Sapa is a district town of Lao Cai province, it does not have any nearby airport so the only option to get to Sapa is by road or rail, and the most popular destinations to reach Sapa are Hanoi, Cat Ba, and Ninh Binh. However, most routes will pass Hanoi so no matter what transport you go, it is ideal to get to Hanoi and continue the journey. From Hanoi, travelers can choose between a limousine van, sleeper bus, and private car, a combination of train and bus, or renting a motorbike to travel to Sapa. This article will give you detailed information that will help you decide which method of transportation is the most suitable for you.
Located in the northwest of Vietnam, Sapa is a mountainous town, it attracts tourists with pristine rice terraces, sweeping mountain views, and the fascinating culture of colorful ethnic hill tribes. A lot of tourists travel to Sapa from Hanoi (with a distance of 315 kilometers) as it’s the most popular and convenient travel route. Since there are many options to get to Sapa, it can be confusing which travel options to use. Following are the various ways and their differences that could be useful for you.
Overnight train to Sapa
Regarding the train, it is the choice of the majority of travellers who travel to Sapa overnight, and transferring by train is the safest choice. It is considered to be more comfortable and safer than a bus, and a lot cheaper than hiring a car. The only direct train to Lao Cai is from Hanoi so if you are travelling from other destinations, you have to reach Hanoi and hop on the train.
You will get to Lao Cai station and catch another bus from Lao Cai to Sapa. You can book your train ticket by visiting a travel agency, contacting a ticket sale agent, or buying directly from the railway station (on Tran Quy Cap Street, Hanoi). Tickets are from soft-sleeper class to hard-seat berths or private rail carriages. You should buy tickets beforehand to avoid sold-out conditions during the travel season.
Three sleeper trains leave Hanoi Railway Station each evening, at 20:35 (SP7), 21:10 (SP1), and 21:50 (SP3). They take around 8 hours and 20 minutes to reach Lao Cai City. The return journey departure times are 17:30 (SP8), 20:15 (SP2), and 21:00 (SP4) (trains have even numbers in the return direction). The SP1, SP2, SP3, and SP4 mainly comprise privately run sleeper cabins, and the SP7 and SP8 also have soft seats. If you are looking for a cheaper option, or cannot get onto one of the SP trains, the LC1 leaves Hanoi at 22:00 and the return LC2 departs at 18:45. This takes around an hour and has no option of soft sleepers rather than hard seats. The one daytime train departs at 06:10 (LC3), 09:15 (LC4) and arrives more than 10 hours later.
Some cars on the train are operated by private railway companies. They are generally four-berth or two-berth sleepers that range from $20 USD up to $150 USD depending on quality and standards.
From the Lao Cai railway station, travellers still have to go an extra 35km (about 22 miles) to get to Sapa town. As usual, mini busses depart from Lao Cai every 30 minutes with a cost of VND 28000 (a little bit more than $1). The ticket is available for purchase at the train station gate. Regularly, the bus stop is right in front of Sapa Church, yet you can also ask the bus driver to drop you off at your accommodation in the town. In addition, most hotels in Sapa offer this minibus transfer service so you can double-check when making the reservation.
Bus on the highway to Sapa
Travelling to Sapa by bus is the most common method of transportation since it is comfortable and cheap in comparison with other transports. Buses to Sapa have many available departure times, mainly in the morning and in the late evening. The benefits of transferring by bus, passengers can travel directly to Sapa town and with this vehicle, you can travel from either Hanoi, Ninh Binh, or Cat Ba since there are some bus companies that offer the routes. Anyhow, travelling by bus from Hanoi to Sapa takes 6 hours whereas travelling from Ninh Binh to Sapa takes 8 hours, same with Cat Ba – Sapa route.
Sleeping bus to Sapa
Taking the sleeper bus is one of the best ways to travel to Sapa and around Vietnam in general. Riders can extend their legs and recline the seat to a 150° angle then sleep during the ride. The sleeper buses normally have 38 or 40 seats, consisting of three rows of berths which are two on the sides and one row in the middle. All buses are equipped with air conditioning, wi-fi, water, and other amenities. Some buses even have English-speaking tour guide to support if you need.
Some bus companies now offer private cabins on their luxury VIP buses. These buses have only 20 seats which creates a spacious and enjoyable area for their passengers. Each of the cabins is equipped with USB plugs to charge your devices, an LCD TV, reading lights, a pillow, and a blanket along with its own curtains which provide you with the ultimate privacy. Besides, every traveler receives a bottle of water and wet tissue. As the quality is better than the regular sleeper bus yet the price is just slightly higher. The ticket for traveling one way costs $17 per person or $30 per double berth cabin.
In case you take the overnight sleeper bus, consider bringing eye masks and earplugs in order to have a better sleep. Don’t be so worry if you arrive in Sapa in the pitch black of early morning (around 04:00 AM) as the bus companies will let you sleep on the bus until the sun comes up (around 06:00 or 07:00).
Luxury Limousine Van to Sapa
If you’d rather not travel by bus and are willing to spend a little more, then going by minivan is a great option. It’ll get you into Sapa faster and it isn’t considerably more expensive than the bus. Plus, some include hotel pickup in Hanoi which is very convenient.