Hanoi to Sapa: train and bus how different?

Sapa is located in Northwest of Vietnam. The weather in Sapa is temperate climate and subtropical climate, as such, the whole year is pretty cool. Especially, every day, the weather in the town changes within 4 seasons: the morning is the spring, the afternoon is like the summer with sunny, foggy falls and creates a cool feeling like the autumn, and the evening is like the winter after sundown. Many travelers very interested in Sapa because of its weather. Hence, traveling from Hanoi to Sapa has raised most of travelers’ concern that how to get there safely. In this article, I will give you the difference between taking a train and a bus from Hanoi to Sapa.

Train to Sapa from Hanoi

Hanoi to Sapa: train and bus how different?
Photo by vietnam tyical tours
We chose to travel overnight on the Hanoi to Sapa train.  In our opinion, the best train to Sapa is definitely the Sapaly train (although the Fransipan Train comes in at a close second!). It can be slightly tricky to organize your Hanoi Sapa train tickets ahead of time!  We found that the easiest and most reliable way of booking your trip on either the bus or train is through the travel company in Vietnam.

The Positives of the Overnight Train to Sapa:
  • It is a great way to save ‘time’ as you travel overnight.
  • If you choose to go with the train from Hanoi to Sapa option, it is important to choose the ‘soft-sleeper’ option.  You either have the option on this train of sharing your cabin with other people (4 pax) or alternatively to purchase all 4 tickets for you and your partner/friend which means you now have what they call a VIP private cabin.
  • We thought the cabins were beautifully decorated, soft pillows and mattresses, slippers under the bed.  There were also free water, snacks, toothbrushes in each cabin.
  • We were grateful for the electrical points as well so that we could charge up our electronics before hitting Bac Ha markets upon arrival in the Sapa region.
  • The train also has some western style toilets for those of you who would be concerned about that!  They stayed fairly clean for our train trip and had toilet paper for the whole duration of the night – although I still suggest you take some of your own just for in case!
Negatives of Traveling by Train to Sapa:
  • You won’t get to see much scenery as it will be pitch black outside for the majority of your trip.
  • Due to the age of the train and the railroad tracks, the ride will be anything but smooth.  We struggled to sleep (despite taking sleeping pills) as the train rocked us back and forth!  At various stages of the night, I could feel my heart in my throat as I thought that the train was about to derail!
  • As we had a private berth, the top two beds were positioned up and against the wall out of the way.  However, this left the chains that normally kept them in place loose.  They were loudly clanging about all night long!  I’m not sure if this is an issue if you share your cabin and all beds are occupied??  Even though I had earplugs in, I still struggled to sleep with the noise!  We did try wrapping our clothes around the chains to prevent them from clanging, but tricks of the trade seemed to let us down!
  • The train drops you off in Lao Cai.  Lao Cai happens to be about 38 km from Sapa.  Which doesn’t sound like much, but considering the roads bend and weave through mountains, the drive to get to Sapa can take around 45 min!  As we made our way straight to the Bac Ha Markets, we did not mind that the final train destination was in Lao Cai instead of Sapa.
Bus to Sapa from Hanoi

Hanoi to Sapa: train and bus how different? 1
Photo by vietnam typical tours
Because of the fact that we wanted to get a decent night sleep before heading to Halong Bay, we chose to try out the bus on the way back from Sapa to Hanoi.  This meant that we could book a hotel in Hanoi for the night before heading off in the early morning towards our cruise on Halong Bay.

Positives of choosing the bus from Hanoi to Sapa option:
  • The Express bus to Sapa (or vice versa) is a very comfortable bus to travel in.  The seats could slightly recline, we had our laptop with us, so watched some Anthony Bourdaine to kill the time!
  • The bus travels in the day, which means you that you can see some pretty spectacular scenery on the drive!  It also means that you can get some good sleep in a hotel once you arrive at your destination.
  • They gave us a bottle of water and a small packet of snacks as we were climbing onto the bus.
  • Blankets and neck pillows were available, on the Hanoi to Sapa by bus, for use as well.
  • The Hanoi Sapa bus makes a stop halfway through the trip at a servo-type stop point.   It is great to stretch the legs for 30 min and grab something cool to drink, and if you are brave, you might want to grab some food there as well!
  • The roads in Sapa are pretty bendy and winding with steep cliffs, the bus goes pretty fast, so some people might get motion sickness.
  • There is only one toilet break, so bladder control is important haha.
  • They drop everyone off at the same location in both Sapa and Hanoi.  You will need to make your own way from their to your hotel accommodation.  Do not expect them to drop you off at your chosen point of location.
For each vehicle, it will have both advantages and disadvantages, you can choose depending on your purpose and your team opinion. I hope this article can help you a lot when you travel from Hanoi to Sapa.