How to get to Sapa: Complete Guide

June 20, 2022 - 7233 views

Sapa is a district town of Lao Cai province, it does not have any nearby airport so the only option to get to Sapa is by road or rail, and the most popular destinations to reach Sapa are Hanoi, Cat Ba, and Ninh Binh. However, most routes will pass Hanoi so no matter what transport you go, it is ideal to get to Hanoi and continue the journey.  From Hanoi, travelers can choose between a limousine van, sleeper bus, and private car, a combination of train and bus, or renting a motorbike to travel to Sapa. This article will give you detailed information that will help you decide which method of transportation is the most suitable for you. 


Located in the northwest of Vietnam, Sapa is a mountainous town, it attracts tourists with pristine rice terraces, sweeping mountain views, and the fascinating culture of colorful ethnic hill tribes. A lot of tourists travel from Hanoi to Sapa (with a distance of 315 kilometers) as it's the most popular and convenient travel route. Since there are many options to get to Sapa, it can be confusing which travel options to use. Following are the various ways and their differences that could be useful for you. 


Overnight train to Sapa

Regarding the train, it is the choice of the majority of travellers who travel to Sapa overnight, and transferring by train is the safest choice. It is considered to be more comfortable and safer than a bus, and a lot cheaper than hiring a car. The only direct train to Lao Cai is from Hanoi so if you are travelling from other destinations, you have to reach Hanoi and hop on the train.

You will get to Lao Cai station and catch another bus from Lao Cai to Sapa. You can book your train ticket by visiting a travel agency, contacting a ticket sale agent, or buying directly from the railway station (on Tran Quy Cap Street, Hanoi). Tickets are from soft-sleeper class to hard-seat berths or private rail carriages. You should buy tickets beforehand to avoid sold-out conditions during the travel season.

Overnight train traveling to Sapa

An overnight train travelling to Sapa


Three sleeper trains leave Hanoi Railway Station each evening, at 20:35 (SP7), 21:10 (SP1), and 21:50 (SP3). They take around 8 hours and 20 minutes to reach Lao Cai City. The return journey departure times are 17:30 (SP8), 20:15 (SP2), and 21:00 (SP4) (trains have even numbers in the return direction). The SP1, SP2, SP3, and SP4 mainly comprise privately run sleeper cabins, and the SP7 and SP8 also have soft seats. If you are looking for a cheaper option, or cannot get onto one of the SP trains, the LC1 leaves Hanoi at 22:00 and the return LC2 departs at 18:45. This takes around an hour and has no option of soft sleepers rather than hard seats. The one daytime train departs at 06:10 (LC3), 09:15 (LC4) and arrives more than 10 hours later.

Some cars on the train are operated by private railway companies. They are generally four-berth or two-berth sleepers that range from $20 USD up to $150 USD depending on quality and standards.

4 berths compartment on the train - traveling to Sapa

A 4-beth compartment on the train

From the Lao Cai railway station, travellers still have to go an extra 35km (about 22 miles) to get to Sapa town. As usual, mini busses depart from Lao Cai every 30 minutes with a cost of VND 28000 (a little bit more than $1). The ticket is available for purchase at the train station gate. Regularly, the bus stop is right in front of Sapa Church, yet you can also ask the bus driver to drop you off at your accommodation in the town. In addition, most hotels in Sapa offer this minibus transfer service so you can double-check when making the reservation.


Bus on the highway to Sapa

Travelling to Sapa by bus is the most common method of transportation since it is comfortable and cheap in comparison with other transports. Buses to Sapa have many available departure times, mainly in the morning and in the late evening. The benefits of transferring by bus, passengers can travel directly to Sapa town and with this vehicle, you can travel from either Hanoi, Ninh Binh, or Cat Ba since there are some bus companies that offer the routes. Anyhow, travelling by bus from Hanoi to Sapa takes 6 hours whereas travelling from Ninh Binh to Sapa takes 8 hours, same with Cat Ba - Sapa route. 

Sleeping bus to Sapa

Taking the sleeper bus is one of the best ways to travel to Sapa and around Vietnam in general. Riders can extend their legs and recline the seat to a 150° angle then sleep during the ride. The sleeper buses normally have 38 or 40 seats, consisting of three rows of berths which are two on the sides and one row in the middle. All buses are equipped with air conditioning, wi-fi, water, and other amenities. Some buses even have English-speaking tour guide to support if you need.

