Visiting Sapa is a destination on many travelers’ wish lists. But because of Sapa’s distance from Hanoi, many people pass on traveling there. I’m glad you’re not among them—Vietnam’s idyllic countryside is a refreshing change of scenery from bustling Hanoi.
The Vietnamese government is working on building an airport in Sapa. But since it’ll take many years to complete, your only option at the moment is to travel to Sapa by land.
I took a round-trip bus from Hanoi to Sapa and learned a lot from the experience. There were pleasantly surprising parts and other times when things were less than ideal.
So, I’ll share my takeaways to help you prepare for your bus trip.
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Distance From Hanoi to Sapa
Sapa is approximately 315 km (196 miles) from Hanoi. Most of the journey follows CT05, a well-maintained highway that leads to Lao Cai, the town bordering China.
Because only one road leads to Sapa, your bus will drive up to Lao Cai before turning southwest on QL4D, which goes to Sapa.
Travel Time From Hanoi to Sapa by Bus
The bus from Hanoi to Sapa takes approximately six hours.
However, several factors can impact the travel time, including the number of stops your driver makes and the length of time they choose to remain at that stop.
During my bus trip from Hanoi to Sapa, my 10:00 pm bus departed at 9:50 pm and arrived in Sapa at 5:30 am. That ended up being 1.5 hours later than our scheduled 4:00 am arrival, despite getting a 10-minute head start.
My driver made three stops instead of two stops, and one stop was double the time he had indicated (one hour instead of 30 minutes). I didn’t mind the extra 1.5 hours of shuteye on my comfy sleeper bus, and my fellow passengers didn’t seem in a rush to arrive in Sapa on time either.
On the return, my 4:00 pm bus departed at 3:40 pm and arrived in Hanoi at 9:30 pm with two stops of 20 and 30 minutes long.
Travel Tip: Arrive at least 30 minutes before your Sapa bus departs. The buses often leave early if all passengers are onboard.
Needless to say, you can arrive in Sapa much faster by taking a private minivan transfer or luxury van, of which there are plenty of options from Hanoi.
However, taking the bus is much more economical, and the bus schedules work excellently with full-day, 2-day, and 3-day Sapa trekking tours.
Travel Time From Hanoi to Sapa by Train
Unlike the bus from Hanoi to Sapa, the train takes longer. The train to Sapa takes approximately eight to nine hours and Vietnam Railways operates it.
Is the extra travel time worth it? Perhaps.
Let’s compare these options.
Hanoi to Sapa Bus vs Train
If you’re asking yourself, “Should I travel from Hanoi to Sapa by train or a sleeper bus?” the answer is it depends.
The advantages of taking the train instead of the bus to Sapa include:
- Longer window to sleep if you take an overnight train
- On-board restrooms
- Ability to book a 2-bed or 4-bed cabin for multiple travelers
In contrast, the bus to Sapa has the following advantages over the train:
- Arrival directly in Sapa town
That’s right—unlike the bus to Sapa, taking the train means you’ll need to get off at Lao Cai Railroad Station, which is a 45 to 1 hour and 20-minute drive from Sapa, depending on whether you book a taxi or take a public bus to town.
Needless to say, if you’re short on time or money, taking the bus to Sapa is the easiest way to arrive.
The buses and trains to Sapa are similar in that they offer different levels of comfort according to how much you spend on your ticket. The options range from VIP cabins and beds to cheaper fares offering basic amenities.
Sapa Bus Company Options
Several companies run the bus route from Hanoi to Sapa. They include:
- Sao Viet
- Sapa Express
- Dragon Express
- Sapa King Express
- Eco Sapa
- Hason Haivan
- Hung Thanh
- Truly Ha Giang
And the list goes on. The bottom line is that you don’t have to worry about limited choices when choosing a bus to Sapa.
But not all buses are equal.
The 3-day Sapa trek I booked included round trip Hanoi to Sapa bus tickets with Sapa King Express. I was shocked by the luxury that my sleeping bus offered on the way to Sapa.
It was a different story on the way back, though, giving me reverse bus shock. I’ll talk more about this experience shortly.
Travel Tip: If bus tickets come with your Sapa tour and you care about bus amenities, ask the agency what brand and bus class they book.
