It’s been a while since I last took an overnight train to get across to a different province/state. The last train that I rode on would probably be the 24 hour train ride from Tibet to Xining. To get the full experience of arriving into Sapa, we decided to get a ride on the Chapa Express, an 8 hour overnight train journey from Hanoi to Lao Cai, followed by a 2 hour van transfer to reach Sapa. Prices were listed at 42 USD (as of Dec 2017) per person in a 4 sleeper berth cabin, just nice for our family of 4. We arrived into Hanoi train station with our guide about 40 minutes prior to departure, which seemed like plenty of time, but with the chaos at the train station I would suggest getting to the station a full hour before your train is scheduled to depart.
The front entrance of the railway station at first glance seemed pretty empty, but the moment you go through those corridors, your senses will be on overload. The amount of people rushing in and out, chattering loudly yelling at one another, flickering platform lights with the long low hum of multiple trains ready to depart. This is what we came to experience, the hustle and bustle of the train station, it did not disappoint.
Finding the right train was just the first part of a puzzle that we needed to solve, the 2nd task was to find out which carriages we were we suppose to get on. The locomotive doesn’t just pull carriages from the same company, it pulls multiple carriages from different companies, so make sure you are certain you get on to the right carriage. From that short distance from the entrance of the train station to the train itself, took us almost half an hour to find the Chapa Express.
The staff onboard the Chapa Express showed us to our cabin and informed us that the journey would take approximately 8-9 hours and we would be departing on schedule at 10pm. The train looked a little worn out and old on the outside, but thankfully it was well maintained and clean on the inside. The bedrooms actually felt pretty cosy, with warm lighting and plush pillows waiting at every bed. Bottled water, snacks and dental kits were provided for each passenger on the little table inside the cabin.
I was pleasantly surprised when upon entering the cabin, I didn’t do any research on the condition of the cabins and was delighted at how cosy it felt. The warm lights and power plugs at each bed were also a plus, there was even an air conditioner vent for each cabin. The Sapa inspired decor did add a nice touch to the interiors as well, showcasing the different tribes that lives on the rice fields on the hills of Sapa.
Right after getting comfy in our cabin we tried to get as much sleep as we could, because a full day awaits us upon our arrival into Sapa. The train did creak and bump a lot during the entire journey, don’t expect it to be as fast and smooth as the ride on the bullet trains in Japan. It certainly did have its charms, felt like we were back in time traversing across the country with the clickety clack of the train tracks.
The attendants woke us up 30 minutes before we were arriving into Lao Cai. She pleasantly knocked on each cabin door and offered coffee or tea for a dollar. 4 coffees please. Right after freshening up we hurried off the train when it came to a halt, dragged our suitcases across the platforms and looked for our guide who would be driving us to Sapa to check in at the Victoria Sapa Resort & Spa.