Top 20 tips for surviving sleeper trains in Vietnam (+ essential checklist!)

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Top 20 tips for surviving sleeper trains in Vietnam (+ checklist of everything you need!)

Taking sleeper trains in Vietnam can be a daunting prospect if you’ve never experienced anything like it before! Even more so if you’re in an unfamiliar country and backpacking for the first-time! But the more you know, the better prepared you’ll be and a greater experience you’ll have. Here are my top 20 tips for surviving sleeper trains in Vietnam. You’ll be totally fine I promise – you’ve got this! 😉

Checklist of everything you’ll need:

1) Get a bottom bunk

This is more of a personal preference as I like to have the freedom to be able to get up and move around on long journeys. But honestly it’s a logistical nightmare to try and maneuver yourself down from the top bunk without slipping on your face or rocking the bunk below so much you wake the person up!

If you want to have a little more space, easier access to your bag and the freedom to come and go – bagsy a bottom bunk!  

Some backpackers opt for a top bunk because it makes them feel safer if someone were to come into your cabin in the night. However, bunkbed cabins on sleeper trains in Vietnam are lockable, so you’ll feel completely safe!

You can also hear a pin drop between cabins and staff are regularly going up and down the carriages so if anything were to occur, everyone on the train would know about it!

Mel from Footsteps on the Globe with friends each sat on a bunk on an overnight train in Vietnam taken selfie style from the door to the room

2) Check your bed for cockroaches!

I’m sorry to break this to you but your cabin will most likely have cockroaches, so you need to check your mattress before settling down!

But don’t worry they’re really small and won’t bother you for the most part. I’m afraid they’re just an inevitability on sleeper trains in Vietnam!

You may get lucky though as on one overnight train I only came across a couple which scurried away as I walked into my cabin. However, on another overnight train, about 50 of the little suckers were scurrying up all over the walls when I moved the mattress. It was a nightmare!  

The train cockroaches like to hide in the bunks so when you get into your cabin, lift up your mattress and shoo any away before you lie down.

But please don’t worry, you won’t wake up with cockroaches crawling on your face or anything (although admittedly it was a reoccurring fear of mine as I fell asleep!).

The initial cockroach wacky races which occur when you first enter the cabin quickly disappear. You’re likely to only see the odd one after that but it’s just so you’re aware!

Bunkbeds on the overnight train in Vietnam with white sheets and a window in the background with brown curtains partly drawn

3) Get a padlock for your backpack

Sleeper trains in Vietnam may have lockable cabins but if you’re travelling solo and sharing a cabin with strangers I recommend having padlocks for your backpacks for additional security.

There are no lockers to store your things on the train so keep your bags tucked away and in sight at all times. Keep personal items such as passport, money, phone and jewellery, with you in your bunk. 

Of course padlocks are not fail-safe (as in theory your whole bag could be stolen), but the padlocks will act as an added deterrent to potential pick pockets.

Get backpack padlocks

Door lock on the overnight train in Vietnam pictured from the bottom bunk

4) Be ready for bed before you board the train

Sleeper train cabins in Vietnam are quite cramped and awkward to move around in once everyone is in their bunks. This is why I recommend being ready for bed BEFORE you board the train.

I wear leggings and a t-shirt which transition from day wear into comfortable night wear. I would also recommend footwear that is easy to get on and off such as flip flops. This makes it easier to get shoes on in the dark after bedtime if you need the toilet.

I also do my night time routine beforehand which includes, removing my make up, moisturising, taking out my contacts and brushing my teeth so I’m not trying to keep my footing at the train sink to do all these things in the toilet cabin.

The toilet cabin is also not the cleanest place to do your night time routine (as you’ll discover) which is also why I recommend doing all this before you get on the train!

If you’re boarding the train earlier in the evening and will be eating and drinking before bed, just leave brushing your teeth until you’re ready to go to bed. But do everything else!

