I traveled on an overnight sleeper train through Vietnam with 2 kids. It was the best night's sleep on my weeklong trip.

Woman sitting on bed in sleeper car of overnight train to Sapa
The author on her bed during the overnight train to Sapa in northern Vietnam.Alexandra Karplus
  • I traveled by train with my two kids from Hanoi to Sapa in Vietnam.

  • We explored the capital city before hopping on the sleeper train, heading up north to the mountains.

  • After sleeping on the floor in a homestay, I had my best night's sleep of the trip on the train.

Raising my family in Singapore has meant that air travel is second nature to my two young kids. Between long-haul flights to visit family back in the US to weekends spent exploring Southeast Asia, I frequently take advantage of living 20 minutes from Changi International Airport, which is consistently ranked among the world's top airports.

The affordable ticket prices on budget airlines can make a week in Bali or Phuket more economical than staying in the city-state — which, this year, was named the most expensive city in the world.

But while planes have been a constant, neither my 8-year-old daughter nor 5-year-old son had ever been on an overnight train. My experiences were also limited to one Amtrak Auto Train ride from Washington, D.C. to Florida as a teenager and a journey from New Delhi to Mumbai during an Indian adventure a few years later.

So when my husband brought up the idea of flying to Hanoi and taking a train up to Sapa, a mountainous region in northern Vietnam, I was excited to try something different.

It was a last-minute decision. The kids had a week off of school in late October, and I still had vacation days to use. The Vietjet tickets were 180 Singapore dollars each, or $131, despite being booked a mere two weeks before the departure date.

I also reached out to Ethos, a social enterprise and travel tour company in northern Vietnam, for help with arranging treks and a homestay in Sapa. When I asked for advice on booking transportation from Hanoi, they offered to book the train tickets.

And just like that, we were all set for an adventure in the mountains of Vietnam.

We spent the first night in Hanoi and the next day exploring the city. The train wasn't departing until 10 p.m. and the plan was to see some sights — and tire out the kids — before heading to the station.

People watching train approaching on track in Hanoi, Vietnam
Tourists watching the train approaching on Train Street in HanoiAlexandra Karplus

It wasn't my first time in Vietnam's capital. However, it was my first time with kids, so I was trying to cross roads flooded with zigzagging motorbikes while looking out for more than just myself. It turned out that walking at a consistent pace with confidence, one arm out to traffic, and the other hand gripping tightly to my kid's hand was the way to go.

A bowl of phở, a Vietnamese crêpe, a banh mi sandwich, and some tourist spots later, we headed to Train Street. This 300-meter stretch of rail, which famously passes through a narrow, bustling portion of Hanoi's Old Quarter, was temporarily closed last year but open — and busy — when we arrived.

The tracks were built by the French Colonial Administration, and Train Street, I quickly learned, is not the safest place to check out with kids. Coffee, coconuts, and Cokes were being served at scruffy shops set up less than two feet from the tracks.

The moments before the train arrived got even more hectic. An older woman from one of the coffee shops ran down the tracks, yelling at people keep their distance and even rescuing a pair of sunglasses a woman had dropped seconds before the train whizzed by.

I can understand why Vietnamese authorities have been trying to prevent tourists from visiting, and had I done a risk assessment before the visit, maybe I would have skipped out. The kids, however, enjoyed the chaos.

It was past the kids' bedtime when we arrived at Hanoi Railway Station that night.

Outside Hanoi Railway Station on busy road with cars and motorbikes
Hanoi Railway Station was originally built by the the French Colonial Administration and has been updated over the years.Alexandra Karplus

Less than two miles from Hanoi's Old Quarter, where we'd watched the trains pass by, we entered the white concrete station on Le Duan Street.

The building was opened in 1902, and I noticed hints of French architecture in the sloping roofs and rows of skylights. Updates have been made over the years, including the detailed facade on the exterior of the building.

The upstairs waiting area had plenty of seats.

Inside Hanoi Railway Station and billboard featuring train schedule
A display board with the train schedule inside Hanoi Railway Station.Alexandra Karplus

Large display boards featuring train departure times could be found on both the first and second floors of the station.

