Traveling between Hanoi to Sapa is a common route for a lot of backpackers while in Vietnam. The north of Vietnam is completely different from the rest of the country and is a must-do while you are exploring this amazing country.
Being one of the main tourist hubs, many travelers find themselves in Hanoi during some stage of their trip. To escape the bustling city it is common for people to travel from Hanoi to Sapa. Sapa is quite different from many other commonly visited places for travelers on their Vietnam itinerary. Think bright green rice terraces, a quiet city, and plenty of homestay options, it provides a different type of experience for travelers in Vietnam.
Sapa was the most Northern my adventures in Vietnam would take me. Hanoi allowed for an easy and simple starting point to travel with plenty of direct options available to book. Luckily it is super easy to get around Vietnam and Hanoi will connect you with not just the rest of Vietnam, but the majority of Asia as well. This international hub commonly finds its way onto many backpacker itineraries, especially if you are doing the banana pancake trail. Whether you are wanting to travel to Northern or Southern Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, or Thailand it will only be a short flight away.
Though getting from Hanoi to Sapa can take quite a lot of time due to being such a large distance apart, but trust me it is worth it. Unfortunately, air travel is currently not an option. This means you will need to travel overland. Though before we get too ahead of ourselves we will need to figure out how exactly is the best way to travel from Hanoi to Sapa.
So let’s get into it. I will let you know everything you need to know about traveling from Hanoi to Sapa. This includes whether to take a bus or train, prices, how to book tickets, departure times, and more!
|Train||8 hours||from $23||Comfortable journey|
|Luxury Train||8 hours||from $30||Super comfortable journey|
|Bus||6 hours||from $10||The cheapest way to travel|
|Tourist Bus||6 hours||from $15||More comfortable than the regular bus|
|Taxi||5 hours||from $200||The fastest way to travel|
|Mini Van||5 hours||from $20||A fast and relatively affordable way to travel|
How To Get From Hanoi To Sapa: All Transport Options Explained
- Hanoi To Sapa Distance
- Hanoi To Sapa Travel Time
- Mini Van From Hanoi To Sapa
- Train From Hanoi To Sapa
- Private Taxi From Hanoi To Sapa
- Bus From Hanoi To Sapa
- FAQ’s About Traveling Hanoi To Sapa
Hanoi To Sapa Distance
Whether you decide to travel to Sapa via road or train, the actual distance to get here will be around the same. The two options follow a similar route up towards Sapa being around 315 kilometers in length directly from the northwest of Hanoi. Though the main thing which will sway you to a particular choice of either bus, train or taxi will consist of budget, length of time and comfort factor.
Sapa is located in the province of Lào Cai and the nearest city to it is called Lào Cai city. You will see below this is where some of the transport options stop before you will need to take another mode of transport to complete your journey. Also, you may find yourself simply stopping for a bathroom break here as well.
Hanoi To Sapa Travel Time
Bus: the trip from Hanoi to Sapa takes approximately 5.5 to 6 hours.
Train: from Hanoi to Lao Cai takes 8 hours and 5 minutes. Lao Cai is the nearest railway station, 35 kilometers from Sapa town. From Lao Cai Train Station, it takes approximately an additional 65 minutes to reach Sapa.
Car or taxi: it takes between 5 and 5.5 hours to travel from Hanoi to Sapa via the highway.
Mini Van From Hanoi To Sapa
Taking the minivan is another great way to travel from Hanoi to Sapa. This is slightly a more expensive option than the bus, but some of these minivans are fancy AF. Like they are known as limousine vans. Think plush, lazy-boy-style seats.
One of the most popular companies to book with is called Eco Sapa Bus. You get 5 and a half hours of luxury where you can just relax in comfort for the whole time. There are two services every day with the first at 7:30am and the second at 3pm. You will stop twice on this journey to use the restroom and buy some snacks. Also included is pick up and drop off.
Other popular companies include GreenLion Bus and many more. Though make sure you check out reviews so you know what to expect and read the fine print so there are no surprises.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been lucky enough to travel in one of these vans. Though I am determined to change that!
