After reading endless blogs/websites/reviews and visiting several travel agencies, I have figured out a budget friendly itinerary that won’t break the bank when visiting the mountainous region of Sapa!
As a budget traveler, cost was a priority, but so was an authentic experience. The positive side to booking through a travel agency in Hanoi is that absolutely everything is already organized for you, but you will most likely end up overpaying. I also spoke to many backpackers who did this trip independently and they were approached by locals who offered accommodation in a local homestay and a guided trek. This was what I was hoping for as I wanted my money to go back to the village rather than a travel company, but unfortunately this wasn’t an option when I arrived at the train station.
Here is a detailed itinerary of what I believe to be one of the cheapest, most backpacker friendly option for a 3 day/3 night experience from Hanoi to Sapa.
Night 1-Travel from Hanoi to Sapa
Book an overnight train from a travel agency in Hanoi. I found it to be cheaper than buying your ticket at the train station.
Booked at Amazing Travel
2 Cau Go Street, Hanoi
Travel agency found in the Old Quarters
Overnight Express Train $26
Soft sleeper (SP3)
Departs at 9:50 & Arrives at 6:30
The beds are pretty comfortable. I slept the entire journey!
Note: There is an overnight bus option for $17-25. I opted for the soft sleeper train because it is much safer and I got a good deal, where as most people paid $48 for the train.
Taxi to train station: $2.50
Total travel time: ~8.5 hours
Total cost: $28.50
Day 1/Night 2-Sapa
Arrive at Lao Cai train station.
Take a shuttle van to Sapa $2.50
*Note: when you exit the station, they will try to hustle you to pay 200,000 VND ($10). Don’t pay anymore than 50,000 VND ($2.50). If they won’t go down in price, turn left down the street past the taxis, and you will see the shuttle vans.
Some people like to hike on the day they arrive, but I booked a night in Sapa to give myself a day to relax.
Dorm room at Sapa Grace Hotel $5
Super clean and comfy rooms compared to the other hostels
Explore the town and check out one of the markets if you happen to be there.
*Note: Ethnic markets only run on certain days
Saturday: Can Cau markets
Sunday: Bac Ha market
Tuesday: Coc Ly market
Thursday: Lung Khau Nhin market (non-touristy market, but only sell vegetables, seeds, and livestock)
Total transfer time: ~30 minutes
Total cost: $7.50
Day 2&3/Night 3-Trekking in Sapa
2 days, 1 night trek and local homestay $22
Sapa-La Chai-Ta Van-Giang Ta Chai-Su Pan-Sapa
Includes: Local guide, 4 meals (L, D, B, L), homestay in Ta Van, entrance fees, and transfers
Booked at Sapa Queen Hotel
09 Muong Hoa Street, Sapa
Outside the hotel down the main street
Total cost: $22
*Note: We had two different guides during this trip. The first day, we had a guide named Jong who originally grew up in a town near Sapa. Although he was not from a local ethnic minority tribe, he was very funny and knowledgable. We then had a H’mong girl named Lee from Giang Ta Chai village guide us for the second day.
GRAND TOTAL for 3 days, 3 nights, and overnight train: $58
This is a fantastic price considering the average cost when booking online or in Hanoi was approximately $120 and up. Plus I took the train rather than the bus. Obviously the price will vary depending on the villages you would like to visit, the duration of your stay, your level of comfort, type of trek, etc. This is the price I paid for a basic guided trek and homestay. It’s not necessarily off the beaten path, but it’s definitely an amazing way to explore Sapa. There are many options out there!
Regardless of what you end up doing in Sapa, you will enjoy the beautiful scenic view of rolling hills, mountains, and rice paddies! Enjoy!