North Korea’s Kim begins train journey to Hanoi for summit with Trump

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un departed Pyongyang on Saturday aboard a special train that will take him through China to Vietnam, where he is set to meet with US President Donald Trump next week.

A welcoming banner with images of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hangs at a South Korean restaurant ahead of USA-DPRK summit in Hanoi.

If the train does trundle all the way to Hanoi carrying the North Korean leader, it will mean a almost 4,000-km, 60-hour journey on board for Kim.

Kim is visiting Vietnam at the invitation of President Nguyen Phu Trong, who is also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, Vietnam's foreign ministry said in a statement earlier on Saturday, but it gave no further details.

The report came hours after Vietnam announced that Kim would make an official visit in "coming days", as the Southeast Asian country prepares to host the summit with Trump on Wednesday and Thursday.

He is expected to arrive in Vietnam on February 25. The move implies that Kim may take a train and disembark at the Dong Dang railway station and proceed by vehicle to Hanoi.

Vietnamese police have stepped up security around the border station.

North Korea's state media has yet to confirm either Kim's trip to Vietnam or his summit with Trump.

Kim would then have another, long train ride south to Vietnam. Their first summit last June in Singapore ended without substantive agreements and triggered a months-long stalemate in negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang as they struggled with the sequencing of North Korea's nuclear disarmament and the removal of US -led sanctions against the North.

The engine and carriages appeared similar, possibly identical, to the train Kim used the previous year to travel to the Chinese capital for his first overseas visit.

Travel by train has been a favorite mode of transport for Kim Jong Un, and his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung.

China has one of the most extensive railway systems in the world, with 130,000km of tracks - enough infrastructure to circle the Earth three times.

Kim travelled to Singapore by plane on loan from China.

But China may view the hassle as a necessary cost to get Kim to the summit, he told AFP news agency. While North Korea has repeatedly demanded that the United States take corresponding measures, including sanctions relief, Washington has called for more concrete steps from Pyongyang toward denuclearization.

  • Joey Payne