Train From Hanoi To Sapa
Taking the train is my favorite way to see Vietnam. There always seems to be incredible countryside or coastal views out the window. I have actually taken the train completely from North to South. It was one of my favorite ways to explore this country, though it for sure isn’t the most budget-friendly on the wallet.
So is it actually worth taking the train from Hanoi to Sapa? Especially when it is at night time so all you can see is black out the window?
What Is The Regular Train Like
Now before we get too involved in learning about taking the train from Hanoi to Sapa you need to know there are actually two different types of trains you can book while in Vietnam. This is either the regular train or a luxury train.
The regular train is operated by Vietnam Railways. This is where you will find the more affordable tickets and what the majority of travelers and locals will book. They have the option of hard or soft sleeper berths, as well as your general seats. Currently, Vietnam Railways operate this journey twice per day, with either the SP1 or SP3 train.
If you decide to book the normal train I highly recommend booking a 4-berth cabin over a 6-berth. This is simply because the 4-berths are a lot more comfortable with more headroom and thicker mattresses. Also, you will have fewer cabin mates.
I have used the standard trains operated by Vietnam Railways throughout the country and honestly have not had any issues whatsoever. Though I certainly have heard of some horror stories *bugs*. Luckily enough I have not experienced that on the trains, but unfortunately, buses are a whole other story (more on that below).
What Is The Luxury Train Like
In contrast to the regular train, as the name suggests, the luxury train is a lot nicer than the regular train. Many different providers offer the luxury train experience. Some popular choices include ET-Pumpkin Express Train, Chapa Express Train, Orient Express, Victoria Express, Sapaly Express, Livitrans Express, Fanxipan Express, as well as a few more. They all still operate as an overnight journey. Though the main difference here is the amenities and facilities you will; be provided with onboard.
You will find that your cabin is a lot nicer on board with actual pillows, snacks, and the never-important free Wifi. Generally, depending on the station, you will also have access to the lounge beforehand for a more peaceful spot to relax and wait until boarding is ready. Of course, it costs a little more than the regular train, though the exact price depends on the operator you decide to book with.
Train Schedule From Hanoi To Sapa
Below is the train schedule from Hanoi to Sapa. As you can see it really isn’t too much more for some of the luxury trains. Though in exchange you get a lot more amenities that will make your journey a lot more comfortable.
|SP1 (Vietnam Railways)||21:35||7h 55m||from $23.00|
|SP3 (Vietnam Railways)||22:00||8h 5m||from $23.00|
|ET-Pumpkin Express||21:35||7h 55m||from $27.00|
|Chapa Express||22:00||8h 5m||from $42.00|
|Orient Express||21:35||7h 55m||from $27.00|
|King Express VIP||22:00||8h 5m||from $31.00|
|New Livitrans||21:35||7h 55m||from $33.00|
|Violette Train||22:00||8h 5m||from $31.00|
|Sapaly Express Train||22:00||8h 5m||from $31.00|
|Victoria Express Train||22:00||8h 5m||from $104.00|
How To Book Tickets From Hanoi To Sapa
Luckily nowadays it is easy to buy tickets for the trains. Vietnam Railways accepts e-tickets which prevent the common stress of wondering where you can print that ticket you just purchased online.
Though before we get too into that you will need to decide what type of ticket you would like to purchase. Both of the SP trains offer a variety of cabin choices so you can pick the perfect option for you:
1st Class Sleeper: 4 berth cabin; soft beds and a mid-priced option. Staying in a 4 person cabin allows people to spread out without it feeling too cramped.
2nd Class Sleeper: hard wooden beds and 6 berth cabins. Personally, I would avoid booking unless you are on a super tight budget.
VIP Sleeper: 2 berth cabin; perfect for a couple or two friends traveling together and it has soft beds.
Buy Tickets Online
You can also purchase tickets online. Though be aware it can be a bit confusing as some websites still say you need to print out to ticket and swap it at the train station prior to your journey.
This stumped me when I first was sorting out my transport in Vietnam. I ended up booking with Baolau. Their website said I didn’t need to print off my ticket and instead just show my ticket on my phone to the attendant on the train. This is what I did throughout my travels in Vietnam and never once had an issue. Being a third-party agent there is a small additional fee built into the ticket cost. Though this way is easier and cheaper than having to go to the train station!