Bus From Hanoi to Sapa Timetable
The bus departure times from Hanoi to Sapa vary greatly depending on the bus company and the time of year you travel. Below is a chart to give you an idea of the bus schedule.
I’ve selected a small sample of departure times to give you an idea of the range available.
|Departure From Hanoi
|Sapa Dragon Express
Be sure to double-check the Hanoi to Sapa bus times via the bus company’s website or the tour provider you book with.
Bus from Sapa to Hanoi Timetable
You can either book your Hanoi to Sapa bus ticket one-way or round-trip, as there usually isn’t a price difference. So, below is a table showing a small sample of the bus times you have to choose from for your bus trip back to Hanoi.
|Departure From Sapa
|Sapa Dragon Express
As with booking your ticket to Sapa, you may find several companies—or even the same company—running the Sapa to Hanoi route at the same departure times. However, the bus class often varies, so do your due diligence before booking.
Where to Buy Your Bus Ticket
There isn’t a designated bus station for Sapa buses in Hanoi’s old quarter.
Instead, the buses pick up and drop off passengers at set addresses on the side of the road. In the case of my Sapa King Express bus, the address was centrally located, but it had no affiliation with the bus company.
So, buying your Sapa bus ticket in person is often a hassle. Instead, you can head to the bus company’s website to purchase your ticket.
If you choose this route, be sure to check the URL and ensure there’s a security lock to the left of it. Some scam sites exist that try to mimic legitimate bus company websites.
Alternatively, if you feel uneasy about putting your credit card information into one of these websites, you can book your Hanoi to Sapa bus ticket at one of the many tour agency offices in Hanoi’s old quarter.
That said, if you plan on booking a trekking tour before arriving in Sapa, it’s best to hold off on booking a bus. Most Sapa trekking tours offer bus tickets, train tickets, or a private van transfer (that they often refer to as limousines) as part of the package.
Check out my guide on the Best Time to Visit Sapa for details on the ideal time to take your trip.
Finding Your Hanoi Bus
As mentioned earlier, there isn’t a designated bus station in Hanoi with buses departing for Sapa. Therefore, be mindful of checking the boarding point address.
Your bus from Hanoi to Sapa will likely board in a central area of Hanoi’s old quarter.
You should arrive at least 30 minutes early to begin boarding. If you choose an overnight bus, you’ll receive the added benefit of being able to get some extra sleep before the bus departs.
Hanoi to Sapa Bus Amenities
The amenities on the buses to Sapa vary greatly depending on the bus company and class. My sleeping bus from Hanoi to Sapa had all the bells and whistles, minus a glaring omitted facility—a bathroom.
A sign taped to the door of what clearly should have been the restroom read “Blanket warehouse.”
My second-class bus from Sapa to Hanoi didn’t go to such lengths. It simply kept the door to what should have been the bathroom permanently locked.
Now that I’ve gone off on a restroom tangent, let’s look at the facilities the buses do have. If you book one of the VIP buses (also called 1st class sleepers), you can expect amenities such as:
- Fully reclining bed
- Air conditioning
- Personal TV
- Massage feature in the bed
- Privacy curtain
Drinks and snacks weren’t included on either of my Sapa buses, although I’ve heard of some luxury buses including them or offering them for purchase.
If you book a cheaper sleeper bus, you can expect none of the amenities above except for air conditioning, a thin blanket, and perhaps WiFI.
My cheaper bus on the way back also had three rows of beds instead of two rows, greatly reducing the width of my bed.
You can even book a day bus to Sapa with reclining seats but without a full-blown bed arrangement.
A Note on Shoes
If you book a sleeper bus, pack socks.
That’s because you’ll need to remove your shoes before boarding the bus, placing them in a plastic bag that the driver will provide in a bin beside the bus steps.
Should you get off at stops along the way (which will be likely if your bus also doesn’t have a functioning restroom), leave your shoes behind.
The buses stop at facilities designed for long-distance buses, and each parking space has a bucket of slippers. You’ll need to wear a pair of the provided slippers into the rest stop area instead of putting on your own shoes.
Gotta love Vietnam’s care for keeping their floors clean!
I pretty much slept straight through on my bus from Hanoi to Sapa, except for some jostling when the road became bumpier (you’ll be on a paved road the entire time, though).
Needless to say, I didn’t notice the road conditions. Plus, it was dark outside.
