08.12.2015 - 09.12.2015 15 °C
Hanoi train station
Getting from Hanoi to Sapa turned out to be a very smooth affair and without hassle. I chose to travel with the train as I had never before experience the rail journey in Vietnam. Travel journey took approximately 8 hours, departing from Hanoi train station at 2200 with the SP3 train and arriving at Sapa train station about 0600 the next morning. The furthest I had ever travelled in Vietnam was an overland regular bus journey from Savannakhet, Laos crossing the Dansavanh/Lao Bao border over to Dong Ha, then finally arriving at Hue, Vietnam, which took about overall a 10 hours ride, crossing over 2 countries. And that was one of the best and memorable journey in my backpacking travel experience. Before arriving at Savannakhet, I was on a sleeper coach travelling from Vientiane, capital of Laos to Savannakhet which took about 8 hours travel time. There was also a choice of a sleeper coach from Hanoi to Sapa, which takes about 5 to 6 hours journey. There a few ways on how train ticket can be booked for the Hanoi-Sapa-Hanoi trip. First and most hassle-free would be purchasing it from your hotel's reception. However, the only setback by buying ticket this way is that there was added cost to it. A normal Hanoi-Sapa train ticket for SP train is VND 600,000. SP train is a soft-sleeper coach with each compartments having 4 berths, 2 lower and 2 upper berths. If you booked ticket from the hotel reception, additional of about VND 75,0000 will be added for transportation cost, which is still acceptable because the costs of taxi to and back from the train station will be more than that. Of course if you chose to walk, then that would be different calculation altogether. The second way to book the train is through online. Search through the net and you shall be able to find the website to book it. The third surely would be to head to the train station to book the ticket by yourself. I chose the first one because that save me some time and the trouble of getting to the train station multiple times. But still, the choice is yours. Booking ticket from the hotel reception, you will not get the train ticket immediately. What you would be given is a receipt which would be then exchange for train ticket at the train station on the day of the train journey . The ticket is a print-out slip with details of the train destination (Hanoi-Sapa), train type (SP 3), travel date and time and coach and compartment number. When arriving at the train station, head to a small ticket exchange room on the left of the waiting lobby to exchange the ticket.
Hanoi to Sapa train ticket
The train from Hanoi to Sapa
The interior of Hanoi-Sapa train
The 4 berth sleeping compartment of the train from Hanoi to Sapa
The overall train journey was reasonably comfortable. Free coffee or tea provided at the beginning and end of the train journey. You should be able to sleep through the whole journey without much trouble which will be good to re-energised your body for hill tribes trekking when arriving in Sapa the next early morning. The weather in Sapa during my arrival was chilly with temperature about 15 degree Celsius or lower with slight rain. Arriving at the Lao Cai train station, you need to then transfer to Sapa town which was about 38 km from Lao Cai town. The most widely available transportation was the shared minibus. Be aware that these minibus operators and their "agents" would be right on the railway tracks "welcoming" you just as you disembarked from the train. Yes, you read that right. These touts were allowed freely to access to the tracks without any restrictions and yes, there isn't a proper platform for passengers to disembark and to walk through the platform walkways to the main train station area to exit. Take note that the minibus fare from Lao Cai train station to Sapa town should costs VND 50,000 for one way journey per person. These touts will charged a ridiculous fare of VND 200,000. From what I gathered, travellers paid the same fare of VND 200,000 whether you are Westerners, Europeans or Asians. Bargain the fare and you probably will only pay VND 50,000.
Lao Cai train station
The minibus from Lao Cai train station to Sapa town