If you’re planning a trip to Sapa during your Vietnam travels and wondering about your options, here’s a quick look at what I believe is the best way to get to Sapa from Hanoi. Here you’ll find all the information you need to figure out how to take the overnight express train from Hanoi to Sapa.
The overnight express trains take you from Hanoi to Lao Cai, 38 kms away from Sapa. In Hanoi, be sure to get to Tran Quy Cap (Hanoi train station B). If a travel agent has sent you a voucher by email, you will need to exchange this for a real ticket at the respective travel company’s desk located around the B station. Look around carefully to find the travel company whose name is mentioned on your voucher, but be sure not to hand over your voucher to a random person who offers to help you or someone who is not from the company.
There have been cases of touts offering to help tourists who naively hand over the voucher to the tout, only to have money extorted from them in return for the voucher. It is best to be at the station at least 90 minutes before departure. There are many overnight express sleeper trains, the Orient Express, Fansipan Express and Sapaly Express enjoy a good reputation. I chose the AC soft sleeper in the Sapaly Express which in February 2014 cost me 45$ each way.
The train has wooden cabins with four berths each, two upper level ones and two lower. The cabins are very clean, and each berth comes with a soft pillow, comfortable mattress, clean blanket, electrical socket and reading light. A bottle of water, fresh pair of soft slippers and dental kit are provided for each person. Food (instant noodles mainly) and beverages are sold in the train.
During both my journeys from Hanoi and returning from Lao Cai, I arrived one and a half to two hours later than he mentioned times of arrival, which makes me believe that this is a frequent occurrence. So if you plan onward travel, like I did to Halong Bay on the same morning that I arrived in Hanoi from Lao Cai, be sure to allow time for delays. On arrival in Lao Cai, you will see many tourist buses to take you from Lao Cai to Sapa by a one hour long drive through winding mountain roads. This should cost you no more than 2-3$. These will drop you to a specific hotel if you have one or in the center of Sapa town if you don’t. Here’s a picture of the comfy upper level berth.
If you’re planning to stay in Sapa for a few days, you might find my list of top 5 places to eat in Sapa useful. For ideas on what you can do while you’re there, read about Cat Cat village, trekking to Lao Chai and the Bac Ha Tribal market. You can also visit my Vietnam travel blog for more ideas.
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Monday 2nd of February 2015
Now you don't have to catch night train, with 4 hours run by car from Ha Noi via new highway you'll see Sapa :)
Tuesday 15th of July 2014
I think this is the soft sleeper I'm taking on my way to Sapa from Hanoi, I've heard mixed reviews so we were thinking about getting a 2 person cabin if they're still available. Thanks for the tips about dealing with the voucher, is it possible to just get a hard copy of the ticket from a travel agent when your pay for it or do they always send an email voucher?
Tuesday 15th of July 2014
The soft sleeper is quite comfortable. I was in a 4 person cabin and didn't have any problems. I am not sure if it's possible to get a hard copy, I think that most travel agents give you the voucher and you need to exchange that for a hard copy at the station. Please feel free to ask me if you have any questions and enjoy your time in Vietnam. :) Cheers, Natasha