Trains to Sa Pa
Regular departures leave Hanoi in the evening to travel north to Lao Cai province and the Chinese border. Lao Cai is a nondescript border town with little to distinguish it apart from being the disembarkation point for travellers heading for Sa Pa. For onward travellers, the train links with the Chinese railway network at the border gate, enabling travellers to reach all the main Chinese cities by rail.
The Lao Cai/Sa Pa train has sleeping compartments, with a departure timed to allow travellers to leave the train early in the morning after the ten-hour journey so that they can have almost a full day in Sa Pa.
There are four types of accommodation:
- Hard chair: A fixed wooden seat in a large carriage
- Soft chair: A partially reclining set with vinyl-covered cushioning in a large carriage
- Hard sleeper: a bed in a six berth compartment with a fan and unglazed windows on to the corridor, each with a wrought iron screen for security. Each bunk consists of a flat board with a rice straw mat. Passengers are provided with a blanket and a small pillow.
- Soft sleeper: a bed in an air-conditioned four-berth compartment without windows on to the corridor. Each bunk has a foam mattress about 10cm thick, with white cotton sheets, pillowcase, and blanket, and an individual reading light.
Passengers in sleeping compartments can stow their luggage under the bottom bunk, and in a space above the door. There is a ‘squat’ toilet at the end of each carriage, and a separate washing room. Toilet paper is usually supplied, but sometimes runs out, but soap is seldom provided.
The ‘soft sleepers’ are reasonable comfortable – for couples who want privacy, booking all four berths is a possibility.
An innovation on this line is the ‘Victoria’ train - a standard train with luxury two and four berth sleeping compartments and a dining carriage added for the Hanoi - Lao Cai section of the journey only. They are reminiscent of the early trans-European and intercontinental flagship trains.
The standards of the ‘Victoria’ train's accommodation, facilities, service and food are much higher than those of the ‘normal’ trains, as are the prices. The Victoria Hotels chain funds the venture, so travelling in the luxury carriages is conditional upon a reservation at the Victoria in Sa Pa.