Northeast Vietnam

Con Son Den Kiep Bac - Hai Phong - Around Hai Phong - Ha Long Bay - Ha Long City - Cat Ba Island - Bai Tu Long Bay - Mong Cai Chinese Border - Around Mong Cai - Lang Son - Cao Bang - Aroud Cao Bang - Ba Be National Park - Thai Nguyen - Around Thai Nguyen


IDD Code: (+84) 33
Mong Cai is a revealing place. The Vietnamese are fast developing their side of the border while the Chinese side remains a bit of a backwater. The Vietnamese are making a statement of intent, a show of face that their economy is keeping pace with China. China is making its own statement: 'We don't care, we have bigger fish to fry', sharing as they do borders with India, Russia and several other economic giants. It would take a real optimist to think Mong Cai is an attractive place. For the Vietnamese, the big draw here is the chance to purchase low-priced (and low-quality) Chinese-made consumer goods. For the Chinese, the attraction is mostly gambling and girls. Chinese speakers will find plenty of opportunity to practice in Mong Cai. Most of the market stalls are run by Chinese. This explains why the market shuts so early: the Chinese have to head back across the border before it closes at 4.30pm. It also means it's easy to offload any leftover Chinese yuan. Other than the prospect of crossing the border, Mong Cai is of no interest to tourists. The town is dusty, the buildings are ramshackle, and there's construction-site chaos everywhere. Dongxing (on the Chinese side) is even less appealing.
Vietcombank, in the centre of town, can change travellers cheques and also has a handy ATM. Internet access (per hr 3000d) is available in a cluster of places on Pho Hung Vuong near the post office.
Sleeping & Eating
It is possible to spend the night in the nearby beach retreat of Tra Co (opposite). There are masses of hotels in Mong Cai catering to cross-border traders. There are currently two huge casino resorts under construction to cater to Chinese high rollers. They should be open by the time you read this if you need to flutter away some dong before crossing into China.
Nha Nghi Thanh Tam (tell: 881373; Đ Trieu Duong; r120,000d; Rooms here are just USS8 for those who have just arrived and can't sort their dongs from their yuan. Clean and comfortable, this is good value and the family are warm and welcoming. Nam Phong Hotel (tell: 887 775; fax 887 779; Pho Hung Vuong; s/d 220,000/250,000d; A smart business hotel, this is one of the only places in town where staff speak English. The rooms are well kitted out with satellite TV and water and there is a good Vietnamese restaurant at the rear. Nha Hang Long Tu (tell: 770 489; Pho Hung Vuong; mains 20,000-50,000d) A long-running restaurant, this eatery offers a plastic-fantastic set-up downstairs and a more refined dining room upstairs. Try a table-top barbecue or steamboat, or indulge in the seafood. There are plenty of food stalls on Pho Hung Vuong» including several good spots near the Nam Phong Hotel.
Getting There & Away

Mill Ngoc (tell: 883 988; Pho Hung Vuong) runs high-speed hydrofoils daily from Mong Cat to Bai Chay (US$15, three hours) in Halong City at 9am and 2pm (Sam and 1pm from Halong City). From Mong Cai, shuttle vans leave the hydrofoil ticket offices for the pier at Dan Tien Port, about 15km away. Arriving in Mong Cai, the hydrofoils often berth in the middle of the open sea; don't worry, you haven't broken down! Low tides require a transfer by small boat. Mui Ngoc has hydrofoils to Cai Rong on Van Don Island. The boat heads south to Van Don (US$10, two hours) at 2pm. In the other direction, it departs Van Don at 8.30am. Finally, there is also a slow ferry to Haiphong (70,000d, eight hours), departing daily at 6pm, Do the maths, it arrives at an ungodly hour.

Mong Cai is located 360km from Hanoi. Buses to/from Hanoi (75.000d, nine hours) depart regularly in the morning. Many buses and minibuses connect Mong Cai and Hon Gai (42,000d, five hours) between 5.30am and 4.30pm. Smart folk take the hydrofoil. For Mong Cai to Lang Son (50,000d, five hours) there is just one bus a day at 12.30pm. Don't miss it, as going your own way involves two changes. Much of the road is unpaved -expect plenty of dust or mud.
Mong Cai is located on the Chinese border in the extreme northeastern corner of Vietnam. One of three official international overland border crossings with China, it's open from 7.30am to 4.30pm daily.