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Getting From Hanoi to Hue By Train

Having finished up our stay in Hanoi (including an awesome two-day one-night Bhaya Cruise on Ha Long Bay), it was time to see the rest of Vietnam. We have been consistently impressed by the quality and efficiency of trains in Vietnam, and highly recommend it as a transport option as you make your way through this beautiful and diverse country. In this post, we cover booking and taking the train from Hanoi to Hue. First, though, we want to give you a bit of background on planning our route through Vietnam.

Vietnam Railways

A Vietnam Railways train passing through Hue.

How We Wound Up In Hanoi

Following Vientiane, Laos, the clockwise route on the “banana pancake” trail opens up a bit. You’ll find a lot of different suggested routes from there. The only way to completely avoid flying (as if you would want to do such a thing) and still hit all the major cities is to take the marathon 25-hour “bus ride from hell” from Vientiane to Hanoi, travel southward, and then travel by bus into Cambodia.

Otherwise, you’ll probably take one of the following routes out of Vientiane:

  1. Bus straight east into Vietnam and head north (then fly out of Hanoi)
  2. Bus straight east into Vietnam and head south (then fly or bus out of Ho Chi Minh City)
  3. Fly to Hanoi and make your way south (then fly or bus out of Ho Chi Minh City)
  4. Fly to Ho Chi Minh City and make your way north (then fly out of Hanoi)

Wanting to hit both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, we chose the third option. Since we’ll be flying out of Ho Chi Minh City and into Cambodia anyways after Vietnam, we could have just as easily chosen to fly to Ho Chi Minh City and head north (fourth option above) for about the same time and cost.

Trains in Vietnam

Transiting across Vietnam is actually quite easy. The country has a 411-kilometer long train track from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south, and pretty much every major site in the country is a short ride from a train stop on this line. One can also bus along the same route.

The simplicity of travel in Vietnam also means you have a lot of decisions to make. There are many cities along the route that you might want to stop at, and time is the biggest constraint given the very reasonable price of accommodation at any stop.

The only must-do city for us between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City was Hoi An, which is a must-do for many backpackers. After some research, the city that we added next was Hue.

Why We Chose Hue

We chose to spend two nights in Hue for probably the same reason everyone else does – the Imperial City. Hue is a former capital of Vietnam, and its walled imperial city and palace are fairly well-preserved, making it one of the more impressive structures to visit in Vietnam. While we unfortunately didn’t know it at the time, Hue also played a significant role in the Vietnam War.

Imperial City, Hue, Vietnam

The Imperial City is absolutely a great reason to make a stop in Hue.

Picking Our Train from Hanoi to Hue

As of this writing, Vietnam Railways operates five trains from Hanoi to Hue at 6:00, 9:00, 19:30, 20:10, and 22:00.  They apparently also add routes at peak travel dates. The ride is just under 14 hours, making it a great candidate for an overnight trip (one of our favorite easy ways to save on travel).

We were coming back from our overnight Halong Bay trip with Bhaya Cruise that day, and we’re fans of overnight trains as a way to save on accommodation, so we were looking at the 20:10 or 22:00 trains. We wound up settling on the 20:10 train as it would get us in a little earlier and leave us more time to enjoy our first day in Hue.

Booking the Train from Hanoi to Hue

Let’s get this out of the way – booking the train from Hanoi to Hue was a nightmare. It didn’t have to be, though, and hopefully it won’t be for you.

The train station in Hanoi is located not so far from the Old Quarter, so if you wanted to swing by and buy a train ticket in person, you could (and you’d save a few bucks, as we discuss below). We were booking on short notice, though, so we decided to book online.

Options and Prices for Booking Vietnam Trains Online

If you’re booking online, you have a few options (and we’re not saying this list is exhaustive):

  • – the official site of Vietnam Railways (with an “S”), read on for why this method doesn’t work
  • 12Go Asia – the site we have used in the past for booking a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, but which charges a commission
  • – a site which seems to just be another third-party site but one not-so-subtly pretending to be the official railway site. We didn’t even try booking through this site.

As an example, a sample booking from Hanoi to Hue on the same train we took, in first class, prices the following way on the three sites:

  • – 767,000 VND (about $34) per person
  • 12Go Asia – 848,000 VND (about $37) per person
  • – $54 per person

The Trouble With VNR (Vietnam Railways)

The VNR site is quite comprehensive and allows you to see individual seat availability, which is really handy. Unfortunately, the VNR system would not process our credit cards, no matter how many times we tried. Chase Sapphire Reserve, declined. Chase Sapphire Preferred, declined. Citi Prestige, Barclay Aviator Mastercard, other Chase Sapphire Reserve – declined, declined, declined.

This stinks for two reasons. First, the availability we saw on 12Go Asia was much more limited than the availability on VNR. Second, 12Go Asia charges a commission, so their rates are higher.

Booking Through 12Go Asia

After a frustrating night, however, we wound up just settling on using 12Go Asia. We say “settle,” but in all fairness we’ve found their services to be very helpful while traveling through Southeast Asia. It’s frustrating that we had to pay more to use them (and that they didn’t have the same availability as VNR), but we don’t hold that against them.

We booked our train from Hanoi to Hue two days in advance, booking on the 15th for the night train leaving the 17th. Our options by that time were relatively limited. The reviews of the first class option didn’t seem much better than second class, but it also wasn’t that much more expensive. We opted for first class and definitely did not regret it.

