The world is waiting | How to get to Sapa, Vietnam
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How to get to Sapa, Vietnam

How to get to Sapa, Vietnam


All ready to board our overnight train to Sapa!

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.


Dropping right at the doorstep of Hanoi Railway Station. This is the back entrance.

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).


The unofficial Hanoi Railway Station luggage storage

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.


Getting our return tix to Sapa at the Hanoi Railway Station counter

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.


Making our way to our cabin

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!


Not too shabby for our ‘public cabin’

Lao Cai to Sapa – Private van transfer


Carpark outside Lao Cai Railway Station

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!):

Sapa Unique Hotel

Sapa Unique Hotel

View from my room at Sapa Unique Hotel

  • You can buy also train tickets from abroad on It is not true about the “…half of what we would have paid if we booked online”. Soft bed on SP3 train from costs around 450 000 dongs with comission. Price around USD 50 for one way ticket is for tourist train (eg. Orient Express, Sapaly….), but it is not necessary to take these tourist trains.

    October 29, 2016 at 9:16 am
  • John allain

    hi, so it would be cheaper if we buy the train tickets right at the station?

    January 24, 2017 at 3:50 pm
  • @John: I think nope, fare is the same while I book online or at station. But sometime travel agent charge you abit $1.5 for service fee.

    April 28, 2017 at 9:27 am
  • Shared! I’m pretty sure a few friends would like to read this.

    November 9, 2017 at 4:09 am

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