I often use 12.Go Asia in other parts of Asia, but not in Vietnam for the above reason.
Buy Tickets From Vietnam Railways
Another option is buying your tickets directly through Vietnam Railways. You often can’t find the cheaper hard/soft seater tickets available on third-party websites as they are not a popular choice for backpackers in Vietnam. Though if you are on a budget and keen on this option you can book direct with Vietnam Railways.
Just make sure you use the Vietnam Railways legit website as there are plenty of knockoffs floating around the internet. Alternatively, you can also purchase tickets at the train station in Hanoi.
You will find the tickets are slightly cheaper when you purchase directly with Vietnam Railways. This is simply because there isn’t a third party involved in marking up their share for processing the ticket.
What Is The Train Like From Hanoi To Sapa
Depending on the type of ticket you book will decide how your journey will go. Though, as I said earlier, for the most comfortable journey I recommend booking a 4-berth soft sleeper, or if you have the funds, one of the luxury trains. This will ensure you get a good night’s sleep ready for a day of trekking in Sapa.
Also, you will be traveling up a mountainous set of tracks. It isn’t a smooth journey. Instead, the train will constantly be rocking back and forth. Hopefully, you’re like me and it puts you into a deep sleep. Though if you have issues with motion sickness this could be a problem for you. The trains can also be pretty noisy as things bang with every bump in the track. Definitely bring headphones to drown as the noise.
Unfortunately, the trains are all at night, meaning you don’t get to appreciate that beautiful scenery out of the window. This is one of the most picturesque parts of the country. Though don’t decide to take the bus simply for just this reason!
Lastly, there is no dining cart onboard the trains so it will be best to bring your own food onboard. Plenty of vendors in Hanoi will be more than happy to do a takeaway meal. Be aware if you are traveling on the luxury train you will have snacks included.
Hanoi Train Station
Hanoi has a few different train stations. Though don’t stress about getting to the correct one as all trains to Sapa depart from Hanoi Railway Station in Van Mieu. The is just an easy 20-minute walk or 10-minute taxi ride from the Old Quarter. I walked there to catch a train and it is straightforward. Though I recommend using Google Maps or Maps.Me to avoid getting lost. If you do decide to taxi this will only set you back a couple of dollars.
Hanoi Railway Station is a huge building and can be a bit overwhelming. Once you arrive at the station entrance on the Western side. This is the platform on which the trains from Hanoi to Sapa depart. Though no worries if you cannot find it. Just enter the main door and check the board for which platform your train departs.
If you are traveling with Vietnam Railways on their SP1 or SP3 train then you don’t need to check in on arrival. Just head straight to the train and show your e-ticket.
Getting From Lao Cai Train Station To Sapa
The main thing to remember when booking the train from Hanoi to Sapa is that the journey finishes in Lao Cai rather than Sapa. This means you will need to take some sort of transport for the remainder to Sapa town.
The distance from Lao Cai to Sapa is 35 kilometers. This will take you around 50 to 90 minutes to travel to Sapa depending on whether you book a minivan or a bus. Though more on that below.
It is easy enough to book your transport online at Baolau in advance or even through the accommodation you are staying at in Sapa. They will always be more than happy to organize this for you.
Just a word of caution, it is highly recommended to prebook your transport from Lao Cai to Sapa. The taxi drivers here are ruthless and there is nothing more profitable than a stranded traveler stuck in a random city while it’s dark. You will be swarmed as soon as you get off the train which can be a bit overwhelming.
Lao Cai To Sapa By Mini Van
One of the most popular ways to travel from Lao Cai to Sapa is my minivan. The easiest way to book this is via Baolau or even through the accommodation in Sapa. Just don’t wait until you arrive at the train station because this route is known for ripping off travelers.
Also just be aware that this road isn’t for the faint-hearted. It is very windy and honestly quite precarious. Therefore if you are like me and suffer from motion sickness you may want to have some medication.
