The Best Way From Hanoi To Sapa — Train Or Bus?

Sapa is a small town in Northwest Vietnam, known for its sprawling rice terraces and cool air. For international travellers, the nearest airport is Hanoi and it would take a 6 – 9 hour journey, depending on your mode of transport from Hanoi to Sapa.

From my knowledge, the most common and cost effective to get from Hanoi is Sapa is via train or bus, though there are private car transfer options as well. We decided to give both options a try, taking the train from Hanoi to Sapa and the bus back from Sapa to Hanoi. Here’s my detailed review and thoughts on both.

Hanoi to Sapa via Train

Sapaly Train from Hanoi to Sapa

There are a number of train options for the journey from Hanoi to Sapa, but we settled on the Sapaly Express as it looked the cleanest and did not have any stops in between. We paid approximately VND 719,515 per person for the train journey.

The Sapaly Express starts its journey at Hanoi Railway Station and terminates at Lào Cai Station.

Note: there are cheaper train options, and I’ve actually seen train tickets starting at USD 20 (VND 469,450). However, many websites seemed shady and we did not dare book from them for fear of being scammed so we went ahead to book with Klook.

Ease Of Use (Getting Physical Tickets and Finding the Train)

Hanoi Train Station

We took a cab to the train station and arrived an hour before departure time, as instructed on our confirmation voucher. As we booked online, we had to exchange for physical tickets at the station. If you booked the Sapaly Express like what we did and via Klook, there is a mini mart on the left of the station’s entrance and that’s where you’ll get your physical tickets. 

The confirmation voucher did not specify the ticket exchange location, we resorted to reading through reviews on Klook to figure out the location, as the train station staff did not understand English. If in doubt, just look out for a sign that says Sapaly Express. 

Minimart to collect Sapaly Express Train Ticket
Look out for the white box that says ‘Sapaly Express Train’ at the minimart outside Hanoi Train station

While finding our way to the train, we ran into the Sapaly Express staff from the ticket exchange who guided us to our cabin.  

Cabin Interior

We got a 4-bedder cabin and got lucky that we had the entire cabin to ourselves. Each passenger gets a bottle of water, toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb and a rice cracker, which are all placed on the table in the cabin. The area under the table fits 3 carry-on sized luggages perfectly. For larger bags, you can place them under the beds or in the area next to the top bunks.   

Cabin interior - Train from Hanoi to Sapa
Cabin Interior

The space between the top and bottom bunk were also sufficient for you to sit upright. There were quite a number of power plugs available in the cabin — I only manage to spot 4 outlets, but there may have been more.

Amenities in Sapaly Express - Train from Hanoi to Sapa
1 bottle, comb, toothbrush per passenger

Wifi

The Sapaly Express did not have Wifi, which may be tricky for those who want to work on the go.

Cleanliness and Comfort

Each bed had a firm pillow and duvet. Mine were clean and stain-free. The duvet also did a decent job at keeping me warm throughout the night. The air conditioner in the cabin was very strong and my friend who slept on the top bunk slept with his jacket on as well. 

We were not deeply asleep throughout the night as the train was noisy hitting the tracks. What really irked me was that we could hear people talking really loudly as the walls were really thin.

Toilet in Sapaly Express - Hanoi to Sapa
This is the toilet at the start of the journey, pretty clean.

The toilet is shared between 6 cabins, and not a private toilet. So it could potentially get disgusting if you have unhygienic neighbours.

Sinks in Sapaly Express - Hanoi to Sapa
Sinks were outside the toilet, clean as well.

Before the train moved off, the train staff told us there would be a morning call at 5.30am and took our orders for morning drinks. The options were coffee, tea, or milo. We all picked milo and got a rude shock that it cost 20,000 VND each. I’m not sure if coffee and tea were free because the staff never told us anything about having for the milo or drinks until he served it to us in the morning. Honestly, this incident took off some points from the experience. 

Punctuality And Time Taken 

Lào Cai station - Hanoi to Sapa
Inside of Lào Cai station, once you disembark the train

Our train was scheduled for 10pm departure and left the station on time. In fact, the train started moving off at 9.59pm. The train also pulled into Lào Cai station at 6am.  

Getting to Sapa From Lào Cai Station

The train journey took 8 hours, but we still needed to get a cab from Lao Cai station to Sapa. Upon exiting Lao Cai station, we were surrounded by pesky drivers that were offering rides to Sapa. We were immediately quoted VND 600,000 for the 1 hour ride into Sapa, which we managed to bargain down to VND 500,000. 

If you are looking for a cheaper option, taking the minibus into Sapa only costs around 60,000 VND per pax. 

Honestly, I would really advise everyone to book a private car pick up from Lào Cai station if possible, it will likely reduce the chance of you being ripped off, please do not make the same mistake we did!

