One of the highlights – and for me the raison d’être – of Great Rail Journeys’ ‘Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong Delta’ holiday [http://www.greatrail.com/tours/vietnam-cambodia-and-the-mekong-delta.aspx#VMG4] was the opportunity to travel the whole way from Hanoi to Saigon by rail.
Vietnam’s North-South Railway, built by the French colonial government between 1899 and 1936, was heavily bombed by the Americans. It triumphantly reopened as the Reunification Express in 1976.
In Great Rail Journeys’ itinerary this journey starts with a so-called “soft sleeper” from Hanoi to the royal capital of Hue, and thanks to this operator’s standards of customer care I had a four-berth compartment entirely to myself and a comprehensive collection of food and drink supplies to last till morning.
The most spectacular part of the North-South Railway is the stretch south of Huế, where the line hugs the coast as it climbs through the Hai Van Pass in a series of sharp curves, viaducts and tunnels: http://www.seat61.com/Vietnam.htm#Watch_the_video.
Visitors knock the Vietnamese State Railways but from my observation they’re efficiently run.
It’s hardly surprising that a thousand-mile route that takes thirty-odd hours to traverse will experience delays: one of our trains reached us an hour late and arrived at its destination almost on time; presumably there’s slack in the timetable to compensate for eventualities. Some speed restrictions are as low as 5kph, where eighty-year-old infrastructure that took a severe hammering through a series of wars is being brought up to modern standards.
At any rate, the crews always turned up, we were never decanted on to a replacement bus service and there were no leaves on the line.