How to Get to Sapa from Hanoi, Vietnam

After a few years of swooning over dreamy terraced rice field landscapes on social media, Sapa was high on my list of places to go in Northern Vietnam. Luckily, figuring out how to get to Sapa from Hanoi, where I landed, wasn’t difficult. It did, however, require some planning in advance, especially as I was low on time and wanted to fit in all of the best things to do in Sapa.

I spent a full week reaching out to every single service for shared shuttles from Hanoi to Sapa only to hear that they were all full. Then, I contacted several private transfer services, only to discover that they were exorbitantly expensive (not just by Vietnamese standards).

Terraced rice fields in Sapa, Vietnam.

After deciding that the train absolutely wasn’t practical for my trip, I booked bus tickets from Sao Viet’s Pham Van Dong office, which isn’t convenient to the airport or city center at all (the more convenient stops were sold out online already).

Stressed about getting to the bus station, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to march up to the bus counter at the airport in Hanoi when I landed. A few hours later, I was able to get on a bus. On the return journey, I managed to book the last couple of seats on a small shared luxury shuttle—more on that later.

That’s to say that I’ve had my fair share of experience figuring out how to get to Sapa from Hanoi. Based on my first-hand experience, here’s what you should know before booking your journey.

How to Get to Sapa from Hanoi

Shared shuttle transfer from Hanoi to Sapa.

Shared Shuttles to Sapa

Booking a shared shuttle to Sapa is the best way to get to Sapa from Hanoi overall when balancing comfort and price. I took a shuttle on my way back to Hanoi from Sapa, and it was a much more enjoyable experience than taking the bus, even if I was a little cramped. Plus, rest stops were higher quality and less scammy.

Often called luxury limousines (even though they’re vans), there are only two main companies that operate shuttles between Hanoi and Sapa: Amazing Uncles and Ecosapa Limousine (I took Ecosapa Limousine).

Each shuttle usually only accommodates six to eight passengers, so they fill up quickly due to the limited quantity of them. You’ll need to book at least one month in advance for a chance at getting a seat—two months is even better.

When booking a shared transfer from Hanoi to Sapa, which seat you pick matters. Seats are assigned, and for good reason—they are not created equally.

Avoid the seats in the front row and seats in the back row, as those are less comfortable. Front row seats aren’t actually in their own row, they’re next to the driver. I ended up in the back row and was seriously crammed for the entire six-hour trip. Big Hunchback of Notre Dame vibes. I really wish I brought a travel pillow, though I don’t know if it would’ve made that much of a difference since my knees were in my chest.

The seats you want are the window seats in the middle row. Those seats are much larger with more legroom and can recline, unlike those in the back.

Expect to pay $25 to $45 USD in each direction for a shuttle to Sapa from Hanoi.

Sleeper bus from Hanoi to Sapa, Vietnam.

Sleeper Buses to Sapa

Buses are the most inexpensive method of transportation from Hanoi to Sapa. There are two types of buses: typical luxury coaches with upright seats and sleeper buses with individual beds.

I took a sleeper bus, and it was unlike any other bus I’ve ever been on. Beds are stacked on each other like bunk beds, and there’s no real option to sit up during your journey as you can’t adjust the position of the bed seat. Aim to book a seat on the top bunk for the most comfort.

Pack your motion sickness pills—buses are bumpy. A few times during my trip, my whole body flew up into the air because of the bumpiness. This would be a really tricky method of transportation for someone who is not healthy and able-bodied.

Sapa Express, Inter Bus Lines, and Sao Viet are the most common bus operators. I ended up taking Inter Bus Lines’ bright pink Doraemon-themed love bus, but I also booked a ticket for a Sao Viet bus.

Tickets can be purchased in advance online or in person at the Hanoi airport. I’ve purchased Sapa bus tickets both ways, but I prefer booking in-person for the customer service. Non-Vietnamese speakers will find it easier to purchase tickets physically as some bus lines, like Sao Viet, only have websites in Vietnamese.

When I booked my bus at the airport’s bus counter, the employee at the desk went out of her way to show me exactly where to go to wait for the bus. It made everything so much easier and less stressful.

Buses to Sapa from Hanoi are usually $16 to $21 USD online. My ticket at the airport was 450,000 VND ($17.70 USD) per person.

How to get to Sapa from Hanoi by buying bus tickets at Noi Bai airport.
This is my receipt for the Sapa sleeper bus tickets I purchased at Noi Bai International Airport. The whole process was easy and fast.

Trains from Hanoi to Sapa

Save money on a hotel room in Hanoi by taking an overnight sleeper train to Sapa. There are several different trains to choose from, including Vic Sapa Train, Violette Trains, Chapa Express, Fanxipan Express, Sapaly Express, and New Livitrans Express. Most of these are SP1 or SP3 trains operated by Vietnam Railways.

Your cabin class matters—lower-class cabins have more bunks. First-class sleepers have four berths, second-class sleepers have six berths, and VIP sleepers have two berths, which is ideal if you’re traveling with someone.

Train tickets to Sapa range widely depending on which train line you’re taking and which class you book. Economy tickets usually start around 585,000 VND ($23 USD), rising to 2,150,000 ($85 USD) for VIP tickets.

Tickets can be purchased at Ga Hà Nội (the train station in Hanoi) in person at the ticket desk in Station A, where most trains to Sapa depart. The train station has a special tourist desk for tickets to make the process easier, which is located to the left of the main doors once you’re inside.

Alternatively, tickets can also be reserved online in advance.

