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A train travels through lush forest
18 October, 20192 minute read

Tracks of adventure: Reunification Express

Vietnam’s historic North-South Railway covers almost the entire length of the country’s coastline between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Commonly referred to as the ‘Reunification Express’; the train’s route takes in cultural highlights, endless landscapes and destinations steeped in fascinating history.

Its colourful past tells a tale of reinvention, the colonial infrastructure, wartime transportation and tourism, all of which have helped to form the spectacular 1,726-kilometre track through the country. It carries passengers between the modern capital of Hanoi and historical Ho Chi Minh City, passing breathtaking sandy beaches, picturesque lagoons, and landscapes of mountains, lush green valleys, remote islands, rice fields, traditional villages and bustling cities, as it unites the north and south.

A railway line runs past houses in Hanoi, Vietnam

Most visitors to Vietnam will utilise internal flights to travel within the country, yet the preferred form of travel for many local Vietnamese is rail; a journey aboard the train is therefore an ideal way to experience the ‘real’ Vietnam and meet the locals too. Our enthralling 'Vietnamese Discovery' tour includes two journeys aboard this legendary railway.

Undertaken between 1899 and 1936 under the rule of the French, the iconic railway’s construction was an endeavour to connect cities and form ‘the backbone of Indochina’. During the conflicts of World War II, the First Indochina War and the Vietnam War the line became a target and airstrikes took their toll on the tracks, bridges and tunnels.

World War II saw wide-scale bomb damage to the route, whilst the First Indochina War was witness to sabotage of the line, as the guerrillas frequently damaged tracks and bridges, removing parts of the rails at night and completely destroying bridges. There was also intense bombing of the system throughout the Vietnam War, as American aircraft targeted the line to stop transportation of supplies and weapons across the country. By 1954 it became impossible to travel the whole route due to the accumulated damage.

After years of war, the ‘Reunification Express’ faced much restoration and rebuilding following the fall of Saigon. A project was put in place by the new communist government, to repair 158 railway stations, 1,334 bridges and 27 tunnels. In 1976 it was finally reopened, both for the public and transportation - a new beginning which represented the rebirth of the nation following such difficult times.

Today, the national railway operates daily, transporting locals and visitors across the country, travelling through panoramic views of the natural beauty and vibrant man-made life of Vietnam’s stunning coast; for visitors, the journey is a once-in-a-lifetime experience uncovering the culture and lifestyle of one of South Asia’s most enchanting countries.

A train travels along the Hai Van Pass in Vietnam
Image of blog author Nicola James

Nicola considers herself very lucky to have had the opportunity to visit a number of places around the world and these experiences usually involve searching for as many kinds of wildlife as possible. Recent highlights include penguins in Antarctica, bears and whales in Canada and Alaska and sea otters in California - but there are always more animals to search for.

Nicola | About the author

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