As soon as I got onto the train, it was apparent that I’d gotten pretty lucky. I hopped on the SE2 going from Hue to Da Nang- the part of this train’s route that is particularly famous for its stunning views in the Hai Van Pass area. And I got a window seat, at a table where I could spread out.
I can tell you right now that travelling by train in Vietnam is vastly more comfortable than travelling by sleeper bus. Whilst I’d recommend the former for hilarious experiences and often being a faster trip, and while the reclining leather seats on the Reunification Express may not get you as horizontal, they do give you a lot more legroom! And, so far as I can tell, every seat in the soft seat carriages has access to a plug socket and spacious overhead storage. Why stick all your stuff in the hold of a bus that gets gone through at every stop when you could keep it right next to you?
I won’t say I was entirely confident in getting myself on the train in the first place. The booking process was relatively simple- I could have sorted a ticket at the station, but I cheated and booked mine online at baolau.vn. You do pay a fee for the pleasure of doing it this way (about £1) but here you can book your train tickets for the price you’d pay at the station (Hue to Da Nang cost me 70,000 dong- just over £2) instead of booking through rip-off tourist vendors like Vietnam-railway who will try and charge you $16-$25 for the same ticket.
Luckily Da Nang station is pretty small, so I could only go so wrong with my non-existent Vietnamese. Naturally I understood none of the announcements and could read none of the signs. This was fun for a while, but as the time for my train’s departure crept closer and I realised I had absolutely no idea which train to get on, I started to panic.
The good thing about the ever-increasing tourism industry in Vietnam is that you’re unlikely to ever find yourself too far away from another backpacker or tourist. A retired American man sitting nearby saw me staring nervously at my ticket printout and we quickly established that we were both getting the same train- hearing our conversation, we were then joined by a French couple and everyone started to relax, safe in the knowledge that at least if we all got the wrong train we could stick together trying to find our way back!
Eventually the SE2 arrived and after only a few minutes of ticket-waving and gesturing, I bid my new friends farewell and rolled into my pleasingly comfortable assigned “soft seat”. If you’re travelling for a longer period of time you can book proper sleeper berths for a little more money, or if you’re on a tighter budget than me you can pick a “hard” seat for a little less. Hard berths are also available, but be aware that hard really does mean hard, and whether it’s a seat or a berth you’ve gone for you may find yourself genuinely travelling on varnished wood.
This transport is cheap as hell. Spend the extra pennies (and I do mean pennies) and make sure you can see all the views without being distracted by a sore butt.