How to get to Sapa, Vietnam
A 9-hr train ride from Hanoi, the journey to Sapa is an adventure itself. There are so many private operators for this route that I got confused trying to book my tickets online from Singapore. Here’s how we managed to get from NoiBai International Airport to Sapa town:
NoiBai International Airport to Hanoi Railway Station – Airport Transfer
Getting to town by public transport involved one too many transfers along the way. So, we decided to board a taxi right outside the airport. Our trip cost us VND380,000 (USD18). For a 45min ride, I guess we can’t complain.
If you have a day in Hanoi before boarding the train at night, you can also drop your bags at the ‘luggage storage’ at the railway station for VND40,000 (USD2).
Hanoi to Lao Cai – Overnight train
It took us awhile to realize that the different rail companies are all part of the same train going to Sapa – separate carriages that latch onto one public train service. Also, “official” online booking portals are actually websites of independent tour agents, taking orders online and then mailing the purchased tickets to your hotel in Hanoi. In the end, it was less cost, less hassle to get a public train ticket over the counter.
Hence, we decided to take the risk and buy our return tickets on the same day of departure (Sat night). Our experience was a smooth and easy one. Note: this is only advisable if your ride doesn’t coincide with any Vietnamese public holiday, or if you’re not competing with other local tourists to travel on a Friday night.
There are two trains every night. We took the later SP3 from Hanoi to Lao Cai (depart 21:50, arrive 06:25). The other option is SP1 which departs 21:10, arrives 05:30.
For our return trip, we took SP4 from Lao Cai to Hanoi (depart 20:20, arrive 04:45).
A one-way ticket costs VND545,000 (USD25) – half of what we would have paid if we booked online.
Our bunks were new, clean and equipped with bottled waters, biscuits, wet tissues, charging ports and personal bedside lamps. Couldn’t have asked for more!
Lao Cai to Sapa – Private van transfer
There is an open space carpark right outside Lao Cai Railway station where there are plenty of private vans waiting to bring you to Sapa.
Even before we got there, a lady had already approached us in our train cabin. We accepted her offer of VND50,000 (USD2.50) and was ushered to her operator’s van. While walking over, her partner-in-cahoots actually told us to keep the price to ourselves. We realized why when we got on.
“USD10 per pax”, they answered to a bunch of caucasian tourists, who eventually bargained down to USD5 each.
The 45min drive to Sapa is a winding, bumpy road so for those who are prone to motion sickness, make sure you carry a plastic bag just in case!
I hope this helps you enjoy a smooth journey to Sapa! Here’re 5 things you can do in Sapa when you arrive.
Also, here’s where I stayed (highly recommended!):