Sapa is a town that is on almost every visitor’s itinerary when they first arrive in Vietnam. To reach the popular hillside town you'll most likely be travelling from Hanoi, if this is the case then Pumpkin Express is a great option.
Pumpkin Express carriages are joined onto the SP1 and SP2 Vietnam Railways trains connecting Hanoi with Lao Cai and the individual cabins are designed to be replicas of hotel rooms, complete with air-conditioning and TVs, so you're sure to travel in style.
Routes served by Pumpkin Express Train
Trains depart Hanoi for Lao Cai on a daily basis at 21.30, scheduled to arrive at 05.35 the next morning. The return journey leaves Lao Cai at 20.35, dropping you in Hanoi at around 04.45, with the trip in either direction lasting approximately eight hours. The price is also the same regardless of which way you're headed, VND835,000 for a space in a four-berth cabin and VND1,655,000 per person for a more private two-berth compartment.
The standard within the carriages of all the private operators remains pretty similar so Pumpkin Express is a good option as prices tend to be lower than those found with other companies along this route. Although, it is worth pointing out that prices are still higher than if you purchased a ticket in the standard Vietnam Railways carriages, this may be an option for budget travellers.
Another advantage with choosing Pumpkin Express for your trip to Sapa is that the cabins have TVs inside them, something that isn't always the case with private operators and certainly not in the carriages managed by Vietnam Railways.
Unfortunately, the scheduled arrival time in Hanoi isn't great. Arriving before 05.00 means that you can have some difficulty in reaching your hotel and once you're there it's unlikely that you'll be able to check-in straight away. If you haven't booked any accommodation before you arrive in Hanoi then you'll probably need to kill some time before you start looking for a suitable place to stay. Neither scenario will be particularly appealing after a long overnight train journey.
Keep in mind
It's worth bearing in mind that if you reserve a spot in a two-berth compartment you will have to pay the total price for the room, as it cannot be reserved individually.
Unfortunately, this may put this option out of the budget of many solo travellers who will have to make do with a space in a four-berth compartment instead. Although, this is a great way to meet fellow travellers and to share stories and tips about where you've been and where you're headed next.
Travellers who used Pumpkin Express to reach Sapa had the same complaints as those using other private operators along the route.
The biggest issue is the need to change at Lao Cai to then travel a further hour to Sapa itself. Unfortunately, if you choose to travel to Sapa via train then this is unavoidable as the town doesn't have a train station. If you would rather not change at Lao Cai then consider making the journey from Hanoi directly to Sapa by bus, although it may be less comfortable than the train, it's actually quicker and cheaper.
If you do want to travel by train and would rather pay slightly more for a space in a private carriage rather than the standard Vietnam Railways cabins then you'll be pleased to read the good reviews that Pumpkin Express receives. It has been praised by passengers who think it represents good value for money when compared to other private operators along the route. Pumpkin Express is also considered to offer one of the more comfortable carriages for passengers keen on getting a good nights sleep before they set out to explore the stunning Sapa countryside over the next few days.