We had read about the amazing town of Sa Pa in Lào Cai Province, high in the hills of north-west Vietnam and decided to take an overnight sleeper train to get there.
Booking train tickets at Hanoi Train Station
As we were living a few minutes walk away, we decided to go and book our train tickets in person at the main station, Ga Ha Noi. The main building is located on Le Duan Street and this is known as station A but there’s also a confusing station B around the corner on Tran Quy Cap.
Unless you are taking a train north towards the Chinese border (or beyond to Moscow or London) you’ll be using Station A which is easy to spot with it’s imposing part Soviet style frontage. The original prettier building is hiding still behind it somewhere but suffered bomb damage during the American (Vietnam) War in 1972.
You enter through the main door and turn left for advance ticket booking. There’s a special desk for tourists to buy tickets and the staff were very helpful and booked us onto the train we wanted.
TOP TIP: Use the local travel website baolau.vn to check availability, times, classes and prices first. That way you’ll know you are getting the correct train and price as they might try and sell you a more expensive ‘tourist’ carriage ticket at the station.
Google map of Hanoi Train Station (Ga Ha Noi):
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Train times and prices from Hanoi to Sapa
Getting to Sapa itself is a 2 part journey as the train line runs up to the north west boarder town of Lao Cai and from there you take a bus or taxi to Sapa town.
The sleeper train tickets cost us 385,000 VND ($17 USD) per person for a bed in a 4 person carriage.
We took the Violette Trains SP3 service which left Hanoi at 10pm and arrived at Lao Cai at 6.20am the next morning.
The cheapest option for this journey would be a Hard Seat (yes, just a wooden bench) at around 145,000 VND overnight or a Soft Seat (padded reclining chair) on the same train costs from 190,000 VND per person.
There are also various kinds of Sleeper Carriages avaliable starting from 385,000 VND per person for a basic bed in a 4 person carriage (our choice), up to 3,540,000 VND per person for a 2 bed deluxe carriage. We hope that includes breakfast and a massage!
To find the best prices for all train, air or bus travel in Vietnam we would recommend using a Hanoi based travel website called baolau.vn. We used this site to book most of our journeys and you can just show any ticket on your smartphone so no running around to find a place to print your vouchers!
Our Sapa sleeper train experience
We found our 4 person compartment to be comfortable and clean. It was a nice change from the open carriages that we had experienced on our sleeper train journey in Thailand.
We were also blessed with two lovely travel companions, Aveen and Dorina, and we were soon chatting away as the train pulled out of Ga Ha Noi spot on 10pm.
It was soon time for some shut eye so we climbed into our top bunk positions and settled in for the night. Towards the early hours of the morning the carriage did begin to clunk around quite a lot and there was some loud banging noises from underneath as we climbed higher into the northern hills of Vietnam.
But overall we much preferred this to journey over a long daytime train ride to Sapa and did manage to get some sleep overnight.
The guard came to wake us up in good time before we pulled into Lao Cai around 6.20am and offered us tea and coffee. Not being fully awake we took it, only for him to return a few minutes later asking for 10,000 VND each for the hot beverages, the cheeky bugger!
We really liked the fact that they played a gentle local folk song over the cabin speaker as we approached our final destination. It was a lovely way to arrive and we’d totally recommend a sleeper train from Hanoi.
The onward bus from Lao Cai to Sapa
Unless you book a tour package your train tickets won’t include the final 1 hour road journey to Sapa but it’s easy to grab the local bus from the train station in Lao Cai.
Be aware that the local touts for taxis and busses will get onto the train once it stops and ask if you need to get to Sapa. Just tell them clearly that you have both a hotel and transport to Sapa booked or they will follow you around trying to get you into their rip off taxi or bus.
As you exit the station in Lao Cai turn left and look for the local mini bus parked up in the corner of the parking area. It clearly says Lao Cai ⇔ Sapa on the front and side despite what the local taxi touts tell you.
It departs every hour on the hour and costs just 28,000 VND ($1.25 USD) per person, much cheaper than a taxi unless there is a group of you. There are a few stalls close by to grab an early morning coffee or snack while you wait.
Once the bus set off it quickly filled up with locals, stopping many times as we got to the edge of Lao Cai and began the climb up to Sapa town. Just make sure you wedge yourself in and sit on your bags otherwise the locals will!
Arriving in the cold and misty Sapa town
If like us you have been travelling in South East Asia for a few weeks, wearing shorts and enjoying the sun, then prepare yourself for a shock.
Sapa is around 1500 meters above sea level and is often shrouded in a chilly mountain mist which sometimes won’t clear all day.
Did you take a sleeper train from Hanoi to Sapa? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below…
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