After settling in, it comes time for the train to depart. The silence and stillness of the train carriage ends with the groans and creaks of cogs turning and wheels on tracks, as well as the distinctive noise of the train’s loud whistle.
We are on the overnight Victoria Express Train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, on our journey towards Sapa. Although the train ride is not the fastest route, there is a certain charm to boarding a train that’s so old, and styled that way too, with deep red walls and green curtains that give the train a simple yet elegant façade. The Victoria Express Train is a five-star journey that takes passengers back in time.
Victoria Hotels has owned the train since 1999 when it had just three carriages, including a dining car. They were the first private train service provider from Hanoi to Lao Cai. In 2006, they increased the number of carriages to five but in late 2016, the dining car was removed, although food is still served on the train.
We start our journey at the Victoria Lounge (Level 10, 115 Tran Hung Dao, Hanoi) at 9pm, where we are taken to the train station and greeted by neat uniformed women who show us to our cabin and make sure we are comfortable. The train’s simple touches such as the soft pillows with complimentary toothbrushes and bottled water on them are what make it feel so luxurious.
As the train starts to rock and sway on its journey to Lao Cai, just standing in the corridor, looking out the window at the city passing by gives you a feeling of being in another era. I imagine myself rewinding almost 100 years, taking the train on my own with a brand-new leather suitcase and my best dresses, laced in ivory pearls and wearing my cloche hat. I can see Daisy, running away from Tom to finally be with Gatsby. Standing here I can see it all. This feeling is something I will never have got had we made the journey by car.
After a bumpy, yet undisturbed night’s sleep, we are woken 30 minutes before arrival with a choice of coffee, tea, or orange juice, and a warm croissant. When the train stops, we are greeted almost instantly with people taking us to our transfers. We are handed fresh face washers and bottled water to refresh us from our long journey, before the hour-long car ride to Sapa.
Arriving in Sapa is like arriving in a dream. The fog that had submerged the mountains is finally relieved as the morning sun peeks over the hills, illuminating the greenery surrounding the road and exposing the beauty for which Sapa is known. The cloud reigning over the mountains allows my mind to go wild as I see the ancient legends of Vietnam coming to life. I can imagine dragons, weaving in and out of the hills, faster than any car could go on these roads.
When we arrive in Sapa we are shown to the Victoria Sapa Resort and Spa (Xuan Vien, Sapa), the owners of the Victoria Express Train, where we are staying for the day.
We spend the day exploring the town, and visiting Fansipan via cable car before our trip home. The journey comes full circle as we leave Sapa back down the bends and turns of Highway 4D towards Lao Cai. It’s here that we step back on the train and depart again for Hanoi, leaving the magic behind us.
Check out the Victoria Hotels website at victoriahotels.asia for more details on the Victoria Express Train and how to purchase train tickets and transfers