Last updated: 08:00 PM ET, Mon March 16 2015

Vietnam’s Train Improvements Lead to Vacations By Rail Tours

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | March 16, 2015

Vietnam’s Train Improvements Lead to Vacations By Rail Tours

Travelpulse file photo

Bit by bit, Vietnam is overhauling its tourism and investing more in promotion. The most optimistic estimates place the country’s arrivals at 8 million foreign visitors in 2014. Some 400,000 Americans travel to Vietnam annually, not counting the thousands who stop on ocean cruises. Hanoi’s new $900 million Terminal 2 at Noi Bai International Airport and the new connecting highway to city center are the flagship improvements in the country, but an improvement in rail service is already impacting the U.S. market.

Overland travel in Vietnam is still relatively difficult, and so the $3.8 million that Vietnam Railways recently invested in upgrading their trains is a significant step. The express trains run daily between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, completing the journey in 31 hours. The improvements include renovated carriages with uniformed staff providing a higher standard of service as well as upgraded ticketing, TV’s, a cafeteria, newspapers, and kiosks as well as free Wi-Fi. According to Todd Powell, CEO and cofounder of Vacations By Rail, riders shouldn’t expect a super luxurious train, but the cars are upscale in quality and the fact that they have sleeper cars make it possible to complete the north to south journey comfortably.

Vacations By Rail is now offering travel aboard Vietnam Railways’ newly refurbished trains as part of three new Vietnam vacation offerings. Vacations By Rail offers a large selection of independent rail vacations, escorted rail tours and luxury rail journeys around the world. “Vietnam is a new destination for us,” said Powell. “When we heard they were redoing their trains we immediately looked into it. Our travelers are always looking for new experiences.”

The Vacations By Rail journeys include the 13-day Discover Vietnam, priced from $3,130 per person double, which visits Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Travelers will visit a community-farming project; sample the fare at one of the country’s floating markets, and experience Vietnamese village life. Travelers will also enter the 10,000 year-old Me Cung Cave, drive through the mountains and Vietnam’s dramatic bays.

The 17-day Best of Vietnam, priced from $3,757 per person double, visits Ho Chi Minh City, the Mekong Delta, Hue and Nha Trang. The 10-day Vietnam, priced from $1,410, goes from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi by rail. Travelers will also take an overnight cruise to Bai Tu Long where they can snorkel or kayak, exploring hidden caves and isolated beaches.

Ho Chi Minh City, Hue, and Hanoi remain Vietnam’s biggest attractions for foreign travelers. Ho Chi Minh recorded nearly 2.1 million foreign arrivals in 2014 (a growth of 10 percent over 2013), and Hanoi attracted 1.39 million, a surge of 17.4 percent against the corresponding time last year. Hue took in 1.6 million foreign visitors.

The new Terminal 2 in Hanoi will handle 10 million passengers per year over its four floors and basement, with a total floor area of 139,000 square meters, including the main building and two wings. Terminal 2 offers 96 check-in counters including 10 self-service kiosks, 17 boarding gates, 283 flight information display boards in the public lobby, and 14 passenger bridges.

Other improvements in Vietnam are also coming online. Saigon is just completing the first phase of a $23.5 million development in Nguyen Hue Street with new granite sidewalks, 3D art, and electric trams. The project plans to convert the area in front of the People’s Committee Building to Ton Duc

Thang Street into an 890 meter promenade that will host 3D art events and dancing water fountains.

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