All aboard Vietnam's nostalgic North-South railway

By Bao Yen   August 18, 2017 | 11:12 pm PT
Despite a decline in popularity, the railway still evokes memories of days gone by. 

Thousands of Vietnamese people take the Thong Nhat railway everyday to travel from north to south, or vice versa.

The historic line has been in operation since 1976, one year after the Vietnam War ended, and the name Thong Nhat means "reunification" in Vietnamese.

But as the country continues to modernize, the importance of the historic line is fading. 

Last year, the Vietnamese railway network reported a loss of VND535 billion ($23.5 million) in revenue, mainly due to competition from other forms of transportation, including coaches and planes, which have gradually been replacing trains. Airfares have become more affordable, and coach services more comparable, so many Vietnamese travelers are opting for these alternatives.

In an attempt to win back passengers, the Vietnamese railway network has launched various new services, including an online booking page and a luxury Saigon rail line with free wifi. The Vietnamese government also recently approved plans to invest $13.8 billion in the North-South line. 

Despite a decline in popularity, the North-South railway evokes memories of the past and the ups and downs the country has been through. 


The Vietnamese railway network has greatly improved over the past decade, offerning various new services in an attempt to win back passengers from other forms of transportation such as planes and coaches. 


The majority of the North-South trains now offer air-conditioned cars with soft seats, which were not available on the old trains. 


Passengers sharing a four-bed cabin. Many Vietnamese people still opt for the train because it's cheaper, with prices ranging from VND 600,000 for a soft seat to around VND1 million ($44) for a bed.


A mother feeds her two boys in the hallway. Many Vietnamese families, mostly lower working class, take the train to travel back to their hometowns. Summer is the high season for the railway. 


A middle-aged passenger watches the world go by. It takes at least 30 hours to travel from the North (Hanoi) to the South (Saigon), compared to an hour and a half by plane. But the train offers fantastic views of the 1,730-km route across the country. 


Many passengers are exhausted after more than 14 hours on board. 


Breakfast at 6 a.m. Food carts run from late at night to the early morning, offering sticky rice, boiled sweet corn, congee and beverages at reasonable prices. 


The train pulls in to Vinh Station, one of the stops along the way. The train takes around 5 to 10 minutes at each stop. 


A passenger looks outside as the train pulls over at Vinh Station. 


A woman sells banh mi to passengers on the train at one of the stops. 


The restaurant car. There are still relics of the old system on this new train. Back in the old days, most Vietnamese trains only had hard seats like these wooden chairs which could be really tiresome for passengers spending more than a day on the train. 


A mother and her children look excited as they finally arrived at their destination. 

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