This isn't the world-famous Orient Express that chugs across Europe. Instead, this service connects Vietnam's capital city, Hanoi, with Lao Cai – the gateway to Sapa.
Orient Express is one of the most popular choices for visitors wanting to head out into the hills around Sapa to meet indigenous people and explore the countryside on some of the country's best treks.
Routes served by Orient Express
There is one departure each day from Hanoi to Lao Cai, from where you will be able to catch a bus to Sapa itself. This train leaves Hanoi at 21.30, due to arrive in Lao Cai at 05.25, with the eight hour trip costing VND1,655,000 for a space in a two-berth carriage and VND835,000 in the larger compartment. The trip back to Hanoi costs the same and departs Lao Cai at 20.35, arriving in the capital at 04.45.
As with most private operators on this route, when reserving your bed you'll have a choice between a Deluxe four-berth carriage or a VIP two-berth compartment. The two-bed carriages are more expensive and you will have to purchase both spots in the compartment so it may put this option out of your price range if you are a solo traveller.
The major advantage of this mode of transport is the opportunity to appreciate stunning scenery during your journey, especially as you are arriving into Lao Cai at around sunrise. In this respect, it beats travelling by bus.
Another advantage with picking Orient Express for your trip to Sapa is that it tends to be cheaper than many of its competitors. Although, it is still more expensive than just purchasing a berth in a carriage solely managed by Vietnam Railways, it is more reasonable than some other private companies.
There isn't a great deal of difference between the carriages offered by Orient Express and the standard carriages on the train managed by Vietnam Railways, so you may not want to pay substantially more for a very similar level of quality.
As is the case with most of the carriages on these trains, the onboard bathrooms won't always meet western standards and you may be in for a shock when you first use one!
Keep in mind
The four-berth carriages can often be a bit cramped, especially with four travellers and all the accompanying luggage.
If you're travelling in pairs, you may want to consider upgrading to the VIP two-berth compartment which, although smaller, is likely to be more comfortable for you.
Similarly, if there are three people in your group, maybe you'll think it's worthwhile to each pay a little more and to book an entire four-berth carriage to yourselves.
Helpfully, Orient Express provides clear information on how to find the check-in desk at both Hanoi and Lao Cai train stations. In Hanoi you'll need to head to entrance B of the station at 1 Tran Quy Cap street, whereas in Lao Cai you'll be able to check-in at gate two, inside the station.
Apart from the cleanliness which is often an issue on trains across Vietnam, the biggest complaint tends to be the size of the beds. There isn't a great deal of difference in quality or comfort whether you have booked a Deluxe or VIP carriage, unfortunately the beds onboard these trains are just fairly small by western standards and might not always make for the most comfortable nights sleep. If this is going to cause huge problems, then you may want to consider a VIP bus to Sapa instead. VIP buses tend to be roomier and you'll be able to recline in your seat and hopefully be more comfortable during your journey.