The main Hanoi train station (Ga Hang Co; Tel: 825 3949; Add: 120 Le Duan street; ticket office 7.30am-12.30pm & 1.30-7.30pm) is at the western end of Pho Tran Hung Dao; trains from here go to destinations south, Foreigners can buy tickets for southbound trains at counter 2, where the staff speaks English. It's often best to buy tickets at least one day before departure to ensure a seat or sleeper.
To the right of the main entrance of the train station is a separate ticket office for northbound trains to Lao Cai (for Sapa) and China. Tickets to China must be bought from counter 13.
However, the place where you purchase the ticket is not necessarily where the train departs! Just behind the main 'A Station' on Le Duan street is Tran Quy Cap station (B Station; Tran Qui Cap street; Tel: 825 2628) and all northbound trains leave from there.
To make things even more complicated, some northbound (Lao Cai and Lang Son included) and eastbound (Hai Phong) trains depart from Gia Lam on the east side of the Red River, and Long Bien (Tel: 826 8280) on the western (city) side of the river. Be sure to ask just where you need to go to catch your train. Tickets can be bought at the main station until about two hours before departure; if it's any closer to the departure time, go to the relevant station and buy tickets there.
Check with Vietnam Rail (Duong Sat Viet Nam; www.vr.com.vn
) for current timetables.