Three lines operate out of the station: Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi to Hai Phong, and the Hanoi to Sapa line, the third of which we would be boarding soon.

There were no elevators to transport luggage in the station.

Luggage rolling down staircase at Hanoi Railway Station.
Rolling a bag alongside the staircase at Hanoi Railway Station.Alexandra Karplus

Luckily, we had packed light and were able to lug the two wheelies and backpacks across the overpass and down the stairs. A plank was set up to make rolling bags down easier, but I still found it wobbly.

I felt lucky to no longer be dealing with strollers.

Boarding was simple. An officer was waiting outside the carriage and after checking our tickets, he ushered the four of us on board.

Two kids getting on train in Vietnam
Boarding the train from Hanoi to Sapa in Vietnam.Alexandra Karplus

Walking past open doors, I peeked inside some of the other cabins. Some had full-size beds, while others had two sets of bunks. We had booked the latter. I paid $155 for the four of us.

Passengers have the option to book a whole room, if they're willing to pay, or just one bunk, which can be a good way to meet new travel buddies.

While the ride to Sapa is significantly shorter by bus — around four hours by bus, compared to the seven-hour train ride — many bus crashes have been reported over the years.

Later in the trip, one of my guides on a trek in Sapa mentioned seeing buses flip down the mountain when they take corners too fast. It left me with no doubt that we'd made the right decision by taking the train.

A welcome tray was waiting for us.

Bananas, water bottles, and snacks on train car
The welcome tray had water and snacks for the ride.Alexandra Karplus

The cabin was super clean with white sheets and fluffy duvets. There was a tray with four bananas, packs of Oreos, tea bags, wet wipes, toothbrushes, and bottles of water waiting for us on the bedside table.

The kids were excited to take the top bunks, so my husband and I each claimed one of the beds on the bottom.

There was plenty of storage in our room.

Two bunk beds in a train cabin
The two bunk beds in the cabin were comfy.Alexandra Karplus

Laying flat, at 5'8", I fit perfectly in the bed. My husband is 6'5" and had to set up an "extension" for his legs using one of the wheelie bags. Even so, he was much more comfortable here than in any airline seat.

We stored our bags under the bunks and in overhead compartments at the foot of the top beds, above the cabin door.

The kids spent the first 20 minutes climbing up, down, and between beds. We had all dressed in comfortable clothes to avoid the process of changing in and out of PJs.

After we got settled, I watched Hanoi fade away through the window.

Blurry photo of Hanoi from a train car.
Blurry photo of Hanoi passing by as the train moved faster.Alexandra Karplus

After leaving the station, we rolled through the Old Quarter. Level with the second floor of tall, narrow buildings, I could see most people's lights were already out. The tangled cables running alongside buildings looked like Rapunzel letting down her hair.

I saw a woman watching TV in her living room, a couple sitting on their balcony and sipping cups of tea, and a brightly lit fish tank glowing through a window. Most homes had freshly washed clothes hanging out to dry for the night.

The homes faded into the distance a few minutes later when we crossed a bridge. The lights were now coming from motorbikes riding on a single-lane road, in the opposite direction of the train.

Facilities on the train were better than I expected.

Sink and toilet in train bathroom.
The toilet and sink were both clean in the train's bathroom.Alexandra Karplus

The bathroom was roomier than what you would find on a plane. There was toilet paper, soap, and a clean sink. The train car got rocky during one of my trips to the toilet with the kids, so I held them steady until they were done.

I had a great night's sleep.

Woman laying in bed in train cabin.
The author snuggled up in bed by herself.Alexandra Karplus

The swaying motion and constant vibration of the train put us all to bed quickly. The kids were tucked safely into their bunks, and without having a kid kicking me in the face, as is usually the case as a mom of two, I slept soundly through the night.

Our alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., and soon after, someone knocked on the door, selling coffee and tea.

Views out the window were much different in the north.

