Crossing the border
There are two border crossings in Hekou, both of which appear to have the same name on the Chinese side (the signs says 中国河口 Zhongguo Hekou, i.e. "Hekou, China"):
- The 1 old border crossing is used primarily by pedestrians, although bicycles and motorcycles can cross the border here as well. Connecting the old downtown Hekou with downtown Lao Cai with a short bridge over the Nanxi River, it is the one more popular with foreign travelers. This is also where Vietnamese market vendors cross the border with their giant cargo bicycles. The border is open 8AM-11PM (7AM-10PM Vietnamese time).
- The 2 new border crossing, a few miles upstream from downtown, is more convenient for motor vehicles. It is heavily used by trucks and buses. The check point on the Vietnamese side is called Kim Thành (Cửa Khẩu Kim Thành).
The century-old narrow gauge railway from Kunming stopped passenger service in the early 2000s, and a new standard-gauge railway from Kunming opened in December 2014.
As of 2016, there are 5 pairs of trains (one of them, overnight) every day between Kunming and 3 Hekou North Station (河口北站). . One train continues beyond Kunming to Dali. (Current schedule, in Chinese). A train trip to Kunming takes 6-7 hours; the hard-seat fare is around ¥70.
As of 2016, the local authorities are literally moving mountains in order to construct a grand boulevard connecting the new Hekou North Station with the city. Until this project is completed, getting to the station involves driving on a winding back road across residential neighborhoods. Bus service from the station to downtown Hekou is available.
The old narrow-gauge 4 Hekou Station (河口站). still stands near the railway bridge across the border river, even though there has been no passenger service there for many years. A train ticket office (selling tickets for all trains on China's national network) operates in a building across the street from that station.
If you want to come to Hekou by train from Vietnam, you can take a train from Hanoi to Lao Cai, and walk a few blocks from the 5 Lao Cai Railway Station (Ga Lào Cai). to the border crossing. There is no cross-border passenger train service. (Narrow-gauge freight trains, however, still use the old railroad bridge; according to a warning sign, they mostly move at night).
6 Hekou Bus Station (河口客运站) (On China National Hwy 326, about 1.5 km NW from the new border crossing.). The new bus station is located in a new neighborhood on the NW side of town
Buses run from various destinations within Yunnan, including a wild overnight sleeper from Kunming (¥109). Some connections, including Jinghong require you to change buses in Mengzi. The bus station is within walking distance of the border post, and Lao Cai is just across the bridge.
Watch people crossing the border over the bridge at the old border crossing. Vietnamese traders use it to move produce and consumer goods on remarkable "cargo bicycles", likes of which you most likely won't see elsewhere (either in China or in Vietnam).
A large shopping district exists near the old border crossing. Signs in Vietnamese abound, as people from Vietnam come here to buy consumer goods that are cheaper in Hekou than in Vietnam.
There are also "Vietnamese specialties" shops near the new border crossing and the new bus station.
When you leave the border office, ask the Chinese officials for a small guide with basic map of Hekou map and a glossary, if it is available.
Beware of helpful guys speaking English at the bus station, offer to sell bus/train tickets in Vietnam for triple their real price or exchange currency several times more expensive than in respectable places. Check prices and exchange rates in advance. Tickets can be bought easily at Vietnam side of border.
- Vietnam - Night bus to Hanoi from Lao Cai. Costs about 350000 dongs. Very uncomfortable with loud music and no leg space. Train is much better option, but often need to be booked in advance.
- Kunming: Several trains a day. There are also buses. First bus is at 8h45, next 10h50 and 1pm, cost about ¥140. It takes about 7-8h to arrive to Kunming Eastern bus station. Take bus 60 (¥2) to reach town center / railway station. The Hekou bus station is about 3 km from the border to Vietnam.
- Yuanyang rice terraces: first bus at 9h, ¥65.