What’s the best way to travel to Sapa, Vietnam?

Travelling from Hanoi airport to Sapa, and from Sapa to Hanoi City. Mode of transport includes train and bus.
Which is better? Team train or team bus?

Planning your travel to Sapa? Sapa is around 310km away from Hanoi city and 285km away from Hanoi airport (Noi Bai International Airport)

There are a few ways of getting from Hanoi to Sapa – via bus, train and private car. During our 5D5N trip to Vietnam in Dec 2023, we sent 4 days in Sapa and 1 day in Hanoi. We took the bus to Sapa and the train back to Hanoi. Both methods have their pros and cons. In this article, we will be sharing our experience, including what to expect, how many transfers, cost, duration etc. At the end of the article, we have listed the key differences in a simple table. With that, you will be able to decide if you belong to “Team Train” or “Team Bus”!

Sleeper Bus Journey from Hanoi Airport to Sapa

Booking Process

We booked our tickets through GOVNTRAVEL following a recommendation from a friend. Our experience with them was great. The agent was responsive and had a good command of English. The whole ticket booking was fuss-free and handled entirely through communications on Whatsapp. We received our bus tickets after payment.

  • Request for upper deck seats for better view of the outside. However, if you have mobility issues to climb up a ladder, we recommend you to chose the lower deck.
  • If you are travelling as a couple, do not choose the “couple cabin seats”. You are essentially paying the same price for two to squeeze in a single-seater cabin.
  • You can also request for side by side seats (compared to upper and lower deck seats), so you can see each other and get good views of the outside.

Overview of Sleeper Bus

  • Cost: 22 USD/ pax for a single-seater private cabin.
  • Duration of sleeper bus ride: 6hrs
  • Transfers: A 15mins minibus transfer from Hanoi Airport to the bus pick-up point, followed by another 15min minibus transfer from the Sapa bus drop-off point to our Sapa hotel. Both transfers are included in the cost of the bus ticket and coordinated by the transport agent.

Our sleeper bus experience from Hanoi Airport to Sapa Hotel

Minibus transfer

Our plane landed at 9am, and we opt for the 1025am bus to allow for sufficient buffer to go through the immigration customs. It took us 45mins to clear the customs. Upon our arrival at Hanoi Airport, we got in touch with the travel agent. The travel agent helped to liaise with the sleeper bus company. We were informed to board a yellow minibus at pillar 12, located just outside of Hanoi Airport arrival hall. The transfer ride took 15min.

Minibus transfer we took from Hanoi Airport to the Bus Company office
Sleeper bus stop, Hanoi to Sapa, Vietnam
Bus company office, where we waited for our sleeper bus to Sapa

We waited at the bus company office for approx. 30mins, and got on this large yellow sleeper bus at 1035am. We used the toilet before boarding the bus as there are no toilets onboard.

Sleeper bus, Hanoi to Sapa - Vietnam

The bus driver asked us to take off our shoes when we boarded the bus, and gave us a plastic bag to bag the shoes. We then found our assigned side by side seats at the top deck of the bus.

Sleeper bus, Hanoi to Sapa - Vietnam
Marco is 1.75m tall. The seat is not long enough for him to extend his legs fully. One issue we had was that the seat reclined could not be adjusted. So we basically had to lie down throughout the entire ride.
Sleeper bus, Hanoi to Sapa - Vietnam
Top deck of the bus offers better views.

Rest stops

After a 1hr 45mins ride, the bus stopped at a rest stop. The bus provided slippers so it was more convenient for the passengers to get off without needing to wear their shoes. We were given 15mins to use the toilet, buy some snacks and stretch our legs.

Sleeper bus, Hanoi to Sapa - Vietnam
The slippers made it more convenient for us to get off the bus with ease.
Sleeper bus rest stop, Hanoi to Sapa, Vietnam
Plenty of snack shops at the rest stop.

Arrival at Sapa City

After another 2hrs ride, the bus stopped at Lao Cai. Many passangers got off at this stop. We stayed on the bus for another hour and arrived at Sapa Bus Terminal. As the bus terminal is still a 1.6km from the Sapa centre, the bus company arranged another transfer from the bus terminal to the hotel. We arrived at Paos’ Sapa Leisure hotel at 4pm. Overall, it was a smooth journey for us.

Sleeper Train Journey from Sapa to Hanoi City

Booking Process

Similarly, we booked our tickets through GOVNTRAVEL. Upon payment, the travel agent sent us the booking confirmation, which indicated the address of the ticket collection point.

