There are several night trains each day from and to Hanoi (about 9 hr, US$20 for a soft sleeper depending on the train).
There are a couple of ATMs in Lao Cai. The Techcom Bank has ATMs on the square of the train station as well as close to the border. However, they accept only some international cards. There is one ATM accepting all international cards, but it's neither close to the border nor to the railway station. Motorbike drivers usually know it and will drive you there (one-way 10,000 dong).
As soon as you leave the immigration building you will be approached by money changers. They usually offer poorer exchange rates than the bank. There are two banks just next to the border and a third one just at the other end of the first bridge, though these are all annoyingly closed at weekends. Banks in Hanoi will also readily exchange your RMB for dong.
- Bắc Hà Sunday Market. Bắc Hà Sunday market can be visited from Sa Pa, but is nearer to Lào Cai and best visited just after you have arrived in Lào Cai from Hanoi or when you have returned to Lào Cai to take the train back to Hanoi.
You can get free Wi-Fi near the bus/train station at the Fansipang Restaurant and Le Bordeaux Restaurant. Both are visible from the station.
Lao Cai does both a public bus and train station. Together they constitute the centre of town. While the train station can be found right next to the main road, the bus station is around 300 m southwest of it, down Phan Đình Phùng. Additionally, minibuses are abundant (destinations usually indicated on the windshield), which will drive around town until full and can be flagged down. Prices are fixed, but conductors usually try their luck and ask for more, including mock tickets with fake prices.
Trains run from the train station in Lao Cai to Hanoiwith an overnight sleeper option. This will put you in Hanoi rather early in the morning with your only company being a million motorcycle and taxi touts. So its generally a good idea to have a plan as to where you will be heading on arrival. Prices for a soft sleeper ticket are around 300,000 dong, lower classes are cheaper. Check for up-to-date information on prices. Livitrans Train Company
There is a bus service to Hanoi costing 89,000 dong. The night bus to Hanoi costs about 150,000 dong. Very uncomfortable with loud music and no leg space. Train is much better option, but often needs to be booked in advance.
Minibuses run from outside the Chinese Hekou border immigration exit, and train station straight up the mountain. Cost should be 25,000 dong per person and the bus leaves only when it is full. There does not seem to be a bus from the public bus station to Sapa.
If arriving via the Chinese Hekou border, watch out for touts who will persistently attempt to get you to pay anything up to 150,000 dong, or RMB20 (approximately 50,000 dong) per person to get to Sapa. Just ignore them and walk to a main street and flag a minibus with a sign showing Sapa at the windscreen. Confirm with the driver or bus attendant 25,000 dong and hop into the minibus to Sapa.
If arriving by train (usually around 05:30) watch out for minibus scams asking for 200,000 dong upwards. Generally they can be bargained down.
Bac Ha, with its Sunday market, can be reached via public bus in around two hours for 70,000 dong.
Yunnan Province, China
About 40 min walk from bus/train station, is the border crossing to Hekou in China. Border office is a big building next to a bridge, opposite Sapaly Hotel/Biti's trade centre. From here you can catch an onward bus through to Kunming for around RMB120.