How to choose the right train to Sapa

How to choose the right train to Sapa
If you haven't been to Sapa and want to arrange a Sapa trip by yourself, you don't want to book a tour through a travel company or just don't want to follow a fixed itinerary, in this article I want to share some experience about trains to Sapa, my suggestions may be very interesting for you. You can choose to travel Sapa by train or by car, from my experience Sapa train is the most popular means of transport to Sapa, also the safest way. And there are something you should know when booking train tickets to Sapa.

- You have some choices as follows:
Tourist trains, wooden paneled cabin with air conditioner, hot water is available on train, good departure time (usually in the evening), good quality and service. Note that all trains are pulled by the same engine. Why are they called tourist trains? Because these carriages are owned by travel companies, the carriages are built in good quality with safety standard and only serve tourists. These trains usually have codes SP1, SP2, SP3, SP4 and some carriages on SP7, SP8. The other trains coded LC1, LC2, LC5, LC7 are slow trains and run by Vietnam Railways Corporation.
Sitting carriage
Train codes:
Train SP1 Hanoi to Lao Cai - Fastest train
Train time: approx 7 hours
Departure from Hanoi at 21.10
Arrival time in Lao Cai: 05.25
Cabin type: AnLT1, AnLT2
Note: SP1 is the fastest train from Hanoi to Lao Cai with few stops on the way, passengers are recommended to book this train.

Train SP3 Hanoi to Lao Cai - Fast train
Train time: approx 8 hours
Departure from Hanoi at 21.50
Arrival time in Lao Cai: 06.15
Cabin type: BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3, AnLT1, AnLT2
Note: SP3 is fast train from Hanoi to Lao Cai with few stops on the way, this train is also recommended to tourists.

Train SP5 Hanoi to Lao Cai - Fast train
Train time: approx 8 hours
Departure from Hanoi at 19.40
Arrival time in Lao Cai: 04.20
Cabin type: NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3, AnLT1, AnLT2
Note: SP5 is fast train from Hanoi to Lao Cai with few stops on the way, this train is also recommended to tourists.

Train SP7 Hanoi to Lao Cai - Fast train
Train time: approx 8 hours
Departure from Hanoi at 20.35
Arrival time in Lao Cai: 04.55
Cabin type: BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3, AnLT1, AnLT2
Note: SP7 is fast train from Hanoi to Lao Cai with few stops on the way, this train is also recommended to tourists.

Train SP2 Lao Cai to Hanoi - Fastest train
Train time: approx 7 hours
Departure from Lao Cai at 20.05
Arrival time in Hanoi at 04.35
Cabin type: AnLT1, AnLT2
Note: SP2 is the fastest train from Lao Cai to Hanoi with few stops on the way, passengers are recommended to book this train.

Train SP4 Lao Cai to Hanoi - Fast train
Train time: approx 8 hours
Departure from Lao Cai at 20.45
Arrival time in Hanoi at 05.10
Cabin type: BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3, AnLT1, AnLT2
Note: SP4 is fast train from Lao Cai to Hanoi with few stops on the way, this train is also recommended to tourists.

Train SP6 Lao Cai to Hanoi - Fast train
Train time: approx 8 hours
Departure from Lao Cai at 18.55
Arrival time in Hanoi at 03.40
Cabin type: NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3, AnLT1, AnLT2
Note: SP6 is fast train from Lao Cai to Hanoi with few stops on the way, this train is also recommended to tourists.

Train SP8 Lao Cai to Hanoi - Fast train
Train time: approx 8 hours
Departure from Lao Cai at 19.30
Arrival time in Hanoi at 04.35
Cabin type: NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3, AnLT1, AnLT2
Note: SP8 is fast train from Lao Cai to Hanoi with few stops on the way, this train is also recommended to tourists.

Train LC1 Hanoi to Lao Cai - Slow train
Train time: approx 9 hours
Departure from Hanoi at 22.00
Arrival time in Lao Cai: 07.20
Cabin type: NC, NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3
Note: LC1 is slow train from Hanoi to Lao Cai with many stops on the way.

Train LC3 Hanoi to Lao Cai - Slowest train (Day train)
Train time: approx 9.5 hours
Departure from Hanoi at 06.10
Arrival time in Lao Cai: 16.35
Cabin type: NC, NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3
Note: LC3 is the slowest day train from Hanoi to Lao Cai with many stops on the way.

Train LC2 Lao Cai to Hanoi - Slow train
Train time: approx 9 hours
Departure from Lao Cai at 21.20
Arrival time in Hanoi: 06.55
Cabin type: NC, NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3
Note: LC2 is slow train from Lao Cai to Hanoi with many stops on the way.

Train LC4 Lao Cai to Hanoi - Slowest train (Day train)
Train time: approx 9 hours
Departure from Lao Cai at 09.15
Arrival time in Hanoi at 20.15
Cabin type: NC, NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3
Note: LC4 is the slowest day train from Lao Cai to Hanoi with many stops on the way.