Nevertheless, you will be better off taking a minivan than a bus. The roads here can actually be pretty dangerous as well. Especially such a big bus navigating tight corners. Another plus is that it is a lot quicker than taking the public bus since it should just be an hour-long journey.
Lao Cai To Sapa By Public Bus
If you are on a budget then you may find taking the public bus from Lao Cai to Sapa is the best option for you. The cheapest choice is taking public bus #1. The bus stop is located near the train station car park, on the left side as you exit the main gate.
The first bus departs Lao Cai at 5:50 am then every 20 to 30 minutes throughout the day. They are red and yellow colored so they really can’t be missed.
Tickets cost around $1.30 / 30,000VND and can be purchased on board. You can expect the public bus journey from Lao Cai to sapa to take around an hour and a half so get comfortable.
Private Taxi From Hanoi To Sapa
If you have a bit more money to spend why not book a private taxi from Hanoi to Sapa. No doubt this will be the fastest and most comfortable journey you could take. It may even take you less than 5 hours if you don’t do any stops!
The easiest way to prebook your private taxi is online with 12.Go Asia. They have a variety of companies on offer who can take you the distance. Prices start from $170.00 for a 9 person van one way. This is the perfect option if you are traveling as a family or a large group. If you have enough people to fill it up it can actually work out pretty dam cheap.
The best part is that they will work around your plans. This means they will pick you up day or night and from anywhere in the city. Once arriving in Sapa you will also be dropped off at your hotel rather than just on the side of the road.
Bus From Hanoi To Sapa
If you are on more of a budget then you may find yourself leaning towards taking a bus from Hanoi to Sapa. This total journey takes around 6 hours which honestly isn’t too painful. Personally, I find anything over 8 hours really makes you question your life choices when it comes to long-distance bus journeys. Plus it is a direct route so there is no need to stop in Lao Cai like the train.
Though as someone who has taken the bus from Hanoi to Sapa let me just say, pick your bus company wisely. Conditions in Vietnam vary greatly and even though your accommodation recommends it, that doesn’t mean it is just a good choice. This just means they are likely getting some sort of commission from it.
I will get into all the details of this and my super fun bus journeys from Hanoi to Sapa and return. Just take my advice and don’t repeat my mistakes.
Is Taking A Bus Safe
Taking the bus from Hanoi to Sapa is relatively safe. I mean I have done this journey and I am still here to tell the story. Anyway, the majority of the ride is on the highway CT05. This is a multiple-lane straight and smooth highway stretching from Hanoi the majority of the way up until you reach Lao Cai where the turn-off to Sapa is located. It is super easy, and even if you get motion sick, this is a super smooth ride.
Though once you reach this turn off to Sapa is where things really start to get interesting. Here the road becomes mountainous and the sides seem to drop away next to you. It truly isn’t for the faint-hearted and I basically had my eyes shut the whole time due to motion sickness here. Side note, take some medication if you are like me and struggle with this.
Make sure you book the bus so you arrive in Sapa during daylight. Taking long journey buses in Vietnam during the day is fine. Though at night things can get pretty dangerous. First of all driving at night is a lot more difficult generally, though add on one tired and overworked driver and that is not a good combination. Plus you don’t want to be wandering around a brand new town in the pitch dark.
Bus vs Tourist Bus
Now let’s get into the difference between the type of buses available when you are traveling around Vietnam. Your general regular bus is more to Vietnamese standards, which is fine in some regards. Though I was either super unluckily or simply booked with two different crappy companies. More on my experience a bit further down…
Anyway, I found your typical Vietnamese buses to just simply be a bit painful. The lay-flat seats were not tall enough for us westerners, and it was far from clean.
These buses were booked by our accommodation providers in both Hanoi and Sapa on our return journey. The hostel in Hanoi we booked with was one of the best-rated in the city! So I am surprised they offer subpar transport arrangements.
Anyway, after that, we vouched to book our own buses, only when there was no train, and we would do plenty of research in advance. From there onwards we used The Sinh Tourist. Be aware there are plenty of fake websites and fake stores pretending to be this company. Luckily we didn’t have a single issue with them. Their lay flat seats were even more comfortable being slightly longer for us tall foreigners. You do pay a premium to book with them. But unfortunately, they do not operate on the Hanoi to Sapa route.