Mel wearing a stripped blue dress, walking on the train tracks in Vietnam with her back to the camera


In the same way I recommend YOU being ready for bed before boarding the train, I also recommend getting your bag ready at the same time. There’s nothing worse than having to empty the entire contents of your backpack to try and find your toothbrush that has fallen to the bottom!

I recommend packing cubes to organise all your things so you know where everything is before you board. This way you won’t disturb anyone when you’re trying to feel around in the dark to find something.  

As well as being great for organising all your things, packing cubes will save you a tonne of space in your backpack. You don’t even have to buy expensive ones, I have these Amazon basic range ones, they’re cheap and cheerful but get the job done! 

Get packing cubes.

Lots of bags on the floor and bottom bunk beds on the overnight train in Vietnam


Noise cancelling headphones aren’t essential but a decent pair of cans can really make the difference when backpacking. Even more so on an overnight train!

People are chattering, walking up and down the corridor to the toilet and banging doors. But with noise cancelling headphones on, you won’t lose sound quality or have to increase the volume too high if the cabin is too noisy.

I have the older, wired version of the Bose QuietComfort SE Bluetooth wireless noise cancelling headphones, which are mid-range noise-cancelling headphones. I couldn’t recommend them enough as they’re super comfy on your ears (even to sleep in) and the sound quality it top notch.

Mine have lasted me for YEARS as well so they’re well worth the investment!

Get noise cancelling headphones.

Mel from Footsteps on the Globe lying on the bottom bunk on the overnight train in Vietnam with headphones on resting on a yellow pillow and sticking her tongue out taking a selfie

7) Take earplugs

Earplugs are a MUST HAVE if you are travelling on sleeper trains in Vietnam! In addition to general noise and people walking up and down the cabin, once everyone settles down to go to bed, you may be stuck sleeping next to a snorer! And unlike your partner who you can give a gentle kick to stop, this ain’t happening in bunk beds on an overnight train!

But with a combination of earplugs and noise cancelling headphones, you won’t hear a thing! As a combo they are a lifesaver on any long journey to block out noise and help you sleep!

You can pick earplugs up from any health and beauty retailer in the UK like Superdrug or Boots. I’ve always sworn by mouldable wax earplugs as you can mould them to fit properly in your ears, making them far more comfortable than foam ear plugs. They never fall out either which is a bonus!

I’ve used wax earplugs for years on my travels now but for backpacking in India recently I decided to try some Loop earplugs. You may have seen these viral earplugs all over Insta and TikTok and been skeptical, but they’re honestly AMAZING! I wish I’d had them when I was backpacking through Vietnam!

Loop earplugs come in a case of four different sized heads made of silicone so you can pick the size that is the most comfortable and best fit for your ears. They also come in a cute, little travel case!

I absolutely LOVE them and can’t hear a bloody thing when I’m wearing them, which is perfect! 😂

Get mouldable wax earplugs.

Get Loop earplugs.

Mint green loop ear plugs


I’ve never been a fan of travelling with neck pillows until I found a memory foam travel pillow that clipped at the front!

These travel pillows literally mould to the shape of your face making them super comfortable! The clip on the front also stops your head from bobbing forward. This is what always woke me up before when using cheap bean-filled neck pillows! 

You will get a pillow on the train but they are tiny, barely-there pillows that aren’t great to sleep on. They’re also not the cleanest so you’ll want to have your own pillow for extra support. 

The memory foam travel pillows also have a removable cover so they can be washed for your next overnight journey.

Get a memory foam travel pillow.

Mel taking a selfie lying down on the top bunk of a sleeper train in India wearing a black and white strippy t-shirt


People turn their lights out at around 11pm on the train but light from the corridor, other people’s devices and anything residual in the cabin may keep you awake, so just in case I recommend bringing an eye mask.

I’ve never liked eye masks to be honest, I’m a bit weird and just don’t like the feeling of them on my face when I sleep! This was until I found the 100% blackout sleep mask, which has zero eye pressure but blocks out every scrap of light!

