A Journey Through Vietnam: Embracing the “Slow Travel” Trend by Rail

"As domestic air fares continue to soar, train travel has emerged as a captivating alternative for tourists exploring Vietnam. The rails offer a unique perspective on the country's diverse landscapes and rich cultural heritage, providing a journey that is both affordable and enchanting."


“Traveling by train offers a unique blend of affordability, safety, and freedom from traffic jams, all while providing a front-row seat to Vietnam’s stunning natural landscapes,” shared Thu Hoa, a traveler from Hanoi’s Cau Giay District, as she detailed her preference for trains over other modes of transportation during her cross-country journey from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

A Relaxing Journey Through Nature’s Wonders

The captivating natural scenery alongside the railroad never fails to enchant passengers. Source: Vietnam Travel Information

Thu Hoa particularly reminisced about the Danang-Hue route, renowned for its breathtaking vistas. As the train traverses the majestic Hai Van Pass and skirts along Lang Co Bay, passengers are treated to unforgettable views of untouched natural beauty.

The route connecting Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang presents another captivating option, inviting travelers to immerse themselves in poetic landscapes dotted with pristine beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see.

These distinct advantages are drawing more and more travelers, especially the younger generation, to rail tourism. It is also a form of travel that is predicted to become a prominent trend, especially as domestic air ticket prices continue to rise.

When embarking on a train journey from the highland city of Dalat to Trai Mat Station, passengers find themselves enveloped in vibrant flower fields and rows of lush cherry trees. Alternatively, those opting for the Muong Hoa mountain train in Sapa are treated to the awe-inspiring Hoang Lien Son mountain range and mist-clad villages, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

“The beauty of train travel lies in the unique experiences it offers,” Thu Hoa emphasized in her conversation with The Hanoi Times. “It’s not just about the destination, but the journey itself. As the train rolls along the tracks, travelers are invited to slow down, appreciate the natural wonders, and connect with the local life and culture of each place they pass through.”

A Rising Trend in Travel: Exploring Vietnam by Train

More and more travelers are opting for train journeys to explore Vietnam. Source: Ta Xuan Huong

The emergence of luxury trains has further elevated the appeal of rail tourism, showcasing its ability to meet both transportation and accommodation needs. This form of travel is also aligned with the growing trend of sustainable tourism, making it an increasingly popular choice among discerning travelers.

High-quality trains operating on shorter routes, such as Hanoi – Haiphong, Hanoi – Lao Cai, Danang – Hue – Dong Hoi, Ho Chi Minh City – Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh City – Binh Thuan, are often in high demand and fully booked.

According to statistics from the Vietnam National Authority of Tourism, the number of domestic and inbound tourists opting for train travel in 2023 reached impressive figures, with 10 million and 1.5 million passengers, respectively. These numbers reflect a significant increase of 15% and 20% from the previous year.

The recent Reunification Day and Labor Day holidays further highlighted the growing popularity of train travel, with a notable surge in passenger numbers. A report from the Danang Department of Tourism revealed that during those five days alone, the number of visitors to Danang by train exceeded 16,000, marking a 60% increase compared to the same period in 2023. Other destinations, including Hue, Nha Trang, and Haiphong, also experienced a significant influx of rail tourists.

A delightful snack presented onboard the VietGate train, operating between the central provinces of Quy Nhon and Nha Trang. Source: Arnauld Marrel

International recognition for Vietnam’s train journeys has also been on the rise. In 2021, CNN featured the Vietgage train, which runs between Danang and Quy Nhon, carrying no more than 12 passengers at a time and offering luxurious amenities akin to a five-star hotel. In 2022, Vietnam’s North-South Train was included in the list of the world’s 10 most impressive overnight train journeys. Furthermore, in 2023, Lonely Planet’s “Amazing Train Journeys” guide recognized the Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh City line as one of the most incredible train trips globally.

These accolades underscore the potential of railway tourism in Vietnam’s smokeless industry, evoking a sense of nostalgia and attracting both domestic and international travelers.

Nguyen Cong Hoan, CEO of Flamingo Red Tours, attributed the rise in domestic airfares as a contributing factor to the increased popularity of train travel. He noted that the higher airfares have made tours 10-15% more expensive, prompting tourists to consider alternative transportation options. This shift has presented opportunities for train travel, as it not only helps lower tour prices but also enhances the overall experience, thanks to continuous improvements in rail services.

A New Era for Train Services in Vietnam

Foreign travelers exploring Vietnam by train. Source: Check-in Vietnam

While rail passenger services faced challenges due to competition from low-cost airlines, the improving road network, and the rise of private automobiles, the industry has responded with constant innovation and infrastructure upgrades. The introduction of luxury trains is a testament to this transformation.

Just before this year’s Reunification Day and May Day holidays, following the success of the high-quality Hanoi-Danang trains (SE19 and SE20), the sector introduced the SE21 and SE22 trains from Ho Chi Minh to Danang. These trains offer passengers free wifi, high-quality entertainment, culinary delights, and exceptional services.

Earlier, the Vietnam Railways Corporation (VRC), in collaboration with the Thua Thien-Hue Provincial People’s Committee and Danang City People’s Committee, launched a tourist train route between Hue and Danang, dubbed the “Central Heritage Connection.” This initiative is part of the five-star trans-Vietnam project jointly undertaken by Vietravel and VRC since the end of 2023.

Through this project, passengers can explore famous destinations while enjoying five-star train services and immersing themselves in the cultural and historical richness of Vietnam’s ancient heritage. Nguyen Quoc Ky, Chairman of Vietravel Group, affirmed that the project will introduce groundbreaking tourism products, foster the development of railway tourism in Vietnam, and create unique cultural experiences for travelers.

The enchanting night train ride from the center of Da Lat to the Trai Mat train station. Source: VNR

At the Hanoi Tourism Festival 2024, Flamingo Redtours unveiled its “Travel along Vietnam on Rolling Train Wheels” tour. This itinerary includes exploring Quang Binh and the majestic Phong Nha Cave, as well as Bang Onsen over five days, and discovering the ancient town of Hoi An and the charms of Hue over another five days. It promises an unforgettable journey through the central region’s breathtaking scenery and the modern, new-generation train line.

Some travel agencies are also developing innovative products that combine rail, road, and water travel to provide tourists with diverse and enriching experiences.

Nguyen Tien Dat, CEO of AZA Travel, emphasized the importance of investing in the construction and improvement of train carriages while ensuring that railway-related tourism products offer a complete package, encompassing transportation, accommodation, cuisine, and entertainment.

Traveling by train offers a wonderful experience for families. Source: Tin tuc Vietnam

Railway stations, with their unique architectural heritage, are also being recognized as potential tourist destinations in their own right, warranting investment to enhance their appeal. Additionally, coordination among transportation, sightseeing, and accommodation services at each location is essential to ensure a fully satisfying experience for tourists.

In late 2023, the French Ambassador to Vietnam, Olivier Brochet, conveyed to the Ministry of Transport the interest of renowned French fashion brands, including Louis Vuitton, in operating a vintage luxury train between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. This, along with Belmond Ltd.’s request to operate the Eastern & Oriental Express luxury tourist train on several rail routes in Vietnam, signals a promising future for railway tourism in the S-shaped country.