes about 10 hours, with most choosing to do an overnight trip. There is a number of tourist trains that run daily from Hanoi to Lao Cai and back, including Viet Royal, Tulico, Ratraco, all with air-conditioned soft sleeper cabins which are comfortable, although not luxurious. For a luxury option, the Victoria Sapa has its own luxury cabins on the train for those that will stay at their hotel.
It’s a good idea to arrive with at least some small denomination dollar bills ($1s, $5s and $10s) to get you from the airport into town and to a bank. Even if they’re open, the airport exchange desks offer unfavorable rates. If you do bring dollars cash into Vietnam, make sure they are not badly tattered as they may be refused.
When bargaining it helps if you know some Vietnamese numbers and have a general idea of the going rate for the item. Otherwise, the trick is to remain friendly, be realistic and make the process fun. If you manage to reduce the price by 40%, you’re doing well. In most cases it’ll be more like 10-20%. A common ploy is to start moving away if you’re on the verge of agreement. But don’t bargain just for the sake of it – if your price is agreed, then you are honor bound to purchase. And always keep a sense of perspective: don’t waste time and energy haggling over what only amounts to a few cents.
The Old Quarter in Hanoi
I love wandering the intoxicating tangle of streets that makes up Hanoi’s commercial heart. Many are still dedicated to one particular craft; don’t miss the jaunty prayer banners of Hang Quat, Lan On’s fragrant medicines and Hang Ma, draped in tinsel, votive objects and all manner of paper products.
Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi
Immediately south of the Old Quarter, Ho Hoan Kiem (Lake of the Restored Sword) takes on different personalities at different times of day. It’s perhaps best at daybreak, when tai chi experts limber up in the half-light, or at dusk when old men come to play chess and couples seek privacy in the shadows.
The French Quarter in Hanoi
Continuing southwards, the French Quarter is full of stately colonial buildings on tree-lined avenues. Its centre-piece is the beautifully restored Opera House. Nearby, you’ll find the elegant Metropole Hotel and Governor of Tonkin’s Residence.
Water puppets in Hanoi
Though the traditional water puppet shows are decidedly touristy, they’re still huge fun for all age groups. Performances consist of charming vignettes of rural life, such as ploughing, rice planting and children splashing in the paddy or herding ducks.
The Temple of Literature in Hanoi
The green lawns and gnarled trees of this Confucian temple are a pleasant respite from the noise, dust and confusion of Hanoi.
With a few days to spare, a trip to Halong Bay is highly recommended. You can either take a guided tour or do it yourself, in which case it’s worth considering staying on Cat Ba island rather than the more touristy destination of Halong City. Other sights around Hanoi include the Perfume Pagoda (a vast, sacred cave accessible only by river), Tam Coc (another river trip, this time near Ninh Binh) or the mountain villages of Sapa and Bac Ha near the Chinese border.
Cho Lon in Ho Chi Minh City
This ethnic-Chinese enclave – the name means “big market” – is an exuberant manifestation of Vietnam’s new economic freedoms. The best thing is just to wander, taking in at least one of the Chinese pagodas, such as Quan Am.
War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City
Formerly known as the War Crimes Museum, this is one of those places you should visit, though it’s not for the squeamish. Despite some obvious omissions, such as crimes committed by Communist troops, the museum is gradually adopting a more balanced, reconciliatory tone.
Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City
The former Presidential Palace is a museum-piece of 60′s and 70′s kitsch, complete with private casino, penthouse bar and red-plus cinema, while a helicopter moulders on the rooftop landing pad. Downstairs in the basement, combat maps still plaster the walls of the command room.
Jade Emperor Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City
Of Saigon’s many pagodas and temples, this is the most captivating. It was built by the Cantonese community and is dedicated to an exotic array of deities, sheltered by a roof seething with dragons, birds and other, nameless beasts.
The most popular day-trip from Ho Chi Minh City takes you west to the Cao Dai Cathedral and the Cu Chi Tunnels. The cathedral is the headquarters of a wonderfully eclectic religion whose saints include Mohammed and Winston Churchill. Worshippers gather four times a day in front of the Supreme Being, represented by a rather unnerving “Divine Eye” on a star-spangled globe. The tunnels of Cu Chi have been enlarged for bulky Western frames, but it’s still a sobering experience to crawl through this Viet Cong complex which reached underneath an American army base. If you’ve got more time, take a couple of days exploring the Mekong Delta.
Imperial City in Hue, Vietnam
Despite the ravages of war, weather and time, the Imperial City still packs a powerful punch. Much has been done to restore the palaces, which gleam once more under a coating of rich red lacquer and writhing dragons.
Mausoleum of Tu Duc in Hue, Vietnam
Of Hue’s seven royal mausoleums, this is the finest. Rather than dealing with affairs of state, Tu Duc preferred to hide in his lyrical pleasure garden. You can reach this and other Imperial Mausoleums on a boat trip down the Perfume River.
Hue Folksongs on the Perfume River in Hue, Vietnam
There’s no better way to spend a balmy Hue evening than drifting gently down the Perfume River to the sound of traditional folk songs.
The Cham Museum in Da Nang, Vietnam
Da Nang’s most important sight is this unique collection of Cham sculpture dating from the fourth to fifteenth centuries. It won’t take more than an hour to explore and is a must if you’re going to visit My Son (see below).
Provincial Museum in Da Nang
Best for its coverage of local ethnic minorities, including a beautifully melodic water harp made by Xedang people. The museum is undergoing very protracted renovation work, so not all rooms are guaranteed to be open.
Somehow this little town retains its charm despite the tourist hordes. Its most noteworthy monuments are the two-hundred year old homes of Chinese merchants and their colorful Assembly Hall. Add to that a tasty local cuisine, dozens of good restaurants, a riverside setting and some of the best tailors in the country.
Once a magnificent Cham temple complex, My Son now comprises an atmospheric collection of ruins mouldering away in a bowl of lush, wooded hills.