But if you’re not a fan of eye masks like old me, just take a scarf you can throw over your head! Scarves are super versatile for travelling and can double up as eye masks and blankets too!

Get a black-out eye mask.

Corridor on the overnight train in Vietnam

10) Pack essential medication

My number one tip for travelling around Vietnam is to always pack essential medication to last for the duration of your trip.

You never know where the nearest pharmacy will be when you’re backpacking and a language barrier only makes it more difficult to find the right medication. I recommend packing emergency medication for diarrhea, upset stomach/ nausea, pain and motion sickness.

Please also ensure you pack enough medication for any pre-existing conditions too! As you’ll have probably guessed I’m not a doctor (LOL) so please get the right prescriptions from your doctor before you travel and get all the vaccines you need prior to departure.

General Medication checklist:

  • Paracetamol – standard pain killers for headaches etc.
  • Motion sickness tablets – a natural, non-drowsy remedy for the relief of travel and motion sickness. I only tend to get motion sick on boats but I felt a bit sick on the trains in Vietnam so I wouldn’t take any chances! It’s not easy to jump out of the top bunk in the middle of the night if you feel like you’re going to be sick, so avoid this and take some motion sickness tablets just in case you do start to feel queasy.
  • Imodium (or similar) – used to treat sudden diarrhea (especially traveller’s diarrhea!) by slowing down the movement of the gut. The “instant” tablets are fantastic because they instantly dissolve on your tongue so you don’t even need water. I’ve found these tablets to be best as they work super quickly (which is exactly what you need if this kind of situation occurs!).
  • Rennies (or similar) – relieves the symptoms of heartburn and indigestion by containing antacid to neutralise excess stomach acid. It’s basically minty chalk that settles your stomach and is especially great if you’re feeling nauseous, or hungover!
  • Dioralyte (or similar) – blackcurrant flavoured electrolyte and mineral salt sachets which reduces dehydration and helps replace lost body water and salts. These sachets are great for if you have stomach issues too to ensure you get rehydrated and feeling on top form again!
Box of paracetamol with some loose tablets

11) CHARGE ALL DEVICES BEFORE YOU GET ON and pack a power bank

There are power outlets on the trains but it’s so much easier if all your devices are charged before you board to avoid fighting over plugs when you get on.

I’d also recommend packing a power bank as your charge will only take you so far on an overnight journey. I use this power bank as it’s fast charging and allows you to charge multiple devices at once.

If you’re only charging your phone, you’ll be able to recharge it at least four times with this power bank before the bank itself needs charging!

Get a rechargeable power bank.

Woman sat on a bed holding a phone on instagram

12) Take HAND SANITISER and anti-bacterial WIPES

I’m afraid sleeper trains in Vietnam aren’t the cleanest! Although, I can confirm they are WAY cleaner than the ones in India, so thank you Vietnam!

The bed sheets provided are washed after each journey (but not always) and rubbish is cleared from each compartment but surfaces and bunkbeds are not cleaned.

This is why I suggest packing hand sanitiser and anti-bacterial wipes. The wipes are so multi-functional which makes them fantastic for backpacking! They’re great for freshen yourself up, wiping your hands, cleaning down surfaces and bunkbeds and cleaning up any spills in your backpack.   

One pack of these wipes lasted for the full four weeks I was travelling around South East Asia but I went through about three bottles of hand sanitiser so I recommend buying more of that before you travel!

Get hand sanitiser.

Get 2-in-1 anti-bacterial wipes.

Dettol wipes and a sanitiser

13) Bring your own toilet paper

Toilet paper isn’t as widely used in South East Asia as handheld bidets are more popular (or ‘bum guns’ as I call them! 😂), so you’ll need to bring your own toilet paper on the overnight train.

This is a general rule to follow in South East Asia as usually it’s often only hotels that provide toilet paper. Even some restaurants don’t give you toilet paper so always carry some in your bag just in case.