Train LC5 Hanoi to Lao Cai - Supplementary train in peak times Tet holiday, National days or festivals
Train time: approx 9 hours
Departure from Hanoi at 06.10
Arrival time in Lao Cai at 16.35
Cabin type: NC, NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3
Note: LC5 is supplementary train from Hanoi to Lao Cai with many stops on the way.

Train LC7 Hanoi to Lao Cai - Supplementary train in peak times Tet holiday, National days or festivals
Train time: approx 9 hours
Departure from Hanoi at 06.20
Arrival time in Lao Cai at 16.45
Cabin type: NC, NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3
Note: LC7 is supplementary train from Hanoi to Lao Cai with many stops on the way.

Train LC9 Hanoi to Lao Cai - Supplementary train in peak times Tet holiday, National days or festivals
Train time: approx 9 hours
Departure from Hanoi at 06.10
Arrival time in Lao Cai at 16.35
Cabin type: NC, NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3
Note: LC9 is supplementary train from Hanoi to Lao Cai with many stops on the way.

Train LC6 Lao Cai to Hanoi - Supplementary train in peak times Tet holiday, National days or festivals
Train time: approx 9 hours
Departure from Lao Cai at 21.20
Arrival time in Hanoi at 06.55
Cabin type: NC, NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3
Note: LC6 is supplementary train from Lao Cai to Hanoi with many stops on the way.

Train LC8 Lao Cai to Hanoi - Supplementary train in peak times Tet holiday, National days or festivals
Train time: approx 9 hours
Departure from Lao Cai at 21.10
Arrival time in Hanoi at 06.45
Cabin type: NC, NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3
Note: LC8 is supplementary train from Lao Cai to Hanoi with many stops on the way.

Train LC10 Lao Cai to Hanoi - Supplementary train in peak times Tet holiday, National days or festivals
Train time: approx 9 hours
Departure from Lao Cai at 21.20
Arrival time in Hanoi at 06.55
Cabin type: NC, NML, BnLT1, BnLT2, BnLT3
Note: LC10 is supplementary train from Lao Cai to Hanoi with many stops on the way.
Sapa train cabin
Tourist trains Hanoi to Lao Cai

Best trains: Victoria Express, VIP cabins 2 berths or Deluxe 4 berths: prices range from 190 usd/ticket/way
Deluxe trains: Sapaly Express, Livitrans Express, Fanxipan Express, Ratraco Express, prices range 39 - 41 usd/ticket/way (First class cabin 4 berths)
Midrange trains: King Express, Tulico Express, Hara Expres, Green Express, Royal Express, Pumpkin Express, Orient Express, TSC Express, Dong A Express, VN Train Express, Chapa Express, prices range 36 - 38 usd/ticket/way (First class cabin 4 berths)
Normal trains: Run by Vietnam Railways Corporation, prices 30-32 usd/ticket/way for 4 berth cabins, 24-26 usd/ticket/way for 6 berth cabins, 10 usd/ticket/way for sitting carriages. This is a state owned train and you can buy tickets at the train stations in Hanoi or Lao Cai, please note that you can buy only a few tickets as they don't sell tickets for groups. Service and quality of this train is acceptable and price is cheaper than trains run by travel companies. Please visit website of Vietnam Railways for more information http://vr.com.vn/

Most train companies have close relation with travel agents. From my experience visitors usually go to Sapa at weekends or holidays and tickets are often bought up by travel agents and passengers have to buy at high prices, this is a common situation and not professional at all and to avoid this you can take my advice: Book your tickets to Sapa long in advance, at least 1 month, some train companies don't sell tickets this time, they hold to keep price up. You should book through a tour agency as the agencies have good ties with the trains, you need to pay about 1 or 2 usd up for "service charge" however it saves your time looking for tickets, and they will deliver the tickets to you (it saves your petrol too)

You should not go on these occasions:
- Sai Gon liberation day 30th April and Labour day 1st May. A lot of people go on holiday and everything is very expensive, especially at weekends.
- National Day 2nd September, expensive however not too crowded. Sapa is most beautiful in September and you should book your trip Sapa early to ensure good service
- Mid Lunar July: Mr Seven temple in Lao Cai is famous and sacred, a lot of Buddhists from Hanoi take the train to Lao Cai to visit the temple, most trains are full even on week days.
- The end of August and September there are many travelers from Spain, they usually go in big groups 30 people or more

My experience is the railway tracks are old and it it very noisy if you sleep on lower beds, the upper beds are better, and foreign tourists are recommended to choose SP1, SP2

You can save your time by taking night trains, departing in the evening and you will arrive in the next morning. If you want to have the view during the trip you can choose day trains.

Cabin type description:
NC: Hard seat
NCL: Hard seat with air conditioner
NM: Soft seat
NML: Soft seat with air conditioner
BnT1: Hard bed on lower level
BnT2: Hard bed on upper level
BnT3: Hard bed on top level
BnLT1: Hard bed on lower level with air conditioner
BnLT2: Hard bed on upperlevel with air conditioner
BnLT3: Hard bed on top level with air conditioner
AnT1: Soft bed on lower level
AnT2: Soft bed on upper level
AnLT1: Soft bed on lower level with air conditioner
AnLT2: Soft bed on upper level with air conditioner
GP: Supplementary seat.

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