Travelling Vietnam by train with young kids

We rarely gave any thought to our modes of transport pre-kids. We knew there would be something to get us from A to B: tuk-tuk, motorbike, bus, rickshaw…. All we needed to do was to make sure we could hold on tight enough!

Now, with a 3 year old and 6 month old, and planning our travels through Asia, the situation was a little different. Whilst the locals might be happy to pile their families on one scooter, we needed a slightly safer form of transport to get around (not to mention dragging our bags with us as well!)

We had initially thought that we would try and hire a car to get around Vietnam, but that idea was promptly shut down when we discovered that nowhere will hire a car to a foreigner.

That ended up being a blessing in disguise, because we were then forced to focus on what was to turn into something of a love affair: Vietnamese Trains.

We took four separate sleeper trains in total, winding our way up the spine of the country north out of Saigon, first to the coast at Mui Ne, and further up to Hoi An. Later in the trip we took sleeper trains up to the north of the country out of Hanoi to explore Sa Pa.

The experience was, in a word: fantastic. And perfect for travelling with a young family. Sleeper compartments with four beds were easily bookable online in advance, once you’re in your private little room, all you have left to do is sleep, eat, read…. well, in between looking after two kids! But with an ever changing scenic backdrop, the whole experience was a total pleasure.

We would thoroughly recommend anyone considering traveling in Vietnam to take the trains. Here are a few tips

  1. Plan: The long running website Man In Seat 61 is your friend here. This is an excellent resource which contains the most up to date information about travelling via train in Vietnam (or anywhere in the world for that matter). We found the commentary about choosing the right type of ticket invaluable – so spend some time reviewing and reading this site.
  2. Think about timing: Train travel in Vietnam is….relaxed. Some journeys can take a long time, so think about breaking up the journey if you’re going to do the full length of the country.
  3. Booking tickets: There are a couple of agents you can use online, and we used Baloau for all of our ticket bookings. We found that we were generally able to get private cabins even by booking a few days in advance (though some were quite booked up so would probably allow slightly longer next time!). Tickets can be printed off from an online confirmation instantly (and we even saw some people just showing the tickets on their phones).
  4. What to take: Bring your own food, snacks, water, etc…. Some of the ‘VIP’ tickets do have some food included, and some services have a trolley service you can buy from – but it’s best to be self sufficient just in case. That also means bringing boiled water if you need it for making baby milk. Most services actually have a boiling water dispenser in each carriage, but we found that was not the case for any of the trains travelling north out of Hanoi towards Sa Pa.
  5. Getting on (and off): We found that the local staff were incredibly helpful in finding the right platform and place to get on the train – so seek them out. We ended up getting one train at 1am, and had been worried about getting on the train. But, sure enough, a member of the railway staff was there to guide us to the exact spot we needed to embark the train!