Hand holding a toilet roll

14) Buy food and water before you board

You can buy food and drink on the train but your choices are limited so it’s just better to bring your own.

If you’re vegan like me (or have any other special dietary requirements) it makes your food choices even more limited. For one journey I got a takeaway box of pasta from a local café to have for dinner and then bought crisps, fruit and nuts for if I felt peckish later on.

For other journeys I just ate a big dinner before I boarded the train so I wouldn’t get hungry but it just depends on what time boarding is and how long the journey is. For this reason, I always recommend taking your own food on board.

Don’t forget to take a big bottle of water too to stay hydrated.

Mel from Footsteps on the Globe eating noodles at the Ben Thanh Food Market in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam wearing a red dress


I know, I know, I’m sorry to be a Debbie Downer! Many a backpacker (especially if they are travelling in groups) will bring alcohol onto the train and have a mini party in their cabin.

Unfortunately, it’s lights out at around 11pm on sleeper trains in Vietnam and you’re required to be quiet. You don’t want to be half lit and stuck in a tiny bunkbed as your hangover kicks in. It’s just not worth it!  

By all means have a couple of drinks, enjoy your food and play some games with your fellow travellers but avoid drinking excessively. You’ll thank me later when your head’s not thumping and you’re not too wired to sleep.  

Mel and two friends drinking cocktails in a colourful night club in Ho Chi Minh City
City in Vietnam
What ever you do, don’t go out the night before either! Here’s me on an ill-advised night out in Ho Chi Minh City!

16) Carry some cash

Cash is still King in South East Asia. You’ll likely be used to hearing this advice if you’re preparing to travel around Vietnam but carry a little cash with you just in case you do need to buy any drinks or snacks on the train.

Backpackers boarding a blue and red train in Vietnam


If you’re one of those people who can spend hours with your nose in a book, that’s great! You can ignore this whole point. But for those of you that need Spotify and Netflix to survive long journeys, download everything you need before you board the train!

There is wifi on sleeper trains in Vietnam but it’s unreliable at best! So make sure you’ve downloaded all the shows you want to watch and Spotify playlists you want to listen to before you get on the train.

You need to prepare entertainment just in case you can’t sleep at any point!

Netflix home screen on the screen of a mac laptop


You can’t regulate the temperature on the train, it’s too hot, then too cold, then sweltering, then freezing, depending on what the air con situation is! The point is though, you need to prepare for all temperature inevitabilities.

I sleep in a t-shirt and leggings or shorts on the sleeper trains in Vietnam which means I’m comfortable to go to sleep but dressed if I needed to leave the cabin to go to the toilet in the night. I then layered up when it got too cold with my hoodie and scarf. My scarf also doubles up as a cover if I need it.

If you get too hot, you can always take layers off but it’s always good to be prepared.

Bunkbeds on the overnight train in Vietnam pictured from the bottom bunk


I’ve mentioned a couple of times in this post that trains in Vietnam are ‘reasonably clean’. However, you’ll find as the journey goes on, they will quickly become less clean – particularly in the toilet department *wince*.

Avoid stepping in anything you really don’t want to be wiping off your feet late at night by always wearing your shoes when walking around the train! 

Keep your shoes tucked under the bottom bed in case you need to go to the toilet after bedtime and remove them before getting back into your bunk.

If you end up touching something, you’ve got your handy anti-bacterial wipes at hand! 😉

Train corridor on a Vietnamese sleeper train


There may be cockroaches, questionable bed sheet cleanliness and no toilet paper but just embrace it! Above all else don’t forget to have fun and enjoy these new experiences.

Remember: “It’s about the journey, not the destination”. And friends, it’s one hell of a unique journey, so enjoy! 😉

Group shot of travellers posing on the train tracks at a train station in Vietnam

Checklist of everything you’ll need:

Have you ever been on any sleeper trains in Vietnam? Share your experience below if you have!

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