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Land

Car

Car rental is best arranged via a travel agency or hotel. Rates almost always include a driver, a necessity as many roads and turnings are not signposted. The roads in the north are in OK shape, but narrow lanes, potholes and blind corners equate to an average speed of 35km/h to 40km/h. During the rainy season, expect serious delays as landslides are cleared and bridges repaired. You’ll definitely need a 4WD.

Rates start at about US$110 a day (including a driver and petrol). Make sure the driver’s expenses are covered in the rate you’re quoted.

Train

Rail travel in Vietnam can seem quite complicated to the uninitiated. Before you set out, check out the excellent, up-to-date blog at www.seat61.com for the latest information on all trains in Vietnam, or have a chat with a reputable local travel agent. Note that train prices increase by 10% over Tet festival dates.

The official Vietnam Railways website (www.dsvn.vn) accepts online bookings. The site can be a little clunky, however, and we've had reports of credit card payments not being processed. If you'd like to give it a go, click on the English flag icon at the top right of the screen.

Better still, check out the excellent online train and bus booking agency Bao Lau (www.baolau.vn), which handles bookings for virtually all trains in Vietnam at the official Vietnam Railways fares. A small service fee of 40,000d per ticket is charged, plus a fee equal to 3.3% of the total purchase price for payment by credit card. Collect tickets from your departure station. It's a relatively new service, but general feedback has been excellent.

Eastbound & Northbound Trains

DestinationStationDuration (hr)Hard Seat/SleeperSoft Seat/SleeperFrequency
BeijingTran Quy Cap18US$240US$3526.30pm Tue & Fri
HaiphongGia Lam260,000d70,000d6am
HaiphongLong Bien2½-360,000d70,000d9.20am, 3.30pm, 6.10pm
NanningGia Lam12US$28US$429.40pm

Southbound Trains to Hue, Danang, Nha Trang & HCMC

Trains to southern destinations go from the main Hanoi train station at the western end of P Tran Hung Dao on Ð Le Duan. To the left of the main entrance is the ticket office with adjacent posters displaying train departure times and fares. Take a ticket and look out for your booth number on the screens. It's a good idea to write down your train number, departure time and preferred class in Vietnamese. Southbound trains depart at 6.15am, 9am, 1.15pm, 7pm and 11pm.

We recommend buying your tickets a few days before departure to ensure a seat or sleeper. Tickets can also be purchased from most travel agencies, and their commission for booking usually offsets the language hassle of buying tickets directly from the train station. They also often have preferential access to tickets to popular destinations like Hue, Ho Chi Minh City and Lao Cai (for Sapa).

Approximate journey times from Hanoi are as follows, but check when you book, as some trains are quicker than others: Hue (11 hours), Danang (13½ hours), Nha Trang (24½ hours), Ho Chi Minh City (31 hours). Note that different departures have different fare structures and available classes; check www.baolau.vn for ticket costs.

Southbound Trains

DestinationHard SeatSoft SeatHard SleeperSoft Sleeper
DanangFrom 430,000dFrom 630,000dFrom 782,000dFrom 954,000d
HCMCFrom 790,000dFrom 1,160,000dFrom 1,340,000dFrom 1,692,000d
HueFrom 374,000dFrom 545,000dFrom 675,000dFrom 894,000d
Nha TrangFrom 692,000dFrom 998,000dFrom 1,240,000dFrom 1,647,000d

Northbound Trains to Lao Cai (for Sapa) and China

All northbound trains leave from a separate station (just behind Station A and known as Station B) called Tran Quy Cap Station. This is accessed by an entrance on P Tran Quy Cap. Cross the tracks north of Station A and turn left to reach this station. There are separate ticket offices for northbound trains to Lao Cai (for Sapa) and China. If you've already booked for one of the private carriages to Sapa, you'll need to exchange your voucher for a ticket at the appropriate tour desk.

Once you’re in China the train to Beijing is a comfortable, air-conditioned service with four-bed sleeper compartments and a restaurant.

Eastbound trains to Haiphong and China

Eastbound (Haiphong) trains depart from Gia Lam Railway Station on the eastern side of the Song Hong (Red River), or Long Bien Railway Station on the western (city) side of the river. Be sure to check which station. Trains to Nanning, China, also depart from here. Note that you cannot board international Nanning-bound trains in Lang Son or Dong Dang.