We booked through 12go.Asia and were very happy with the information provided prior to booking and found the tongue in cheek, say it like it is, info provided with the tickets highly entertaining and having lived in Asia for 10 yrs very accurate! For example they say if you may a phone call to the train operator and you sound like you’re speaking Klingon they will just hang up on you! We travelled in a Violette carriage. Boarding the train at Hanoi was easy. We checked in at the ticketing booth in the waiting room and were told our carriage and cabin number. When we went to go through the barriers the same lady appeared and gave our actual tickets directly to the attendant, to stop us losing it I guess! We couldn’t board the train until 30 mins before dept so the recommended ‘be there an hour before’ is actually plenty of time. The cabin was as expected: 4 berths and a table, 4 bottles of water, 4 over ripe bananas and some ( not very nice) chocolate biscuits. A USB port and reading light above each bed. Plenty of space under the bottom bunks to store suitcases but large hard shell ones may not fit. Top bunks have some small storage shelves by the beds. Each bunk has a small rail and a hook, a pillow, duvet and bottom sheet. It did get a bit cold but a a jumper was sufficient and the children said the top bunks were coldest as they were closer to the aircon. ( note we travelled in Dec and Hanoi was freezing so maybe it wouldn’t be cold in the summer, I don’t know!) We read the reviews in advance and so were prepared with extra toilet roll, disposable toilet seat covers and hand soap: all were def needed. We also took rubber flip flops to wear when going to toilet.
We had read the reviews about the bedding not being changed and so took our own silk liners and slept inside them above the sheet, under the duvet and with the pillow inside the pillow pocket; seemed a hygienic way around the problem! I had also been warned about the lack of and quality of food but that there was plenty of free hot water so we took plenty of snacks, coffee and hot chocolate sachets and pot noodles. Take your own spoons and cups etc and a thermos coffee cup/ flask for getting the hot water. We also took wet wipes which were great for freshening up on the train and wiping the sink down for teeth brushing etc. We were so glad we did this journey by train. The experience was fun, the scenery was interesting and beautiful. It was much less stressful than flying and probably what me and my children( 16 and 13) will talk about more than anything else when we return from our trip.
Additional point: we were in a Violette cabin, the state run 1st class cabins seemed the same except the bottom fitted sheet was more like a thinly padded mat placed on top of the mattress but apart from that exactly the same. Both these carriages seemed to have similar people in them ( I don’t mean race, there was a mixture of Caucasians, Asians, Indian etc) by that I mean friendly and respectful when we walked through the carriages. The locally run 2nd class carriages were the same except that they had 3 bunks on each side so you couldn’t sit upright and less storage space. Because of that there were more people spilling into the corridors chatting loudly or on their phones and gathering and smoking where the carriages connected. It was not intimidating at all but it was quite noisy with chatting and phone calls. Whereas the Livitrains and Violette were quieter and more restful. Equally there would have been more people to share the bathrooms etc. If you choose to take a seat and not a cabin that seemed fine too for the money. We would have considered that had we been just adults but it wouldn’t have been as relaxing. For example some people were playing games on their phones without turning their sound down and that would’ve got on my nerves after 16 hours!
If I did it again (and we def would!) the only thing we would take extra would be an eye mask each and some good ear plugs but it was fine - we didn’t really expect a really good nights sleep but what we got was okay!