Hanoi To Sapa: A Complete Transportation Guide

Hanoi To Sapa: A Complete Transportation Guide
Photo by Krisztian Tabori / Unsplash

Located at the impressive mountainous area in the northern Vietnam, Sapa is a paradise for any traveler with its magnificent rice terraces, ethnic tribal culture and natural sightseeing. Learn how to get from Hanoi to Sapa in a stress-free trip with our completed guideline.

Beside transportation, make sure you have a worry-free trip by having a comfortable accommodation. Check out our list for best homestay and hotel options in Sapa.

Located 320 kilometres to the northeast of Hanoi, Sapa is a place you can experience both antique and modern Vietnamese lifestyle. May to August are months you should avoid travelling from Hanoi to Sapa due to the rain season. The rainfall, typhoons and mudslides can easily lead to accidents and uncomfortable experience.

To make to trip from Hanoi to Sapa, travelers can choose from a plenty of transportation: shuttle, minibus, sleeper bus, private car, train and cab or driving yourself from Hanoi to Sapa by bicycle. Make sure you read all before making decision on how to travel from Hanoi to Sapa.

1. Minibus/ shuttle, sleeper bus

Booking minibus, shuttle or sleeper bus, you can get yourself worry-free from scam and totally enjoy your ride from Hanoi to Sapa. There are various ways for you to book your seat on buses. You can choose to book directly with support from your hotel in Hanoi or through travel agency. On the other hand, online booking is also available. However, one of the best way to avoid scam is making in-advance reserve call via telephone and pay later when you get on the bus.

Depending on the amenities as well as included services on the buses (such as wifi, outlets, water bottles, snack, toilet, TVs, etc.) the price for 1-way ticket may vary from $10 to $20. On buses, you are offered with a comfortable with air-condition. For sleeper bus, you'll have you own bed-like seat and blanket so you can take a snap. On travelling from Hanoi to Sapa, buses will stop once or twice at petrol station or tourism stop so you can stretch your legs, get some snacks or use onsite toilet. The trip takes about 6 to 6.5 hours depending on the traffic and weather. You should note that some mini buses may circle around Hanoi for picking other passengers so your time on bus may be a bit longer.

The buses leave from early morning till night, so you can easily choose your depart time and plan ahead for your arrival at Sapa. You can get yourself picked at hotel or go to bus station.

  • Morning buses, 6:00 – 7:00 AM, arrives at noon in Sapa
  • Midday buses, 12:00 – 1:00 PM, arrives at dusk or early evening in Sapa
  • Night buses, 9:00 – 10:00 PM, arrives in the early morning. This one is the most popular as you can spend your night sleeping on bus and start a whole new day at Sapa.

Here are some helpful information to help you choose the right time buses. For day buses, the trip should be safe, smooth with great sightseeing. The only drawback is the traffic may make you stay longer on bus. For night trip, you may be annoyed by backpackers smell, continuous honking, crazy maneuvers from drivers, dangerous mountainous spots on the road and especially you will miss the scenery along the road. However, you may arrive Sapa earlier than expected from Hanoi.

Here are some popular buses options of locals: Sapa Express as the best option, followed by Queen Cafe VIP Open Bus, EcoSapa Limousine, and Ha Son Hai Van. You can check their schedules, amenities, and prices here.

PROs:
- Easy to book and choose departure/ arrival time
- Avoid the most scams
- Comfortable trip with cool AC and extra amenities

CONs:
- You may miss the scenery on night buses
- The buses only stop once or twice on road, hard to take pictures

2. Private cars

Either you have already reserved your accommodation at Sapa or are staying in Hanoi, you can ask your hotel to arrange a private car to transfer you from Hanoi to Sapa. You will find this option is the top convenient. All you need to provide is your pickup address. The booked private car will be sent to your place at arranged time, even if you are at the airport or stay at any Hanoi hotel. Charges may vary but you can enjoy your most worry-free trip with this option.

On the other hand, you can arrange yourself a private transfer from Hanoi to Sapa through any travel agency at Hanoi. It is important to always ask for the price before making the booking. Most agencies will ask for about $150 to $200 for 1-way trip and it also depends on the quality of the car.

Being the smoothest traveling experience from Hanoi to Sapa, this private car option is also much more expensive than other available options. Thus, you should arrange with the travel agency or driver to stop and visit some places along the way. This option is suitable and affordable for group traveling. This option stands out with ability to operate anytime on your request. Some favorite name in private car industry you should consider on your trip from Hanoi to Sapa: Vietrapro, Golden Holiday Travel, Hanoi Transfer Service, etc.

PROs:
- Private and comfortable trip
- Able to stop for some visit along the way
- Operate any time on request
- Suitable for travelling in group

CONs:
- The most expensive option
- Still a long ride

3. A combination of train and cab

Being operated since the beginning of the 20th century, train from Hanoi to Sapa is a must-try experience. From Hanoi station, the train will take you to Lao Cai station where you can hop on your second transportation to your destination. You need to stay on train for about 8 hours and at least another 1.5 hours to get to final destination at Sapa.

