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Lao Cai is a town in northern Vietnam. It is on the border with China, separated from the Chinese town of Hekou by the Nanxi and Red Rivers.


Get in[edit]

From Vietnam[edit]

1 Lao Cai Railway Station (Ga Lào Cai). As of 2016, there are 3 night trains and 1 day train each day from and to Hanoi (about 9 hr, US$20 for a soft sleeper depending on the train).

From China[edit]

The entrance to Vietnam from China, at the main border crossing between downtown Hekou and downtown Lao Cai

Buses run from Kunming and other cities in Yunnan (China) to Hekou from where it is a short walk over the border to Lao Cai.

There are also trains from Kunming to the new (standard-gauge) Hekou North Train Station. The station is several km away from the border crossing, but buses meet each train and take passengers to the border crossing area and other locations around town.

The border is open 08:00-23:00 Chinese time (07:00-22:00 Vietnamese time).

There is no passenger railway service on the metre-gauge bridge across the border river, even though physically the narrow-gauge tracks connect to the new Hekou North station on the Chinese side. Goods trains still cross the bridge and watching them pass the border gates is an interesting and photogenic pastime.

Get around[edit]

Taxis are abundant and have no issues with using their meters, making getting around cheap and easy. Walking is a practical option, although the town is quite spread out.


Cốc Lếu A and B Markets Cheap (very cheap if you are good at bargaining) Chinese goods are on sale and the range of products makes it an interesting diversion.

Chinese Border Gate There are several places along the river border where you can gaze into China if you don't have a visa. It's all very relaxed and no-one seems to mind you taking photographs



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.

  • 1 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.


  • Nhà hàng Nhật Bản Sakura Deli, Số 082 Hợp Thành, Phố Mới. Japanese restaurant of good quality.





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.

Go next[edit]

Lao Cai has a public bus station and a train station. Together they constitute the centre of town. While the train station can be found 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 Hanoi (8 hr) with 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 40,000 dong per person and the bus leaves only when it is full. If arriving from Hanoi by train, you can arrange for a minibus while buying railway tickets with Vietnam Railways for 55,000 dong per person. 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 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 at least 200,000; generally they can be bargained down.

Bac Ha[edit]

Bac Ha, and its Sunday market, can be reached via public bus in around two hours for 70,000 dong.

Ha Giang[edit]

Ha Giang is a really tourist attraction for anyone who love to explore nature and people. Amazing scenery: Conquering Ma Pi Leng Pass, Dong Van Karst Plateau Geo Park.

Yunnan Province, China[edit]

About 40-min walk from bus/train station (or a 5-minute ride) is the border crossing to Hekou (河口) in China. Border office is a big building next to a bridge, opposite Sapaly Hotel/Biti's trade centre. Crossing the border is simple, fill out a customs card and wait in line. Be prepared for a long wait, particularly on the Chinese side. They will search your belongings (in particular your books/written material). Outside the Hekou border crossing is a variety of shops, and the bus terminal is about a ten-minute ride from the border. The ride is about 7 hours. From Hekou North Railway stations (a few kilometers away from the border crossing; local bus service available), train service to Kunming is available as well. From here you can catch an onward bus through to Kunming for around RMB120.

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