Sapa, the majestic mountainous village in Lao Cai Province, 380 km far from Hanoi-the capital of Vietnam, is one of the most popular attractions in the S-shaped country. If you go from Ho Chi Minh City, the quickest way that you catch a flight to Hanoi and then go to Sapa afterwards. Otherwise, traveling by train is another option on the table if you want to see the beautiful and heart-throbbing scenery on the way from Ho Chi Minh City without feeling bothered by long hour commuting. To get to Sapa from Hanoi, there are several transportation options for you to consider.
- By train
Train is considered the most popular transportation chosen among tourists. Even though it has just lost the advantages of traveling time and ticket price to bus, train still has its own charms. Traveling by train usually takes from 8 to 9 hours to go to Lao Cai from Hanoi. Overnight train is faster and more comfortable than day train as the day train makes a few more stops on the way to Sapa. The overnight train departs from Hanoi Train Station at night and arrives in Lao Cai Train Station in the morning. There is no rail to Sapa; therefore, you need to catch a bus, a taxi or motorbike-taxi (xe om).
You can find information about ticket price and train schedule on the Internet via some websites that are available in English such as Vietnam-railway.com. It is advisable to book ticket online via travel agency and request to have the ticket mailed to your hotel in Hanoi. Otherwise, you may end up being in a long queue and struggling to communicate in English with receptionist if you choose to buy ticket at the train station.
While searching information, you may come across some names such as Sapaly Express, King Express, Livitran Express and so forth, which are different private train service providers operating on the same train route between Hanoi and Sapa. The private tourist trains offer a wide range of service which is categorized into four options: 2-berth cabin, 4-berth cabin, 6-berth cabin and soft-seat cabin. Based on the service offered, the ticket prices vary from 20 USD per person to 45 USD per person. The most common chosen option is the 4-berth cabin, which is at an affordable price range and also equipped with clean beds and convenient amenities.
The following table provides you with the suggested train schedule from Hanoi to Lao Cai and the ticket fare:
There are a few things that you should do when traveling by train
- You should be at the train station at least 15 minutes early. To find the exact train you should get on is not a no-brainer job.
- Never lose sight of keeping an eye on your own stuff even if you are in a luxury cabin. Many passengers reported having their stuff stolen while they slept or stopped being vigilant for a few minutes. At the end of the day, as the proverb says, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
2. By bus
Few years ago, bus was not a preferable transportation among tourists since it usually took 10 to 11 hours to get to Sapa from Hanoi. Moreover, the old, bumpy and poorly-conditioned road to Sapa and the recklessness of the bus driver could cause nerve-wracking experience for passengers. Consequently, traveling by bus was not preferable even though a bus ticket was much cheaper than a train ticket. Since the brand-new and modern highway connecting Hanoi and Sapa opened on September 2014, traveling time by bus has been reduced to 6 hours. Furthermore, while traveling by train, you have to catch a shuttle bus or a taxi to go from Lao Cai Train Station to Sapa, you will go directly from Hanoi to Sapa by one bus. As a result, traveling by bus is now faster, less tiring, safer and more comfortable. At the same time, when traveling by buses, you will have a chance to enjoy picturesque and photogenic view on the way. Thanks to the pricing advantage and flexible schedule, bus is expected to take over train to be the most chosen transportation soon.
In addition, you can find information about ticket price, bus schedule and bus departing location on the Internet. There are a few websites providing information about bus ticket available in English, but they are certainly not as comprehensive as the ones in Vietnamese. To avoid any online scams, you can either directly buy at the bus station (My Dinh or Luong Yen Bus Station) or ask your Vietnamese friends to verify the information on the Internet for you.
The ticket prices vary from 200.000 VND (around 9 USD) to 550.000 VND (around 25 USD), depending on the types of bus and the service offered. The ticket prices can go up from 20% to 30% on Vietnamese public holidays.
The following table provides you some suggestions about the common buses from Hanoi to Sapa, including types of bus, one-way ticket price and bus schedules.
Exchange rate used: 1 USD= 22.000 VND
3. By private car
If you want to have more leeway and flexibility in your travel itinerary, then you can rent a private car. On the way from Hanoi, you can request to make a stop at some beautiful attractions such as Bac Ha, Mai Chau to name a few. The private car is certainly more expensive than train and bus, but if you are traveling in a group, it is quite affordable.
Below are some suggested private car options that are available. The price includes driver’s salary, gasoline and other expenses.
Exchange rate used: 1 USD= 22.000 VND
4. By motorbike
Traffic in Vietnam is notorious for its chaos. For foreigners, riding motorbike can be very dangerous in the vicinity of a city, let alone on the road from Hanoi to Sapa. If you are experienced motorcyclist and also get used to the traffic in Vietnam, then riding motorbike to Sapa would be a fairly attainable challenge. For safety issue, it is not recommended to go to Sapa from Hanoi by motorbike on your own. Instead, you should go on a motorbike tour with local tour guide, which usually takes 3 days to get to Sapa from Hanoi. Joining a motorbike tour, you will have a chance to stop by a few amazingly wonderful places along the way, such as Mai Chau, Moc Chau and Than Uyen. The tour price varies according to the number of guests; it is much cheaper when you travel in group.
5. By bike
For any professional cyclists, it is undoubtedly a real challenge to ride a bike from Lao Cai to Sapa, let alone from Hanoi to Sapa. Moreover, without local guidance, you may encounter a lot of difficulties that are unforeseeable. There are bike tours from Hanoi to Sapa, provided by some tour operators such as Sapa Cycling Tours and Vietnam Bike tours. Cycling to Sapa is not a light work that you can handle without preparation. If you are determined to ride a bike to Sapa from Hanoi, make sure to test your physical health and endurance in other shorter routes first.
6. By helicopter
In 2015, KFL Group launched its helicopter service, providing various flight packages for high-income domestic and international tourists. The Airbus helicopter is controlled by one or two experienced pilots and is able to carry from 5 to 6 adults. A one-hour flight costs 2600 USD and a two-way Hanoi-Sapa trip costs 9240 USD for 3.5 hours. By far, it is the quickest and most expensive way to travel between Hanoi and Sapa.
Well, if you are second Forrest Gump, then go for it. “Run, Forrest, Run!” The road from Hanoi to Sapa is probably approximately nine times a marathon race. Let me put it this way. Assuming that your average running speed is 10 kilometers per hour, you will get to Sapa from Hanoi in 38 hours or one and a half day without sleeping, eating or even going to toilet. In reality, even if you ignore all the unimaginable difficulties caused by traffic and weather, and more importantly, you are in extremely good shape, it will probably take you several days to make it to Sapa. Nevertheless, you will create a lot of unforgettable experiences that nobody can, seeing the vastness and beauty of natural surroundings and meeting new people along the way. Just make sure you are both mentally and physically ready for “the race of your life”.