How to choose train to Sapa, Sapa Travel Guide

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Passengers who have a lower expectation of their train service are more inclined to have an enjoyable journey. It is important to remember this is Viet Nam- a developing country without many of the systems and processes we are used to working with in our countries. Please do not expect too much from your train level. For example there are no showers and no fine dining carriages and your carriages toilet may overflow and stop working during the night. This is all part of the adventure you have signed up for.

On average, there are t14 trains departing Hanoi for Sapa every night. Each train has 16 - 20 carriages and all of these carriages offer different classes of travel, ranging from hard wooden seats to comfortable VIP soft sleeping cabins. There are four berths in each cabin, two lower and two upper. The beds are soft, clean and come with a blanket and pillow. The beds are sometimes a bit small for some Westerners. Each cabin locks on the inside for security and has a fair amount of room for luggage storage under the beds and above the door. 

With this in mind, choosing the right ticket can be very confusing and time consuming.

The trains currently depart Hanoi nightly at 8:35pm, 9:10pm and 9:50pm. The train journey takes around 9 hours to travel 320km from Hanoi to Lao Cai (yes that is slow, 35kmph on average) arriving in Lao Cai the following morning between 5:30am to 6:00am.

In comparison to other trains it is not too noisy, although some people bring earplugs, especially if they are in the hard –sleeper class. Toilets are available on each coach.

Hot tips

1.   Suitcases are a no no, unless you want to drag them over the rail tracks and lift them onto the train yourself. It is recommended that you extend your stay / check-out time at the hotel that you are staying at so that you can get a little added rest, shower, and change of clothes before boarding the train. Then, you can also leave your bags there during the day. 

2.   There are porters at the Hanoi train station, be prepared to negotiate hard before you allow them to carry your luggage, after you make it to your train cabin, don't be surprised when your original negotiated price is not honoured. A reasonable price is 40,000vnd per bag.

3.    Keep your train tickets in a convenient pocket, you don’t want to loose these as in the morning you will need to present your ticket as you depart Lao Cai train station, if you can not locate your train ticket, you will be forced to wait and possibly pay for your train fare again.

4.     The only train carriage with a dinning carriage is the Victoria train. You will pay through the nose for it though. Note: The Victoria Express Train is for their guest only (you must stay at Victoria Sapa hotel to be able to book Victoria Express Train)

5.     Have dinner before you get onto the train, unless you want a liquid diet of beer and softdrink from the trolleys available going up and down the aisle. bring water, snacks, or anything else you may want to eat before boarding

6.      Don't unpack too much as in the morning the train will screech to a halt in Lao Cai and after 5 minutes the power will be shut off, at 5:00am it is still pitch black. Then all the cleaners jump on the train and start riffling through things with the hope passengers have left behind some valuable goods. 

7.      Set your mobile phone alarm for 4:45am, this way you will know where your phone is so you don’t leave it behind as well as it will prompt you to wake up so you can start preparing to disembark the train and not leave anything behind.

8.      Follow the crowds; there is only one exit at Lao Cai train station.

9.      Be prepared to be bombarded with offers for a transfer from Lao Cai to Sapa the second you step off the train.

10.  A transfer in a minibus will cost between 50,000vnd - 70,000vnd (US$ 2 - US$ 3.50) any more than this you are being ripped off.

11.  A private minivan should cost, currently at the time of writing this article, 40 USD/ 4 seat car/ 1 way to get from Lao Cai Train Station to Sapa (38 km, 1 hour)

12.  Most public buses will stop along the way to pick up people if the bus is not full, this is normal Vietnamese practice.

13.  You should be dropped off at your hotel, if not make sure you have the hotel name and address handy.  In Sapa all hotels are within a 10 minutes walking distance and concentrated on 4 streets in Central Sapa.

14.  The return trip from Sapa to Lao Cai is easy, all buses leave Sapa between 5:00pm - 5:30pm.  The reason for this is to allow enough time in case there is a lot of mist or buffalos or both on the road.

15.  The best place to wait for your train when you are in Lao Cai across the road from the Lao Cai train station at Thanh Son Restaurant, Mr Son is very helpful and a wealth of information, he will help you to get your train tickets, consider having a beer, coffee or bowl of noodles in his restaurant as you wait.

16.  Earplugs and eye masks are GOLD... don't leave them at home.

17.  Try to negotiate your transfers in the cost of your train tickets; this will save you time and money.

18.  You may have the most comfortable cabin however the banging, clanging noise will keep you awake all night.

19.  Bring your own toilet paper

20.  book a complete private 4 berth cabin even if there are only 2 or 3 people travelling in your group. You will be very pleased to have the extra space, extra security and peace of mind knowing you can sleep without somebody lighting up a cigarette in your cabin.

Sapa 2 Days/ 3Nights (3 villages, Cat Cat- Lao Chai- Ta Van)

Price:  135 USD (Join Tour)

Sapa 3days/4nights (Homestay and Hotel)

Price:  145 USD (Join Tour)

Sapa – Bac Ha Market tour 3 days/ 4nights

Price: 160 USD (Join Tour)

Book Sapa Tour online at