Travelling from Hanoi to Sapa by train is a must on a journey to Vietnam. Especially a night train ride is an unique experience. You can travel cheaply and comfortably, even though the tracks can be quite bumpy at times. There are different night train options available, as several trains start in the evening from Hanoi. Usually it is spoken about the train journey from Hanoi to Sapa in the mountains of North Vietnam. However, the trains end in Lao Chai, from where you have to continue by minibus to Sapa. Have a look at the travel report of a trip together with my wife in the Orient Express from Hanoi to Sapa.
Depending on the season, the trains can be quite crowded as Sapa is a typical tourist destination in Vietnam among tourists. We went there in November - it was relaxed and no problem to get tickets. If you are going there during peak season trains can be fully booked so I recommend booking in advance. Since Hanoi was our first stop in Vietnam and we had a tight schedule for our train journeys, I bought our train tickets beforehand online via Internet as well.
Note: you travel by train from Hanoi to Lao Chai (search for it on the booking website). From Lao Chai you continue by mini-bus to Sapa (buy it directly in the train or in front of the station).
Train tickets in Vietnam
You can buy train tickets in Vietnam very easily at train stations. If you have some time, avoid the typical arrival and departure times of the night trains and long distance trains at the stations. Then it is relatively quiet and you can buy your train tickets quickly. The staff always spoke English. If communication didn't work out so well or I was not quite sure, I wrote the start and destination station, date and time on a little paper and gave it to the ticket window - always works, no matter where in the world. :)
From Hanoi to Lao Chai/Sapa however, I bought the train tickets online in advance - this works perfectly well via the website of 12go.asia. The train tickets are available as vouchers to print out or simply as a mail on the mobile phone to show it at the departure station in Hanoi, where you pick up the ticket.
Night train types from Hanoi to Lao Chai / Sapa
At first glance, you may be surprised how many trains are available on the route from Hanoi to Sapa. You can see train names such as Oriental Express, Livetrans Express, Violette Trains, King Express, Fanxipan Express, Sapaly Express, Victoria Express, and many more.
All these train companies, however, operate only one or two wagons, which then run together with the carriages of other companies in on one or two trains. The prices and equipment are relatively similar. The Vietnamese railway also operates a night train with various categories. A good price and train overview can be found on the website of 12go.asia.
The railway station in Hanoi
The train station in Hanoi has two areas. Coming from the city, you come across the main building for the front tracks and platforms. Here the night trains to e.g. Ho Chi Minh City start.
The night trains with the grand names mentioned above all depart at the back of the station (Tourist Trains / platform 6). There is a separate building. Exchange the voucher from 12go.asia to get your train ticket, right hand side (view on the station building) in a small building, about an hour before departure. Very friendly and easy.
It is also no problem to simply walk across the tracks from the main station building to get to the back building. If you take a taxi from the city center, tell the driver that you want to go to the back (tourist trains). The Taxi fare from the city center to the station is about 60,000 Dong.
The journey from Hanoi to Lao Chai / Sapa
The tickets in our hands, we sit for a while on the stairs of the station building and look at the hustle and bustle. The station is getting full - at pleasant temperatures. Finally, the gate to the tracks is opened and we walk to the train. From wagon to wagon - until we find "our Orient Express". After a friendly welcome and a quick check of the train ticket, we are in our twin sleeper. Very cozy, very clean, everything made out of wood. There is a toothbrush and paste, as well as water bottles and fruits in the compartment (free of charge). We close the compartment door and lie down.
The toilet makes a very clean and well-kept impression.
The ride is bumpy - but we personally enjoy it and sleep well. Twenty minutes before arriving in Lao Chai, the car attendant knocked on the door to wake us up. Several young men go through the corridors and ask if you would like to take a minibus to Sapa. You can either reserve a seat right here on the train and buy a ticket or later directly in front of the train station of Lao Chai. The men will guide you to the minibuses. The luggage is stored and you will then travel directly to Sapa.
Arrival in Lao Chai and transfer to Sapa
Everything is relaxed, though lively at the Lao Chai train station. It is really easy to get to Sapa. The journey from Lao Chai to Sapa in the minibus costs 50,000 Dong. I was also told that there is probably also a regular bus covering the route, which runs hourly, for 18,000 or 38,000 Dong - I unfortunately did not understand exactly. We are seven persons in the minibus and it takes about 45 minutes for the winding route. The minibus stops directly in front of the booked hotels in Sapa.
Accommodation in Sapa
We booked the Sapa Elegance Hotel. Clean with a nice view over Sapa. And a quiet location. The owners are very very friendly and the check-in was possible immediately right in the morning at 10:00 h. The breakfast is plentiful and delicious. We stayed only one night, however, because we had set the focus on train travel.
What to do in Sapa
If you get out of the minibus in Sapa, you will be surrounded by local ladies who invite you (for a reward) on a hike and overnight stay in the countryside. Travellers with whom we spoke on the way back to Hanoi had great experiences. Well, we'll do it next time. We just made a small walk on foot to the tourist village Cat Cat. Entry was 40,000 Dong. We ate at the Antique Sapa. The menu costs 4-5 USD and was really delicious.
We really enjoyed our trip to Sapa. We did it only because of the train journey. But you should stay in Sapa for at least two or three nights. Concerning the price, we found the price adequate. Of course, it is possible to travel cheaper, but okay. ;) The fares of the train ticket can be found on the website of 12go.asia. In our case, we paid about 1,500,000 Dong for two people in a 2-person sleeping car. In addition there were costs for the minibus, per person 50,000 Dong.
What was very pleasant for us was that we could shower on the day of the departure, in the afternoon again in our hotel in Hanoi - although we had already checked out in the morning. Same after returning early morning in Hanoi - we were able to return to our hotel and shower again. We stayed at the very friendly Hanoi Central Park Hotel.
Hanoi to Sapa train connection
Sapa to Hanoi train connection