Sapa is quite simply, stunning, and we’ll worth the visit. It’s situated in the North of Vietnam, some 300km from the countries capital of Hanoi.
There are two options for getting ther
e; train and bus. The night bus is cheaper, about $15 at the time of writing, compared to $25 a soft sleeper on the train. The bus is more direct, but less comfortable. You can get picked up from your hotel, taken to the bus station, and get dropped directly the next morning in Sapa. The problem is the roads it has to take are relatively small and windy. So you get thrown about a bit whilst you try and sleep. Try and get a bed at the bottom of the central isle. These have more leg room generally (as the middle isle tends to have one less bed than the sides), and there’s no fear of falling out your bed if the bus takes a corner too fast.
The train route goes from Hanoi station (Ga Ha Noi) to a city called Lao Cai in the North. The price depends upon the type of cabin you choose. There’s more info on the seat types on this site. I travelled in soft sleeper cabin (generally considered the best, but also the more expensive). This consisted of four beds attached to the wall, two on each side at floor level and two above them. There’s room at floor level to store everyone’s luggage under the bed, so it’s quite secure in that regard. That said, it’s still wise to keep expensive/important personal belongings close to your body as you sleep. The train takes approximately 10 hours and arrives into Lao Cai early in the morning (assuming you travel at night). If you awake in the morning before arrival it’s worth strolling about the carriage and taking in the view of the river, it’s beautiful, and there’s lots going on at that time of the morning.
Getting from Lao Cai to Sapa is relatively straightforward. There are local run shuttle buses that go directly. They’ll pack your bags into the back, sit you amongst the other passengers, and wait until full before departing. The price should be about 40,000 dong per person, however having travelled this route I can vouch for that rate being hard to achieve. I saw people paying as high as 200,000. This because they paid the rate the locals asked for rather than even attempting to bargain. We paid 70,000 per person, which was the best we could do at the time. Make sure to keep your valuables bag close to your person on these buses – a friend had their phone stollen by staff who moved it to the back without her noticing, and then took her iPhone out.
In my opinion the best thing about Sapa is the beautiful mountain scenery all around it. The landscape is beautifully decorated by the curved terraces, used for rice paddies and other crops. I’d recommend hiring scooters (which can be had for around $5 a day) and driving about either side of Sapa. You can drive to the little villages and to the waterfalls. Love waterfall in particular is worth a visit. It’s 40,000 dong entry, and about a 20 min walk from where you park your bikes.
As is the norm when hiring bikes, they provide them almost empty. The fuel station is about 5 mins ride from the tourist part of Sapa. If in doubt over finding it’s location, just ask the bike owner to lead you over there so you can fill up for the day.
In terms of places to eat I’d recommend Sapa Essence for a cheap breakfast. And the hill station cafe and sister restaurant for something taster and fancier. The latter has fast internet, handy if you’ve got TV episodes to download.