North Vietnam,  Vietnam

How to get from Hanoi to Sapa

Getting from Hanoi to Sapa is an adventure in itself. You basically have three choices: Bus, Private Van or Train. While you can book all three on the same platform, the prices, departure and arrival times and the experiences will vary greatly.

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Booking transportation from Hanoi to Sapa

Of course you can show up at the bus- or train-station on the day you’d like to travel and try to book a ticket there, but you might end up staying another night in Hanoi. Especially sleeper trains fill up quickly and the later you book the less choices you have.

I opted for a sleeper train for my transportation and booked my ticket online about a month in advance. On 12Go you buy tickets directly from the companies operating the trains, securing your seat.

After booking you’ll get an electronic ticket which you can use to check in on the day of.

If you want to take the train to Sapa there is something very important you need to know: You can’t actually take the train to Sapa. The train ends at Lao Cai. Then you either need to take the local bus for 50k VND or take a taxi for 200k to 400k VND to Sapa itself.

If you are worried to arrive early in the morning, in the dark, in a town that is still fast asleep, while waiting for your bus: Worry not. Lao Cai is waking up at 4:30 am and even if you miss the first bus (or it’s too full) you’ll have plenty of opportunities to grab a coffee or a bite to eat while waiting for the next one.

Sleeper trains in Vietnam

A lot of backpackers and budget travellers will take the sleeper bus, but since I know that their Vietnamese nickname (coffins on wheels) is very fitting they weren’t an option for me. Next consideration was the private transfer by van. I didn’t choose it, since you can’t lie down in it and you will loose six hours during the day for the drive.

My choice was the sleeper train. It departs at 10 pm, arrive at 5:30 am and you save on one night of accommodation. For your ticket on a sleeper train you have four choices:

  1. Hard berth 4 – 6 people in one cabin
  2. Soft berth 4 people in one cabin
  3. Premium travel with two people in a four person cabin
  4. First class VIP cabin that usually has a bed

I tried to book one bed in a two person cabin, but apparently you still have to book the entire cabin, which effectively means booking four tickets. So instead I opted for a bed in a a 4 person soft berth cabin. Your journey will depend a lot on the people you share a cabin with and I got lucky, all four of us were very considerate for each other and also all went to sleep at around 11:30 pm.

Sleeper train from Hanoi to Sapa

I took the sleeper train twice, both times with a different company. I went with Haraco from Hanoi to Sapa (although I had booked with Violette).

I showed up to the train station an hour before departure, as stated on the ticket. I exchanged my online ticket for a physical one and went to the platform where the train to Sapa was waiting.

Everything was fine until I got the the train car I was supposedly sitting in. A french couple got there at the same time and the woman had the same cabin and same bed as me on her ticket. Some discussions between the travel agent from our train company, one of the conductors and an agent from a different train company later I was issued a new ticket and told to go somewhere else.

When I arrived at my new cart my first thought was “oh :/” because it immediately looked A LOT older than the one I had booked.

However it turned out that this train journey was the best I went on in Vietnam. The bed was surprisingly comfortable, clean, smelled nice and we got some snacks and water for the journey. For a train it was relatively quiet and with earplugs I managed to get a full 6 hours of sleep!

The toilet was clean, although there was no toilet paper I didn’t have a problem since I always bring my own.

Sleeper train from Sapa to Hanoi

For the way back from Sapa to Hanoi I went with Laman Express, the company that is recommended by most travel agents, tour companies and even on 12Go.

When a company is that heavily recommended, while the reviews average out at the same level as most others there are two reasons: Either they have to advertise heavily or nobody would go with them anymore, or they are new. In this case Laman Express opened new train cars on the Hanoi-Sapa route not too long ago.

The bedding was newer, the amenities were mostly the same as on Haraco, except for an extra can of cola and supposedly there was free wifi, but my phone wouldn’t connect to it.

I got quite lucky again with the people I shared a cabin with, one female solo traveller from Switzerland and two ladies from HCMC and again we tried to sleep. Sadly this time the main door of the train car was broken and didn’t lock anymore, causing the metal door to slam into the metal wall of the train cart at every turn. I didn’t sleep much that night.

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