Vietnam by Rail
Crossing the Hai Van Pass is out of this world
Discover Vietnam from south to north by rail while learning the art of travel photography. Our journey begins in Saigon, with an exploration of the residential areas alongside the tracks. After a trip to the stunning sand dunes of Mui Ne, we head north on the Reunification Express, travelling along Vietnam’s eastern coast towards Danang and Hoi An, and crossing the Hai Van Pass, one of the world’s most spectacular train journeys. After a day among the mountain temples and rice paddies of Ninh Binh, we enjoy a couple of days in the world heritage site of Ha Long Bay. Our final stop is the historic capital of Hanoi, where we arrive in time for the Liberation Day holiday celebrations. Over the course of the tour, with the guidance of our Vietnam in Focus tour leaders, we shoot, choose and edit a 12-picture story of life along Vietnam’s railway.
This is a premium photographic adventure, and we’ll enjoy the best accommodation available along the way. We’ll also taste the most delicious cuisine in a part of the world already renowned for its culinary excellence. Between train journeys, we travel by spacious and comfortable minibus, with an extra vehicle to transport our luggage between accommodation. At the same time, our close connection to the people of this region, local friendships and many years of experience give us unparallelled access to the authentic life of locals and the area’s most stunning vistas. As working photographers and journalists, with many years of teaching experience, we provide you unique insights and knowledge about Vietnam and photographic storytelling.
This trip involves moderate activity: travelers should be in good health, comfortable walking or standing for extended periods, and prepared for several hours of activity on some days. Excursions may include navigating uneven terrain, and walking on paths with steep ascents/descents. Those who are prone to motion sickness may be uncomfortable on the train or during drives on bumpy roads. We will also spend two days and one night aboard a luxury junk in Ha Long Bay. Although the water here is very calm, those prone to seasickness may feel uncomfortable.
Participants arrive at various times during the day, with complimentary pick-up by private car from the airport and transfer to our boutique hotel in District 1. In the evening we will all meet for a delicious Vietnamese meal at a gourmet restaurant in the heart of Saigon. We have an overview of the tour and introductions before an early night.
We have a dawn start, with pick-up from the hotel at 5am, and it’s time to head out for Saigon’s railway tracks. Trains are arriving from the north, and we wander down the railway tracks into the residential area of the city, where houses line the embankment. We work on a photographic story of life along Saigon’s railway, heading to a vibrant market for a local breakfast and coffee and review of the morning’s shoot. Time to return to our hotel for a rest, and we’ll meet again for lunch. After lunch, we head to the Cafe Apartments, a striking old apartment block which has been converted into a multi-storey building of boutique cafes. We return to the hotel for a rest and dinner, and then enjoy a boat trip on the Saigon River by night.
We catch our first train of the trip this morning, to take the short journey for coastal Mui Ne, and arrive before lunch. In the late afternoon we head out to Mui Ne’s spectacular sea of red and gold sand dunes, a mini-Sahara in Vietnam’s south. We’ll be looking at landscapes in this stunning area, but also documenting some of the small fishing communities along the coast. Overnight at our beachside hotel.
At dawn we head for Mui Ne fishing village to capture the boats and fishermen bringing in their overnight haul of tropical seafood. A lively market ensues on the beach, and we’ll be working on portraiture and relationship shots to create a story of morning at the fishing village. We return to Mui Ne and relax at the hotel or the beach. In the afternoon we catch our train north from nearby Thap Cham. We’ll have time before bed for a review of pictures taken so far on the trip.
We arrive at Danang station in the early morning, and head straight for our hotel in Hoi An. We’ll have a relaxing morning, hitting the beach, cycling or simply enjoying the tranquility at our accommodation. There will be a sunset boat trip along the river to capture fishermen working with their nets and the lives of people living along the banks. In the evening we’ll explore the beautifully-preserved ancient trading town of Hoi An, which is lit up by colourful lanterns along every small street.
This morning we make an early start for a special Danang On the Waterfront photo tour, catching the fishing coracles as they bring their catch into shore. Trawlers lay at anchor on the horizon as the sun rises, and fishermen arrive as a beach fish market gets into full sway. We then head up to Danang’s city harbour to capture shots of boatbuilders, iceloaders and dockers in the midst of their working lives. After breakfast it’s time to catch the passenger train over the Hai Van Pass. We climb up into the jungle-clad mountains overlooking the East Sea, the carriages snaking slowly around each ridge. A chance now to capture some spectacular pictures of one of the world’s great railway trips. We arrive in Hue, and head to our hotel.
Hue Railway Station, like those of Hanoi and Haiphong, was built during the French colonial period, and is considered one of Vietnam’s best-preserved and most beautiful colonial buildings. We’ll spend some time capturing images of the station as trains arrive and depart in the morning. After a delicious lunch sampling some of Hue’s famous Imperial cuisine, we’ll head out toward Lang Co Lagoon. The road follows the railway line to the Hai Van Pass, and we’ll stop at various points to capture workers on the tracks and landscapes including the tracks. We’ll also catch some of the trains passing by on their way both north and south. The line travels around beautiful Lang Co lagoon, and we’ll spend time here towards sunset focusing on life at the water’s edge. We return to Hue for dinner and catach our overnight train to Ninh Binh.
