As a resident of Hanoi, I’ve made the trip from Hanoi to Sapa multiple times at this point, so I feel I have at least some expertise.
There are two main ways to get from Hanoi to Sapa:
In the past, most everyone recommended the train because the bus ride was long and miserable. But that all changed in 2014 when Vietnam officially opened to the Hanoi – Lao Cai Expressway. This is a brand new highway that goes directly from Hanoi to Lao Cai (the town at the bottom of Sapa’s mountain – the same place the train ends up).
Now that you’re traveling on a freshly paved, divided highway, I actually think the bus is a much more pleasant option. But if getting drunk with some friendly Vietnamese people on a train sounds like fun, that’s always a viable option. Here’s how you can do both:
Getting from Hanoi to Sapa By Bus
There are a lot of travel agencies in the old quarter who will sell you bus tickets to Sapa. DON’T USE THEM. Seriously. Back when I was fresh in Vietnam, I booked through one of the travel agencies. Our bus looked beautiful in the brochure, but when it came time to actually board, nothing was as advertised.
After an 8-hour tour through the countryside, randomly picking up and dropping off Vietnamese people, we finally made it to Sapa. It was miserable. Lesson learned.
The Bus Company You Want to Choose
On my next trip, I booked directly with the bus company whose brochure we were shown the first time. The trip took a little under 5 hours, had an English speaking guide and, most importantly, had a safe driver (by Vietnamese standards). It’s also a limousine style bus instead of those miserable sleepers (if you like the sleeper buses, cool! I hate them with a passion).
The company is called Sapa Express. Their buses depart from Hanoi every morning and cost ~$17 USD one way.
The bus was nice enough that I even managed to grab a bit of shuteye (not common for me when traveling in Vietnam):
If you want a bit more representative shot of the inside of the bus, I snagged this one from their Facebook page:
That’s pretty much exactly what the bus I was on looked like.
You’ll go straight to Sapa via the Lao Cai Expressway. The only stops are two bathroom/snack breaks – no picking up random Vietnamese people! The bus drops you off right in the heart of Sapa town, so you won’t need any type of transfer.
While tour agencies might claim to sell Sapa Express tickets, I think it’s best to book directly at the Sapa Express office at 12 Ly Thai To. As I said, when I tried to book Sapa Express at the Sinh Tourist agency, they completely lied to me.
You can also book return tickets back to Hanoi with Sapa Express – if I recall correctly, the bus departs Sapa at around 2 pm.
Another good way to book bus tickets is via Ve Xe Re (roughly translated to “Go Cheap” I think). It’s a Vietnamese start up that allows you to choose from a number of bus providers. They have an English language version of the site, so booking is easy and painless.
You can even book Sapa Express through Ve Xe Re if you want.
Getting from Hanoi to Sapa By Train
As I said, I think bus is absolutely the best option with the new expressway. But if you want to go via train, you can buy tickets from Bao Lau, another Vietnamese company that helps simplify the train ticketing process:
You can choose your amenities and seat type and then book directly from the website. Everything is in English.
You can start your search using the form below:
Just remember that the train only takes you to Lao Cai. Once you get to Lao Cai, you’ll need to take a taxi or book a transfer up to Sapa (it takes about 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic). You can also take the public bus for about 50k VND.
BUT, if you can swing it, I think it’s safer to take a taxi for ~400k VND. For the extra 350k, you’ll get a much smoother and safer journey.
What to Do Once You Get to Sapa
For activities once you arrive, check out my guide for what to do in Sapa.