Led by Tim Doling, author of the books The Railways and Tramways of Việt Nam (White Lotus Press, 2012) and Mountains and Ethnic Minorities: North West Việt Nam (Thế Giới Publishers, 2010), this group tour will be of interest to people who enjoy train travel, however it’s not designed exclusively for rail enthusiasts and doesn’t include visits to engine sheds! Instead, the focus is on using the train as much as possible to discover Việt Nam, its history and culture.

A noteworthy feature of the tour is that between Hồ Chí Minh City and Hà Nội we hire our own sleeper and restaurant/bar carriages with dedicated English-speaking staff to ensure a high standard of comfort and service, while between Hà Nội and Lào Cai and Sapa we use the comfortable Fansipan Express sleeper train. Along the way we visit the Mekong Delta, the Central Highlands town of Đà Lạt, the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Hội An, Mỹ Sơn and Huế, the 1,000 year old capital of Hà Nội and the colourful ethnic minorities of Sapa and the remote border region with China. A fascinating and unique journey is guaranteed!

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Travel with leading authority Tim Doling as your tour host and obtain fascinating insight into the history and development of the Việt Nam railway network and the ethnic diversity of the northern mountainous region.
  • Explore the entire main North-South line travelling in private railway carriages
  • Enjoy city tours of Hồ Chí Minh City (Sài Gòn) and Hà Nội.
  • Visit all of the essential attractions in south, central and northern Việt Nam, including the Mekong Delta, the Central Highlands town of Đà Lạt, the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Hội An, Mỹ Sơn and Huế, the 1,000 year old capital of Hà Nội and the colourful ethnic minorities of Sapa.
  • Ride behind a steam locomotive at the Thái Nguyên Steel Company HQ.
  • Make an exclusive visit to the Vietnam Railways Exhibition room.
  • Take the Fansipan Express sleeper train up to Sapa and encounter colourful ethnic minority groups in the remote northern mountains close to the Chinese border.

Day 1: Arrive Hồ Chí Minh City (Monday) (D)

Arriving at the airport, you’ll be met by your tour host and tour guide and transferred to your hotel for check-in and a briefing on what to expect during your trip. Then you’ll take an introductory tour of Hồ Chí Minh City, with photo stops at Bến Thành Market, Notre Dame Cathedral and the City Post Office. After lunch you’ll visit the former Presidential Palace and a little-visited suburban house (now a museum) with a secret cellar under the floor where VC weapons used in the Tết 1968 attack on the Palace were stored. If there’s time we’ll also drop by the War Remnants Museum. In the evening we will get together for a welcome dinner.

Overnight in Hồ Chí Minh City

Day 2: Hồ Chí Minh City - Mỹ Tho - Mekong River (Tuesday) (B, L)

This morning we’ll trace the path of Việt Nam’s very first railway line from Sài Gòn southwards to Mỹ Tho in the Mekong Delta, learning en route about the railway history of southern Việt Nam. Then, from the site of former quayside railway station in Mỹ Tho, we’ll take a boat and explore the Mekong River, visiting nearby islands, enjoying a seafood lunch and sampling local produce.

Overnight in Hồ Chí Minh City

Day 3: Hồ Chí Minh City - Tháp Chàm - Đà Lạt (Wednesday) (B, L, D)

After breakfast we’ll head for Sài Gòn Railway Station, where a private railway carriage is reserved for us on Train TN2, departing at 1005. Our first scenic train journey takes us along the southernmost section of the former Transindochinois railway to Tháp Chàm. Unfortunately the cog railway line from Tháp Chàm to Đà Lạt closed in 1969, so on arrival in Tháp Chàm at 1655 we’ll be conveyed up the mountain by bus (a 4-hour drive) to the delightful old French hill station.

Overnight in Đà Lạt

Day 4: Đà Lạt (Thursday) (B, L)

An exhilarating tour of Đà Lạt on the back of motorbikes will include visits to the last King Bảo Đại’s Summer Residence, the famous Trúc Lâm Monastery and the Prenn Waterfall. After lunch we’ll take a short (diesel-hauled) trip on the 7-kilometre adhesion-rail-only stretch of the old Langbian Cog Railway which has been reopened as a tourist attraction, learning about the line’s fascinating history.

Overnight in Đà Lạt

Day 5: Đà Lạt - Tháp Chàm - Đà Nẵng (Friday) (B, L)

This morning we’ll head back down the mountain to resume our train journey at Tháp Chàm Railway Station. On the way we can view some surviving vestiges of the former Swiss-built rack-and-pinion railway line. After lunch we’ll visit the 13th-century Pô Klông Garai Chăm Temple before reboarding our private carriage, which will be coupled onto Train TN2, departing at 1655.

Overnight on train

Day 6: Đà Nẵng (Saturday) (B)

Arriving at Đà Nẵng Railway Station at 0644, we’ll be met and conveyed by road to the old port of Hội An, a UNESCO World Heritage town renowned for its ancient architecture. After checking into our hotel we’ll enjoy a guided walking tour of the town, visiting the famous Japanese Covered Bridge, the local market, Tấn Ký House and several old temples, pagodas and assembly halls. The afternoon will be free for shopping and relaxation. Please note that Hội An is renowned for its skilled tailoring shops, which can run up complete outfits in 24 hours!

Overnight in Hội An

Day 7: Hội An (Sunday) (B, L)

An early morning start takes us by road to Mỹ Sơn, a Hindu temple complex built between the 4th and the 14th centuries by the kings of Champa to worship the god Shiva. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999. Then it’s back to Hội An for an afternoon of free time (an optional cooking course may be of interest).

