Vietnam’s landscape is quite diverse, this country has charming beaches in the south of the country but also green hilly areas and stunning natural formation of limestone islands in the north. I’ve been explored the southern part, from Sai Gon (Ho Chi Minh City) to Da Nang to Hoi An, and Hue, while at the other time spent a week in the laid back Phu Quoc island. Every place in Vietnam has a different characteristic, but all of its vibes are vibrant and pleasant. I feel that Vietnam’s unique history and culture blend perfectly with its wonderful natural scenery, particularly the crystal blue sea and snow-white sand in the south. Meanwhile, I’ve been curious about the green hilly areas in the north for some time. I’ve heard travelers said the quiet mountainous town near the Chinese border shouldn’t be missed while traveling around Vietnam, or in my case, living in Hanoi. Thus, I decided to travel from Hanoi to Sapa.
TRAVEL FROM HANOI TO SAPA, HOME FOR THE HIGHEST PEAK IN INDOCHINA
315 km northwest of Hanoi, lies Sapa, a small mountainous town in the Lao Cai province, near the Chinese border. The small town is surrounded by soaring mountains and stunning rice terraces, punctuated by homes and villages of Vietnam ethnic minorities. The Hoàng Liên Son range of mountains dominates Sapa, which is at the eastern extremity of the Himalayas. This range includes Vietnam’s and Indochina’s highest mountain, Fan Si Pan, at a height of 3143 m above sea level. As Sapa lies at an elevation of about 1500 meters, it often gets cold and foggy, and occasionally snowing in the winter.
Sapa also homes to several ethnic minority groups such as Hmong, Dao, Tay, Giay, and Pho Lu. These ethnic groups were the earlier inhabitants of the area before the Kinh (lowland Vietnamese) came and settled. Around the town, there are some traces of French heritage and even some of the new hotel buildings are built in French architectural style. In the past, Sapa was a key location for the French military as well as missionaries. Although it’s been destroyed during the France-Vietnam war, it has been rebuilt and in 1993, it officially opened for international tourists.
Travelers come from Hanoi to Sapa to enjoy many different things, from hiking to the top of Fansipan, trekking to ethnic minority group’s villages, enjoying picturesque mountains & rice terraces, or just to escape from the hustle-bustle life in Hanoi.
TRAVEL FROM HANOI TO SAPA : RECOMMENDED TRANSPORT OPTIONS
Taking a bus
I heard the scenery along the way from Hanoi to Sapa, Vietnam is more beautiful if it’s seen from the bus compared with from the train, thus I chose to take the bus from Hanoi to Sapa. As I had plenty of time, I decided to go to My Dinh bus station Hanoi (took +/- 40 minutes from Dong Da district by car to reach the bus station) to buy the bus ticket from the ticket counter. After paying my ticket for Hason Haivan bus, I got in the sleeper bus that has been waiting at the other side of the bus station. The sleeper bus was nice. Its clean, air conditioned, equipped with wifi, a pillow, and blanket. It was still early morning and I woke up very early to catch the bus, so soon after the bus departed, I fell asleep…
It takes 7 hours to travel from Hanoi to Sapa by bus. My bus was departed at 6 AM, so it arrived at 1 PM at Sapa bus station in the center of Sapa town, next to Sapa market. Traveling from Hanoi to Sapa by bus is a great choice if you want to save time, since the bus goes directly to Sapa town, while the train heads to Lao Cai city, so you need to take another transportation to reach Sapa from Lao Cai.
The other reason why traveling from Hanoi to Sapa is better to do by bus is the scenery. A few hours after departed from Hanoi I was forced to open my eyes by the constant shock caused by the winding road as the bus approaching Lao Cai province. But to my surprise, the view was spectacular! Range of green hills punctuated by lush valleys and crystal clear rivers stretching all the way to Sapa. OMG! Sapa has been impressed me since before I reached the town.
Traveling from Hanoi to Sapa by bus also doable if you want to save on accommodation. Just book the night sleeper bus. There is plenty choice of buses with different amenities, from wifi, food and massage seats.
Taking a train
Taking a train from Hanoi to Sapa is popular among foreign tourists. If you take the train, you can sleep pretty well during the journey since each compartment is equipped with beds, blankets, an air conditioner, and a toilet. There are options of 2, 4, and 6 bunk beds you could choose depending on your budget. Since it’s a popular choice, you’d better book the train online to ensure you get the ticket.
Traveling from Hanoi to Sapa by train takes 8 hours, a bit longer than the bus. The train departs from Hanoi train station (20 minutes from Old Quarter by taxi/ motorbike) at 10 PM and arrives at Lao Cai train station at 6 AM on the next morning. This is the downside of traveling from Hanoi to Sapa by train, as it gets off in Lao Cai, the nearby city since Sapa doesn’t have its own train station. To reach Sapa, you need to take a public bus for a 1-hour journey. The bus departs from the Lao Cai bus stop right in front of Lao Cai train station.
Besides experiencing a journey using a sleeper train, taking a train is a good choice if you want to explore Lao Cai city. It’s not very special, just a small city right on the border of Vietnam and China. But if you feel adventurous, you can also cross the border and visiting Hekou city on the other end of the bridge. Hekou is a starting point to explore other parts of Yunnan province, Southwest China such as Kunming and Lijiang.
Riding a motorbike
I’ve heard about it quite often. The motorbike trip isn’t for everyone and certainly isn’t for me. If you’d like to ride a motorbike from Hanoi to Sapa, all you need to do is to find a motorbike rental first and get the motorbike from there. The journey usually takes around 3 days, depending on how many times you want to stop along the way. On the way back to Hanoi, travelers usually ship their motorbike by train then take a sleeper train.
Taking a minivan/ limousine
It’s a good option if you are traveling in a group. Taking a minivan from Hanoi to Sapa is basically the same as a bus, but with more flexible pick-up and drop-off options. Meanwhile, there is no Hanoi to Sapa flight since there is no airport in Sapa.
Whatever transportation you choose to travel from Hanoi to Sapa, don’t forget to enjoy the journey and of course, the picturesque Sapa scenery. Since Sapa is a small town, 3-4 days is enough to explore the town, villages, even hike to the summit of Fansipan, either by foot or taking a cable car like I did. If it’s all still not enough, try to ride motorbike towards Lai Chau province, also near the border of China, to enjoy more breathtaking scenery. Hen gap lai!
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