Use the quicklinks below to jump to the desired section regarding transport in and around Sapa.
To/From Lao Cai
From Lao Cai, minibuses to Sapa leave from the train station all daylight hours. The trip takes about an hour. You'll be accosted by the touts as soon as you leave the train -- but be sure to check the price before boarding. The standard price in July 2013 was 50,000 VND but this does creep up each year so be prepared to pay slightly more. Or arrange in advance with your hotel.
To/From Lai Chau
From the Lai Chau bus station, there are 7 departures a day to Lao Cai from 06:00 to 16:00, costing 60,000 VND and taking 3 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. VietBus operates one sleeper bus a day to Dien Bien, departing at 18:00, and costing 350,000 VND. It's also possible to get a sleeper bus directly back to Hanoi from here, saving a change in Lao Cai. VietBus's bus is at 17:30, 300,000 VND. Minibuses to Dien Bien Phu, with the option to jump off en route, also run from the bus station but most hotels will be able to arrange tickets and pick-ups.
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 Street or Fansipan Street. Fansipan Street also connects easily to Cau May by walking through the Sapa Market; as you climb up Fansipan Street, 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 20,000 VND for any uphill ride no matter how short.
Motorcycles and bikes can be rented everywhere around town for US$4 to US$7, depending on what you're after.