The hotel owner that we booked with for our stay in Sa Pa offered for a small mark up in price to arrange our train transport between Sa Pa and Ha Noi...
I have to say that this was more than convenient and the cost, agreed to before our confirmation, was just tacked onto our bill for the hotel...as well as the transit back and forth between Lao Cai and Sa Pa by mini bus.
The cost...a little expensive compared to looking after the booking yourself was $ 30.00 each way per person for a soft sleeper with Livitrans...one of the private companies that offers train service in Vietnam.
You can book yourself through they're website or when you're in Vietnam book through an agent..whatever works for you although given that its possible to not travel exactly when you want Id likely try to book in advance.
Our four berth cabin was shared on the way North with an interesting French man that was of Vietnamese decent and his guide.He shared some of his personal stories of his family's connection to Vietnam and they're departure during the American War.
The South bound leg of the transit we had the whole four person berth to ourselves and this meant an EXTRA pillow each for our tiny bunk beds.
The train trip was not uncomfortable and we both agreed that we had gotten SOME sleep but nevertheless arrived at either Ha Noi Or Sa Pa feeling a little worn.Its a BUNK bed after all..
I had a great time on the Victoria Express...especially the trip back with the dining carriage! It was fun! The food was great......except the soup...watercresss...it looked like something from the Excorcist...but the tiger prawns were yum and the weird looking feta salad turned out to taste delicious! Wine list was not bad either...I could have happily worked my way done it given time!
I had to share a berth with Brad (my 3 year old) so it was a bit squashy, but I think if you had it to yourself you'd be comfy all night long. The doonas are snuggly and the linen immaculate. Water is supplied, along with toothbrushes and toothpaste. They wake you up in the morning with a cup of tea or coffee and juice.
The train leaves Hanoi at 9.55pm without the dining carriage on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, and with the dining carriage on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
It returns from Lao Cai at 9pm without the dining carriage on Monday, wednesday and Friday and with the dining carriage on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
The trip takles about 9 hours.
The easiest way to get to Sapa is to take the train from Hanoi. Most people opt to take the night trains because it’s a long trip and sleeping on the train maximizes your time (and funds). To get to Sapa you must book the train from Hanoi to Lo Cai. Lo Cai serves as the hub for all tourists visiting Sapa. Lo Cai is actually 40 km from Sapa so you must take a bus or motor bike from the station into town. Some of the fancier hotels will take care of booking this transportation for you, but if you’re traveling with the budget lot you’ll have to acquire your own ride. That’s easy enough to do as there will be many busses waiting for the throngs of tourists disembarking the train. Generally a bus ride up the mountain to the center of town will run you between $2 and $5 US. Try using your negotiating skills to get the best rate. Most of these “busses” will actually be vans. Get a group together because the vans won’t leave until they’re full. Book your bus return to the station as soon as you arrive in Sapa. These busses fill up. The return ride is generally on a full-sized bus from the center of town.
Trains from Hanoi to Lo Cai depart daily. There is one daytime train and three night train options. With each you have the option of soft or hard seat / sleeper. I highly recommend spending the extra few dollars for the soft sleeper. In the soft sleeper cabins there are 4 bunks to a room and you will be assigned a sleeping berth when you purchase your ticket. The bottom bunk lifts up so you can store your luggage securely. Hard Seat $5US (no a/c), Soft Seat $8US/$6US (no a/c), Hard Sleeper $11US/$9US (no a/c), Soft Sleeper $15US
Hanoi to Lo Cai
LC3 06:10 – 16:35
SP1 21:15 – 5:30
SP3 21:55 – 6:15
LC1 22:05 – 07:25
Lo Cai to Hanoi
LC4 09:15 – 19:55
LC2 18:45 – 04:00
SP2 20:15 – 04:30
SP4 21:00 – 05:05
There are a few other luxury train options, such as the Victoria Express but they are more expensive and often booked in conjunction with reservations at some of the luxury hotels in Sapa.
The train from Hanoi to Sapa was the nicest Vietnam train I have been on. It was much newer, much cleaner, much cheerier than any of the others I have been on. Bed was aoubt the same but bedding/pillow was newer and actually appeared clean. Price was about $26USD, purchased from Sinh Cafe in Nha Trang and picked up at their Hanoi office a few days later.
The train I returned to Hanoi on was the worse I have ever been on, anywhere. Price was about $21USD, purchased in Sapa. Both the toilets in our car were not working, there were people sleeping on the floor in the hallway, the car stunk and the bedding was dirty. After about six Vietnamese train trips in one year's time, have to conclude that they are indeed a mixed bag. Unfortunately, more often than not, they have not been a pleasant experience.
There is a train that runs from Hanoi to Sapa. There are four different classes, but I recommend that you travel in the soft sleeper. It´s not that expensive and you have a bed, you share a berth with four people. Don´t drink the water which is given to you free as although it is in a bottle it is tap water and not safe. Also it is a good idea to bring a chain and lock and lock your suitcase as sometimes when the train stops people jump in a steal the bags, but it is not that often! I got my tickets through my travel agent "FOOTPRINT TRAVEL" which is a Vietnamese company and whom I was very pleased with but you can also buy your tickets at the train station I suppose.
I had my hotel in Ha Noi booked tickets to Sapa for my family. The brand was Orient Express, and we stayed in a nice and clean 4-bed cabin. There were many foreigners on my train, you can refer here for more info.
The weather at Sapa in winter is freezing, sometimes there are snow, so trekking is a good choice to warm up your body. Remember to enjoy foot massage there!
The best way of getting to Sapa is by train and then by bus. As I travelled to Sapa as part of a tour with et-pumpkin, everything was done for me, they even have their own 1st class train carriage which was very nice (see their page on their train below). I had one of the 4 berths and shared the compartment with 3 lovely elderly dears from the US who were aged between 77 and 81! The 77-year old just about managed to get up on the top berth after I showed her how I did it! The train left around 9.30pm and I managed to get a fair amount of sleep, thanks to earplugs and we arrived in Lao Cai (the border town on the Chinese border) at just before 5.30am where a guy was waiting for me with my name written on a piece of A4 paper. After waiting for some other people, he took us to a mini-bus and we left the station square and climbed up the hills to Sapa.