Vietnam’s SE3 train runs the full length of the country. Alison Godfrey and her family jumped on board between Hanoi to Hue on an Intrepid Family Tour.
The kids are absolutely buzzing as the board the train and haul their luggage to their compartment on the overnight train from Hanoi to Hue.
Each compartment on the train has two bunks and our two kids quickly scramble up to top bunk to claim their territory.
It doesn’t take long for the other kids on our Intrepid Family Tour of Vietnam to do the same and then poke their head around the corner.
“Ready to play?”
The kids sing together as they walk up and down the aisle past all the tiny rooms. Then they start doing the conga. Who knew a train could be so exciting.
Our Intrepid tour leader Duk Ngyuen has organised take-way dinner for us to eat on the train, and he enters carrying three bags packed full of containers. The SE3 (Southern Express 3) does not have a dining car. But you can order food from the official trolley staff. Or you can bring your own food on board.
A white vase filled with red roses sits on top of a small faux wood laminex table which protrudes from underneath the window sill between the two bunks. We use the bunks as bench seats communing around the food: fried rice with omelette, sweet and sour chicken and lemongrass chicken with chilli.
Each bunk has two hooks to hang your hat or bag, a towel rail, a reading light, a pillow, a brown quilt and a thin pastel yellow runner along the length of the bed. The bottom bunk has an old-style thermometer on the wall that the kids loved checking.
The mattress is incredibly firm and covered with a dull brown vinyl, presumably so they can be easily wiped down and disinfected between passengers. Fortunately, Hanoi is the first stop on the express train – so you know the bedding is fresh, clean and unused for that day.
The toilet is at the end of the carriage. Make sure you pack toilet paper – if often runs out by morning. The toilet paper must go in the bin next to the toilet, otherwise, it will block the toilet up (and that’s not pretty in the morning).
Underneath the top bunk, a splash of colour brightens the tiny compartment. On my bed, it’s a picture of pink sakura (cherry blossom) flowers against a perfect blue sky. Over the top of the image, elegantly scripted Vietnamese writing translates to: “The parents make a fire to raise the children up”.
After dinner, the kids attempt a murder mystery game. Ther use the spoons from dinner as their weapons. The rules change constantly, but they are having fun.
We stare out the window transfixed by the view into businesses and homes as the train bumps and rattles its way out of Hanoi. The train track here runs down the middle of the street. The shops stop trading and the street closes only when the train comes through. Market stalls spread their wares almost to the track’s edge.
We settle into our bunks for the night and lock the cabin door. It’s a long journey from Hanoi to Hue – about 12 hours.
The kids fall asleep pretty fast. I watch a Netflix series until my eyes are drooping and sleep is calling. Then I pop in earplugs, pull eye blinds over my eyes and give in to sleep.
Sleep is restless, as you would expect on a train that bumps and rattles and jerks to a stop. But it does come.
When we wake, it’s around 6am and nearly time to arrive in Hue. We breakfast on pastries we bought at a bakery in Hanoi and watch the sun rise over the rice fields.
When it’s time to leave, our Intrepid tour guide helps us to get our luggage off the train safely. In Hue, you will need to climb down three stairs to the platform and drag that suitcase with you.
Top tips for the overnight train in Vietnam:
Pack toilet paper
Do not flush the toilet paper down the toilet. Put it in the bin instead
Bring earplugs and eye blinds
Pack a warm jumper in case the air conditioning is cold
Download your favourite Netflix or YouTube shows to watch on the train