Getting to Sapa/ Away from Sapa
To/From Lao Cai
From Lao Cai, minibuses to Sapa leave from the City Bus Station (Ben Xe Khach) on the west bank of the Hong River, just south of the Coc Leu Bridge, 25,000 VND. Buses leave every 30 minutes from 06:00 to 18:00. The trip takes about an hour.
To/From Lai Chau
From the Lai Chau bus station, there are 10 departures a day to Lao Cai from 07:00 to 14:00, costing 45,000 VND and taking 4 hours. The bus stops in Sapa.
Getting out of Sapa
Sapa has a perfectly acceptable bus station, but you’re not likely to use it. Buses pick up in front of the church, simply because that’s where everyone waits for them — this despite the fact that it is technically illegal for drivers to do this. The result is a daily Keystone Cops comedy where the drivers cruise past, stop quickly, and try to get everyone on while keeping a watchful eye out for the police, Then the fuzz pull up, block the bus with a motorbike, strut out and ticket the driver. We saw one pair of cops trying to confiscate a driver’s license plate, but when they couldn’t get it off, they gave up.
None of this will affect you seriously. You can get to Lao Cai and Lai Chau during daylight hours for the same prices as above. Just wait in front of the church with a stop-frame camera and a recording of “Yakety Sax” playing in the background. For further travel, check departures under transport for Lao Cai and Lai Chau.
It’s easy enough to walk everywhere you want to go in Sapa, but it helps to know a few shortcuts. You may notice that, whatever it looks like on the map, you can’t get from the area near the church to Cau May by road without going completely around the stadium. If you’re on foot, head down the market road, Pham Xuan Huan, along the southern side of the church, and you’ll find two sets of stairs on the right leading down to Cau May.
Heading down Thac Bac, take the steps alongside Baguette and Chocolat if you’re headed to Cau May or Fansipan Road. Fansipan Road also connects easily to Cau May by walking through the Sapa Market — as you climb up Fansipan Mountain, instead of taking an extreme left, just head straight through the market, and it lets out on Cau May.
The xe om drivers, much like vultures, circle around at the base of the hilly streets, looking to prey upon tourists too weak to make the climb. You’ll find yourself turning down ride after ride — until you need one, of course — then they are nowhere to be found. A foreigner will seldom be able to pay less that 10,000 VND for any uphill ride no matter how short.