There’s no simple way of getting to Sapa. Reaching it should take a full day, and getting back will do so too. This means Sapa cannot be done in a weekend (and you want to plan on staying there at least three days), so do plan accordingly to make it work with our program schedules 🙂
Step 1: Get to Hanoi
If you are coming from Ho Chi Minh, you can book inexpensive flights via VietJet or any other airline. Vietnam’s distances are extremely large (it’s a long country!) and taking a bus or train will cost you comfort, time (at least 30 hours one-way) and will likely save you no more than $10 USD. So take my advice – just fly.
Step 2: Get to Sapa either via train or bus
The price for a bus ranges from $10 – $45 (depending on the level of “luxury” you want) and it takes 7-8 hours to get there. Buses are the most convenient way to reach Sapa, unless you happen to suffer from motion sickness (it’s a mountainous region after all, which means curves – curves everywhere).
Getting to Sapa via train is an amazing experience due to the incredible views that will make your jaw drop. There isn’t a train station in Sapa, so you must take a train to Lao Cai first (7-9 hours) and then take a shuttle but from Lao Cai to Sapa (1 hour).
The train departs several times throughout the day and each carriage is run by a different company, which makes the prices and level of comfort vary greatly. Many carriages are owned by Vietnam Railways, but many are also operated by private companies such as Fanxipan, Pumpking, Chapa, Victoria and whatnot.
Booking via Vietnam Railways is the most secure way to do it and they do provide with a variety of options an prices. Some carriages will have beds to sleep on, others will come with a nice see-through roof top, comfortable seats and air conditioning and then there are the cheapest, yet most uncomfortable ones with hard wooden seats and fans.
I chose the last option as I was on a budget. I hopped on the train during the early morning and the views I got to see really took my breath away. It wasn’t very comfortable, but I found it bearable. At some point the carriage got filled up with so many people that many were sitting on the floor and my friend and I offered some locals to use our seats. We were the only foreigners on the carriage, which allowed for a lot of curiosity from the rest of the passengers and the chance to befriend the locals, which were incredibly nice! We even got offered candy and corn cob for lunch from a lady and her children. As I stated previously, it isn’t the most comfortable option but it’s cheap, it will get you there and it will show you a very real side of Vietnam.
Once in Lao Cai, the shuttle to Sapa was awaiting and left when it was nearly full (about 5 minutes after we got on). The price for it was 50,000 dongs per person one-way paid in cash to the driver. Fifty minutes later, we arrived to Sapa.