We’ve been asked many times which is the best way to reach Sapa and how to plan the trip, so here’s how to get sleeper train tickets from Hanoi to Sapa, northern Vietnam.
Sapa is one of the most visited towns in Vietnam, it has become very popular over the years for its traditional villages scattered all around. Many ethnic tribes still live in these villages following an antique life-style, as time stopped in this region.
Lately, Sapa has been exposed to mass tourism, hopefully this will not spoil its charm. Although being more than 300 km north-west from Hanoi, both private and public transports serve this route very well. Buses link Sapa to Hanoi too, but we don’t recommend them as first choice: they are less comfy, seats are not fully reclinable, the driver will use the horn all the time and it’s hard to get some good sleep. Also, they are more dangerous, you will soon get to know Vietnam is not famous for good drivers.
Trains stop at the Vietnam/China border town of Lao Cai, from where many shuttles leave to Sapa. Click here to read more about our stay in Sapa.
Following under, some lines to explain how to obtain your train tickets.
There are 3 ways to book a seat on a train in Vietnam:
- Book online on the Vietnamese railway website dsvn.vn. After you choose your seat, date and time, you will have to go yourself to the nearest train station with the e-mail confirmation in order to pay for your ticket in VND cash (unless you have a Vietnamese credit card to proceed with payment online, foreign cards are not accepted). You don’t need to go to the station you are leaving from to collect your tickets, for example we got our tickets from Nha Trang to Da Nang in Dalat station!
- Book online on amt.12go.asia or book on baolau.vn both very nice and clear websites which allow you to use all the main global credit cards. Prices are fair, same as on the Vietnamese one, you will only have to pay a processing fee (around 2$). You will receive your e-tickets straight to your e-mail, and you will have to show it when you board the train. We used it when we were in Cambodia to buy tickets from Ho Chi Minh to Phan Thiet, it was a very nice surprise, sometimes we can’t even use this simple system back home!
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- Just head to the train station and buy the ticket that suits you. Most of the employees can speak a basic English which is enough to make the job.
What seat/bed do I need to buy?
It depends on how long your journey is. Trains in Vietnam are quite slow, which is good both to enjoy the landscapes by day, and to get some sleep at night. If it’s gonna be a 6-hour travel or more, like Hanoi-Sapa, we recommend to do it on a sleeper train overnight. You have these choices:
- 6-bed compartment with hard beds: they are really hard and thin mattresses. The compartment is quite narrow and crowded, good if you want to chat with other travellers and if you are on a budget (the price is even cheaper if you choose the upped bed), not that good if you are looking for some rest and/or privacy. Normally there’s a fan on the ceiling very close to the upper bed.
- 4-bed compartment with soft beds: comfortable enough to fulfill their name. Good space, decent mattress. We used this option when we travelled from Nha Trang to Da Nang, got the upper beds, shared the compartment with a very polite Vietnamese family (mum, dad and baby), had a very good sleep, and woke up at 8 am, in time to get ready to step off in Da Nang.
On every coach, there’s a toilet, a pair of sinks with mirrors, basic needs to prepare for the night.
If you have a shorter journey, you can try a very local experience like:
- hard seat: you will enter a bare coach with nothing but wooden benches on the long sides. Not really comfortable as a sofa, but for a few hours that will do. Very nice experience to see how local people travel everyday. No numbered seats, so get on early to secure a decent spot. Ridiculously cheap, we even got served a snack with a complimentary bottle of water.
- soft seat: a classic train seat as we know it, less crowded coach with numbered seats.
The best way to travel in Vietnam to truly understand the culture is with no doubt by train: entire families use the train as it is the cheaper way. Plus the distances are sometimes very long, for example from Hanoi to Hue it’s almost 700km which is an eternal journey by bus. On the train you are free to lie down comfortably if you book a sleeper bed ticket, and walk around the several coaches, to appreciate really different life-styles moving from soft seat coaches (comparable to 2nd class) to wooden hard benches (3rd class). And, last but not least, the view from your window will be much more satisfying than watching the clouds from a plane.
The journey from Hanoi to Sapa takes more than 8 hours, 7 by train to Lao Cai and one more hour to Sapa. Traveling by night may be a good option, leaving in the late evening and arriving early with the whole day ahead of you. Even though you’ll miss the view outside your window, you will have the chance to make it up to that with the amazing landscapes that surround Sapa.
WHAT TO DO IN SAPA
Once in the city of Sapa, there’s a bunch of activities to do, from visiting the nearby ethnic villages, to climb or go for a hike up to the Fansipan mountain. We recommend a minimum of 3 days to make the most of your stay. You never know what weather you will get up there, so hopefully the more you stay, the higher the chance to have some sunny days, especially with no fog (we got a lot of rain and fog during our stay in Sapa).
There are many cheap accomodations in Sapa, from hotels to homestays, that will allow you to get to know how local families live.
If you are not traveling 2-ways Hanoi to Sapa and back, but you are getting from Laos or China to Sapa and then Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam will give you a warm welcome to a big charming multicultural centre. In the past it has been under several foreign controls including Chinese, French and American, which led to the current melting pot. Living in Da Nang, Vietnam, we had the chance to visit it already a couple of times.
It is easily reachable by plane, bus and train, with the latter being the most fascinating option. Hanoi train station itself was a beautiful French colonial building, before being partially demolished by the American bombs during the Vietnam War. You can read more about Hanoi in this article.
This should be a good start to plan your train trip, if you have any more doubts, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Enjoy your trip to Sapa!
WHERE TO STAY IN SAPA&HANOI:
- The Hanoian Hotel, Hanoi: excellent staff, great location in the Old Quarter, modern rooms and breakfast included;
- Hanoi Rocks Hostel: one of the most established hostels in Hanoi, if you are looking for fun come here;
- Little Sapa Homestay: good location, amazing typical Vietnamese hospitality;
- You can pre-book all your accommodation in Sapa&Hanoi with free cancellation here.
HOW TO GET TO SAPA:
- Sleeper train Hanoi to Sapa, 8 hrs, from 150,000 VND.
|Hanoi - Sapa $6 – $167 7h 55m|
- Bus Lao Cai – Sapa, 1 hour, from 50,000 VND (you’ll have to bargain this price).
- Bus Hanoi – Sapa, 7-8 hours.
- Book train&bus tickets in Southeast Asia on amt.12go.asia
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