Overnight in Hội An

Day 8: Hội An - Đà Nẵng - Huế (Monday) (B, L)

This morning we’ll head back to Đà Nẵng along the route of an abandoned steam tramway, learning about the railway history of the central region. In Đà Nẵng we’ll visit the world-renowned Museum of Chăm Sculpture, where you can learn more about Chăm history and architecture. After an early lunch we’ll head back to Đà Nẵng Railway Station, where our private carriage will be coupled onto Train SE2, departing at 1201. The three-hour journey to Huế takes the train through the stunningly beautiful Hải Vân (“Ocean cloud”) Pass, along a stretch of line built by the French in 1906.

Overnight in Huế

Day 9: Huế (Tuesday) (B, L)

A full day of touring the former royal capital starts with an early visit to the Imperial City, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. Here you’ll see the ancient Royal Citadel, constructed in 1805 and the greatest legacy of the Nguyễn emperors. Like the Citadel, the city of Huế itself is a walled city and was designed by a French architect. It was divided into three parts – the Common City, the Imperial City, and the Forbidden City, the latter modelled after its namesake in Beijing. This will be followed by visits to the Tự Đức and Khải Định Mausoleums, the Royal Arena where fights between elephants and tigers were once staged, and a traditional Huế “garden house.” At mid day we will enjoy a delicious vegetarian lunch at a Buddhist convent. This will be a great chance to learn about the daily life of the nuns, as well as the most popular religion in Việt Nam. After lunch we’ll drive to the tranquil Thiên Mụ Pagoda and then return to our hotel by boat along the Perfume River. In the evening you will enjoy a Royal Banquet featuring dishes once eaten only in the Forbidden City (court attire optional!).

Overnight in Huế

Day 10: Huế - Hà Nội (Wednesday) (B, L)

After a morning of relaxation we’ll head back to Huế Station and reboard our private carriage, which will be coupled onto Train SE10, departing at 1219 for Hà Nội. The long overnight trip will take us along the northernmost section of the former Transindochinois railway, and on the way you’ll learn more about the history of this heavily-bombed section of line.

Overnight on train

Day 11: Hà Nội (Thursday) (B, L, D)

Arriving in Hà Nội at 0515 next morning, we’ll transfer to our hotel and then start a full day of tours which will include the Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum, the Presidential Palace Vestiges Area, the famous One-Pillar Pagoda, the Temple of Literature. After lunch we’ll tour the excellent National Museum of Ethnology to learn about the colourful ethnic people we’ll meet in the far north. Then in the evening we’ll have dinner and then attend a performance by the famous Hà Nội Water Puppet Theatre.

Overnight in Hà Nội

Day 12: Hà Nội - Thái Nguyên - Lào Cai (Friday) (B, L)

This morning we’ll make an early start by road for the industrial town of Thái Nguyên, where we’ll visit the Thái Nguyên Steel Company (TISCO) to enjoy a tour of the works and a short train trip hauled by a Chinese Gongjian-class 0-6-0T steam locomotive. After lunch we’ll head back to Hà Nội for an exclusive visit to the Vietnam Railways Exhibition Room (not open to the general public) to view photographs and artefacts relating to the history and development of the Vietnamese railway network. The rest of the day will be free for shopping and relaxation. After dinner we’ll head to Hà Nội Railway Station to board our sleeper train for Lào Cai, departing at 2110.

Overnight on train

Day 13: Lào Cai - Sapa (Saturday) (B, L)

Arriving early at Lào Cai Railway Station, we’ll be conveyed by bus up the mountain to Sapa, a picturesque former French Hill Station situated 36 kilometres from Lào Cai. After transferring our luggage to the hotel and enjoying a leisurely breakfast, we’ll trek to the Black Hmông villages of Sín Chải and Ô Quy Hồ, walking through a tranquil landscape of sculpted rice terraces at an easy and leisurely pace to suit everybody. We’ll have a picnic lunch in an ethnic village and then return to Sapa to explore the town (warning – Sapa tends to be full of tourists on Saturdays!) In the evening you can enjoy the weekly market, a kaleidoscope of ethnic colour.

Overnight in Sapa

Day 14: Sapa - Mường Khương - Lào Cai (Sunday) (B, L)

This morning we’ll get well away from the tourist trail by making a very early morning start (5am) for the remote town of Mường Khương near the Chinese border, where the lively weekly ethnic minority market (frequented by White Hmông, Flower Hmông, Red Dao, Dao Tuyển, Bố Y, Thù Lao, La Chí, Pa Dí and Nùng ethnic minority people) will be in full swing by the time we arrive. After enjoying the market we’ll hike through lush and verdant hills to visit Phù Lá and Nùng villages in Lùng Khấu Nhin, where we’ll eat a late lunch before returning to Lào Cai. In the afternoon we will tour some interesting sites in the provincial capital including a local market and the international border

Railway Station. Our Fansipan Express accommodation on sleeper train SP2 back to the capital departs Lào Cai at 2005 and arrives back in Hà Nội at the unearthly hour of 0435!

Overnight on train

Day 15: Hà Nội (Monday) (B, D)

Our last full day is officially free for relaxation and shopping, but for those who still want to see more, there will be an optional guided walking tour of Hà Nội’s Old Quarter in the morning and an optional visit to the relics of Hà Nội Citadel in the afternoon. In the evening we’ll get together for a farewell dinner.

Overnight in Hà Nội

Day 16: Depart Hà Nội (Tuesday) (B)

This morning you can enjoy free time until your transfer to Nội Bài International Airport for your flight home.