Since 12Go Asia is an intermediary, you’ll book and pay them, get a receipt, and then wait an hour or two before they send you your ticket in PDF form. We have never had any trouble booking a number of trips through 12Go Asia. In Vietnam, the PDF ticket is all you need to get on the train. We never printed ours and never had any problems.

VIP Trains in Vietnam

While we didn’t book them, there is a class of cabin above first class in Vietnam, the private VIP class. Basically these are private cars attached to the Vietnam Railways train. We’re not sure of the services they offer, but you’ll see them on 12Go Asia searches. They look like a separate train because they have a different logo, but the route number and times are the same as the Vietnam Railways trains.

Taking the Train from Hanoi to Hue

Boarding the Train in Hanoi & Our Cabin

As we said, the train station is near Old Quarter. We grabbed coffee and then Indian food (per usual) at Namaste Hanoi before heading to the station. We grabbed a bottle of water for 10,000 VND outside the station.

Boarding was straightforward. We were able to use our QR code on our phones to scan in (Way to go, Vietnam! Even Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport doesn’t have electronic ticketing), and signs guided us to our train.

The first class cabin was…as expected. The air conditioning was not great, and the beds actually felt a little smaller than the second class beds we’d had on Thai Railways (although no cockroaches, so high five!). The second class beds on Vietnam Railways were advertised as “hard” and the first class as “soft.” But if you have spent any time in Asia at all, you learn there is no such thing as a “soft” bed here. If I had to guess, the hard bed is probably just a solid surface, while the soft bed had about half a centimeter of padding. If you haven’t traveled to Asia, we’re telling you now not to expect soft beds.

Vietnam Railways

A view of our upper berth bed on Vietnam Railways from Hanoi to Hue

We also rode the newer SE5 first class cabins on the train from Da Nang to Nha Trang, if you’d like to read a little something about those.

The Ride to Hue

Just before departure, a guy came by with a cart selling snacks (including beer). We didn’t partake. Another guy also offered a menu for breakfast, which we also didn’t order, but one of our cabin mates purchased a sandwich for 65,000 VND.

Between the two upper berths, we had one outlet (sorry, we forgot to check on the lower berths). We spent some time working on our laptops (not super comfortable from the upper berths).

*start rant*

Honestly, couples, don’t book two lower berths unless you’re booking within 48 hours and the train is mostly empty. It’s pretty uncool to book two lower berths and then spend most of your waking time together on one bed on the lower berth while your cabin mates are forced to do the same on an upper berth. We’re really small people and it was not comfortable for us, but it would have been awful for a full-sized couple.

Vietnam Railways

We’re looking at you guys, lower-berth-couple-bookers!

*end rant*

Unlike our train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, we didn’t have any cockroaches onboard (that we saw). The ride was bumpy and pretty noisy, but we managed to get some sleep. As with all trains, the toilets are something to avoid (yea, I don’t know why we make a routine of getting Indian food before our overnight trains). Overall, we didn’t have any complaints about the ride.

Arriving in Hue

The bummer about overnight rides is that you miss the scenery. We woke up around 6 or 7 AM and caught some of it. The train arrived in Hue just about on time around 10 AM. We decided just to walk the 30 minutes along the river to our hotel, but there were plenty of tuk tuks and taxis offering rides (walking is another one of our favorite cost saving travel tips).

Hue, Vietnam

The walk from the Hue train station to Hue city center is a nice one, along the river front.

Closing Thoughts

In all our train travel in Vietnam, the only truly bad part of the experience was having to pay a commission to book online through 12Go Asia. It would be nice if Vietnam Railways (the official site) could get their act together and process payments from foreign credit cards. That said, if you want to avoid commissions you can always buy your tickets at the train station. When we return to Vietnam (wholly expecting a “when,” not an “if”), we’ll definitely be riding the rails again.

Hue, Vietnam

Mateo Raft

Tuesday 2nd of October 2018

I am trying to book a ticket right now from Saigon to Hue, and I couldn't figure out the best way. There's now the Payoo app as well, but it only lists partial departure dates. I'll hop over to the website you mentioned and check it out. Thank you.


Sunday 14th of October 2018

Hello! We haven't used the Payoo app, so we'll have to check that out. Let me know if you have any luck with our recommendations. I hope you have so much fun in Hue! I still dream about the Banh Mi from Hue - it is the Banh Mi I mention anytime anyone asks what was the best thing I ate during my travels!

Julie Ann

Friday 13th of July 2018

Thanks for this very informative blog. I'm here in sapa right now waiting for the bus that will take me to hanoi. I was thinking of riding a bus or a train but id probably go for a train ride. Ill buy ticket from the train station as advised by a friend who resides in HCMC as he said its much cheaper and I dont have to worry about unavailability of seats. Well im crossing my fingers to that! Wish me luck! Lol


Saturday 14th of July 2018

Aww! I'm so jealous that you're heading to Hanoi! I'm sure you will do great. The trains in Vietnam are amazing - lots of options, easy to navigate, nice enough on board. I'm sure you will do great! If you have a chance in Hanoi, head to Tranquil Cafe & Books for some great Vietnamese coffee. Have so much fun!!!