Amount Paid for Sapaly Express

We paid a total of VND 1,219,515 ( + VND 20,000 for the milo, ugh) for the journey from Hanoi to Sapa, including the cab ride from Lào Cai to Sapa.

Hanoi to Sapa via Bus

Sao Viet bus to Hanoi from Sapa

We tried out the sleeper bus operated by Sao Viet for our journey from Sapa to Hanoi. Once again, we decided on this option as it looked the most comfortable due to the lay flat seats. 

Ease Of Use (Getting Physical Tickets and Finding the Bus)

Sao Viet Sapa outlet - Sapa to Hanoi Bus
Sao Viet Sapa outlet

The pickup point was easy to locate, which was about a 10-minute ride from Sapa town centre. Sao Viet’s big red signboard also helped with spotting it from a distance. 

Ticket exchange was simple, as there was only 1 counter in the shop and we got our physical tickets printed in 3 minutes or so. 

Sao Viet ticket exchange - Sapa to Hanoi bus

The bus drove up to the shopfront 20 minutes before scheduled departure. We were given number tags for our luggages before stowing away. I’ve always felt iffy about bus luggage storages as I feel that someone passing by could swipe your luggage while everyone was busy boarding, but I digress. 

We were also given a plastic bag for our shoes as shoes are not allowed in the bus and on your bed.

Plastic bag for shoes - Sapa to Hanoi Bus
No shoes on the already dirty bed (which I will touch on later)!

Cabin Interior

Sapa to Hanoi Bus interior

We decided to get the upper bunks as it provided more privacy and I think the view is better as well. We were able to choose the beds when booking our tickets online.

First impressions of the bed was that it looked clean but upon further inspection, it really wasn’t the case. Each bed comes with a screen, 2 USB ports (one of which was not working), reading light, a blanket and a small bottle of water.

Water, USB port and screen - Hanoi to Sapa Bus
This USB port did not work
Bed, pillow and USB port - Hanoi to Sapa Bus
There was another USB port above the pillow

Wifi

Wifi was provided on the bus. The connection was spotty, understandably so as the bus did pass through some rural areas. It was sufficient to load Whatsapp messages when it worked. The wifi was also not password protected.

I did manage to get some work done with the wifi.

Cleanliness and Comfort

Bus cabin - Sapa to Hanoi Bus

I found hair in my blanket and there was also plastic wrappers in the crevices of the bed. The bed was also quite short, which could be a problem for taller people. It would be difficult for most people to sit up straight on the bed, as the ceiling was very low.

In addition, the pillow was also extremely hard, it felt like I was lying on a leather block.

Punctuality And Time Taken 

The bus left the pick up point at 9.59am and in total the trip took about 7 hours, pulling in to the Hanoi Sao Viet outlet at 4.55pm, an hour later than schedule. Throughout the journey, the bus stopped a couple of times to pick up and drop off more passengers, with Hanoi being the last stop.

Rest stop - Sapa to Hanoi bus
30-minute rest stop

There was also a 30-minute rest stop, about 3.5 hours into the journey, for passengers to get food, or go to the toilet. We also stopped once to refuel.

Sao Viet Hanoi outlet - Hanoi to Sapa Bus
Sao Viet Hanoi outlet

Note: there are also overnight bus options, but they sell out quickly. We booked a month in advance and the “better” timings, like those that depart Sapa before 9am, were already sold out. It’s best to start booking a month in advance as the bus option seems to be more sought after as it is cheaper than the train alternative.

Amount Paid for Sao Viet Bus

We paid approximately VND 472,807 per pax for the bus, which was about half the price of the train ticket.

Conclusion

Overall, I’d definitely go with the train option again. It was much more comfortable and taking an overnight train also saved us time. We treated the difference in cost as cost for accommodation as we did not have to book a hotel for that night.

Summary

FactorsTrain (Sapaly Express)Bus (Sao Viet)
PriceVND 719,515 + VND 500,000 for cab into SapaVND 472,807
Total Time Taken9 hours
(8 hours + 1 hour for cab into Sapa)
7 hours
Ease of use4/5
Need to find exchange counter at Hanoi Train station
5/5
Easy to get tickets at Sao Viet Sapa outlet
Cleanliness4/5
Quite clean, sheets did not have stains
2/5
Very dusty, wrappers in bed crevices, hair in blank
Comfort3.5/5
Can get noisy and bumpy.
2/5
Bed is short, pillow too hard, 1 USB port doesn’t work.

If you’ve taken other train or bus options, please do leave your experience in the comments! I would love to find more options for future trips to Vietnam!

Disclaimer: Some links on this post are affiliate links, purchasing through these links mean that I make a small amount of commission. All reviews and opinions still remain fully my own.

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