Though in saying that I have heard good things about the Green Sapa Bus and Goodmorning Sapa. Anyway just do your research in advance and book online through a platform like Baolau or 12.Go Asia where you can read reviews.
Sleeper vs Seater Bus
Now I don’t know if you have taken a bus in Vietnam before, but in case you have not let’s get other the sleeper vs seater bus situation as they are unlike anything else in Southeast Asia.
The buses in Vietnam are honestly not like any I have seen elsewhere in the world. With three split rows of chairs stacked two tall, it certainly is an interesting sight the first time you lay your eyes on them. Honestly, at first glance, they looked super comfortable and I was excited. I mean the worst part of being stuck in a long bus is having to awkwardly stretch around in the chair and the hours you spend trying to get comfortable. I thought this would be the easiest 6-hour journey. Though how wrong I was.
See my problem is I am tall. Sure I am not super tall, just reaching 180cm. Though I am tall enough where I need to awkwardly contort my body to fit my feet into those little boxes. Honestly, if you are shorter than 165cm you should be fine in the typical sleeper style bus. Though any taller and it will be one uncomfortable journey.
Not sure if this is a bonus or not. But at the back of the buses, there is a huge lay flat area. Basically, imagine your large row on the back of the bus is converted into a huge bed. This is where they chucked us, tall people.
Anyway, your regular seater bus is exactly that, just like the buses you are likely to have in your home country. Personally, I much prefer just a simple regular bus. Though you will need to shop around to find one of these for longer journeys as they are not the norm.
Bus Schedule From Hanoi To Sapa
Below is the bus schedule departing Hanoi and arriving in Sapa. Be aware there are so many companies you can choose from and this is just a small selection of the best few.
|Green Sapa Bus||07:00 – 13:00
|6h||from $12.00 + free pick up|
|Goodmorning Sapa||06:30- 12:30
|6h||from $13.00 + free pick up|
|Sapa Express||07:00- 13:00
|6h||from $12.00 + free pick up|
As you can see the majority of the bus companies provide free pick up in the old quarter. From here you will be transported to the bus. The 6-hour journey is pretty easy until you get to the Sapa turn-off when things get windy. Though before then you will be provided with two rest stops to use the bathroom and purchase food.
How To Book Tickets
It is super easy to book your bus from Hanoi to Sapa. Though I recommend booking it online via Baolau or 12.Go Asia where you can read reviews rather than going through your accommodation or a travel agency. This is simply because they are likely to book you on whatever options gets them the most commission.
Anyway by booking with Baolau or 12.Go Asia you can see what other travelers have said about the journey with particular companies. Then you can just book your ticket through their website and they will email you a copy. It’s super easy!
My Experience Taking The Bus From Hanoi To Sapa
Now let’s get into the fun stuff, my experience taking the bus from Hanoi to Sapa. Honestly, my biggest struggle on the way to Sapa was getting comfortable on those sleeper seats that are not made for people my length. It was honestly just super cramped and I breathed a sigh of relief every time we pulled in for a rest stop.
We moved down the back for the remainder of the journey. The back was basically just like a huge bed, that’s the best I could explain it and it ended up being us and a few other tall foreigners who couldn’t get comfortable. Though I don’t know whether the sleeper-style seats were worse than spooning some randoms in the back of the bus. At least the latter was slightly more comfortable.
Now my return journey from Sapa back to Hanoi was even worse than this and I know what you are thinking, surely not. But alas, it was. So we weren’t playing around this time and headed straight down to the back of the bus to the big bed seat. There is no way I am spending even just a couple of hours squished in those little compartments.
Everyone was going fine and well for a while. That was unless the bus vibrations seemed to have awoken a few “mates”. Next thing I know bugs are crawling over me, over everything. For each one I squish or flick away, another few seem to appear. At our first break stop, I must’ve sprinted off that bus with my day bag. Hell no that was not okay.
