The journey from Sapa to Halong Bay: A traveler review

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The ride from Sapa to Halong Bay may be a bit lengthy (and chilly!) but when you’re rewarded with views of a natural world wonder, it’s all worth it.

Halong Bay view

Beep beep! Before getting on with my adventure from Sapa to Halong Bay, before the sleeper bus journey, I needed to get from my hotel to the bus station. My friend and I took a taxi, making for a thirty-minute ride away from the station. On the way there, there’s tons of traffic, which is something of usual Vietnamese fashion. Either way, you really don’t need to come earlier than thirty minutes before departure.

We asked the taxi driver to take us to the Sapa bus station and he knew exactly where to go. I was surprised to find that no special instructions were needed. The entrance to the station signaled that this was a big place; much of Vietnam is decorated with concrete structures. The situation is quite clear, there are two entrances with one line to buy tickets and one entrance to the platform. 

The wheels on the bus go round and round… 

Sleeper buses may prove to be an exotic artifact of travel in Southeast Asia to many westerners. The buses usually are not so old, maybe in use for five or eight years, but what proves to be precarious is the heavy use they are subjected to. When I entered the bus, I was greeted by three rows and two floors of seats which are “like” beds. I say “like”, because of course, any kind of real bed would have been infinitely more comfortable.

I’m a small person and I consider this factor part of my luck; I can’t imagine how a tall person would be able to lay through the 9 hour journey. Since the seats are quite short, consider seeking out a VIP sleeping bus (if you are the opposite of vertically challenged). We went with the sleeper bus by Phuc Xuyen.

At the entrance, we were prompted to take off our shoes. This is a common culture practiced in the east, it symbolizes cleanliness and respect of one’s home. I enjoy this idea, and was also thankful that I brought along socks with me, as it’s also not permitted to be barefoot. 

Hey, MTV! Welcome to my Crib!

The seats themselves were made of a plastic-y, maroon-colored material, on top of which some sort of textured (and honestly, not very clean) fabric was pulled over.

Pro tip: The air conditioning is turned on to full blast, so my recommendation for travelers is to bring a sweater or a hoodie for warmth instead of the blankets and pillows which are provided. 

Another thing which is a great feature of the sleeper bus is the WiFi. I actually didn’t end up using it, as I was busy dozing in and out of sleep or looking out the window. My friend did hook up to the WiFi and noted that it was more reliable than she would have expected. 

My friend and I departed from Sapa in the early morning and were pleased to arrive in the afternoon, within nine hours of travel. The driver is quite speedy and to some that may be unpleasant, but if you want to get to Halong Bay quickly, it’s a useful feature.

Since it is a lengthy ride, the bus three stops for leg stretching, bathroom breaking (there’s no bathroom on board), and snacking. Each break lasted about forty-five minutes. The places where we stopped were a bit seedy when it came to the food, if you’re a picky eater especially so. I recommend to bring your own food and drink in order to avoid any accidents within the nine hour journey. 

Super trouper

The bus’ members were composed of three types of people: the staff, locals, and a few travelers. There were two staff members, whose roles were honestly pretty limited. One took money from the passengers, and it beats me what the other was meant to do.

If you’re in need of some help, the staff members try to help the best that they can and are quite friendly, but their English is very limited. This, I learned, wasn’t so surprising for Vietnam, so learn some key words in Vietnamese like “thank you” (Cam On) or “Can you help me?” (Ban giup toi duoc khong?). 

The quietness during the journey is honestly what made it so likeable. If your berth is next to the window, you’ll be able to observe the beautiful countryside in passing. Of course, I think it would be more comfortable to take a sleeper bus during the night, where you can use the nine hours of sleep between Sapa and Halong Bay. 

Hen at a Halong Bay Hotel

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a small station. You only have one direction to go – towards the exit. Near the exit, there are a lot of taxis, which we took to our hotel. Since my friend and I were not sleeping in the city center, the taxi proved to be the most comfortable and convenient way to get to a village nearby, which took about an hour and a half. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the sleeper bus service, mostly because it got us from A to B with no delays. This is a reliable ride and I chose it because I wanted to get to Halong Bay in the afternoon, not in the early morning (after an all-night expedition). The sleeper bus’ openness offered me an inside view into regular, everyday life for Vietnamese people, letting me travel like a local.

Posted January 2, 2020
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Chandrika Ghosh
Full-time travel blogger & writer from India on a mission to live life on her own terms. Perpetually suffering from itchy feet syndrome. Can be found zoning out into the distance when not typing away on a laptop. Survival strategy - tea & coffee.
image of blog writer Chandrika