To say I am a bit obsessed with train travel would be somewhat of an understatement, and when that train crosses over an international border, well quite frankly I am in my element. So when the opportunity to take the train from Hanoi to China came up, I jumped at the chance!
I’d known for years about the existence of the Beijing to Hanoi train (allegedly once a week), and another train from Hanoi to Nanning, but looking online the existence and information about it was fairly scant. Eventually I spoke to a Vietnamese friend who informed me that it left every day from Gia Lam station in Hanoi, arriving at 2 am at Vietnamese immigration (where we would have to get off the train), before getting to Chinese immigration, and Pingxiang station at around 4 am, before arriving eventually in Nanning at 8.30 am.
So here’s what ya do!
The train leaves daily at 21.20 pm from Gia Lam Railway station in Hanoi
Gia Lam Train Station is quite the sight! Being used to the city like structures of places like Shenzhen North Railway Station, or Guangzhou South Railway station, it was really cute to see something so small and compact for an international station of a capital city, but then that is very Vietnam!
You are warned that there is no restaurant car on the Hanoi to Nanning train, and to get your own supplies, which is pretty easy around the station. It was kind of cool that the layout of the shops around the train station was so similar to how they are in China. I stocked up with beer, vodka, milk, and noodles. What else would I need?
The ticket for the 7-hour journey from Hanoi to Pingxiang cost 250,000 Dong, which whilst it might sound a lot, is around $12 for a soft sleeper berth. Apparently, if you go all the way to Nanning it comes to around 1 million ($50).
The train itself is run by China, and the layout is very much in the fashion of a Chinese slow train network. I heated my noodles and tucked into my vodka!
You hit Vietnamese immigration at around 2 am, which means even if you had gone right to sleep you would have only got 4 and a half hours. Weirdly and as opposed to every other train I have ever been on, you are required to get off the train at the border with all of your belongings to do Vietnamese and then Chinese customs and immigration. I was getting off at Pingxiang (4 am) but had I been going all the way from Hanoi to Nanning by train then this would have meant two very disjointed 4-hour sleep shifts, so certainly not the best international train journey in the world.
So if you do want to take the train from Vietnam to China, head to Gia Lam station which is in downtown Hanoi. There is no need to book in advance as the train is rarely full. Ticket prices are 250k to Pingxiang and 1 million to Nanning. Unless you are a sadist or have special reason to go there, there is no need to travel to Pingxiang. You can stock up on supplies for the Hanoi to Nanning train outside the station, with there being a number of shops stocking the standard Asian favourites, although you can also buy vodka!
To summarise, I’m fairly pleased I can now say, I have taken the train from Vietnam to China, but I’m also not exactly in a rush to do it again! With the bus from Hanoi to Nanning probably being a more comfortable option.