We booked the train transport with Sapaly both ways between Hanoi and Sapa. We went for the 4 berth option. It was cosy, but perfectly doable. Some companies offer a 6 berth option, but trust me, that is a super-squeeze and not worth the saving. The berths are quite narrow and the length was just about enough for me - and I’m 185cm/6’1.
The train and compartment were clean, but clearly very dated. During the trip the train and the berths were creaking and made it hard to fall asleep. I definitely recommend to take earplugs. Also there’s some 10stops along the way, so the train’s slowing down/departing makes additional noise and jerking movements.
The compartment is lockable.
The staff were very friendly and polite. Before departure we could choose what beverages we would like in the morning (coffee/tea) and then they woke us up approx 20 minutes before arrival and served us the beverages.
These trains have narrow gauge, which means that the width of the carriage is not the one we are used to on Western trains. So the length of the beds is just enough if you are not taller than 1.70m! The train is very noisy and proceeds at a very reduced speed (30-50 km/h). We have made a round trip from Hanoi to Sapa. Despite the first impression (we thought it would be nightmares), the end result was that we were pleased to have experienced this Sapaly train, and all in all we were able to rest. Be careful not to forget anything in the cabin because a few moments after you have abandoned it to get off the train, will be "cleaned up" by the employees!
If you are a couple, our advice is to book a cabin just for you. For four people, space is in no way sufficient!
Definitely dont book the Sapaly!! Cabin and toilets not clean, heinously rude staff and refused to provide the complimentary beer and snack that was on the website and even on our ticket! Massive scam! Dont be fooled and get the bus to Hanoi. The limosines are perfect, the road is great and it takes half the time. Save your money and DO NOT book the Sapaly!!!
Details on the train from Hanoi to Lao Cai and the public bus from Lao Cai to Sapa.
My friend and I (2 girls) booked a VIP cabin on Sapaly express from Hanoi to Sapa. We went through countless reviews (other train companies included), many of which were bad, which made us think twice of booking tickets with them. However, we decided to take the risk and booked the tickets as we wanted an experience on the overnight train. Our expectations were extremely Low and we were prepared for dirty and smelly toilets, cockroaches in the room or dirty bedsheets and hot and stuffy rooms.
I’m Glad to say that most of these poor expectations were not met and we had a better than expected experience.
To start off, the area to take the train is at Hanoi station B. We read somewhere that we could cut across the tracks from station A to station B but that was probably outdated or misleading info. We first arrived at station A and tried asking for directions to station B. The staff had limited English and gave confusing directions - we were told one moment to “Turn Left upon exiting the station and in another moment, told to Turn Right”. We could not understand her until finally, although somewhat understandably annoyed, and with the help of Google map, she drew us a rough map from Hanoi station A to station B. In a nutshell, station B is behind station A but by road, it is about a 15 min walk in Hanoi’s heat and humidity. If you were pulling luggages (ours were cabin luggages which were still a pain!) like we were, be prepared to be carrying them half the time as the sidewalks are almost always non existent due to the sheer number of motorbikes parked on it. Just go by grab taxi and save all the communication break downs and lots of perspiration.
Once at station B, we exchanged our e-tickets for a printed receipt at a small table at the snack booth that was situated outside the waiting area. There will most likely be a few trains that will be leaving at different timings. There is no announcement in any way to let you know when your train train is ready to board. Just take note of your boarding time and approach the “boarding gate” when it is time to board. The staff will probably wave you away if your train is not ready for boarding yet.
Our VIP cabin was basically a cabin that was meant for 4. The top bunks were pushed up and the mattresses were combined so we each slept on 2 mattresses. The cabin was tiny and the space was extremely limited. Thankfully, we did not see any cockroaches. The bedsheets had stains here and there but it just looked like stains that cannot be washed out so we just ignored it. The air con was strong and got cold in the night but that was way better than hot and stuffy. There is a gap at the top of the door which leads out to the main corridor. Someone smoked in either the cabins or the corridor during the night so naturally, our cabin was filled with cigarette smoke.
Train staff visited our cabin twice at the beginning of the trip to sell us snacks and drinks and to ask us if we wanted coffee or tea in the morning. As we had read bad reviews on the morning beverage, we decided to forgo it.
We visited the restroom at the beginning of the trip. It wasn’t in the best condition but there was toilet paper provided in a basket and it was still usable.
When we were nearing the station, the train staff knocked on everyone’s doors to wake them up. There are toilets at Lao Cai station and countless of locals offering to take you up to Sapa at inflated prices. Politely declining them will not discourage them so just walk away from them. They might follow you for awhile but would eventually give up.
We took the local bus from the station. “Turn Left upon exiting the station and look for a large blue sign stating bus timings and a white, yellow and red striped mini bus. It costs 30,000 dong per person per trip. The bus will only leave when it is full or at the stated time, whichever is first. There is a driver and bus conductor. You do not have to pay the conductor upfront as he will collect it individually once the bus has started moving. In our tiredness, we mistakenly paid 600,000 instead of 60,000 which we only realised later. We never saw our change.
The bus is about a 45 min ride with multiple stops along the way. Just sit till the end when the bus has reached Sapa town square.
We took sapaly express one way. Only found the ticket place because someone pointed it out. We didn't expect much but slept through most of the journey. Cabin was nice. Don't expect a lot of room. We left our big luggage in Hanoi. Cabin looked clean. We didn't use the toilet.