Sapa is one of the most visited destinations in North Vietnam, with tourists arriving year-round from Hanoi. There are several ways to reach this mountain town from Vietnam’s capital city, including train, bus, shuttle, and motorbike.
The closest airport to Sapa is Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport, so that’s the one you’ll fly into to start your journey. From Hanoi, a motorbike, shuttle, or bus is the fastest option at about 6 hours. The train is the slowest at 8 hours. Plus the train takes you to Lao Cai because that’s where the train depot is. From here it’s an hour bus or taxi ride to Sapa town.
Let’s look at the best ways to travel between Hanoi to Sapa:
- Shuttle Limo
- Car rentals for self-drive are not generally available in Vietnam to foreigners and would require a Vietnamese driver to accompany you. It usually runs from $75 to $150, depending on the sedan vs 4WD SUV.
Train from Hanoi to Sapa
We’ll start with the slowest but most historic option, by railroad. There are multiple trains to choose from for a ride to Lao Cai, the closest railway station to Sapa. You can pick both a daytime trip or an overnight sleeper train, though the sleeper trains are far more popular.
There are both normal Vietnamese sleeper trains and a slew of privately-run luxury sleeper trains targeted to tourists that take around 8 hours to reach Sapa. Most depart around 10 PM and arrive at 6 AM, acting as your hotel on wheels.
Once you reach Lao Cai from Hanoi, you’ll need to take a bus or taxi to reach Sapa town. It’s located 38 kilometers (24 miles) away, which runs nearly an hour.
Trains SP1, SP2, SP3, SP4, SP7, SP8 all run daily to and from Lao Cao from Hanoi. These have privately-run sleeper cars. Cabins generally come in Soft Berth with 4 beds or VIP Berth with 2 beds. You can view all available trains and fares.
Tourist Trains Hanoi-Sapa-Hanoi:
- Orient Express Train
- Livitrans Express Train
- The Pumpkin Express Train
- Fansipan Express Train
- King Express Train
- Sapaly Express Train
- Chapa Express Train
- Laman Express Train
- Victoria Express Train
You can buy your ticket at the train station direct in Hanoi or Sapa, or pre-purchase online. It’s best to reserve your spot earlier, especially if you’re looking for a private VIP cabin.
- Hanoi Train Station – Gate B
Address: 120 Le Duan Str, Cua Nam Ward, Hoan Kiem Dist, Hanoi
Tel: +84 4 3 9423 697
- Lào Cai Railway Station
Address: Tổ 26A, Tp. Lào Cai, Lào Cai
The private sleeper trains from Hanoi to Sapa are far nicer than on-board the Reunification Express from Hanoi to Saigon.
Bus from Hanoi to Sapa
Quicker and cheaper than the train, public buses are among the most efficient ways to travel between Hanoi and Sapa. The daytime trip takes you around six hours, but unlike the train, which takes you to Lao Cai, the buses take you right to Sapa.
These public buses have set departure and arrival points, so you’ll need to taxi/Grab there to get picked up and hopefully walk from Sapa as it’s a small town.
There are a number of different bus companies offering daily trips to and from Sapa. These buses have soft, reclining seats and run about $15-20. There’s usually both a morning and afternoon departure. A couple of the buses to choose from are: Good Morning Sapa Bus (Soft berths) and Sapa Express Bus (Soft Seat VIP).
Shuttle Limo from Hanoi to Sapa
Another daytime travel option from Hanoi to Sapa is shuttle limousines. If you’re not looking to take an overnight train, these are a great option for ease and speed at 5 to 6 hours. They are big vans with 6-10 seats or so on average. It’s most convenient because they pick you up and drop you off at your hotels.
Often time they have more reliable wifi than a public bus, but sometimes that’s iffy, especially in the mountains to Sapa. Trips usually depart in the morning around 7 AM, as they pick up the varying guests from their hotels in the Old Quarter. They’ll make 2 to 3 rest stops on the way.
You can arrange these with your hotel or a local tourist agency. There’s also the option of Googling some names and calling them direct, but sometimes English is limited. Two choices are EcoSapa Limousine and King Express Limousine. You can book both of these online to ensure your spot.
Motorbike from Hanoi to Sapa
Head into the high country with the wind on your face via motorbike. There a few routes you can take but the most direct will get you there in around 9 hours. You’ll first head to Lao Cai, and then the final hour up a windy pass to Sapa. On the return, you can drive back to Lao Cai and take your motorbike on board for a fee on the train from Hanoi.
The drive is 350 kilometers from Hanoi to Sapa. It’s doable in one day, but it’s a lot of work. Most will break it up into a 1-4 day trip, choosing their own non-direct route. Resting and spending the night at various scenic points along the way. It’s a fantastic way to see the countryside and the roads less traveled.
Keep in mind the winters in Sapa are cold and can see snow. There’s also a wet season to worry about, so plan your ride accordingly to the season. It’s important you know how to drive a motorbike in Vietnam, and remember to hug the right side of the road to let the big boys go by.
There are places to rent in Hanoi, like Tigit, which offers a selection of bikes, both manual and automatic. You’ll want a manual or semi-auto for the trip because of the hills. Keep in mind you can also rent motorbikes in Sapa if you’d still prefer to take a train or bus and have motorbike transport when you get there. That’s a solid alternative.
Whichever method you choose to get there, enjoy the journey. Safe travels from Hanoi to Sapa!