The trains depart daily with 2 express trains: SP1 at 9.35 pm and SP3 at 10 pm. Taking these 2 trains, you will arrive Lao Cai Station at about 5.30 am to 6 am the next day. The trip will be smooth and seamless as it will make only one stop on the way. For holidays and peak tourists season, 2 more trains SP5 and SP7 are available to meet the demand so don't worry you can't get your own seat on these trains to Lao Cai. The trains have both standard and customized cars. For cars operated by Vietnam Railways, you are offered with different classes: soft seat, six-berth sleeper and four-berth sleeper. Those will cost you about $6 - $20. Those cars come with cool AC, toilets and hot/cold water dispensers.

For other customized cars which are operated by private railway companies, the quality as well as the cost is much higher. You need to pay from $20 to $150 for optional four-berth or two-berth sleepers. Also, it is necessary to plan ahead and book return tickets in advance to avoid fully-booked situations.

The best booking way is to check on the schedule and seat availability on the official website. The English interface is available so you can easily understand and proceed reserving your online ticket. As it is the official website, the online payment is safe and trustworthy. You can choose to pay online and get electronic ticket or pay with cash or cards later and get printed ticket right at the station. Transit bus from Lao Cai to Sapa is available at $2 - $5 per person as extra option to the train ticket. There is a dining cabin with cheap food (1-2 USD), and there are also on-board caterers that push food and drink carts throughout the train, but it is always a good idea to prepare your own bites prior to travel.

For the best travelling experience, you should travel with private cars and here are some trusted name with good services: King Express, Orient Express, ET-Pumpkin Express, Victoria Express, etc.

On your arrival at Lao Cai Station, you are offered with a plenty of choice for transportation option to take you on the last miles on the route Hanoi to Sapa. The fixed price for a seat on transfer buses is about $5 or you can choose to pay $25 for private cars. You are recommended to highly aware that some scammers may ask for $10 - $15 for trip. Also, it is hard to tell the different between scammers and others in the crowd. Therefore, the best way is to have your Sapa hotel arrange pickup transfer for you. The cost may be higher than usual buses but the cost is guaranteed at a fixed rate.

Besides, there is a public bus from the station across the train station to take you to Sapa. The bus starts from 5.20 am and cost no more than $2. The public buses are painted in red and yellow and only park at the bus station. Then, try to avoid anyone want to get you on their buses to stay away from scammers.

The ride takes you 1 to 1.5 hour and the route serves you well with the spectacular scenes. As you will arrive in early morning, you will find yourself in a magnificent foggy mountainous area. After the fog, the views begin with clear blue sky, colored terraced paddy fields and greenery.

PROs:
- Affordable transportation for solo or duo travelers
- Able to admire the scenic views of morning Sapa

CONs:
- May get scammed
- Take longer time to travel

4. Driving yourself from Hanoi to Sapa by motorbike

For hardcore drivers, you can drive yourself from Hanoi to Sapa by motorbike. This may be the most challenging trip but it's totally 10/10 rewarding experience. The trip will take you about 10 hours and depend on how many stops you make along the way for visiting and taking photos. Night riding is advised to avoid for the safest trip.

Renting a motorbike

You can easily rent a motorbike in Hanoi but you should properly check your bike because you are going to ride it on the 400-kilometre adventure. Also, topping up fuel regularly is essential as petrol stations are far apart. You should bring along an empty bottle of about 1-1.5 liter to fill up with the fuel in case of emergency. One more thing to note that you should only buy gas from official stations. Local vendors sometime dilute the fuel and this could make your bike have some problems.

Route to Sapa

Located in a remote mountainous area, Sapa is not very well covered with data and network. Therefore, you shouldn't rely on technology for the whole way. For this trip, here are some stuffs you should bring along: a compass and a printed map detailing the route from Hanoi to Sapa. Google Maps is available but only display the route on Express Highway for cars not for bikes.

Beside above stuffs, you also need extra careful when driving through the mountainous curves, frequent rests to help maintain your strength and awakeness on the road. Also, don't forget to list down all the landmarks on the Hanoi to Sapa route for your stops. There are town common routes from Hanoi to Sapa on motorbike:

Route 1: Taking the Northwest way along the Red River to Lao Cai, then continue onto Sapa. This is the fastest route (334 kilometers only), yet the trickiest route. Taking this route, you can stop by some landmarks such as Tam Nong Garden Park, Yen Bai bridge, etc. This route is quite tricky with a lot of curves, hills and U-shaped turns. Thus, make sure your driving skills are good enough for taking this route.

Route 2:  Following QL32 road, passing Mu Cang Chai district of Yen Bai. This is the most famous route as you will have your chance to conquer two of the top 4 legendary mountainous passes of the northwest region. This also serves you well with the most spectacular landmarks in Vietnam. Despite being a longer route (440 kilometres), it has better sightseeing.

PROs:
- Best traveling experience as you can freely stop on the road and visit places, taking photos
- Cheapest way to travel from Hanoi to Sapa

CONs:
- Dangerous due to traffic, mountainous curves and foggy weather
- Some local petrol vendors are not trustworthy
- Shouldn't depend 100% on technology and on-mobile apps