But returning to Hanoi was a different story.
Once you turn off Highway CT05 and get closer to Sapa, you’ll be on a winding road with switchbacks up mountains. Steep drop-offs abound, as do the first glimpses of rice terraces in the Sapa region (if it’s daylight, of course).
If you’re prone to car sickness, you can expect to feel queasy on the road to Sapa.
So, be sure to bring motion sickness medicine.
Furthermore, if you don’t love the idea of driving through mountains with steep drop-offs, consider taking the train. I was impressed by how well my bus drivers managed the roads compared to some of my other bus trips abroad, but I still breathed a sigh of relief after getting out of the mountains upon my return to Hanoi.
That said, if you want to enjoy the beautiful mountain views on the way to Sapa, ask to sit on the driver’s side from Hanoi to Sapa and the passenger’s side from Sapa to Hanoi when booking your bus ticket.
Arriving in Sapa
Arriving in Sapa by bus is easier than by train. Your bus will drop you off in Sapa town.
Like Hanoi, there isn’t a formal bus station in Sapa for the buses that operate this route. Instead, your bus will drop you off on the side of the street, often Dien Bien Phu Street, where that particular bus company operates.
The trekking tour agency informed me that I could remain on the bus sleeping until 6:00 am, when they’d pick me up. But since we arrived at 5:30 am, everyone got off the bus upon our arrival.
In good ‘ole Vietnamese fashion, my tour guide picked me up 20 minutes early.
Be aware that locals will bombard you, trying to sell you tours and artwork when you get off the bus. A firm “no thank you” usually doesn’t do the trick.
That’s right, doesn’t.
But that’s just how it is. So, arrive prepared for this bombardment, and please always stay kind to the locals despite their insistence on you purchasing something from them.
If you already have a Sapa tour booked, saying so will help reduce how insistent they are. I booked my 3-day Sapa trek before arriving and was thankful to be armed with the line, “Thank you, but I already booked my tour.”
FAQs About the Bus From Hanoi to Sapa
I’ve answered some common questions about traveling to Sapa by bus below. But if you still have questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to help.
How much is a bus from Hanoi to Sapa?
The bus from Hanoi to Sapa ranges from $10 to $20+, depending on the company and class you book.
Can you do a day trip to Sapa from Hanoi?
You can take a day trip from Hanoi to Sapa in 24 hours. You’d do this by taking a sleeper bus at approximately 10:00 pm. You’d then embark on a full-day Sapa tour the following morning (a five-hour trek is the most common) before hopping on a late afternoon bus, getting you back to Hanoi between 9:00 pm – 10:00 pm.
That said, I recommend spending at least one night in Sapa, even if it’s in the town instead of in the valley. It’s a beautiful area, and traveling to Sapa in 24 hours makes for a tight itinerary.
Is the bus from Hanoi to Sapa safe?
As a solo female traveler, I felt very safe taking the bus alone from Hanoi to Sapa. Unlike the trains, where you might be in a cabin with one to three other strangers, I had a private bed within the overall open space of the bus.
The fact that I wouldn’t have to share a cabin with strangers was one of the leading factors in my decision to take the bus instead of the train.
Psst! If you’re concerned about safety, check out my guide on Is Hanoi Safe?
Is there a sleeper bus from Hanoi to Sapa?
There are many sleeper buses from Hanoi to Sapa. They vary in quality and price, so do your homework to choose the best-fit Sapa bus for you.
Do I need to book my Sapa bus in advance?
If you’re traveling during the high season and have your heart set on a particular bus company or sleeper class, I recommend making your reservation in advance. Otherwise, you’ll likely be able to hop on a bus from Hanoi to Sapa on short notice.
Will You Take the Bus to Sapa?
I was impressed with my bus from Hanoi to Sapa and would take the overnight trip again in a heartbeat. That said, I’d be more careful in the future about knowing which bus class a travel agency books for me—having a wider bed and privacy curtain made all the difference in getting a better night’s sleep.
What do you think? Does a bus to Sapa sound like the right fit for you, or would you rather take the train or a limousine bus?
Let me know in the comments, along with any questions you might have. I’d also love to hear about your bus experience after your Sapa trip.
P.S.—Check out my guide on trekking Sapa to determine if the full-day, 2-day, or 3-day Sapa hike is the right fit for you.