Inside a sleeper bus - Traveling to Sapa

Inside a sleeper bus

Some bus companies now offer private cabins on their luxury VIP buses. These buses have only 20 seats which creates a spacious and enjoyable area for their passengers. Each of the cabins is equipped with USB plugs to charge your devices, an LCD TV, reading lights, a pillow, and a blanket along with its own curtains which provide you with the ultimate privacy.  Besides, every traveler receives a bottle of water and wet tissue. As the quality is better than the regular sleeper bus yet the price is just slightly higher. The ticket for traveling one way costs $17 per person or $30 per double berth cabin.

In case you take the overnight sleeper bus, consider bringing eye masks and earplugs in order to have a better sleep. Don’t be so worry if you arrive in Sapa in the pitch black of early morning (around 04:00 AM) as the bus companies will let you sleep on the bus until the sun comes up (around 06:00 or 07:00).


Luxury Limousine Van to Sapa

If you’d rather not travel by bus and are willing to spend a little more, then going by minivan is a great option. It’ll get you into Sapa faster and it isn’t considerably more expensive than the bus. Plus, some include hotel pickup in Hanoi which is very convenient.

Modern facilities of a limousine van - Traveling to Sapa

Modern facilities of a limousine van


Get to Sapa by private car

Another transportation option is to arrange a private car to travel to Sapa. This would be the most comfortable method of transportation if you are traveling in a small and medium private group or with your family. This is also a good choice during peak travel seasons as bus companies or trains could be fully booked and your methods of transportation become limited options.

The advantages of having a private driver are that you will be picked up at your hotel in Hanoi, does not matter if it’s located in the Old Quarter or not and they will drop you off at your accommodation in Sapa, which can be situated further than the town’s center. Moreover, getting a private car pickup is available at any time whereas other transports are limited by set schedules so you will have more time to lie in bed and enjoy a hearty breakfast before the journey. Not to mention, you can take multiple breaks or drive to Sapa without making any stops that shorten the duration of the trip.

Private car traveling to Sapa

A private car traveling to Sapa

On the other hand, this is the most expensive transportation option to choose from. The price is going to vary based on the capability of the car, the quality of the vehicle and the number of people travelling, etc... Regularly, it ranges from $170 for a 4-seater car to $400 for a 50-seater coach. You can contact and arrange a private car through any travel agency in Hanoi Old Quarter and remember to ask for the price before booking one. Some companies do provide English-speaking operators and drivers however the price could be more pricey than others.


Riding a motorbike to Sapa

Traveling to Sapa by motorbike is a wonderful experience for adventure seekers. Picking a motorbike as a means to travel gives you the freedom of traveling and offers plenty of magnificent views. It not only helps to save costs but also gives you a lot of interesting experiences on the road, the trip will take up to 9 or 10 hours which also depends on your speed as well as how many times you want to stop for a rest and take photos.  With the development of technology, you can follow Google Maps to get to your destination. The route from Hanoi to Sapa is quite safe in general yet it is recommended to stay off the main highway as it would be more dangerous and will not be more scenic. Additionally, be aware of the route from Lao Cai to Sapa that it is rugged and hilly.

Traveling to Sapa by motorbike

Traveling to Sapa by motorbike is a wonderful experience

You can easily rent a motorbike in Hanoi Old Quarter with the price ranges from $9 to $45 per day based on the type of bike. Remember to check every part of the bike whether it is working properly and carry out maintenance for your vehicle to operate in the best condition.

It is important to fuel up regularly, especially when the gas tank is half till empty since the petrol stations are located far apart from others. You can also consider bringing along a 1.5-litre empty bottle to fill up with fuel in case of emergency.

Traveling to Sapa by a motorbike

Well prepare before traveling to Sapa on a motorbike

If you decide to travel to Sapa by motorbike, check the weather before the trip and prepare for all types of elements. Depending on the time of the year it can also be chilling and you should have gloves, a waterproof and wind-resistant jacket. Northern Vietnam is a mountainous region and is generally cooler because it is at a higher elevation. Also, bring along decent rainwear which is designed specifically for motorbikes.

In summary, above are some experiences that we would like to share about available transferring options to get to Sapa. This town is one of Vietnam’s most popular destinations so let's take a chance to enjoy the paradise resort in the Northwest of Vietnam. Let's find the best Sapa tours now to enjoy your wonderful vacation.

Read more best time to visit Sapa

Minah Trinh

Image sources: Internet

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