Travelers flock to trains in summer to avoid high airfares

By Doan Loan   May 23, 2024 | 02:00 am PT
Travelers flock to trains in summer to avoid high airfares
Foreigners looking to get on the SE19 train to Da Nang at the Hanoi Train Station. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Many trains departing Hanoi were fully booked for the weekend, even though ticket prices have risen by up to 7%.

Due to increasing airplane ticket prices during the summer, Huy Tuan, who resides in Hanoi's Bac Tu Liem District, began searching for train tickets on Sunday for his family’s upcoming trips to Quang Binh Province, home to many famous caves in central Vietnam.

Tuan was surprised to see that many routes were fully booked until the end of June.

The QB1 train, starting from Hanoi on May 31, has sold out its sleeper-bed tickets, with only less than 30 seat tickets remaining. The return route on June 2 only has a few seat tickets left. Similarly, the SE1 route, running from Hanoi to HCMC with a stop in Quang Binh Province, is almost fully booked.

The dwindling availability of train tickets on this route is not only limited to the weekends. Trains operating on this route during weekdays are also very crowded.

"I did not imagine train tickets for the weekends in June would be so difficult to get," Tuan said. "Maybe my family will have to choose some weekdays to travel."

Tuan was not the only person finding it hard to buy train tickets. Thu Huong, who resides in Cau Giay District, also shared her difficulties in buying tickets from Hanoi to Da Nang in June.

The SE19 and SE20 are two higher-quality trains operating this route, both of which have been sold out for the weekends. Huong resolved to buy tickets on weekdays for her family instead.

On the ticket portal of Vietnam Railways, the state-owned railway system operator in Vietnam, southward-bound trains from Hanoi in June have mostly been sold out for the weekends in June, while the northward-bound return trains to Hanoi have more seats available. The short trains from Hanoi to Vinh or Hai Phong still have many seats available.

According to a representative of Hanoi Railway Transport JSC, this summer, the number of railway travelers is expected to increase by 8% to 10%.

The company will sell approximately 1.1 million tickets on all routes, with prices increasing by about 7% compared to 2023.

After about 20 days of selling tickets, as of May 20, the company has sold about 170,000 tickets, which is considered quite fast compared to previous years. The routes from Hanoi to central Vietnam are more in demand, as families tend to take the train one way and airplane on their way back.

Explaining the rising demand in rail travel, a representative of Hanoi Railway Transport said that tourists choose railways for several reasons.

First, as flight tickets get more expensive, trains become a budget-friendly option of transportation. Second, railway policy provides discounts to tourist groups and waives fees for children under six years old. Third, the quality of service and facilities on trains have improved significantly in recent years.

Additionally, trains departing from Hanoi in the evening arrive at Quang Binh the following morning, and at Hue and Da Nang the following afternoon. This helps simplify the itinerary planning for tourists, while also providing a picturesque travel experience.

Therefore, trains departing for central Vietnam provinces are usually packed at the weekends, especially the SE19 and SE20 which have more high-end facilities, despite higher ticket prices of around VND1.2 million ($47).

This summer, the railway companies operate six cross-country trains from Hanoi to HCMC and back every day. Additionally, shorter routes from Hanoi to Quang Binh, Hue, Vinh, Da Nang, or between Hue and Da Nang, operate more route-exclusive trains.

At the weekend, the companies also operate more trains for the Hanoi-Dong Hoi and Hanoi-Hai Phong routes.

Large groups of tourists, such as companies, can also hire a whole train that operates privately for the groups. Within May, railway companies operated seven private trains, serving an accumulated 2,400 tourists.

The railway system still provides discount policies for different groups, including those receiving social welfare. Tourists buying two-way tickets 20 days in advance will also receive a discount of up to 10%, while tourists buying tickets in large groups of over 20 people will get a discount of up to 9%.

For children, those under six years old travel for free, while those from 6 to 10 years old receive a 25% discount. University students also receive a 10% discount. For the elderly, those above 60 years old receive a 15% discount.

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