Months ago, the idea of sleeping in a train was so foreign to me. The thought of sleeping in a moving carriage for 11 hours was worth it considering the beauty that Sapa has to offer. Sapa is located in Lao Cai (pronounced Lao Kai) province, some 350 km northwest of Hanoi. Bordering China’s Yunnan, the mountains dominates the region and is at the eastern extremity of the Himalayas. Sapa is some 1500m above sea level, there’s really no problem of having to adjust to the change of attitude as my body is able to handle the gentle ascend within that 11 hours in the train.
Most of the trains start from Hanoi station (Ga Hà Nội) in the evening from 8pm to 11pm and arrive at Lao Cai station early next morning. JF and I had initially booked our train ticket from the tourist information centre at the airport upon arrival. The cheapest ticket for a sleeping cabin is around USD40 – saved a few bucks for accommodation.
After spending a day sightseeing in the city, we decided to have our dinner at Quan An Ngon, a popular place among the locals and tourists. The service and food was good, so as long as you speak simple English your order will be taken. We ordered a plate of spring roll (steamed and fried), morning glory and coffee.
Address: 18 Phan Boi Chau, Hoan Kiem, Ha Noi
The train station is just a walking distance from where we had dinner. It does not boast of modern design and facilities but an old yet practical station.
Signage is mostly in Vietnamese, not really of help to tourists, so it’s best to arrive early to look for the train at the platform.
Our train attendant was a young lady. The train departed at 8.30pm.
Wondering how the 4-bed cabin looks like?
It’s a double bunker! The bed was not as hard as I’d imagined, neither was it fluffy soft. It’s fully air conditioned and there’s a common toilet for each compartment. The bed fits just nice for a 170cm guy like me (you can see my toe touching the end of the bed when fully stretched).
I didn’t get to explore the rest of the train, was simply too tired and needed a good rest for the next day in Sapa. We reached Lao Cai around almost 9 o’clock in the morning, well more than the usual 9 hours ride. The weather was cooler than in Hanoi.
There were quite a number of touts targeting the tourists. Since buses and vans are the only mode of public transport to Sapa, prior to our arrival we’ve made arrangement with our hotel for a van. The guy who were supposed to handle us handed us to another van and left us. And then we were told to switch to another van and another van. This time they wanted to charge us even though we were told to only pay direct to the hotel.
I got really agitated. A local SIM came in handy at this time, we called up the hotel and told them what was going on. We spoke to our hotel manager who speaks fluent English, he insisted that we pay not the driver, then he dealt with the driver. Having peace of mind after spoken to our hotel, we were transported to Sapa town. The journey took about half an hour.
During that dawdling period, I saw the dishonest tout trying to pry open luggage that were tuck behind the van. Seeing me standing behind him, he ordered me to get back into the van which I declined. If there’s one bad experience in Vietnam, it has got to be the incident in Lao Cai railway station. Just please be extra careful!