  • There is an option to opt for a private cabin for two, which will offer you complete privacy. You will also be able to lock the door of your cabin. This is a pricier option, where you are paying 116 USD for a private cabin for two vs 80 USD for two beds shared with two other travellers.
  • If you opt for a single bed, you will be allocated a bed in a 4-bed cabin (2 double-decker beds), shared with other travellers. You can request for a specific bed (upper or lower deck) bed upfront.
  • Unlike other trains, all the beds face the same direction (sideways from the direction of the train movement). Hence, no need to worry sleep against the direction of train movement for this case!

Overview of Sleeper Train

  • Transfer: We took a transfer taxi to get to the train station from our Sapa Hotel as Lao Cai Train station is located 45min (30km) away from Sapa city. Buses from Sapa city will only take you to Lao Cai bus station, where you would need to take another taxi transfer to get to the train station.
  • Cost: 68 USD (~90 SGD) [40 USD/ pax (price of 1 bed in a 4 bed cabin) + 28 USD taxi transfer from Sapa hotel to Lao Cai train station]
  • Duration of sleeper train ride: ~8hrs

Our sleeper train experience from Sapa Hotel to Hanoi city

Ticket collection

We took a taxi and left Lady Sapa Hill Hotel at around 5pm, we then arrived at the Lao Cai train station about 45 minutes later. We were directed to collect the tickets at Hai Nhi Restaurant, which is just across the road from the train station, where we saw a bunch of other travellers as well awaiting for the train. As the train only sell cup noodles and small snacks on board, we decided to have dinner at the restaurant.

Sleeper train ticket collection point, Sapa to Hanoi, Vietnam
The restaurant owner welcomed us and asked us to show us our ticket confirmation. He then AirDrop our train tickets to our phone, which was valid for our train ride.

Boarding the train

We made our way to the Lao Cai train station just before 9pm to board. The train staff checked our our train ticket on our phone and boarded our train smoothly.

Sleeper train, Hanoi to Sapa, Vietnam
We took the Sapaly Express Train that left Sapa at 930pm.

Despite the train looking a little old, the cabin was clean and well maintained. Clara took little to no time to fall asleep as usual and basically slept through the entire 8 hour train ride. Marco, however, being the light sleeper that he is, struggled to fall asleep throughout since the ride is rather bumpy at times and the bed is certainly not what he is used to at home.

Sleeper train cabin, Sapa to Hanoi, Vietnam
Our 2 bedder private cabin. It comes with complimentary water, chips, a bottle of coke and beer,

Arrival at Sapa

At 5.30am, the train staff woke us up. We packed our bags and got off the train. Hanoi Railway Station is located conveniently in Hanoi City centre. At the entrance of Hanoi Railway Station, we were stopped by various drivers asking if we would like a taxi ride to the hotel. We decided to walk to our hotel, as it was just a 25mins walk and we wanted to stretch our legs. Overall, we enjoyed our unique first overnight train journey!

Hanoi Railway station, Vietnam
Hanoi Railway Station at 530am

Final Verdict

Summary of different factors

Here is the golden summary you are waiting for to decide your way to travel to Sapa:

Aspects for comparison Sleeper BusSleeper Train
Total pricing 22 USD/ pax (~ 29 SGD)

40 USD/ pax (price of 1 bed in a 4 bed cabin)
Taxi transfer from Sapa hotel to Lao Cai train station cost 28 USD

Total cost = 68 USD (~ 90 SGD)
Duration~ 6hrs~8hrs
Frequency of travelThere are bus transfers throughout the day, and there is also an overnight option.Only departs at night and arrives at destination in the morning.
Number of transfersx1 15min minibus transfer from Hanoi airport to bus pickup
x1 minibus transfer from bus drop off to Sapa hotel
(both transfers are included in bus fare)
Taxi ride from Sapa to Lao Cai train station took ~45mins.
Comfort and Experience– The seat is wide enough for you to put your backpack
– If you are taller than 6ft (183cm), you cannot fully extend your legs
– The only option is to lie down as the seats are not adjustable.
– Seat is rather hard, like a flattened airplane seat.
– No toilet on the bus. There are two rest stops for toilet breaks.
– Good air-conditioning
– Interesting experience to sleep in a train cabin overnight.
– The bed had proper clean sheets and a blanket.
– Ride is rather bumpy.
– There is a shared toilet on the train.
Comparison table between Sleeper Bus and Train based on the prices and experiences during our trip in Dec 2023

Our verdict

If you are looking for efficient affordable travel, go for the bus ride. If you have not slept on an overnight train, and looking for a special travel experience, then go for the train option. The train option is no doubt more expensive, and cumbersome in terms of transfers, but it was a memorable experience for our trip to Sapa. So yes, we are TEAM TRAIN!

Let us know in the comments if you are Team Bus or Team Train!

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