I decide the grossness of this situation triumphs the uncomfortableness of the sleeper seats so I try to sit as far away as possible from the back where we were before. The problem is the bugs suddenly start appearing everywhere and I sit back and watch them crawling on the people around me. All while this is going on I am simply wondering how many are crawling on me right now.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Well, I guess you could say at least they didn’t infest my luggage, but that’s as good as it got.
Where Does The Bus Drop You Off
Depending on which bus company you book will affect where you are dropped off in Sapa. A few even drop passengers outside SaPa center! This means you still need to take a taxi from there to your accommodation, which is super inconvenient.
Though the majority of reputable companies will drop you off along the lakeside. From here it is just a short stroll into the center of town depending on where you are staying.
FAQ’s About Traveling Hanoi To Sapa
How many days to spend in Sapa? Depending on what exactly you plan to do in Sapa will affect how many days you will want to spend here. Presuming you are wanting to get out of the main town and do some trekking then I would recommend around 3 days. This way to will get to experience the best things to do in Sapa.
Can I do a Hanoi To Sapa Flight? Unfortunately, there is no airport in Sapa. The closest one is in Hanoi called Noi Bai International Airport. Therefore the only way to travel between Hanoi and Sapa is by either road or rail.
Can I do a day trip to Sapa? Technically you can do a day trip from Hanoi to Sapa. Though this is not recommended and very few companies actually offer it. This is simply because the drive is so long and exhausting you really want to spend at least one night in Sapa. This will also allow you to experience some of the town’s beauty. Though if you are planning on going hiking or doing a homestay I would add on a couple of extra nights again.
How far in advance do I need to book tickets? It is recommended you book tickets in advance to ensure you can travel with a reputable, clean and safe company. You should try for at least a week in advance to be safe. Though if you are not worried about this then you can probably just book the day before.
The only time this advice isn’t valid is during the high season between November to January, weekends, and especially on the Vietnamese New Year (Tet). During these times you will want to book at least 4 weeks in advance and expect a very full bus, train, or minivan.
Booking through Baolau or 12.Go Asia is perfect for over those busy periods as you can book when you haven’t even arrived in the country yet! This means you can relax knowing all the planning is taken care of.
Where To Stay In Sapa?
Sapa town is absolutely full of affordable and more luxurious hotel options. From comfortable guesthouses to sparkling brand new hotels it all really comes down to your budget and what you are willing to spend. The township is nice and compact making it easy to travel everywhere on foot.
I also recommend while you are in Sapa to do a homestay experience. This is where you will live alongside a local family. You can eat what they eat, see the incredible countryside and explore to your heart’s content. They seem to be cheaper than the hotels in the main town, though they will be a lot more basic. Our homestay had limited electricity which meant evenings cuddled up around the fire eating warm sugarcane.
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Things To Do In Sapa
Sapa is a nature lovers paradise! There are so many things to do here that will keep you busy throughout your stay.
Trekking Tour: These are surprisingly affordable costing less than $20.00 for the day. You will be able to visit ethnic minority villages here in Sapa, which depends on exactly what tour you book. Though, your guides will be able to take you through the beautiful rice terraces and to some of the most picturesque spots. You will be given plenty of opportunities to interact with the local villagers and learn about their way of life.
Self-Guided Hike: If you are wanting to trek Sapa without a guide I first highly recommend you download Maps.Me on your phone. On it, you will be able to get an offline version of a map of Sapa, perfect if you do not have a local sim card. If you are traveling during a part of the year with good weather then you can likely do a variety of hikes. The tracks will be maintained and dry so you should have no problem getting around. From Sapa, you can either trek to Cat Cat Village and Sin Chai which should take about half a day, or you can do to Y Linh Ho, Lao Chai, and Ta Van.
Homestay Experience: One of the best things to do in Sapa, and what I highly recommend is to do a Homestay experience. There are so many places to choose from, so you should definitely do some research as to which village you would like to stay in. The easiest way to book your Homestay in Sapa is through Booking.com. This is what I used to book my homestay making it a hassle-free experience.
Silver Waterfall: One of the most famous waterfalls in Sapa is called Silver Waterfalls. Over 200 meters in height the water gushes down with force. There is also Love Waterfall located a short walk away which is steeped in local legend.
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