Sapa is a small mountain town in the northwest region of Vietnam. It’s known for its pristine rice terraces, sweeping mountain views, and lovely hillside treks.
It’s home to Fansipan Mountain – the highest peak in Vietnam – and a range of colorful ethnic tribes that produce one of the more unique regional cuisines in Vietnam.
As far as I know, Sapa is the only place in Vietnam where you can have thang co, a traditional Hmong stew made primarily with horse meat. It’s for this reason why I traveled to Sapa from Hanoi, to experience it’s unique indigenous cuisine.
Sapa is about 320 km northwest of Hanoi and you can get there by bus, train, minivan, or private car. I’ll discuss the differences between each mode of transportation in this Hanoi to Sapa guide.
A quick note, this guide assumes you’ll be traveling to Sapa from Hanoi on your own. But if you’d prefer to go on an organized trekking tour, then there are plenty of multi-day Hanoi to Sapa tours you can choose from on Get Your Guide.
HANOI TO SAPA QUICK LINKS
To help plan your trip to Sapa, I’ve compiled links to hotels, tours, and other services here.
Top-rated hotels in downtown Sapa. These hotels will put you in the heart of the city.
- Luxury: Chau Long Sapa 2 Hotel
- Midrange: Sapa Melody Hotel
- Budget: Son Ha Hotel
- Trekking Tour: Sa Pa Homestay 2-Day Tour with Trekking Tour (From Hanoi)
- Motorbike Tour: Motorbike Tour with Silver Waterfall
SAPA TRAVEL GUIDE
Before you visit Sapa, be sure to check out our detailed Sapa travel guide. It’ll tell you all you need to know – like when to go, what to do (other than trekking), where to eat, etc. – to help you plan your trip.
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HOW TO GET FROM HANOI TO SAPA
You can get to Sapa from Hanoi by bus, train, or car. Traveling by car is the fastest but it’s also the most expensive.
I personally traveled by bus which I think is the best option. Here’s a chart quickly detailing the differences between each method.
|Hanoi to Sapa||Approximate Fare||Approximate Travel Time|
|BUS||Starts at VND 235,000||6 hrs|
|TRAIN||Starts at VND 215,000||9 hrs|
|MINIVAN||Starts at VND 345,000||5.5 hrs|
|PRIVATE CAR||Starts at VND 2,720,000||5.5 hrs|
You can purchase tickets at the train or bus station but considering how popular this Hanoi to Sapa route is, I highly recommend getting them in advance.
I’ll describe each option in more detail below but if you’d like to book bus, car, or train tickets from Hanoi to Sapa, then you can do so by clicking on the link or using the widget below. It’ll provide available options for traveling from Hanoi to Sapa by bus, train, minivan, or private car.
ADVANTAGES: Cheapest, fast, comfortable
DISADVANTAGES: Perceived to be less safe
As described, I think going by express bus is the best way to travel from Hanoi to Sapa. It’s very comfortable and one of the cheapest options, plus it’ll get you into Sapa almost as quickly as a minivan or private car.
In the past, some travelers were wary of taking the bus because Vietnamese road conditions weren’t as good as they are today. This no longer seems to be the case. I traveled by bus and I didn’t feel unsafe at any point of the journey.
There are a few bus companies that offer direct routes from Hanoi to Sapa. I took the Sapa Express VIP 20 to get to Sapa, then the Sapa Express VIP-Class to get back to Hanoi a few days later. Both were excellent. Other highly regarded Hanoi to Sapa bus companies include King Express, Sapa Dragon Express, and Fansipan Express.
Unlike trains that can go only as far as Lao Cai train station, buses will take you directly into Sapa town which is a huge advantage.
Departure times vary but daytime buses typically depart Hanoi early in the morning (around 7AM) while sleeper buses leave late at night (around 10PM). A 7AM departure will get you into Sapa at around 1PM while the overnight sleeper bus will arrive in Sapa at around 4AM.
There are mid-afternoon departures as well, leaving the Hanoi bus station at around 3PM and getting you into Sapa at around 9PM, but these aren’t as frequent.
Click on the links for more information and to book a Sapa bus from either downtown Hanoi or from Noi Bai International Airport.
This is the Sapa Express VIP-Class tourist bus I took to get back to Hanoi from Sapa. The bus ride was extremely comfortable. It was like riding in first class on an airplane.
DISADVANTAGES: Around 2-3x more expensive than buses, slowest and least comfortable
There’s something romantic about traveling cross-country by train. You’d think that traveling in an overnight sleeper train would be the most comfortable way to travel, but not in Vietnam it seems.
There are several train companies that offer tickets from Hanoi to Sapa. From what I understand, all trains are operated by state-run Vietnam Railways but each train has cars owned by different companies like ET-Pumpkin Express, Orient Express, Sapaly Express, Livitrans Express, and Chapa Express.
The cheapest train tickets (second-class) cost about the same as bus tickets but if you want an overnight train sleeper car, then expect to pay around VND 600,000 or more. Most companies offer sleeper cars with two or four beds.
I haven’t ridden a train in Vietnam but according to some people, train rides are bumpy and noisy with generally uncomfortable beds and unsanitary toilets. So not only are sleeper trains more expensive than buses and take a few hours longer, but they’re less comfortable as well.
From what I understand, trains used to be deemed safer than buses but that no longer seems to be the case with the improved road conditions in Vietnam.
As previously mentioned, trains can only go as far as Lao Cai railway station. You’ll need to take a public bus from the train station and travel the extra 35 kilometers (22 miles) to Sapa town. The journey takes about 1.5 hrs and costs VND 30,000. Avoid taxis at all costs because they’re known to rip tourists off.
All things considered, I don’t know what benefits traveling by train would have, but if you’d prefer to travel from Hanoi to Sapan by train, then you can go to Bookaway to purchase a train ticket. There are several train stations in Hanoi but the fastest Hanoi to Sapa trains (least number of stops) depart from Hanoi Railway Station. You can check Bookaway for a train schedule.
This is what it looks like inside a typical 4-bed sleeper car.
Photo by martinho Smart via Shutterstock
ADVANTAGES: Fast and comfortable, hotel pickup
DISADVANTAGES: Perceived to be less safe
If you’d rather not travel by bus and are willing to spend a little more, then going by shared 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.
If you’d like to travel by shared minivan, then click on the links to book a minivan to Sapa from either downtown Hanoi or from Noi Bai International Airport.
BY PRIVATE CAR
ADVANTAGES: Fast and most comfortable, hotel pickup
DISADVANTAGES: Very expensive
This is the fastest and most comfortable way of traveling from Hanoi to Sapa, but it’s also the most expensive. A private car will run you at least VND 2,720,000.
If you’d like to travel in style, then click on the link to book a private car from Hanoi to Sapa.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON TRAVELING FROM HANOI TO SAPA
Based on personal experience and online reviews, it seems pretty clear that traveling by bus is the best way to get from Hanoi to Sapa.
It’s one of the cheapest options, it’s comfortable, and it’ll get you into Sapa almost as quickly as a minivan or private car.
While it’s true that trains are indeed the safest option, its negatives – more expensive ticket, longer travel times, and uncomfortable ride – make it less appealing.
In any case, I hope this article helps you decide on which method of transportation to take to get from Hanoi to Sapa. Once you’ve made a decision, you can book your car, train, or bus tickets through Bookaway.
Hope this helps and have a wonderful time trekking and eating the indigenous cuisine of Sapa!
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Featured image by lucyana burtin via Shutterstock