Views from train in northern Vietnam
Views from the train were greener when we work up in the morning.Alexandra Karplus

During the last 30 minutes of the trip, we all peeked out the window at the changing scenery. The world here was much greener than the one we'd left behind in the Vietnamese capital.

The next step was a one-hour ride in a van, and I found myself missing the comfort of the train cabin.

Van on street outside train station.
A van was waiting at the station to take us to Sapa.Alexandra Karplus

A van was waiting for us at the train station to take us on the next leg of our journey.

Lao Cai train station, where we disembarked, is not actually in the town of Sapa. It's located at the foot of the mountains and is used as a gateway by many tourists. It's less than 20 miles from Sapa, but the drive takes an hour.

Crammed into a van with 12 other travelers and a lot of suitcases and bumpy roads, this leg of the trip was far less comfortable than the comfy bed I had enjoyed all to myself.

One night in Sapa town was enough.

Rice fields in the mountains of Sapa, northern Vietnam
The mountains in Sapa are filled with rice fields.Alexandra Karplus

Sapa Town left much to be desired: Giant billboards, concrete buildings, and all of the friendly people trying to sell things put me off. Even Cat Cat Village, the closest trek to town, felt like a theme park marketed for tourism.

Fortunately, the surrounding mountains made it all worth the ride.

After spending our first night in a hotel, we headed to Ethos' base camp near the town center. Following a brief history lesson and an introduction to the woman who would lead us on our adventure, we were driven to the starting point.

Our 23-year-old guide My — pronounced "Me" — was a member of the Hmong tribe. She shared details about her own upbringing during the 45-minute ride.

We were dropped off at the starting point and didn't see the car — or any other travelers — until after we finished the two-day trek.

Challenges along the way helped motivate the kids.

Children and woman crossing river in Sapa, Vietnam
Tour guide My helping kids to cross the river during our hike.Alexandra Karplus

It was while wading through rivers and ducking under trees that the kids were happiest. Our guide also provided knowledge and entertainment along the way. She picked wild fern that was later cooked up in our dinner, and crafted a toy horse from another plant we passed along the way.

With low humidity and a temperature that stayed at around 65 degrees Fahrenheit throughout, it didn't feel too hot during the day.

That day's 14 miles of walking tired all of us out, but we found places to rest along the way where we could look out at the rice fields. The rice had been harvested a few weeks earlier, so the fields were now many shades of green.

The kids learned a lot over a home-cooked dinner.

Plates of food at a table in Vietnam
Dinner at the the homestayAlexandra Karplus

We stopped at one woman's home for lunch before continuing our trek to the house where we spent the night. There, the kids played cards with the host's children while we relaxed in tattered hammocks out front. Despite having no language in common, they all quickly became friends.

We had dinner that night around a short wooden table, with all of us seated on small plastic chairs. The kids had endless questions. Why were there no windows? Why were they cooking on a big fire indoors? Why did the family have so many "pets?"

The dishes served included slices of pork stir-fried with carrots, the wild fern that had been plucked earlier had been cooked up with garlic, boiled pumpkin in a bowl, and piles of fried spring rolls with a spicy dipping sauce. All of them had been cooked in the large wok, over the open fire in the room next door.

Our night at the homestay was unforgettable, but I was more comfortable on the train.

Blankets on the floor
Blankets were set up under mosquito nets.Alexandra Karplus

A few hours later, we climbed a steep staircase up to the loft. Thick blankets and pillows had been set up on the wooden floor for the four of us to rest. Two mosquito nets hung over the beds. We were all asleep within minutes.

Retelling the story of our journey the following day on a call to her grandma, my 8-year-old daughter was most excited about the pets: "Did you know that all of the pets in their house serve a purpose? The hens lay eggs for them to eat, the pigs provide meat to cook, the dogs keep them safe from danger, and the cat chases away mice?"

After four days of exploring the region, 28 miles of trekking, and a night spent on the creaky floor of our homestay, we were all happy to get back on the train for another good night's sleep. At that point, the ride back to Hanoi almost felt luxurious.

Read the original article on Insider