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Over the years, I’ve travelled many, many times between Saigon and Phan Thiet/Mui Ne: by bus, car, minivan, coach, but most of the time, by motorbike. I love the ride along the Ocean Road from Vietnam’s biggest city to one of its most popular beach retreats. But there is another way: put your motorbike on the train and let the rails carry your wheels. It’s cheap, easy, fun, fast, efficient and relaxing. Even if you’re not taking your motorbike with you, the train is a much better option than taking one of the buses along Highway 1.
SAIGON TO PHAN THIET BY TRAIN:
- Train route: Saigon to Phan Thiet / Phan Thiet to Saigon (non-stop, direct service)
- Train times: Dep. SG: 6:40am Arr. PT: 10:25am / Dep. PT: 1:10pm Arr. SG: 5:15pm (daily)
- Ticket prices: passenger 180,000vnđ / motorbike 150,000vnđ
- Buying tickets: www.vetau.com.vn / Vietnam train stations, hotels & travel companies
Need to Know:
There is one train a day in both directions between Saigon and Phan Thiet (see above for train times). The journey takes about 4 hours: trains leave exactly on time and arrive at their destinations within minutes of the published schedule. Buying tickets is easy and straightforward: book online (www.vetau.com.vn) and print your electronic ticket. However, you will also need to buy a ticket for your motorbike. So far, I have been unable to do this online. Therefore, you have two options: The first, is buy your motorbike ticket directly at Saigon or Phan Thiet train stations – either a day or two prior to departure (advisable) or on the day of travel. This should be a fairly simple and painless process for most travellers. The other option is to book your train tickets (passenger and motorbike) through your hotel or travel agent. Most hotels and tour companies can do this, and generally they only charge an insignificant commission. Ticket prices (see above) are approximate: there is some discrepancy depending on who, where, and when you buy them, but only a dollar here and there, so it’s nothing to worry about.
My motorbike, Stavros, waiting to be loaded onto the freight car
At the Station:
Passengers (and motorbikes) are required to be at the station 30-40 minutes before departure. In order to put your motorbike on the train, you must drive through the station gates and onto the platform: at Saigon station the entrance is to the left of the main station building, signposted in Vietnamese as cửa đi – đón khách tàu Phan Thiết; at Phan Thiết station the entrance is on the right of the station building. Drive your motorbike along the platform (which is great fun) to the back end of the train. Here you’ll find a few other motorbikes waiting to be loaded onto the freight car. Show your ticket to the handling staff (there’s sometimes a 10,000vnđ ‘handling’ fee) and they will give you a paper receipt for your motorbike: do not lose this. Unlike longer train journeys in Vietnam – when your motorbike must be mummified in cardboard and tape, travels on a different train to you, and takes at least a couple of days to arrive – it’s all very easy. After leaving your motorbike with the staff, make your way to the passenger carriages and find your seat on the train; when you arrive at your destination, stroll along the platform to the freight car, show your receipt, and drive off.
Vietnam Railways staff roll Stavros off the train at Phan Thiet station
On the Train:
All carriages are air-conditioned (it’s a good idea to bring a sweater) and all seats are soft and comfy with reclinable backs. There are perfectly adequate toilets and wash basins in every carriage, and the general standard of cleanliness is good. Passengers receive a complimentary snack bag containing a bottle of water and rice crackers, the best part of which is the design of the packaging – a good souvenir from Vietnam Railways.
A dining car, towards the rear of the train, sports wooden chairs, large windows, and a surprisingly good selection of Vietnamese noodles, stir-fries, soups and drinks, all of which are reasonably priced and pretty tasty. Regardless of quality, there’s always something romantic about sitting in the dining carriage of a train, with a bite to eat and a coffee, and watching the scenery pass by.
After rolling out of Saigon station, the train rattles through the city. The driver leans on the horn as the train passes through crowded local neighbourhoods, across busy intersections – the traffic piled up either side of the junction – over the Saigon River and out into the dusty suburbs. Life continues just metres from the tracks, offering a fascinating cross-section of the city: markets, cafes, offices, temples, homes, schools. I used to live in a house near the railway, and each time I heard the horn and rattling carriages, I longed to be on the train.
Beyond the industrial armpit of Bien Hoa City, the train makes its way east through an extremely lush landscape of crop fields, fruit orchards, and plantations: banana, coffee, jackfruit, cassava, cashew, mango, rubber, sugar cane, corn and rice all grow within a few feet of the train. Deeper into the journey, green hills begin to rise from the folds of the rolling fields. It’s tropical, exotic, exciting – everything a good train journey should be.
I was surprised at how lush and scenic the journey is. When I travel between Saigon and Phan Thiet, I usually choose to ride my motorbike along the quiet, scenic route that I like to call the Ocean Road. The other alternative, which I do my best to avoid, is to take Highway 1, a horrible, truck-choked ride through an arid landscape, obscured by dust and scarred by concrete dwellings lining the road. The train line follows a similar course to the highway, so I was expecting similar scenery. But, because there is no development surrounding the railway, the landscape is green, clean, and sparsely populated. Never have I approached Phan Thiet from Saigon in such a serene, gentle and relaxed manner.
Before arriving in Phan Thiet there is a brief stop at Binh Thuan station. From here the train travels along a short spur line to Phan Thiet station, which is a small building a few kilometres west of the town centre. Once you collect your motorbike from the freight car, you can choose to continue your road trip northeast along the fabulous new coastal roads towards Nha Trang, or head up the winding passes to the Central Highlands towards Dalat (see Related Posts for more details).
- Black Line: train route
- Red Line: road route (via Highway 1)
- Blue Line: road route (via Ocean Road)
View Larger Map
DESERT, SEA, SKY: THE NINH THUAN LOOP:
Ninh Thuan Province boasts fabulous coastal scenery and new roads……read more
CAMPING THE OCEAN ROAD:
Pitch your tent under coconut palms just metres from the surf on the southeast coast……read more
THE SOUTHEAST LOOP:
Take coastal and mountain backroads between Saigon, Mui Ne and Dalat……read more
Selected Resources for Travellers & Expats: What's this?