Trains usually take seven hours and 40 minutes or eight hours and five minutes to reach Ga Lào Cai (Lào Cai Station). They don’t actually go all the way into Sapa, so you’ll need to take a taxi or a bus for an hour to Sapa when you get off in Lào Cai. The bus is 28,000 VND ($1.10 USD) in each direction.

Trains depart at 9:35 pm or 10 pm, arriving at 5:15 am and 6:05 am, respectively. Plan on staying at least two full days if you’re going trekking in Sapa and taking the train due to the early morning arrival times.

View of rice fields in Sapa, Vietnam.

Private Drivers and Taxis to Sapa

Though it’s not the most budget-friendly option for couples and solo travelers in Vietnam, taking a private taxi to Sapa is the easiest way to reach the popular tourist destination.

In addition to not having to navigate the stress of shared transportation, you’ll also be able to stop when needed and leave Hanoi whenever you want instead of needing to stick to a strict departure schedule.

Driving to Sapa takes around 5.5 hours from Hanoi. Expect to pay $170 to $220 USD one-way. I contacted several private driver companies that operate from Hanoi to Sapa and couldn’t find anything lower.

Pay attention to the type of vehicle you’re booking—standard four—or five-seat cars and larger nine-seat vans are available.

Private vans are perfect for groups of friends and families in Vietnam. If seven or eight people are in the car, taking a taxi to Sapa almost becomes just as affordable as taking the bus.

Taxis to Sapa can be booked online via tour sites like Viator and GetYourGuide.

Renting a Car, Motorbike, or Scooter

Driving in Vietnam is absolutely not for the nervous driver, the faint of heart, or—heaven forbid—the new driver.

Even on major highways, roads from Hanoi to Sapa can be bumpy and chaotic. American and European driving etiquette don’t exactly apply to Vietnam.

But…driving yourself from Hanoi to Sapa is an opportunity for free exploration and adventure. Self-drivers love being able to take on Đèo Ô Quy Hồ (Ô Quy Hồ Pass), Sapa’s iconic scenic drive, themselves.

To drive in Vietnam, you’ll need your local driver’s license and an International Driving Permit (IDP). If you’re staying in Vietnam for a while (or live there permanently), you may want to have your local license translated into a Vietnamese driver’s license, which takes two to three months.

Motorbike and car rentals are available in Hanoi, mostly from local mom-and-pop rental companies. While many of these are reputable, some are not, failing to maintain their vehicles properly or secure proper registration. Do your research, and do it well. The last thing you want on a trip to Vietnam is a run-in with the police.

If you choose to drive to Sapa, get all the car insurance when you pick up your rental motorbike or car. Keep in mind that some travel health insurance policies may require an additional fee to cover bike accidents.

Travel blogger Eva Phan soaking in a traditional bath overlooking the terraced rice fields in Sapa, Vietnam.

Things to Know Before Choosing How to Get to Sapa from Hanoi

Bus, Shuttle, and Train Departure Times

Buses, shuttles, and trains to Sapa are affordable transportation options but don’t offer the best flexibility if you’re on a tight schedule.

Usually, buses and shuttles depart early in the morning or late at night from Hanoi. Buses have better schedules—you’ll likely be able to find one departing in the afternoon if needed. Shuttles have less flexibility as there are fewer of them. Trains have the least flexibility, only leaving Hanoi late at night.

Returning, shuttles from Sapa usually leave around noon or early afternoon.

Figure out how to get to Sapa from Hanoi accordingly, factoring in time for reaching the train or bus station.

Getting a Taxi in Sapa

Even if you take a bus or shuttle directly into Sapa, you’ll likely need a taxi to reach your hotel or homestay, especially if it’s out in the rice fields and not downtown.

Vietnam’s top rideshare app, Grab, doesn’t exist in Sapa. You’ll need to take a local taxi. It almost definitely will not be using its meter. Show your driver where you’re going, and negotiate your fare upfront. Never get into a taxi without agreeing first to eliminate your chances of being scammed.

When I arrived in Sapa, at least a few dozen taxi drivers swarmed the bus stop, each trying to pull us into their car. I always opt to go with quieter, less aggressive drivers—it makes me feel safer and discourages this behavior overall.

Plan Your Luggage Accordingly

Unless you’re splashing out and booking a private taxi, you’ll need to think critically about how much luggage you’re bringing on your trip to Sapa.

On the bus, you’ll be able to bring several bags. Buses have tons of undercarriage storage.

Trains generally do not have a limit on baggage but are restricted in storage space. Bring bags that you can fit under your bed, keeping in mind that cabins on the upper level might not have additional storage space.

My boyfriend and I each traveled with a large checked bag, a small carry-on suitcase, and a personal item from Hanoi to Sapa. On the shuttle, I really thought our bags weren’t going to fit—the trunk was already packed full when it picked us up.

The driver managed to play Tetris by sticking some carry-on bags in between seats, but it was a tight squeeze. Do not take any more luggage than we did—if we had another suitcase, I don’t know what we would’ve done.

FAQ

How far is Sapa from Hanoi?

Sapa is 315 kilometers (196 miles) from Hanoi. The trip takes 5.5 to six hours to drive or up to eight hours on the train.

Does Sapa have an airport?

Previously, Sapa did not have an airport. Currently, an international airport is being built in Cam Cọn, Bảo Yên District, near Lào Cai, which will serve the Sapa area. The airport is expected to open in 2026. Until then, the Nội Bài International Airport in Hanoi is the closest airport to Sapa.

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