When I mentioned that I took the overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa in Vietnam, many people were curious as to how it was like. So I will give an overview here to provide some insights and hopefully answer some of the questions anyone may have.
1) Is the train clean?
Yes – based on my experiences on the Livitran and Fansipan Express trains, 2 of the many trains from Hanoi to Sapa.
While waiting to board the trains, I saw that the bedsheets were changed and the cabins were cleaned after the arriving passengers alighted. All of the cleaning was done quickly, ready for the next round of passengers.
I did find a strand of hair on my bed but it probably belonged to the cleaner (trying not to think too much here!).
** Special tip: You could buy a silk sleeping bag liner (note that it is just the liner) in Hanoi for US$5 like I did. I used mine on both train rides in Vietnam, during my homestay in the Sapa mountains and in China when I stayed in the hostel near the Panda base – the US$5 spent on the trip!
2) How safe is it on the train?
With all the horror stories I heard and read about safety (theft) on overnight trains when I was travelling in Europe, you can imagine how concerned I was this time. Especially because I was travelling alone, for the first time. But I can tell you now – No need to worry la!
Firstly, these overnight trains are created for the tourists so everyone travelling on it will be tourists, like you and me. Also, the locals will usually not travel in these cabins since the prices are generally too high for them . The only locals you may see on the train would be the vendors selling snacks and drinks (including beer) and the conductors.(Not implying in any way whatsoever that the locals are thieves.)
Having said that, please do exercise common sense and keep all valuables with you at all times or lock them up, even when you go to the bathroom. Thefts can happen anywhere at anytime to anyone.
3) How long do the train rides take and what time do they leave Hanoi / Sapa?
Normally, it takes between 8 to 9 hours from Hanoi to Sapa and vice versa, depending on which train you choose. Here’s a summary of the approximate departure / arrival timing for the different trains:
|Sapaly||King express||Fansipan||Livitran||Orient Express|
|From Hanoi||9.50pm – 6.25am||8.25pm – 4.50am||9.10pm – 5.30am||8.25pm – 4.50am||9.50pm – 6.25am|
|8hrs 35mins||8hrs 25mins||8hrs 20mins||8hrs 25mins||8hrs 35mins|
|From Lao Cai||8.20pm – 4.45am||6.50pm – 3.52am||7.35pm – 4.10am||6.50pm – 3.52am||8.20pm – 4.45am|
|8hrs 25mins||9hrs||8hrs 35mins||9hrs||8hrs 25mins|
4) Are the trains punctual?
For those who have experience with taking trains in Europe, you will know how punctual they generally are. To my surprise, the trains in Hanoi and Sapa also leave on time. Right on the dot! The train tickets do stipulate that you need to arrive at the train station 1 hour before the departure time. So yes, I would rather arrive earlier and relax on my bed than have to run after the train.
You do however need to allow 1-2 hours delay to the arrival time from Hanoi to Sapa. Apparently because of some on-going construction works which was supposed to be completed in April 2014. Up until October 2014, it was still affecting the railway and causing delay. Do check / ask the agent buying the tickets for you about the approximate time or arrival, especially if you need to get to your destination by a certain time like I did.
You don’t have to worry about missing your stop because Hanoi and Sapa are the final destinations. The conductor will come around and knock on the doors about 30mins before the train reaches the stations. So go ahead and snooze (if you can).
5) Comfort Level
All is good. The beds in the 4-bed cabins I booked (the other more luxurious option is a 2-bed cabin) on both the Livitrans and Fansipan Express were pretty comfortable, not too hard. They were already laid down flat when we boarded on both times so there’s no need to fumble around when you feel like sleeping. Tall people will however need to slouch a little when they sit on the bed on the lower berths.
There is also sufficient space underneath the beds to put luggages. It can probably fit up to a medium-sized check-in bag due to the height restriction. Each bed has a bedside lamp if you need to read or play with your phone when the cabin light is out.
The Fansipan Express was slightly more posh than Livitrans which means it is slightly more expensive. Frankly I don’t think there is a need to spend that extra few bucks since you will be spending most of your time sleeping or trying to sleep. That is of course you are choose it for the train timing (see point 3).
If you are planning to catch some sleep on the train, think again. The rides will be bumpy and somewhat noisy making it difficult to sleep properly, regardless of which train you are taking. People have recommended sleeping pills and alcohol. I took one motion-sickness pill which helped a bit.
Also, it can get really cold in the middle of the night even with the blanket provided. So do prepare your own jacket as well.
6) How much do the train tickets cost?
Depending on which train you choose (newer trains are more expensive) and the amount of commission the hotel / agent charges (hidden from you), the train ticket should cost around US$40 to US$50 one-way for a 4-bed cabin. Having said that, the Victoria Express Train is super luxurious and crazy expensive. If you plan to spend that extra money you have, please try taking the train and let me know how it went.
Is it cheaper then to buy the train tickets directly from the service provider? The last time I checked, it was slightly cheaper. But it got too complicated and difficult so I gave up.
7) Where can I purchase train tickets?
Your hotel in Hanoi will gladly help you book the train tickets. Otherwise, you can also approach the tour agencies scattered all around the Old Quarter.
Since I was taking the train on the night I arrived, I chose to buy them in advance. I used Train to Sapa base on the good reviews I’ve read online. Their website showed details of the different trains, the prices and the timings. They also offer a free ride from your Hanoi hotel to the train station. I was expecting a car but a motorbike arrived in front of my hotel instead. I didn’t mind it at all because I wouldn’t have ridden a motorbike in Hanoi on my own 🙂 It was a surprise adventure!
I gave the driver my vouchers and in exchange he gave me the train tickets.
Review on Train to Sapa:
I sent my queries to Trains to Sapa via email because I wanted to get experiences on different trains (Sapaly train from Hanoi and Fansipan Express from Sapa) and their responses were quick. The booking was done effortlessly and I received the vouchers by email on the same day.
However, I wasn’t informed of the delay to Sapa when I was booking the train tickets and I needed to get to Sapa early for my tour to Lung Khau Ninh market. Luckily my tour agent in Sapa highlighted the problem to me before my departure. I contacted Train to Sapa and they confirmed the time I will arrive in Sapa would be approximately 1.5 hours later than what was stated on their website and the voucher issued! I immediately requested to change to an earlier departure and they did that for me, even though I forfeited the difference in the ticket price. It was just a few bucks so I didn’t pursue.
Other option to travel from Hanoi to Sapa – By Bus
There’s also the option of taking the overnight bus from Hanoi to Sapa. However, many people (including some tour agencies) discourage that mainly because of the safety issue. It was said that the drivers are reckless and they speed like nobody’s business. I met someone at the hotel in Sapa who took the bus and from what I was told, the speeding part is apparently true.
So here it is, my short and quick guide on traveling on a overnight train from Hanoi to Sapa. Hope it has been useful.
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**Note: This is not a sponsored post.