We arrive at mid-morning and check into our boutique hotel. We then have a day to explore the sights around Ninh Binh, including journeys by longboat along rivers and through caves at both Tam Coc and Van Long nature reserve. We will also visit Bich Dong, an ancient ‘three-tiered’ pagoda situated near Tam Coc. We have time to explore and photograph classic scenes of Vietnamese rural life, with conical-hatted farmers leading their buffaloes through the paddies.
After a dawn start to capture sunrise among the karst mountains, our minibus takes us east towards Ha Long Bay. There is beautiful countryside along the way, and we’ll be stopping in several carefully-chosen spots. We board our luxury Ha Long Bay junk at midday and have lunch as we cruise into the bay. The afternoon is spent relaxing on the junk as we float among Ha Long’s forested karst islands, with a visit to caves and beaches. We have a sunset shoot from the deck of our junk, and a delicious seafood dinner.
After breakfast, we visit a floating village, and capture fishermen at work in the bay. We’ll have a group review of photos on deck before returning to port for lunch. Time to head back to Hanoi by road, arriving in the capital in mid-afternoon. We check into our boutique hotel and enjoy a last group dinner together.
On our final morning, we’ll take a photographic wander along Hanoi’s railway tracks as trains arrive and pass between the houses. Locals here carry on with their daily lives, cooking, washing, working and playing, interrupted only by the occasional train passing through. After breakfast, it’s time to finalise our photographic stories of the tour, with a workshop and presentation at our hotel. After a celebratory lunch, we have free time to explore Hanoi and do any final shopping. Flights depart at various times of day.
The tour will be led by Duc Nguyen, and he is supported in each major city by our local professional photographer guides.
Tour leader Duc Nguyen is a highly successful commercial and travel photographer, and one of our most popular guides. He has travelled widely throughout Vietnam, and has work published internationallly. He is currently also chief photographer for a major national tourism project in Ninh Binh province.
A Hanoian born and bred, he has led numerous tours for Vietnam in Focus, including regular tours in his hometown, northern adventures in Ha Giang and Mu Cang Chai, as far south as Mui Ne, and of course our cross-country Vietnam by Rail photo tour.
Duc is fluent in English and Vietnamese, and apart from his photography work manages a popular cafe on Hanoi’s West Lake.
Some comments from our guests on Duc’s guiding:
- Digital Camera or Film Camera
- Selections of lens
- Cable release
- Memory cards
- ND Graduated filters
- Storage device
Throughout the trip, we stay in comfortable and stylish hotels and resorts with many amenities. All have been carefully chosen based on personal research and experience, and offer top quality service. During our two nights on the train, we travel in comfortable shared 4 bunk compartments. You may book a private compartment for a surcharge.
Saigon – Alagon Saigon Hotel & Spa (optional upgrade to Park Hyatt)
Mui Ne – Victoria Phan Thiet Beach Resort & Spa
Hoi An – Hoi An Coco River Resort & Spa
Hue – Hue Riverside Boutique Resort & Spa
Ninh Binh – Emeralda Ninh Binh
Ha Long Bay – Private Junks with Indochina Junk
Hanoi – MK Premier Boutique Hotel (optional upgrade to Sofitel Metropole)
We will spend two nights travelling on the re-unification express, and enjoy three shorter journeys along the way. The re-unification express trains are in good, clean condition, and we will be travelling by the best class available. There are clean toilet and washing facilities onboard, and the carriages are air-conditioned. The railway tracks are single guage, meaning that trains travel at relatively slow speed. There are dining facilities onboard, although we have timed our journeys so we have almost all of our meals at quality restaurants.
Pricing and Dates
Prices are per person based on double occupancy and do not include international airfare to/from your destination or internal flights during the tour. Single supplement is available at $300 per person. Surcharges may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars and subject to change. See the terms and conditions for this trip for more information.
Early Bird Bookings
We offer an early bird discount of 10% if tour bookings are made 6 months in advance of departure.
We take an initial holding deposit of $500 per person, which is non-refundable. The remainder is due three months in advance of the departure date. We also confirm tour departure at this point, and people can go ahead and book flights.
Tour cancellations incur a fee based on your time of notice before the tour commences.
The time frame and fees for cancellations are as follows
90 to 61 days before departure is 25% of the trip price.
60 to 46 days before departure is 50% of the trip price.
45-0 days prior to departure is 100% of the trip price.
We take a maximum number of five guests per one tour leader. With larger groups we will split between two tour leaders
Tour departures will be confirmed three months in advance, and depend on a minimum number of guests. Guests should not book flights until they receive confirmation of the tour departure.
Our Vietnam by Rail tour is available during the months of March to June and August to November. We officially run this tour on our designated dates (April and September) but the tour can be booked privately at any stage during the available months. If requested the tour can also be run in reverse from North (hanoi) to South (Saigon)
- Transfers upon arrival and departure
- Accommodation as indicated in the itinerary
- All transportation
- Meals as indicated in the itinerary
- Daily activities and excursions as indicated in the itinerary
- All gratuities
- local guides and government permits
What's not included
- Airfare to and from destination, as well as internal airfare where applicable
- Trip cancellation insurance or any other travel insurance
- Alcoholic beverages