During my year of solo travel I did a lot of overnight journeys by plane, bus and train. I took night trains in India, Thailand and Vietnam, but Vietnam was the place where I did the most overnight train travel. Seeing as I’ve been writing a lot of posts about Vietnam recently, I thought I would share some tips with you about overnight train travel.
Here are the night train journeys I took during my year-long trip:
- Orchha to Varanasi, India
- Bangkok to the south coast, Thailand
- Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang, Vietnam
- Nha Trang to Hoi An, Vietnam
- Hue to Halong Bay, Vietnam
There was a lot of variety between each of the trains. In Vietnam I was always in cabins for four people (two bunk beds) with lockable doors. In Thailand I slept in a long corridor with rows of bunk beds on either side of the aisle and curtains I could draw across my bunk bed. In India I slept in a long corridor on a tiny triple bunk bed with no curtain. Each journey was about 10-14 hours long.
You might not know what to expect when you step on to an overnight train, but here are some of the things I learned and found useful on my journeys. Hopefully they’ll help to prepare anyone who is about to take a night train for the first time.
1. Check your travel information. This might sound really obvious, but it’s easy to make mistakes. I took an overnight train from Bangkok to south Thailand, where I was going to get a boat to the islands. I assumed my stop was the final stop but it turned out it wasn’t and, by sheer luck, I woke up in time to get off at the correct stop. Make sure you find out all the details of your trip.
2. Be patient. You might find the train doesn’t leave on time or gets delayed. On an overnight train from Orchha to Varanasi in India my train stopped outside the station at Varanasi for a couple of hours. I got pretty stir crazy at not being able to get off, but you should anticipate that things like this happen.
3. Take plenty of water. Dehydration is something you should always be careful to avoid when travelling in hot countries. Make sure you take lots of bottled water with you.
4. Don’t forget dinner/snacks. This obviously depends on what time your train is leaving. You might be able to get dinner before boarding, or you might need to take food with you. You don’t want to be stuck on a long train with no food.
5. Breakfast. When you wake up groggy after a bad night’s sleep, or even after a good night’s sleep, you’ll probably be hungry. Have some cereal bars or fruit ready for the morning to last until you get to your accommodation.
6. Rearrange your bag. If you’re travelling with a large backpack, you should re-pack your belongings so that everything you need for the night train is easy to access. You don’t want your toiletries to be stuck at the bottom when you’re crammed into a small space and don’t have room to unpack it all.
7. Padlock your bags. I would recommend this generally anyway, but you might find that you have to leave your bags under your bed in a train where anyone can walk past your bunk at any time so it’s a good idea to keep them locked.
8. Buy a sleep sheet. These are like sleeping bags, but made of a very thin layer of fabric so they take up much less space in your backpack. All the night trains I traveled on had clean sheets, but this might just give you extra peace of mind.
9. Take ear plugs. There is always noise on a night train, whether it’s other passengers walking around, talking, slamming doors or simply the noise of the train itself. Ear plugs will help to cancel out some of that noise.
10. Sleep mask. On one of my night train journeys I slept on the top bunk bed where I was directly underneath the light. There was no way to turn it off and it was really bright so I struggled to get any sleep that night. A sleep mask would have been ideal.
11. Flip flops. It’s good to have shoes that are easy to slip on and off for when you need to make a trip to the toilet in the middle of the night.
12. Tire yourself out. With all the noise, rocking motions and uncomfortable beds you might find it hard to sleep on an overnight train. Do lots of sightseeing or exercise on the day that you’ll be taking the train so it’s easier to fall asleep.
13. Comfortable clothes. Wear something really comfortable that you can also sleep in. If you’re in a private cabin you might want to change into sleepwear, but I slept in my clothes for most of my overnight train journeys. Either way, comfortable clothing is a must.
14. Throat lozenges. I ended up getting a bad cough in Vietnam and I think it might have had something to do with all the night train journeys – being enclosed in air-conditioned trains for hours. You might not think of needing throat lozenges in hot and sunny South-East Asia, but they are useful to have.
15. Take entertainment. If you do struggle to fall asleep, there’s no point being stuck bored in the dark for hours. Make sure you have books, music or other entertainment at the ready in case you can’t sleep.
I hope there are some useful tips here. Where did you travel by night train and what advice would you give? If you would like to share this post on Pinterest, feel free to use the picture below. xx