While travelling Vietnam, I created a 2 week itinerary to make sure we got to do and see some of the best things in Vietnam. We were determined to get right up to Sapa to trek the rice terraces, meet the tribal women and experience a homestay. Our first hurdle was finding out how to get to Sapa and working out whether we actually had enough time to do it on a two week trip (the answer is yes!)…
How to get to Sapa…
Travellers generally take the sleeper bus from Hanoi which takes around 7 hours. This journey used to take 11 ish hours however they built a brand new highway connecting Hanoi and Sapa in 2014 making it more accessible (yayyy)! We had read a few blog posts online saying it took around 10 hours to get up there, so due to time constraints we initially thought we couldn’t fit Sapa into our trip – don’t fall into this trap! Sapa is as easy to get to as anywhere else.
The sleeper buses here are much nicer than the ones in Thailand (although I was there a few years ago so they may be better now!). These have leather seats/beds that are reclined so much they are horizontal and have a cubby hole at the bottom to store your bag. Also they have good air con and wifi. 🙂
The sleeper bus leaves Hanoi at around 9pm and arrives to Sapa central bus station at around 4/5 am. The bus driver usually parks the bus up for a couple of hours though to let passengers sleep until around 7 ish so don’t panic at the early start!
The best place to book the sleeper buses are the small independent travel companies in the centre of Hanoi, they have the timetables there as well. Return ticket prices vary from 200.000 VND (around £6) to 550.000 VND (around £17 – they get more expensive on Vietnamese bank holidays), but if you are booking a Sapa tour & homestay at the same time this will be included in the price.
Check out Sapa Express for more info or if you’re booking buses online.
The other way to get to Sapa is by train (companies include Sapaly Express, King Express , Livitrans Express). The main way of doing this from Hanoi is by catching a day/night train to Lao Cai, taking around 8 or 9 hours, and then catching a 1.5 hour bus from there to Sapa (there are no trains that go directly to Sapa).
Just FYI, the overnight train is faster as it makes less stops than the day train, but then of course you don’t get to see the beautiful scenery. Tickets usually cost between £12 – £32 per person depending on whether you need a 2-berth cabin, 4-berth cabin, 6-berth cabin or soft-seat cabin.
There are a few motorbike tours that you can join that bike all the way from Hanoi to Sapa. This takes between 3 – 7 days depending on the route you choose but you get to see some incredible sights such as Mai Chau, Than Uyen and Moc Chau. Vietnam is known for its chaos on the roads so I wouldn’t join one of these tours unless you are confident on 2 wheels!
And by the way…
If you are really limited on time and you want to do both Sapa and Halong Bay, it is worth knowing that you don’t necessarily need to spend a night in Hanoi in between the two.
If you organize your tours / buses for both as soon as you get to Hanoi then it is possible to take the sleeper bus to Sapa on the day that you arrive back from Halong Bay. 🙂
This is something I wish we’d known as we spent hours trying to work out a way of fitting everything in, and that 1 extra night we thought we needed in Hanoi was causing the problem!