My boyfriend and two friends recently spent nearly a week motorbiking in northwest Vietnam. Having reached Sapa they didn’t want to spend another couple of days driving back to Hanoi along a relatively boring road (compared to where they’d been) so they opted to put the bikes on the train from Lao Cai.
Given this wasn’t quite as straightforward as expected I thought I’d impart a few tips to make it as painless as possible. The process will be similar at most stations.
Firstly, not all trains transport motorbikes. They were booked onto the SP8 but had to put the bikes on the SP2, which left half an hour earlier. No big deal – the bikes were waiting for them when they got to Hanoi. As far as I can find out, there’s no definite pattern to which trains take bikes and which don’t, so you’ll just need to get to the station at 16:00 – see below – and find out.
On arrival at Lao Cai station, you will be accosted by people trying to persuade you that you need their help and advice. Paul was told they’d have to change their existing train tickets and travel on the same train as the bikes – this isn’t true and will end up costing ridiculous amounts. Don’t trust anyone – go straight to the booking office to buy bike tickets.
The booking office is to the right of the main ticket office/waiting room, just on the right of the tunnel through to the platform and facing the road. Do not go to the room which leads off the tunnel – it’s the staff break room and disturbing them there will not win you any brownie points. The office opens at 16:00.
As for price, it should cost around 250,000 VND per bike — much more than that and you should argue the case.
Once you’ve bought your bike ticket, take the bike onto the platform. A woman there will fill out a form with bike details such as license plate, make and engine size and will give you a receipt. Leave your bike there and it will be put on the train.
Finally, at Hanoi station, go and get your bike on the platform — if you get in before it you’ll be able to wheel it off the train yourself, if you get in later it’ll be waiting for you. Be warned, they will have drained the petrol from your bike before putting it on the train. Don’t expect to get any back. If you can, switch on the reserve when you leave it in Lao Cai and you might have enough to get back to your hotel, otherwise you’ll have to push it just outside the station and find a vendor.